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Achieving Education for All in a ‘Hot, Flat and Crowded’ India

Education, Uncategorized

Uttara Balakrishnan

Recent reading of two seemingly disparate issues made me question if they might be connected after all?  The first was in Thomas L. Friedman’s 2008 book – Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why the World Needs a Green Revolution and How We Can Renew Our Global Future. In his book, Friedman says that the earth is heading towards a new era. We’re no longer in a ‘post’ world – post-colonial, post war, post-Cold War. We’re at a turning point – where the problems of energy demand and supply, climate change, biodiversity loss and energy poverty are no longer those we can return to – at a later date in time. We have to address these now, for there to be a later. The second reading was a news piece which uncovered that in Sasaram in Bihar, children study under the dim lights of the railway station at night. Power in this district of Bihar is erratic and unreliable. A majority of the homes here do not have power for more than ten hours a day and the evenings are the worst.

When I look at these two observations together, it becomes more and more obvious to me that while achieving universal education is India’s goal; what should be our priority is achieving this in an India where the pressures of global warming, globalization and population explosion – are upon us. As I see it there are four important issues that need to be considered.

One, the health impacts that increasing energy stress are causing are reducing the ability of many people to access education. There are two aspects to this. First, indoor air pollution is one of the biggest health hazards in rural India. Biomass cooking, according to the World Health Organization causes around 5 lakh deaths in India, mostly women and children. Second, without access to clean water, parents are increasingly reluctant to send their children to school. This affects young girls disproportionately more. This means that for education to be a choice in the first place, we need to simultaneously (a) ensure clean and safe alternatives to biomass cooking (b) guarantee availability of clean water and sanitary conditions in schools across the country and, (c) provide sustainable, long term alternatives of energy consumption.

Two, in a world that is more globalized and competitive than ever before, being highly skilled is more of a necessity than an option. The RTE Act leaves the education of children post-grade 8 a question mark. This Hindustan Times article makes the point starkly.  For many Indians, education after Class 12 is still inaccessible and unaffordable. There is a massive demand-supply gap in higher education. This makes their ability to contribute and collaborate limited. In such a scenario innovations don’t happen and productivity doesn’t accelerate. Focusing on (a) novel and affordable solutions in secondary and higher education for the poor and, (b) enabling them to access information technology and better wireless connectivity (by providing green sources of electricity) to make the most of these opportunities, must be of our main concern.

Three, to achieve inclusive education and ensure that the real beneficiaries of any policy actually benefit from it means that we need to invest in and develop our villages. Our cities are stretched beyond capacity. Population pressures are leading to crumbling infrastructure and decreasing quality of life. Developing villages by investing in infrastructure and assuring provision of clean, sustainable and long term energy sources will, by creating the necessary supply conditions, encourage the increased proliferation of private schools in these areas. Demand for such schools already exists. This means that everyone, including the economically disadvantaged, will have the ability as well as the choice to empower themselves.

Lastly, the poor – the ones who have contributed the least towards the present unstable climate, are the worst prepared for and most affected by extreme events such as droughts, famines and floods. This constant struggle to battle climactic forces reduces their ability to participate in education. For those who do attend schools, drop outs are common and this is one of the many reasons for poor learning outcomes for India’s school going children. Research has indicated that if the predictions of the IPCC’s (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) predictions on global warming were to come true, India’s GDP could decline by as much as 9%. The effects of this on the education sector would be catastrophic.

Thus, while achieving education for all needs to be one of the most important policy focuses, we need to be cognizant of the inter-dependence between energy and education. We are unlikely to truly achieve equitable quality education at all levels without also focusing our attention on green solutions to the energy problems facing us. The question is not whether global warming projections will come true or not. The point is, if they do, we will have the capacity to meet them and if they don’t we will have moved on to a more efficient and sustainable way of living. ‘Energy poverty’ as Friedman terms it, is going to make it much harder for those at the bottom of the pyramid to access educational opportunity and unlock their potential. While we cannot undo the damage that has been done, what we can do – by acknowledging the existence of and acting on this multi-faceted challenge – is ensure a brighter, more certain and more able future for those who need it the most, while innovating along the way. After all, isn’t that what great revolutions are made of?

This article was originally posted on Spontaneous Order.

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Education department starts drive against unrecognized schools



The Times of India

Sixty eight nursery and primary schools without the mandatory state recognition have been issued notices by the department of elementary education. If they do not comply and obtain recognition, they will be sent a second round of notices by the end of November. If these continue to function further without the required certificates, they will be directed to shut shop before March, so that the students in these schools could be admitted in other schools. Officials believe that most of these schools will not be able to meet the conditions mandated by the government and will have to be closed down. P Jeyaraj, district elementary education officer (DEEO), said after a meeting of assistant education officers (AEO)s on Tuesday that unauthorised schools were issued notices in the last few weeks. “About three months ago, head masters of government schools were asked to identify schools in their locality. Notices were sent to those schools that were found to be functioning without approval,” he said. They have been asked to get the various certificates required to run a school. A team of officials from the education department will visit these schools next week and hold inspections and note the progress made with regard to the required norms. Certifications including stability certificate, fire and safety certificate as well as certificates from the department of health and the city corporation are necessary to run a school. Most important of these conditions is the minimum land required to run a school. Schools in corporation limits should have a minimum of 33 cents, in municipality areas 55 cents, town panchayat an acre and village panchayats three acre to function. If these schools fail to comply with all the norms, they will be directed to close down before the end of the academic year. According to S Mayadevi, president, private school welfare association, many schools have not renewed their licences as they do not have the required land. The criterion on minimum land was imposed only a year ago. Obtaining an acre to three acres in the rural areas has become impossible, she said. She also said the closure of schools will affect the students. Around 30 schools were closed at the start of this academic year for similar reasons. “This had affected the students who found it hard to get admission in other schools. A similar situation could arise,” she said. She wondered how many government school followed the norms. However, Jeyaraj insisted that all the unauthorised schools will be closed down before March, so that students can obtain admission in other schools. The certificates required for schools Stability certificate Fire and safety certificate ‘D-Form’ certificate from tahsildar Sanitary certificate from the health department Approval from Local Planning Authority (LPA) for building plan Minimum land as mandated by the state government

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Foreign technical varsities will still need AICTE’s nod: Shankar S Mantha



Business   Standard

The government might have decided to allow foreign universities to operate independently in India and set up campuses but Shankar S Mantha, chairman of the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), says they would still require the regulator’s approval. In an interview with Kalpana Pathak, he also talks about what AICTE is doing to check the quality of educational institutions. Excerpts:

With foreign varsities allowed to enter India under the new Companies Act, would international B-schools need AICTE’s permission to be here?

Anybody operating under the definition of technical education requires AICTE’s permission to be here. Within the AICTE Act, Section 2(H) says technical educational institutions — engineering, management, hotel management or architecture — need AICTE’s approval, unless, of course, these are explicitly exempted from certain provisions of the AICTE Act itself, or by another Act of Parliament. They are bound by the existing rules of the land.

But would that not discourage international institutes from coming to India?

I don’t think so. All I am saying is, any international technical institution coming to India should abide by the rules here. They cannot operate without my permission.

In that case, what is AICTE doing to check quality of Indian institutions?

By checking quality, if you mean more number of institutions coming up, I don’t think there is a direct relationship between the seats remaining vacant and the closure of institutions. In a country where the gross enrolment ratio is hardly 19, you need more people to come into the system and you should really look at the supply side. Access is very important. Just because I stay in a slum, it does not mean I should be deprived of access to education. Talk of bringing in quality are fine but if, in the name of quality, I do not provide a college for these fellows, what happens? I am depriving them of basic education. In fact, the rate of enrolment is increasing every year. If that is the good point, how does it matter if institutions are closing? In fact, the bad ones should close. I am not worried about seats going vacant and new colleges starting.    Turn to Page 5 >

But industry says AICTE is responsible for approving new institutions and seats going vacant…

Our Constitution says every person has the right to practise one’s profession. When a private enterprise puts in money, provides for land and says it is ready to follow all the rules of the regulator, under what pretext can I say I will not allow him to start a college? Suppose you give a theory that there are too many colleges and quality is an issue. The entrepreneur says why AICTE presupposes he will not be able to provide quality. And then, he will go to court and say AICTE is stopping him from setting up an institute. Here, the biggest role is that of the university.

How do you say that?

Every university has a University Development Council. Their job is to create a perspective plan and find out — where, for instance, in a particular area, does one need a women’s college or a minority institution; in what streams are students enrolled, how many students are enrolled in a particular category, etc. But how many University Development Councils have created such perspective plans? Not even one. All these perspective plans need to be collated to create a state perspective plan. When such state perspective plans come to us, we create a national perspective plan. But nothing comes to us. Recently Maharashtra sent us a plan, but it is highly sketchy. If I go to court with that report, court will throw me out. We need a scientific study that clearly talks about our student outflow from the 10th and 12th class. That will stand its ground in court and help us determine the number of students who can be accommodated in the higher education system and the number of institutions needed in a particular area or stream.

So what is AICTE doing about bringing in quality?

We have a policy of self-disclosure to put in a self-regulatory mechanism. If you are a good citizen, the police will not come after you. That is what we are trying to do in the technical education space. Self-regulation will bring in quality much faster and in a better manner than policing around. If you give me wrong data, you will be liable to penalty. In a self-regulatory system, colleges will close. Five years ago, there was no system, no transparency and no accountability.


CORE Education and Technologies is bringing global education systems to Indian education


Education News

May 21, 2013

While Indian students were coming up trumps in tests, excelling in classes, and generally wowing the western world, there was one Indian company trying to make western students in the US and UK better as well by improving their education systems. Sanjeev Mansotra had been working in the family business of mining and iron ore trading since he was 17. It was in 2003 that he got the opportunity to buy out a young software company that was creating software for offshore clients.

It was this company, along with two others a little later, that would go on to become CORE Education & Technologies Ltd-a million-dollar end-to-end education services firm that now operates in 15 countries including the US, UK, India and has recently ventured into the Middle East and Africa.

It provides end-to-end solutions for the education sector which includes teacher training, technology solutions for assessment and examinations. It also provides consultancy on IT requirements for schools, colleges and for quality of education.

Kick-off “We didn’t have a vision or anything at the time [we started]. We did not plan to enter into the education sector either,” he says. That was by chance, as one of the companies Mansotra bought later was based in the US making software for the education sector.

“In the US, we started by helping the government with compliance, which is to say that we had software that could track the utilization of funds allocated to state governments for education. We were measuring the end result in terms of enrollment, dropouts, etc,” he says, adding that this was basically a data management service built for the government.

In the UK, the company’s biggest business is teacher training. “There is a big demand in UK for temporary teachers. We provide training to teachers and provide temporary teachers to schools in case of absenteeism,” Mansotra explains.

Anshul Sonak, President of the company, adds that “teacher absenteeism is looked at very seriously abroad. Supplying alternate teachers is a big business in the UK and we have a tie-up with Oxford University for the same.”

In 2008, an acquisition of the K-12 Division of Princeton Review Inc., a company that is an offshoot of Princeton University, gave CORE its flagship product-of formative assessment for the K-12 segment in the US. Here, students from kindergarten to the 12th grade are assessed via online programs to see which subjects they are weak in and then provide intervention or specialized attention accordingly.

The platform is used by students and teachers but CORE sells the product to governments, both in India and the US, and not directly to schools or colleges.

The desi experience The company entered the Indian market in 2007 with a software project for the Jharkhand government that tracked every child’s enrollment, nearest school, basic data etc. This data was collected on ground by an agency and then made available to the government in the form of a report that could be accessed via CORE’s software platform.

CORE also had its eyes on the government of India’s move to allocate a budget for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) education, which the firm already had experience in handling in the US and UK. “However, the component of services was lower in what the government was looking for in India and there was a higher demand for hardware, which is why we didn’t bid initially,” Mansotra says.

Mansotra’s belief was that the services component would be more in demand soon as providing computers wasn’t going to be enough. Creating a curriculum, managing the training among others was what interested Mansotra more. “But the government wanted to have something they could see, they wanted companies to set up computer labs,” he says. His gamble proved right. The government’s demand for services on ICT education went up and he was in business. CORE now has 12,000 schools in India where it provides ICT education services-providing content, or training teachers among others. The plan is to grow that business to 20,000 schools by the end of the year.

Mansotra was also keen on the government’s introduction of the Model Schools Scheme, wherein it would go the Public-Private-Partnership way for 2,500 public schools in the first phase of the project. Here, the private sector was to provide for infrastructure as well as manage the schools. CORE has bid for 50 schools under the Model Schools Scheme through the Ministry of Human Resource and Development. But this business is yet to take off for the company.

CORE has also moved into the vocational training space in India. “Vocational training had been looked at separately from the formal education space. But there now is a greater demand for integrating employability into the formal education curriculum,” Sonak says.

In the US, CORE has a tie up with the East Valley Institute of Technology for vocational training. The company is trying to replicate the vocational training model followed there to suit India. In India, vocational training programs are provided to rural youth through the Ministry of Labor and Employment.

The government gives out tenders to companies for the programs and CORE has been working on retail, hospitality, IT or ITES sector contracts here.

CORE is also looking at vocational training for students in schools, but Sonak says that is something which has not taken off in India in a big way. Outside of its range of education services, the company gets 23 percent of its revenues from IT services, wherein it makes software for accounting, enterprise resource planning etc. for schools and other educational institutions.

The books One of the challenges for CORE now, Mansotra says, is raising capital. By acquiring a listed company in 2003, CORE came on to the BSE from its inception. The company raised capital through foreign currency convertible bonds in 2006, 2007 and 2010, for a total of $175 million. Mansotra claims that the company has an order book of Rs. 1,500 crore in India alone now. The company’s revenue for the year 2011-2012 stood at over Rs. 923 crore.

One of the advantages Mansotra says he has over competitors is that he has kept away from the capital intensive business of setting up schools. “We are a services company and that has helped us keep our investment in capital low,” he says.

The challenge for the company, Sonak identifies, is working with the Indian government.

“Coordinating with different departments of the government is a big challenge. Also, the emphasis on quality of education is not very high in India. In the US, parents demand higher quality every day. In India, the bottom-up push is not there,” he says.

Narayanan Ramaswamy, Head, Education at KPMG says: “The government is oblivious about what technology can do for education. They released a tablet, had some initiatives in ICT, but mostly these have been disjointed efforts. Unless the government has a clear vision and plan, working with the government for companies like CORE will be a challenge.”

Ramaswamy also says that the opportunity is huge in the space that CORE operates in.

In India, there is a need to create human resource of value which will benefit when better technology is brought into the education sector, he adds. For a company that has made 13 acquisitions so far, Mansotra says that a big strength has been team management.

Another strength Mansotra identifies is that having worked with schools in developed countries as well as in India, they have an advantage going into the Middle East and Africa.

“Associating with state governments in the US provides us a fillip, while the experience of working with challenging circumstances in India give us the ability to work in these economies as well,” he says.



RTE may replace old education acts in state


Hindustan Times  Mumbai,

May 08, 2013

Sayli Udas Mankikar,
To avoid confusion and duplicity in the implementation of Right to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, the Maharashtra education department has proposed to scrap the existing laws related to primary education like the Primary Education Act in the state and completely replace it with the RTE.

The proposal that is likely to be tabled at the state cabinet meeting on Wednesday is a procedure adopted to implement the act in totality. The state has already missed the Supreme Court three-year deadline on March 31, 2013, to implement the entire act.

“The RTE act is a superior act and it overrules all other acts in the state. This is a proposed move to scrap all such acts and bring them under one umbrella,” a senior government official said. The official added that the RTE has changed the way students are given admissions, examinations are conducted, fees are drawn, teacher-student ratio is fixed, and syllabus is drawn. “It is a positive step by the government to embrace the RTE act in totality,” he added.


They Spend WHAT? The Real Cost of Public Schools


CATO Institute
Policy Review

Although public schools are usually the biggest item in state and local budgets, spending figures provided by public school officials and reported in the media often leave out major costs of education and thus understate what is actually spent.

To document the phenomenon, this paper reviews district budgets and state records for the nation’s five largest metro areas and the District of Columbia. It reveals that, on average, per-pupil spending in these areas is 44 percent higher than officially reported.

Real spending per pupil ranges from a low of nearly $12,000 in the Phoenix area schools to a high of nearly $27,000 in the New York metro area. The gap between real and reported per-pupil spending ranges from a low of 23 percent in the Chicago area to a high of 90 percent in the Los Angeles metro region.

To put public school spending in perspective, we compare it to estimated total expenditures in local private schools. We find that, in the areas studied, public schools are spending 93 percent more than the estimated median private school.

Citizens drastically underestimate current per-student spending and are misled by official figures. Taxpayers cannot make informed decisions about public school funding unless they know how much districts currently spend. And with state budgets stretched thin, it is more crucial than ever to carefully allocate every tax dollar.

This paper therefore presents model legislation that would bring transparency to school district budgets and enable citizens and legislators to hold the K–12 public education system accountable.

Click here to read more.


Rahm Shuts Down the Schools


April 1, 2013

Just over a week ago, Chicago Public School (CPS) officials announced the closing of 54 elementary schools contained in 61 buildings, located in poor, mostly black and Hispanic neighborhoods. The move represents the largest mass closing of schools in the nation’s history. CPS, facing a projected budget deficit of $1 billion in 2014, insists money spent keeping schools with declining enrollment open can be better used elsewhere. Approximately 30,000 students will be affected by the move. The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and many parents are furious, and vow to fight.

“Like school systems in New York and Philadelphia, where enrollment has dropped, Chicago must make tough choices,” said Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett in a letter posted on the CPS website. “Consolidating schools is the best way to make sure all of our city’s students get the resources they need to learn and succeed.” CTU President Karen Lewis called the move “classist” and “racist” and offered a scathing assessment of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who was on vacation when the announcement was made. “He is the murder mayor,” Lewis said. “Look at the murder rate in this city. He’s murdering schools, he’s murdering good jobs. He’s murdering housing. I don’t know what else to call him. He’s the murder mayor.”

Emanuel was unimpressed. “I’m interested in ideas, not insults,” he said. “Do you have an idea that would ensure that 56 percent of the African-American male adolescents don’t drop out? Ideas are what matter, not insults. Do you have an idea of how to move not only our graduation rate, but our college attendance?”

Both Emanuel and Byrd-Bennett contend the closures are necessary because there are currently only 403,000 students in enrolled in a district where there is seating for 500,000, and many of the buildings being closed are half-empty. Concerned parents counter that the closings will further undermine marginal neighborhoods, and force young children to cross gang boundaries to reach their new schools, putting their lives in potential danger.

For parents such concerns are legitimate. Chicago’s murder rate is 15.65 per 100,000, almost four times the American average, and almost 80 percent of shootings and murders in the city are gang-related, according to police. Furthermore, there may be as many as 68,000 gang members in the Windy City, quadruple the number of cops.

Activists were also infuriated, and like Karen Lewis, also willing to inject race into the issue. “I don’t see any Caucasians being moved, bussed, or murdered in the streets as they travel along gang lines, or stand on the steps of a CPS school,” said activist Wendy Matil Pearson. ”He says that he wants to turn around the city of Chicago, make a new Chicago. Does that new Chicago mean no black folks?” wondered Valerie Leonard, co-founder of the Lawndale Alliance. “Where are people going to go? They’re not going to stay around in the community if there are no schools!” Dwayne Truss, assistant director of the grassroots school advocacy group Raise Your Hand, aimed his anger at the Mayor. “We’re here to stand up to the bully, a.k.a. Rahm Emanuel, a.k.a. the one-term mayor,” he said.

Last Wednesday, a rally took place at Daley Plaza, after which protesters marched downtown past Chicago City Hall, ending at CPS Headquarters. Civil disobedience was planned, but it amounted to little more than some minor disturbances, resulting in no arrests. Adam Collins, Director of News Affairs at the Chicago Police Department, noted that the number of protesters was far less than what had been expected. ”While police were prepared for what the event organizers predicted to be a crowd of 5,000 or more, there were approximately 700-900 participants, so the event was well-managed and without incident,” he said.

Lewis spoke at the rally, and yet again played the race card. ”Let’s not pretend that when you close schools on the South and West sides that the children who will be affected are black. Let’s not pretend that’s not racist,” Lewis contended. “They are closing down schools that have names of African-American icons. But he’ll open up schools to put the name of a living billionaire on front.”

Both the activists and Lewis are being disingenuous. The schools being closed are in black and Hispanic communities, and according to the CPS’s own website, black and Hispanic students comprise 85.7 percent of the student body. White student comprise only 8 percent, due in large part to the reality that white Chicagoans, who make up one-third of the city’s population, put their children in private schools. Thus, the overwhelming majority of children in most schools in the city are minority students, and Lewis’s clear attempt to stoke the flames of racial hatred in the black community with charges of racism rings hollow.

Furthermore, if Lewis and her fellow teachers are so concerned, they have a funny way of showing it: even as they knew full well the district was facing a shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars, they staged a strike last September. The key issues in that strike were teacher salaries, benefits, job security and a demand to change a teacher evaluation system that relied “too much” on test scores. As a result of prevailing in that strike, CTU teachers are now the highest paid in the nation, earning an average annual salary of $74,839–not counting benefits.

By comparison, the average Chicagoan, living in a city where the unemployment rate is just under 11 percent, makes just $30,203.

To be clear, the abysmal situation in Chicago schools and the related measure of school closings is, without a shadow of a doubt, a problem created by the Democrats, exacerbated by Democrats, with a “solution” that pits relatively well-off Democrats against poor Democrats. While Rahm Emanuel struggles to cope with budget shortfalls, violence and underutilized campuses, he sends his own children to private schools. When Karen Lewis rails about closings that “unnecessarily expose our students to gang violence, turf wars and peer-to-peer conflict” and “putting thousands of small children in harm’s way,” she neglects to mention that nearly 40 percent of her fellow unionists send their children to private schools as well — or that Chicago teachers provide less instruction than any other “large metro area” in the country, according to the Illinois Policy Institute.

As for the parents, in 12 of 13 city wards where black Americans comprise an overwhelming majority of the population, voting for the same Democrat is more than a reflex: in the 2012 presidential election, Republican Mitt Romney did not receive a single vote.

The CPS promises it will invest money to improve schools where the students affected by the closings will be relocated. The funds freed up will ostensibly be used to add more technology, air conditioning, better security, more tutoring and additional services. CPS promises that every school will have a library and that students will no longer be subjected to substandard buildings. “We know this is going to be difficult, but we believe it’s the right thing to do,” said CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll. “I’m sure any parent would stand up and say they want a better education for their child. And in order for that to happen, we have to do this and move on.”

As this previous Front Page report on the horrendous state of the Chicago public schools reveals, moving on–not up–is all that is likely to occur. The move to improved facilities is reminiscent of another progressive pipe dream, namely public housing. At one time in cities across America, buildings that are now urban epicenters of crime and social dysfunction were also new and improved. If the underlying problems facing blighted school communities remain unaddressed, what expectation can there be that promises of “investments” will offer any hopes for transformative change?

As long as public school education in Chicago remains under the status quo control of the unholy Democrat-teachers union alliance, moving children to newer buildings will amount to nothing other than one more broken promise of “reform” — similar to every other broken promise of reform that has been made over the course of several decades.


Pick top-quality leaders for our schools to build India’s future: Azim Premji, Chairman, Wipro


The Economic Times
March 20, 2013

By Azim Premji
Chairman, Wipro

There are multiple research studies across the world, including India, which attempt to identify schools where learning is genuinely happening, and to understand the factors that influence these outcomes. There are usually a few common factors that are characteristic of those schools where learning really happens. One of the most significant and consistent of these factors is the quality of school leadership.

Where the school leadership (principal, head teacher, etc) is good, the school is often good. I am sure this conclusion doesn’t surprise most of us.

Before we go any further, let me briefly touch upon what I think is good education.

In my view, good education is one that enables the growth and development of the child in multiple dimensions, so that she is able to fulfill and expand her potential, as also to become an active, contributing and concerned citizen of the world.

These multiple dimensions of development of the child that I referred to are cognitive, social, emotional, physical and ethical.

Humans, not just Students

While it’s implicit in what I have stated, let me still point out that good education is not rote memorisation and getting good grades, it’s about developing a good human being and an active citizen, so that we have a better society.

This understanding of good education that I have shared is certainly not new. It’s there in our national policy documents, in the writings of scores of educationists and in our curricular goals.

In the context of this broader and deeper purpose of education, the role of a school leader becomes even more important. Let me share a few thoughts in this regard.

First, I think it’s important that the school leader be the visible custodian of the purpose of education in her school. Else, it is very easy for us to slip into the ritualistic, rote-based, marks-driven education that we see all around us. Being a custodian is not easy — it will require battling many forces and continually convincing many people — but that I think is the natural task of any leader.

Second, education of this nature requires capable and confident teachers. For this, school leaders need to create an enabling environment where teachers can grow and develop. This requires a culture of trust, experimentation and openness.

Lead from the Front

Third, the kind of education that we have talked about is not merely an outcome of classroom instruction. It’s significantly driven by school culture. And the school leader has the most determining role in shaping the school culture. Let’s discuss five specific examples in this regard.

If we want our children to grow up with democratic values, then our schools must have democratic values. This means that the school leader must be able to foster a culture where there is reasoned discussion about everything, and things are not determined by hierarchy. In such a culture, the merit of each view and argument is the important factor, not who has expressed that view.

If we want our children to grow up with a scientific temper and intense curiosity, then the school culture must be that of rigorous inquiry and debate. Questioning must be encouraged, along with coaching for reasoning.

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If we want our children to grow up emotionally stable and in a state of well-being, then the school culture must be supportive, encouraging and accepting of the child. The school culture must not be that of fear and punishment. It must help the child discover her interests and abilities, not label them as “good” or “bad”.

If we want our children to grow and develop with a deep sense of honesty and integrity, then they must see that the school practices integrity and honesty. In a society where integrity and honesty are eroding, schools and school leaders can play an anchoring role. For this, the school leader will have to build a culture of integrity in the school, which is visible in the relationships between children and teachers, within the teachers and school staff, and with the school leader.

Finally, if we want our children to grow up with social sensitivity and responsibility, then our schools have to be socially sensitive. A school being socially sensitive is reflected in the issues that are discussed in the school, in the language that these issues are discussed, and also in the kind of things that the school may engage in with the society around.

But social sensitivity is reflected even more visibly in schools in another way, which children learn from every day: in the way the school treats each individual, especially the powerless. If the school treats the children and the housekeeping staff — the most powerless in a school environment — with respect, dignity and care, that is what the children will learn.

A Better Society

I have tried to emphasise that education that develops a good human being and a good citizen needs a lot more than classroom instruction. This is why school leadership must be a critical area of work and investment across the country. And good education is one of the most important methods of building a better society.


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


live Mint
March 20, 2013

Investments in education contribute to aggregate economic growth and enable citizens to 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 second-grade level. 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 aggregate productivity in the economy and also denies citizens the capabilities they need to fully participate in a modernizing 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 and 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 improvements in school governance. 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 summarized in Muralidharan, K.(2013): “Priorities for Primary Education Policy in India’s 12th Five-Year Plan,” India Policy Forum.) 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 programmes (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 salaries and their effectiveness at improving student learning, and at best very modest positive effects of reducing pupil-teacher ratios on learning. 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 summarized 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.
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 million 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 randomized 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 textbook). Four points are especially noteworthy. First, these positive results have been found consistently in programmes run by multiple non-profit organizations in several locations (including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Uttarakhand, 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 programmes 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.
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, a survey that covered the same areas in 2010 found that teacher absence in rural India was still around 24%. The cost of teacher absence was estimated at around Rs.7,500 crore per 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 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.
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). 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. More broadly, these results suggest that the performance of frontline government employees depends less on the level of pay and more on its structure. 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 summarized above does not imply that we should stop improving school infrastructure or training teachers. Rather, it strongly cautions that more of the ‘business as usual’ expansion of education spending is 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 summarized below:
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 organizations 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 decerased, there is a considerably larger gap in learning levels, which exists at the point of entry into the school system and continues to widen 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 programmes 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 organizations 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 organizational goals. Implementing these ideas effectively in a public sector setting will take considerable effort, but the evidence highlights the potentially large returns in doing so.
The next 10 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 modernizing world. In a fiscally constrained environment, it is also imperative to use evidence to implement cost-effective policies that maximize 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.
Karthik Muralidharan is with the University of California, San Diego. A shorter version of this piece 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 summarized a decade of research and synthesized the policy implications.


RTE deadline, where do we stand?


The Times of India
April 1, 2013

Right to Education Act (RTE) enforcement deadline ended on March 31, 2013. Urmila Sarkar, chief education, Unicef-India , writes on the priority areas to fulfil the goal.

April 1, 2013, marks a key milestone in RTE implementation. It represents the third year anniversary of the Act, which for the first time guaranteed eight years of quality education for every girl and boy across India. It is also the agreed deadline for meeting provisions related to the rights of children, teachers, schools, and monitoring with a focus on child-friendly and child-centred curriculum. Provisions related to the training of untrained teachers have been given an extra two years and should be met by April 1, 2015.

The notification of RTE status rules and implementation guidelines across states and Union Territories has led to significantly increased education budgets , major teacher reform measures and countless stories of hope from the field. While progress is evident, it is widely acknowledged that much remains to be done considering that there are still eight million children out-of-school and millions more that drop out before completing the full cycle of elementary education . Learning assessments demonstrate that many of the children who do remain in school do not have the foundational literacy or the skills necessary for their overall development.

Some of the most challenging provisions to implement include the identification and integration of the out-ofschool children into age appropriate class through special training, recruitment , training, and continuous support for teachers, ensuring functioning school management committees of parents and teachers, which produce childfriendly and child-centred school development plans, and the establishment of local authorities, which monitor children’s admission, attendance and completion of elementary education.

It is critical that national/state governments , together with civil society, take stock of the progress achieved and what remains to be done in order to achieve RTE targets on an urgent basis. More concerted efforts are needed to ensure that schools are inclusive spaces for children with teachers as agents of learning and social change with the strong ownership by the community.

Major institutional reform is required in key areas such as teacher education and classroom process through strengthened monitoring and quality assurance systems. Adequate and improved targets of resources which reach the most deprived and marginalised children will be paramount.

The enactment of RTE marked a historic moment for the children of India and a tremendous opportunity. The government is now proposing through the Child Labour Amendment Bill to prohibit employment of children in all occupations and processes to facilitate their enrolment in schools in light of RTE. This is most welcome and should be strongly advocated. To sum up, India’s past achievements in education indicate that it is possible to reach its goals and the Act sets a target that can be met. Let us work together to translate the promise of RTE into quality education with equity and a brighter future for India and for its children.

Learning Outcomes

Three years since the RTE was enforced, it has boosted enrolment in schools, however, several studies including the ASER report indicate that students’ learning levels are still low.

Sridhar Rajagopalan, founder-MD , Educational Initiatives, said that the RTE is more focused on infrastructure issues such as mid-day meal, school buildings, enrolment, teacher:student ratio, etc, than on learning outcomes. “The focus of education is on learning , hence, we need to asses whether students are learning to read and write,” he added.

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