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13-year-old from Bihar cracks IIT entrance exam

Higher Education, Learning Achievements

Digital Campus

24-Jun-2013

Satyam Kumar, a Bihar farmer’s son who is just 13-years old, has cleared the fiercely competitive Indian Institute of Technology-Joint Entrance Examination (IIT-JEE) for which 150,000 candidates had appeared this year.
Satyam, who passed his class 12 exam last year, secured an impressive all-India rank of 679.
“We are proud of him. He has done something special at this age,” Satyam’s father Sidhnath Singh, a farmer, told IANS.
IIT-JEE (Advanced) results for admission into IITs were declared Friday.
According to IIT-JEE website, Sahal Kaushik from Delhi was the youngest person to have cracked the exam in 2010 at the age of 14. But now this record is held by Satyam.
“Now Satyam is the youngest to crack the IIT-JEE,” an IIT official said.
Satyam, who hails from Bakhorapur village in Bhojpur district, had last year qualified for admission into IIT at the age of 12-and-a-half years after he got a special permission from the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). He had then secured an all-India rank of 8,137.
Not satisfied with his low rank, he appeared for the IIT-JEE preliminary examination this year again and qualified.
“Satyam has improved his rank by his hard work and determination,” his father said.
He appeared for the entrance examination in Kota, Rajasthan, where he had been studying. He was one of the 150,000 candidates who appeared for the examination this year.
Earlier, Satyam Kumar had said he wanted to establish a software company on the lines of social networking website Facebook.

Comment

CBSE Class 12 results: girls outshine boys

Girl Child Education, Learning Achievements

NDTV

Edited by Amit Chaturvedi

May 27, 2013

New Delhi: The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) today declared the results of Class 12. The pass percentage was 82.10 per cent, up from last year’s 80.19 per cent.

87 per cent girls have passed the exam; boys lag behind with a pass percentage of 77.

Among the regions, Chennai once again put up the best performance with a pass percentage of 91.83.

The Class 12 board exams were conducted between March 1 and April 17 this year.

In total 9,44,721 candidates were registered for Class 12 examination this year, an increase of about 15.81% candidates over last year.

The results this year in particular assumes significance for students who aspire to make it to the IITs as weightage is given for the Class XII performance.

Accordingly, the cut off score for the top 20 percentile will be 391 for general category students this year, the statement said. For OBC, it will be 389, SC 350 and ST 338.

Rank holders in the JEE advance under the new format must be among the top 20 performers for admission to the IITs.

Comment

From newspaper vendor to IIM student

Learning Achievements

by Maya Sharma

NDTV

May 15, 2013

Bangalore: From delivering newspapers to being accepted at the Indian Institute of Mangament in Kolkata – young Bangalorean Shiva Kumar’s story is one of determination and self-belief.

As a boy, Shiva used to deliver newspapers at the crack of dawn to help his family financially.

“I was a delivery boy in 5th standard till 10th standard. I needed to increase my income and so thought of becoming an independent vendor to make my own agency. From 10th standard till now, I am a vendor. When I was in the final year of engineering, I chose to write CAT so that I could pursue higher education. I didn’t take it as a burden. I just enjoyed my work. More than anything else, it gave me happiness that I could take care of my family so that they could sleep peacefully every day,” he told NDTV, Shiva’s mother Jayamma is justifiably proud of her son. “He struggled a lot – from the time he was in 5th standard until today. I am so happy he has come this far,” she said.

But despite the hard work, it still was a huge challenge for Shiva. At one stage, he even ran out of money for his school fees. He then approached a man who he delivered newspapers to for help.

“He was willing to help but he could not trust me… He just came to my school the next day and spoke to my principal, teachers and asked their opinion about me… After that he paid for the entire year. He told me, ‘Just concentrate on studies, I will take care of your fees.'”

Shiva Kumar now has plans beyond just securing his future and his family’s. “I will go to IIM Calcutta and come back from there. Then I will start an Educate India foundation to help poor students pursue their education,” he said.

Stories like Shiva Kumar’s are inspiring, proof of what conviction and hard work can achieve.

Comment

Blind girl gets to class XII merit list, tops humanities group

Learning Achievements

Rageshri Ganguly,

Times of India

May 21, 2013,

BHOPAL: ShristiTiwari, a girl of many dreams and aspirations. This blind girl, who topped the humanities group with 481 marks and stood 4th in the overall provisional merit list of class XII MPBSE declared on Tuesday said she has “miles to go before she sleeps.”

Deriving inspiration from Helen Keller, Shristi said that just like Keller did not allow her disability to impede her in the path of success, she too is determined to be a part of the Indian Administrative Services (IAS) to help others like her become a part of the mainstream

Comment

Using evidence for better policy: The case of primary education in India

Learning Achievements, Primary Education, Quality, Research

Ideas for India

18 March, 2013

While India has achieved considerable success in increasing primary school enrollment and improving input-based measures of school quality over the past 10 years, learning outcomes continue to be abysmally low. This column synthesizes over a decade of research on the challenge of converting increased spending into improved education outcomes and highlights key policy implications

Investments in education contribute both to aggregate economic growth as well as enable citizens to broadly participate in the growth process through improved productivity, employment, and wages, and are therefore a critical component of the “Inclusive Growth” agenda of the Government of India. The past decade has seen substantial increases in education investments under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), and this additional spending has led to considerable progress in improving primary school access, infrastructure, pupil-teacher ratios, teacher salaries, and student enrolment. Nevertheless, student learning levels and trajectories are disturbingly low, with nationally-representative studies showing that over 60% of children aged 6-14 are unable to read at a second grade level (Pratham 2012). Further, learning outcomes have shown no sign of improving over time (and may even be deteriorating).  Thus, the poor performance of the education system in translating spending into outcomes threatens both aggregate productivity in the economy and also denies citizens the capabilities they need to fully participate in a modernising economy.
The past decade has also seen a number of high-quality empirical studies on the causes and correlates of better learning outcomes based on large samples of data and careful attention paid to identification of causal relationships.  This research has yielded robust findings both on interventions/ inputs that do not appear to contribute meaningfully to improved education outcomes, as well as on interventions that are highly effective.  In particular, the research over the past decade suggests that increasing inputs to primary education in a ‘business as usual’ way is unlikely to improve student learning in a meaningful way unless accompanied by significant changes in pedagogy and/ or improvements in school governance (Muralidharan 2013).  It is therefore imperative that education policy shift its emphasis from simply providing more school inputs in a ‘business as usual’ way and focus on improving education outcomes.
 
School inputs
The most important components of education spending in the past decade have been on improving school facilities and infrastructure, improving teacher salaries and training, hiring more teachers to reduce pupil-teacher ratios, and expenditure on student benefits such as textbooks, and mid-day meals.  Analysis of both administrative and survey data shows considerable improvements in most input-based measures of schooling quality.   But the research of the past decade finds very little impact of these improvements in school facilities on learning outcomes (this is true across multiple studies and data-sets as summarised in Muralidharan 2013).  This is not to suggest that school facilities and infrastructure do not matter for improving learning outcomes (they may be necessary but not sufficient), but the results highlight that infrastructure by itself is unlikely to have a significant impact on improving learning levels and trajectories.  Similarly, while there may be good social reasons for mid-day meal programs (including nutrition and child welfare), there is no evidence to suggest that they improve learning outcomes.
Even more striking is the fact that no credible study on education in India has found any significant positive relationship between teachers possessing formal teacher training credentials and their effectiveness at improving student learning.   Similarly, there is no correlation between teacher salary and their effectiveness at improving student learning, and at best very modest positive effects of reducing pupil-teacher ratios on learning outcomes (Kingdon and Teal 2010, Muralidharan and Sundararaman 2011, 2013; see summary in Muralidharan 2013).  As discussed further below, these very stark findings most likely reflect weaknesses in pedagogy and governance which are key barriers in translating increased spending into better outcomes.
The results summarised so far can be quite discouraging, and could plausibly be interpreted as suggesting that “improving learning outcomes – especially across a distribution that includes millions of first-generation learners – is very difficult, and so the best we can do is to provide the standard inputs associated with functioning schools and hope for positive effects in the long run”.  Fortunately, the news is not all bad, because the evidence of the past decade also points consistently to interventions that have been highly effective at improving learning outcomes, and are able to do so in much more cost-effective ways than the status-quo patterns of spending.
 
Pedagogy
While there have been significant increases in schooling inputs, a key determinant of how these investments translate into learning outcomes is the structure of pedagogy and classroom instruction. Getting aspects of instruction right is particularly challenging in a context such as India where several millions of first-generation learners have joined a rapidly expanding national schooling system.  In particular, standard curricula, text books, and teaching practices that may have been designed for a time when education was more limited may not fare as well under the new circumstances, since the default pedagogy is one of “completing the textbook”, which increasingly does not reflect the learning levels of children in the classroom, who are considerably further behind where the textbook expects them to be.
Evidence that ‘business as usual’ pedagogy can be improved on is found in several randomised evaluations finding large positive impacts of supplemental remedial instruction in early grades that are targeted to the child’s current level of learning (as opposed to simply following the text book) (Banerjee et al. 2007, Banerjee et al. 2010, Lakshminarayana et al. 2012, Banerjee et al 2012; see summary in Muralidharan 2013).  Four points are especially noteworthy.  First, these positive results have been found consistently in programs run by multiple non-profit organisations in several locations (including UP, Bihar, Uttaranchal, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh).  Second, the estimated magnitudes of impact from these interventions (whose instructional time is typically only a small fraction of the duration of the scheduled school year) are considerable – often exceeding the learning gains from a full year of conventional schooling.  Third, these interventions are typically delivered by modestly-paid community teachers, who mostly do not have formal teacher training credentials.  Finally, these supplemental remedial instruction programs are highly cost effective and deliver significant learning gains at much lower costs than the large investments in the standard inputs (reviewed above) that have not been found to be effective.
Governance
Beyond pedagogy, another explanation for the low correlation between increases in spending on educational inputs and improved learning outcomes may be the weak governance of the education system and limited effort on the part of teachers and administrators to improve student learning levels.  The most striking symptom of weak governance is the high rate of teacher absence in government-run schools.  While teacher absence rates were over 25% across India in 2003 (Kremer et al 2005), an all-India panel survey that covered the same villages surveyed in 2003 found that teacher absence in rural India was still around 24% in rural India in 2010 (Muralidharan et al. 2013).  The fiscal cost of teacher absence was estimated at around Rs. 7,500 crores/ year suggesting that governance challenges remain paramount in the education system.
On the positive side there is evidence that even modest improvements in governance can yield significant returns.  The all-India panel data show that improving monitoring and supervision of schools is strongly correlated with reductions in teacher absence, and we estimate that investing in improved governance by increasing the frequency of monitoring could yield an 8 to 10 times return on investment in terms of reducing the fiscal cost of teacher absence and could be 10 to 12 times more cost effective at reducing effective pupil-teacher ratio (which is the pupil-teacher ratio after adjusting for teacher absence rates) than hiring more teachers  (Muralidharan et al. 2013).
The evidence also points to the importance of motivating teachers by rewarding good performance as a key lever in improving the performance of the education system.  Rigorous evaluations of carefully designed systems of teacher performance pay show substantial improvements in student learning in response to even very modest amounts of performance-linked pay for teachers (that was typically not more than 3% of annual pay) (Muralidharan and Sundararaman 2011).  Long-term evidence over five years in Andhra Pradesh shows that teacher performance pay was 15 to 20 more times more effective at raising student learning than reductions in pupil-teacher ratios (which is a default policy position for improving education quality) (Muralidharan 2012).  More broadly, these results suggest that the performance of front-line government employees depends less on the level of pay and more on itsstructure. In particular, introducing small amounts of performance-linked pay is much more likely to improve public worker performance than large amounts of across the board increases in pay, and is also much more cost effective.  The lessons from this research are likely to be relevant not just for teachers but for government employees more broadly.
From evidence to policy
The evidence summarised above does not imply that we should stop improving school infrastructure or training teachers. Rather, it strongly cautions that simply doing more of the same ‘business as usual’ expansions of education spending are unlikely to solve the crisis in learning outcomes. It also highlights the critical importance of considering evidence on cost effectiveness in making optimal policy in a fiscally constrained environment.
Three immediate policy implications of this research are summarised below (see Muralidharan 2013 for a more detailed discussion):
1) Make learning outcomes an explicit goal of primary education policy and invest in regular and independent high-quality measurement of learning outcomes: A truism of management in large organisations is that “what you measure is what you get”. The Indian state has done a commendable job in improving the education indicators that were measured (including school access, infrastructure, enrolment, and inclusiveness in enrolment) but has fallen considerably short on the outcome indicators that have not been measured (such as learning outcomes).  While independently measuring and administratively focusing on learning outcomes will not by itself lead to improvement, it will serve to focus the energies of the education system on the outcome that actually matters to millions of first-generation learners, which is functional literacy and numeracy (that the system is currently not delivering).
2) Launch a national campaign of supplemental instruction targeted to the current level of learning of children (as opposed to the textbook) delivered by locally-hired teacher-assistants, with a goal of reaching minimum absolute standards of learning for all children: While gaps in enrolment between disadvantaged groups and the population averages have reduced, there is a considerably larger gap in learning levels, which exist at the point of entry into the school system and continue to grow over time.  Thus, the gains of the past decade made in terms of reducing inequities in primary school enrolment will be at considerable risk (because low learning levels are strongly correlated with the probability of dropping out) if urgent attention is not paid to the crisis in learning outcomes with a mission-like focus on delivering universal functional literacy and numeracy that allow children to “read to learn”.  The evidence strongly supports scaling up supplemental instruction programs using locally-hired short-term teaching assistants that are targeted to the level of learning of the child, and the cost-effectiveness of this intervention also makes it easily scalable.
3) Pay urgent attention to issues of teacher governance including better monitoring and supervision as well as teacher performance measurement and management: A basic principle of effective management of organisations is to have clear goals and to reward employees for contributing towards meeting those goals.  The extent to which the status quo does not do this effectively is highlighted in the large positive impacts found from very modest improvements in the alignment of employee rewards with organisational goals.  Implementing these ideas effectively in a public sector setting will take considerable effort, but the evidence highlights the potentially large returns to doing so.
The next ten years will see the largest ever number of citizens in the school system at any point in Indian history (or future), and it is critical that this generation that represents the demographic dividend be equipped with the literacy, numeracy, and skills needed to participate fully in a rapidly modernising world.  In a fiscally-constrained environment, it is also imperative to use evidence to implement cost-effective policies that maximise the social returns on any given level of public investment. The growing body of high-quality research on primary education in the past decade provides an opportunity to put this principle into practice.
A shorter version of this column appeared as a section of Chapter 2 of the Economic Survey of India 2013. This column is based on the author’s background paper on primary education policy for the 12th Five-Year Plan that summarised a decade of research and synthesised the policy implications (Muralidharan 2013).
Comment

Students of State schools can breathe easy

Government run schools, Learning Achievements

VIJAYWADA: Students of government schools have good news. From this academic year, they will not have to write any class test or unit test. The government has decided to do away with all unit tests and leave the students alone with major exams like the quarterly, half-yearly and the annual exam.
The move is being implemented as part of Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) programme proposed to be implemented in the new academic year. As per the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act or Right to Education Act (RTE), all written tests must be done away with to pave the way for a pressure-free education of a child in school.
“Phasing out of unit tests is the first step in that direction,” Krishna district coordinator for Rajiv Vidya Mission, Murali Krishna, told The Hindu.
For effective implementation of CCE, over 10,000 teachers working for State-run schools in all mandal headquarters are undergoing a training programme. “The idea is to evolve a continuous and comprehensive mechanism to evaluate a child’s programme. The written tests can probably be replaced with regular oral tests which can be made participatory,” said Mr. Murali Krishna.
Formulated by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, the CCE is the new teaching method already in practice in schools following CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) syllabus. The idea is to decrease the accumulated stress of board exams on the students and to introduce a more uniform and comprehensive pattern in education for the children all over the nation. The CCE helps in improving a student’s performance by identifying his/her learning difficulties and abilities at regular intervals right from the beginning of the academic session and employing suitable remedial measures for enhancing their learning performance. The new system, over a period of time, will put in place a refreshing mode of education wherein a student’s marks will be replaced by grades which will be evaluated through a series of curricular and extra-curricular activities, along with academics. The aim is to reduce the workload on students and to improve their overall skill and ability by means of evaluating other activities. Very soon, grades will be awarded to students based on their work experience skills, dexterity, innovation, steadiness, teamwork, public speaking and behaviour.

The Hindu, 07 June 2012

Comment

India: School revolution on the way?

Access to education, Budget Private Schools, Learning Achievements, Quality, Right to Education

NEW DELHI, India — In a landmark judgment this week, India’s Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a law that requires almost all private schools to reserve 25 percent of their seats for poor students.

The decision potentially paves the way for huge changes in primary and secondary school education here.

In a country where a quarter of the population is illiterate and the caste system is still alive and well, the move is lauded by some as an equalizer on par with the decision to desegregate American schools in the 1960s.

“I see this entire process as the beginning of a revolution,” said Ashok Agarwal, a lawyer affiliated with an organization called Social Jurists, who says previously fewer than 1 percent of private schools made a sincere effort to admit poor students.

According to a recent survey conducted by Pratham, an NGO, 96.5 percent of Indian children between the ages of 6 and 14 are enrolled in schools.

But with private players charging as much as $200 per month compared to less than a dollar in fees at those run by the government, there are vast differences between the schools they attend.

Though India has more than a million goverment-run schools and only around 250,000 private ones, with rare exceptions only the very poor attend government institutions. The division reinforces a broad socio-economic gap between the haves and have nots. And some argue that the failure to educate the poor threatens to derail India’s economic miracle before it really gets rolling.

A recent survey conducted by The Program for International Student Assessment, an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) unit that tests students’ literacy reading, mathematics, and science, for instance, ranked India’s 15-year-olds second from the bottom among some 74 countries.

While the 25-percent quota will be difficult to implement — and some argue that it impinges on the rights of the private schools that have previously refused government aid — the move would see some of the nation’s wealthiest students sitting side-by-side with the poorest.

More from GlobalPost: India’s own Ivy League?

The Right to Education Act, passed in 2009, guarantees free and compulsory education for all children between the ages of 6 and 14. Answering a challenge to the act, the court directed all privately run schools to admit at least 25 percent students from socially and economically depressed families beginning this academic year. Only boarding schools and minority institutions that don’t receive government aid are exempt.

The right to education act places “an affirmative burden on all stakeholders in our society,” the court wrote on Thursday, in a 2:1 majority judgment upholding the provision.

High cost of reform

The Supreme Court’s move is causing tremors. Parents worry that admission to elite private schools will get even tougher. Schools worry about the administrative and financial burden of admitting more poor children.

But even the most optimistic proponents of the right to education law warn that there are still many hurdles ahead.“The judgment removed the uncertainty about the 25 percent, and we now know where it applies and where it doesn’t,” said Parth Shah, president of the New Delhi-based NGO, Center for Civil Society. “The hard work of figuring out the design, implementation, monitoring and assessment now has to be done.”

Already, for instance, private schools have argued that the plan to reimburse them only for the amount charged by the dismally failing government schools will expose them to a huge financial burden. Some are threatening to raise fees for paying parents. And nobody has thought too hard yet about the intricacies of integrating children from such dramatically different circumstances – like bringing poor children who only speak Hindi or Tamil into a school where classes are taught in English.

Meanwhile, in Delhi, where the battle is a little older because the state had earlier tied land grants for private schools to an agreement to take on poor students, streetfighters like Social Jurists’ Agarwal have already confronted schools that try to game the system.

Because the rules require schools to admit 25 percent poor students only in the first year, for instance, some schools dramatically reduced the total number of first graders they admitted, and then added double or triple the number of full-tuition students in the second year. Others took a more direct approach, simply offering parents of poor children cash — as much as $4,000 — to pull their kids out of class.

Teaching poor kids about McDonalds

“In India, people have the attitude of ‘How can my son sit on the same bench as my driver’s son?’ That’s what’s scaring me,” said Anouradha Bakshi of Project Why, a non-profit that runs supplementary afterschool education programs for the poor.

To prove that poor children could excel, Bakshi sent eight slum kids to an elite boarding school. But it took more than the money for tuition to ensure they excelled. She first rented a flat and moved the kids in with her, going the extra mile not only to teach them English but also skills that they’d need to fit in — such as how to eat with a knife and fork and find their way around the menu at McDonalds.

“In one of these uber-rich schools where the child has to go back to his slum or his little house in the evening, it’s easier said than done,” said Bakshi. “Who’s going to help that little child with homework and hold his hand?”

That’s a fair point, and implementation has never been India’s strong suit. But even a bad experience at a good private school is likely to be better than the grim reality of the government-run alternative — which is why more and more of the poorest Indians already send their kids to grassroots private schools in the slums that cost a few dollars per month.

“In Delhi, for instance, the schools run by muncipality are really in a bad state,” Bakshi said. “There’s practically no teaching. The classes are overcrowded. There are schools with no buildings. Those that have buildings have no bathrooms, or no bathrooms for girls, and the teachers are not interested.”

More from GlobalPost: Old problems plague new India

In rural areas, students at government schools are lucky if the teacher even shows up.

Yet with private schools already receiving as many as 1,500 applicants for 25 seats in a class, there’s also a chance that desegregating the posh institutions will allow the government to continue to shirk its responsibility to the vast majority of parents and children.

“As usual, laws are made without thinking,” said Bakshi. “It’s time that we started thinking about these children longterm, not just jumping up and down and saying now these poor children are going to go to these rich schools. Why is the government putting so much money into private schools?”

School choice advocates like the Center for Civil Society’s Shah say that the answer is to empower parents and facilitate the building of more private schools. Through a school voucher system, for instance, the government could help to identify qualifying students and give them power to choose the school where they send their kids — creating a financial incentive for schools to teach the poor.

And by streamlining a system that requires some 36 different licenses to open a school in Delhi and creating incentives for banks to finance education startups, the government can help private players bridge the gap between supply and demand.

“All the things we are talking about how to make businesses easier to open and operate can be applied to schools,” Shah said. Maybe. But if private schools emerge as the backbone of India’s education system, this will be the first country where that has happened.

Global post, 15 April 2012

Comment

Silver bullets in education

Government run schools, Learning Achievements, Quality

Last year, Dileep and I were in a cab headed to Columbia University. After the cab driver learnt that we work in school education in India, we were lectured loudly by him. It started with some curt advice to Dileep about his lovely dark blue kurta: unless he dressed properly (in trousers and shirt) no one would take him seriously.

He wanted us to be taken seriously —with a purpose. The Chinese were taking over the world. He didn’t like it. In his assessment the only people who could stop the Chinese were us, the Indians. And we were messing up by not fixing our school system. Our school system could be fixed easily, by being tough with the teachers: we should fire the 20% who don’t show up for work and also those who don’t improve performance in a year.

His face glowed with satisfaction from having given sound advice, as he helped us with our bags. He reminded Dileep about the kurta, and waved a cheerful goodbye.
I go through this kind of a cab driver moment very often. People hold strong views about how to improve schools in India. They expect action to be taken, and quickly. And they get exasperated even by the faintest suggestion that their solutions may be inadequate or that the problems that they are prioritizing may not be so important.

This happens not just with cab drivers in New York, but also in India: with business people, government officials, politicians, harried parents of school-going children, i.e., just about anybody. Many such people are passionate believers in their silver bullets, which are often trivial pursuits. In the 80:20 principle, these will not figure in the vital few.

Such belief in silver bullets is often harmless, but sometimes not. That is because powerful politicians, key bureaucrats, public figures and business people often influence what happens in the education system.

In this piece I am listing the most common five silver bullets, as I have seen. I call them trivial pursuits because of many reasons: simplistic diagnosis, over-estimation of importance, underestimation of complexity of solutions, ignoring the integrated nature of educational and social issues, inadequate from a learning and pedagogical stand-point and just plain wrong.

First: “Let’s fix the policies”. This is the catch-all one. A belief that somehow the ills of our schooling can be fixed by changing policy is widespread. Some policies can certainly be improved, but for the most part, the issue is in the implementation of the education policies. And like all implementation, the devil is in the details, which by its very nature is so diffuse that no silver bullet can fix it.

Second, the enthusiasm of the New York cab driver about fixing education by fixing the teachers who are habitually not in school is shared by many. Whatever the absenteeism number might be, two facts are often overlooked. That a vastly larger number show up to work and teach. And people not showing up to work (or not working) is not just in schools, but in many of our other public systems. It’s a wider issue of governance, with socio-political roots.

Third: “Let’s improve teacher salaries to get better people”. While salaries of teachers in a large percentage of private schools are very poor, government schoolteachers across the country are reasonably well paid; often in the top quartile of their socio-economic milieu. A key issue in “getting teachers” is the kind of places teachers have to live in. We now have schools in 0.8km of 98% of our habitations. It’s the perceived (and real) hardship of living in a particular village, a specific block, a region that is often the big obstacle for getting teachers.

Fourth: “Let’s use technology to improve teaching, address the problem of teacher attendance, to deliver interesting learning material, etc.” The reality is that the vast majority of our schools are amid basic infrastructure which limits the use of technology. This is about availability of electricity and basic service delivery. However, even in the best of circumstances, technology has a limited role to play in the teaching-learning process with children. This is not a limitation of technology, but simply the nature of learning, which is best nurtured for a child by a personal human interaction and relationship.

Fifth: “Let’s privatize the schooling system”. The words chosen may differ, but that is what it means. What it ignores is that our schooling system is already rapidly privatizing, which is not helping matters. Just for now, let’s ignore all other problems of privatizing schooling, the fact is that on learning outcomes our private schools and government schools are alike.

It’s obvious that I have taken the risk of being shot by those whose silver bullets I am calling trivial pursuits. Most of these people are good-intentioned. But these good intentions miss the fundamental issues, e.g., teacher and school leader capacity, school and education system culture, curricular issues, assessment (testing) systems.

It’s the fundamental issues that we need to work on—on a sustained basis for a few decades, and not get distracted by silver bullets.

Livemint, 04 April 2012

Comment

Punjab, Uttarakhand poorest on pupil-teacher norms

Learning Achievements, Management Contracts, Right to Education

None of the states in the region is close to meeting the student-teacher ratio and infrastructure targets set by the Right to Education Act (RTE), which completed two years today.

When the Act was rolled out on April 1, 2010, the deadline for schools to meet pupil-teacher ratio, teacher-classroom ratio and infrastructure goals, was kept at March 31, 2013.

As of 2011, half of all rural government schools in India have no boundary walls. Only 40.7% schools have met the pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) norms of two teachers for every 60 students (class I to V) and one teacher per 35 students (classes VI to VIII). The goal of ensuring that every teacher has a classroom is also unfulfilled. Nationally, 74.3% schools have achieved this target so far.

In the region, Uttarakhand and Punjab are the farthest from meeting the PTR targets with only 16.3% and 30.4% rural government schools complying. This is below the national average of 40.7% schools. J&K is the best with 87.5% schools complying. Himachal is next with 65.3% schools in compliance followed by Haryana with 41.2%.

On teacher-classroom ratio goals, Uttarakhand, Punjab and Himachal have performed better than the national average of 74.3% schools complying. Uttarakhand leads the region here with 84.7% rural government schools meeting the target. The percentages for Punjab and Himachal are 82.2 and 77.4, respectively. J&K is the farthest from meeting this target with only 49.8% schools having met it by 2011; Haryana’s percentage is 70.7, less than the national average.

Under the head of infrastructure, the law mandated the provision of specified facilities by March 31, 2013. But an analysis of schools’ RTE achievements on the basis of indicators listed in the 2011 Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) reveals that nationally only 54.1% schools have constructed boundary walls; 62.6% have playgrounds; 49.1% have usable toilets; even lesser 43.8% have separate girls’ toilets.

On infrastructure, J&K is the weakest in the region with only 28.7% schools fenced; one third (36.3) have usable toilets; 22% have girls’ toilets; only 52.7% have playgrounds. Half of all J&K schools (50.7%) have libraries but they are being used in just 26.8% cases.

Even in Punjab, which posted the best learning outcomes nationally in 2010, only 58.7% schools have functional toilets for girls. The state was the most lethargic on the target of providing assistive devices to special children and delayed inordinately on placing orders for these devices. Nationally only 6.1% schools have provided disabled friendly toilets as of 2011.

The analysis of ASER data from 14,283 schools of India further shows that though nationally, RTE Act should have led to improved teacher and students’ attendance, this hasn’t happened. In 2009, 89.1% teachers were present in primary schools on the day of the visit. In 2011, only 87% were present.

In 2009, 74.3% of the enrolled primary students were present, whereas in 2011, only 70.9% were present.

At upper primary level, the percentage of enrolled student attending school on a given day was 77 in 2009. It is 71.9 now.

The Tribune, 01 April 2012

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Harvard India Conference: Meet on where India is headed

Learning Achievements, Literacy

BOSTON: International leaders from government, business, non-profit, media and entertainment sectors are meeting here over the weekend to discuss where India stands currently and where it is headed over the next decade.

The discussions are part of the 9th Harvard India Conference with the theme of India: The Next Frontier, co-hosted by Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School of Government March 24-25 at Cambridge, Massachussetts and Boston.

The conference promises to present a clear, unbiased perspective on where India is headed over the next decade, taking with it the lives and destinies of a billion people and the attached fortunes of an integrated, increasingly dependent world.

Panel discussions with experts in their respective fields would focus on future of the Indian economy, healthcare, education, entrepreneurship, retail and energy, according to organisers.

Hardeep Puri, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, and Bharat Desai, chairman of Syntel Inc, are the keynote speakers at the conference.

The India-heads of Apax partners, TA Associates, TPG, New Silk Route & Tata Capital Firms will talk about the challenges and opportunities of the booming investing market in India.

Speakers include Nitin Nohria, Dean and Richard P. Chapman, Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School, and Bollywood personalities like Abhinay Deo, director of “Delhi Belly”, and Ritesh Sidhwani, producer of “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara”.

Jay Sean, popular Indian origin singer from London, will dwell on building a brand and successful business in the biggest entertainment market in the world.

The Tata group of companies, which gifted $50 million to the Harvard Business School, is the title sponsor of the conference.

The South Asian Times, the popular New York-based premier newspaper for the South Asian community, is the prime media sponsor of this prestigious event.

The Economic Times, 24 March 2012

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