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Finnish Education Chief: ‘We Created a School System Based on Equality’

Government Schools, Learning Achievements, Quality


The Atlantic

Finnish education often seems paradoxical to outside observers because it appears to break a lot of the rules we take for granted. Finnish children don’t begin school until age 7. They have more recess, shorter school hours than many U.S. children do (nearly 300 fewer hours per year in elementary school), and the lightest homework load of any industrialized nation. There are no gifted programs, almost no private schools, and no high-stakes national standardized tests.

Yet over the past decade Finland has consistently performed among the top nations on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a standardized test given to 15-year olds in 65 nations and territories around the world. Finland’s school children didn’t always excel. Finland built its excellent, efficient, and equitable educational system in a few decades from scratch, and the concept guiding almost every educational reform has been equity.  The Finnish paradox is that by focusing on the bigger picture for all, Finland has succeeded at fostering the individual potential of most every child.

I recently accompanied Krista Kiuru, Finland’s minister of education and science, when she visited the Eliot K-8 Innovation School in Boston, and asked her what Finland is doing that we could learn from.

I visited four Finnish schools while researching my book Parenting Without Borders. While there, I frequently heard a saying: “We can’t afford to waste a brain.” It was clear that children were regarded as one of Finland’s most precious resources. You invest significantly in providing the basic resources so that all children may prosper. How do these notions undergird your educational system?

We used to have a system which was really unequal. My parents never had a real possibility to study and have a higher education. We decided in the 1960s that we would provide a free quality education to all. Even universities are free of charge. Equal means that we support everyone and we’re not going to waste anyone’s skills. We don’t know what our kids will turn out like—we can’t know if one first-grader will become a famous composer, or another a famous scientist. Regardless of a person’s gender, background, or social welfare status, everyone should have an equal chance to make the most of their skills.  It’s important because we are raising the potential of the entire human capital in Finland.  Even if we don’t have oil or minerals or any other natural resources, well, we think human capital is also a valuable resource.

How well do you think Finland’s educational system, one based more squarely on equity rather than high achievement, is working?

We created a school system based on equality to make sure we can develop everyone’s potential. Now we can see how well it’s been working.  Last year the OECD tested adults from 24 countries measuring the skill levels of adults aged 16-65, on a survey called the PIAAC (Programme for International Assessment of Adult Competencies), which tests skills in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments. Finland scored at or near the top on all measures. But there were differences between age groups.  The test showed that all younger Finns who had had a chance to go to compulsory basic school after the reforms had extremely high knowledge; those who were older, and who were educated before the reforms, had average know-how. So, our educational system is creating people who have extremely good skills and strong know-how—a know-how which is created by investing into education. We have small class sizes and everyone is put in the same class, but we support struggling students more than others, because those individuals need more help. This helps us to be able to make sure we can use/develop everyone’s skills and potential.

I remember being struck by how many vocational or hands-on classes (home economics, art, technology, and so forth) were available to students at every Finnish school I visited.  At one secondary school I visited, kids were cooking breakfast; at another, I saw that all the kids had learned how to sew their own bathing suits.  More than one teacher remarked, “It’s important for students to have different activities to do during the day.” And there seems to be no stigma about vocational education. Is this attitude true of all schools in Finland?

Yes, we definitely believe that for young people handcrafts, cooking, creative pursuits, and sports, are all important. We believe these help young people benefit more from the skills they’re learning in school.

Do you think that this takes time away from academics?

Academics isn’t all kids need. Kids need so much more. School should be where we teach the meaning of life; where kids learn they are needed; where they can learn community skills. We like to think that school is also important for developing a good self-image, a strong sensitivity to other people’s feelings … and understanding it matters to take care of others. We definitely want to incorporate all those things in education.

I also believe that breaking up the school day with different school subjects is very important. We offer a variety of subjects during the school day. We’re also testing out what it’s like to have breaks in the middle of the school day for elementary school students. At a few elementary schools recently we’ve been offering sports, handcrafts, or school clubs during the middle of the school day, rather than just in the morning or after school as we already do. This is to help kids to think of something else, and do something different and more creative during the day.

An American librarian I spoke with, who was a visiting scholar in Finland, was struck by things like the fact that there was no concept of Internet filtering or censorship there. She was struck by how much autonomy was given to children as well as to teachers. At the same time, she noticed how much support teachers in Finland get. She visited one first-grade classroom that was taught by a relatively new teacher,  and seven adults were standing in the back of the room watching the teacher: the master teacher, a specialty subject teacher from her teaching university, her advisor from university, and a couple of other student teachers. Right after the class, they got together and talked about how the lesson went. This sort of observation/debriefing seemed to be quite common. Finland is also well known for investing heavily in continuous professional development. Can you tell me more about this combination of independence and support?

Teachers have a lot of autonomy. They are highly educated–they all have master’s degrees and becoming a teacher is highly competitive. We believe we have to have highly educated teachers, because then we can trust our teachers and know they are doing good work. They do have to follow the national curriculum, although we do have local curriculums as well. But we think that we’ve been able to create good results due to our national, universal curriculum.

We don’t test our teachers or ask them to prove their knowledge. But it’s true that we do invest in a lot of additional teacher training even after they become teachers.

We also trust in our pupils. Of course we give them exams and tests so that we know how they are progressing but we don’t test them at the national level. We believe in our schools because we consider all schools equal. We don’t school shop in Finland and we don’t have to think about which area to live in to go to a good school.

In Finland we are starting to have some issues … in some suburban schools with more immigrants or higher unemployment, but we support those schools by investing more in them, in the struggling schools.

But you know, money doesn’t make for a better education necessarily. We don’t believe that spending on a particular school will make any one of them better so much as focusing on the content of what we do and giving children individual support.

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Multiple surveys on learning achievement may be a thing of the past

Learning Achievements

Times of India


NEW DELHI: The days of multiple surveys mapping the learning achievement of school children based on self-created benchmarks could soon be over with the HRD ministry finalizing exhaustive class-wise learning indicators that students from class I to VIII are expected to achieve.

A common practice internationally, in India learning achievement indicators have been finalized for the first time by the National Council of Educational Research & Training. Sources said after the enactment of RTE, there is a strong emphasis on quality and therefore a proper benchmark was needed. It was also done to standardize outcomes so that different surveys do not invent their own standards, a source said.

Achievement indicators have been finalized in eight subjects: English, Hindi, Urdu, Mathematics, EVS, Science, Social Sciences and Art Education. Indicators in case of English, Urdu and Hindi has been fine tuned further to include the milestone a child should achieve in writing, reading, listening and speaking.

Just to illustrate writing indicators, in class I a student should be able to join the dots and complete the name of animals, use proper spacing between letters, words and sentences, form letters of right shape and size, write familiar words and simple phrases. In class II student should know how to write rhyming words and contribute for the school magazine. The contribution should be a drawing in which she gives caption. In class III, a student should be able to take dictation, writes answers for textual questions, write words/sentences paragraphs with the help of verbal/visual clues. Learning indicator level has been gradually increased so that by end of class VIII a student is able to understand the central ideal and locate details in the text, use her critical thinking faculty to read between the lines and go beyond the text, write simple messages, invitations, short paragraphs, letter applications, undertake small projects and use her proficiency in English to explore and study other areas of knowledge through print and non-print media.

In mathematics upto class V a student should develop a connection between the logical functioning of daily life to that of mathematical thinking, understand shapes and articulate their observable properties as similarities and differences among them, should be able to develop own methods of performing operations on numbers (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division), estimate outcome of operations on two or more numbers and use it in daily life activities.

A similar exhaustive indicators have been created for other subjects.

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Unesco finds Indian syllabi too ambitious

Learning Achievements

Times of India


BANGALORE: The curriculum of Indian schools has drawn sharp criticism from the Unesco.

The Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2014 released on Wednesday states that Indian curriculum is unrealistic and far too ambitious for the child.

“Vietnam’s curriculum focuses on foundation skills, is closely matched with what children are able to learn and pays particular attention to disadvantaged learners. By contrast, India’s curriculum, which outpaces what pupils can realistically learn and achieve in the time given, is a factor in widening learning gaps,” the report reads.

“It’s crucial that primary school pupils master the foundation skills of basic numeracy and literacy in the early grades, so they can understand what’s taught in later grades.”

The education scene appears dismal in India, home to the largest number of adult illiterates in the world – 287 million.

Pointing out that completing primary school in not always the guarantee for literacy, the GMR says in India, after completing up to four years of school, 90% emerge illiterate. After 5-6 years in school, around 30% remain illiterate.

Not surprisingly, the status of girls is bad. In India and Pakistan, poor girls are least likely to be able to do basic calculations. In Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, one in five poor girls is able to do basic mathematics. One reason for the dismal learning levels is that allocation per child still doesn’t adequately reflect the cost of delivering quality education to the marginalized. In the wealthy state of Kerala, education spending per pupil was about Rs 42,470. By contrast, in the poor state of Bihar, it was just Rs 6,200.

India’s high tax exemption has drawn flak. The GMR says some middle income countries, such as Egypt, India and the Philippines have far greater potential to mobilize domestic resources for education through improved taxes.

World to miss education goal

The Education for All goal is not likely to be achieved. Unesco’s report on the state of education says the world will fail to get all children into the classroom by 2015.

In fact, not a single goal will be achieved globally by this year: of the world’s 650 million primary school children , at least 250 million are not learning the basics in reading and mathematics.

This year’s report ‘Teaching and Learning : Achieving Quality for All’ warns that without attracting and adequately training enough teachers, the learning crisis will last several generations and hit the disadvantaged the hardest. Painting a grim picture on the learning levels among children, the GMR says over 120 million children have little or no experience of primary school, having not even reached grade 4. The remaining 130 million are in primary school but have not achieved the minimum benchmarks for learning.

Stating that gender disparity in classrooms is one of the biggest concerns, the GMR points out that in the sub-Saharan region, the richest boys will achieve universal primary completion in 2021, but the poorest girls will not catch up until the year 2086 — a good 65 years later than the boys. The girls will complete lower secondary education only after 100 years from now. Girls make up 54% of the global population of children out of school. Worse, the poorest young women in developing countries may not achieve universal literacy until 2072.

Pointing out that teacher training was critical for effective learning, the GMR says in around a third of countries, less than 75% of primary school teachers are trained. The biggest challenge is training existing teachers than recruiting. In South and West Asia, two of three young people who cannot read are women. In the world’s happiest country, Bhutan, the poorest young females are not projected to achieve universal literacy until 2083.

The poorest young females in Pakistan are not projected to reach the target until the 22nd century. The only good news, however, is that the number of children out of school fell by almost half in 10 years.

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RTE: Learning outcomes more important than syllabus completion

Learning Achievements, Reservation of seats, Vouchers

Business Recorder


Meet Dr Parth Shah! He is an economist by profession who taught at the University of Michigan-Dearborn (US) and Jawaharlal Nehru University (India) between 1992 and 1998. In 1997, Dr Shah founded India’s top think tank called Centre for Civil Society (CCS).

Ranked amongst the world’s top 50 think tanks by ‘The Think Tanks and Civil Societies Programme’ at the University of Pennsylvania, CCS focuses on policy research and advocacy, with education on top of the list. CCS’s other areas of focus relate to economic freedom, livelihood, good governance and environment. The think tank is also credited with the launch of India’s first private-sector led education voucher scheme.

Dr Shah was visiting Pakistan on a tight schedule last week, when he managed to squeeze in an interview with BR Research between a roundtable on education voucher held by PRIME institute, Islamabad, sightseeing to Lok Virsa and a flight to Lahore for his eventual way back home.

THE FOLLOWING IS THE EDITED TRANSCRIPT: BR Research: You mentioned earlier at the roundtable that there is no fixed model of having an education voucher scheme. But, what if you were to generalise the factors that made certain programmes successful and others a failure?

Parth Shah: The biggest factor that plays a role in the success is the design of the programme. Voucher schemes are something you have to put in the existing system, so how you design the programme conceptually and how you implement it are critical. Second factor is how it aligns with the incentives of the people who are going to be administrating it. The third thing is commitment from the political system to make the programme successful.

BRR: What are the design elements common to most successful voucher schemes? PS: In general, the vouchers are customised to each area. For example, in some voucher programmes, there is no top-up allowed, which means you can only go to a school that charges exactly what the voucher amount is. And there are quite a few programmes which have no top-up policy.

The voucher design depends on many factors, the primary ones being the type of problem that you are trying to address by introducing vouchers and who is the key beneficiary of the programme. In addition to the design, there are differences in implementation. For example, if you have a robust IT system in the education department, then you don’t have to issue a physical voucher; you can just issue a number that can be verified across the terminals.

BRR: One practical challenge has been the identification of the beneficiaries. What has been India’s experience in this regard?

PS: Selecting the group of beneficiaries has always been a challenge. You can use the database of those who are pre-qualified as below or around the poverty line. That’s the first place to start.

There is a huge debate in India about how to identify the poor. People say if you include the wrong people: that’s less of a worry: at least all the deserving people are getting benefits, at the cost of only a few wrong people getting those benefits. But, if you exclude the right people, then it is a perverse system.

India is thinking along the lines that instead of defining who they are: you try to define who they are not. For instance, those who pay income tax are not qualified for the voucher scheme, and those who own a car or have credit cards do not qualify either. So, we keep excluding people from the general population over a period of time, and as these different datasets become better, our targeting would improve, without excluding anyone who is supposed to get the benefit.

BRR: Can private sector philanthropists, foundations and high net worth individuals roll out their voucher schemes in their respective localities? Has there been any experiment to integrate government voucher scheme with private sector philanthropy?

PS: It is a good idea, but it is not being done so far in the education sector. In the US, several privately-funded programmes exist. In India, we have a voucher programme in vocational training for skill development. Currently, this pilot programme is being run by the CCS in the state of Maharashtra. Through this platform you can come as an individual or you can come as a corporate and say, for example, that you run a refinery in this area and you want to ensure that every child in this area over the age of 15 has access to vocational training. You can give money to the voucher platform then that runs the programme on your behalf. A similar programme could be tried in education.

BRR: There are provisions in the Indian right to education law that private schools should ensure that at least 25 percent of their primary class strength belongs to poor and disadvantaged class and that the government will pay for their tuition via voucher scheme. How does this work and what are its intended and unintended consequences?

PS: In a sense, it’s the victory of the voucher idea that finally the government has realised that public money can go to private schools and support students. This is what the 25 percent scheme is about.

At the same time, I don’t like the idea of making it mandatory. The government should have kept it voluntary by proposing that “we are willing to offer you this much money per student, and from this group of students you can choose which students you want to admit in your school”.

When the government made it mandatory, the high-fee schools from around the country went to the Supreme Court and fought a long and hard battle on the premise that this is infringement of the right to practise their trade.

But, the Supreme Court decided that their argument wasn’t good enough because the government does require mandatory behaviour by businesses in other areas–such as hiring quotas, or quotas on higher education medical and engineering seats–and, therefore, it was ruled constitutionally valid.

BRR: Tell us a little more about your concerns with this 25 percent mandatory requirement!

PS: The thing is that some schools don’t really want it, and neither do rich parents. So, there is a threat to those students who are going to be enrolled in the scheme. The school might take those students because the law says it must, but it can discriminate against these poor students. Who will watch over these millions of students admitted under the scheme? The law is not going to protect all the time. So, a situation has been created where the supposed beneficiaries could inadvertently be harmed–the law of unintended consequences!

Schools need to be pro-active in integrating these students academically and socially. If the school is not pro-active, I really worry that in 2-3 years’ time, many of these kids may drop out for one reason or the other. It could be because of the adverse behaviour by the school, or because of the students’ realisation of the social gap, or simply because they will not be able to keep up with the remaining students, whose parents are educated, who have extra tuitions at home, etc.

BRR: How would making the requirement voluntary help?

PS: Making it voluntary would have mitigated some of these problems. That way, the school would have aligned itself with the requirements, it would have been ready for the change, the teachers and parents would have been ready, and there would have been a consensus already built within the school that the administration is going to do their best to ensure that these kids do well in their school. The school then works for the poor student, not against her.

Many use the example of forced integration of whites and blacks in the US and argue that compulsion is necessary to change social attitudes and practices. If you look closely, what happened in the US was that when the law outlawed racial selection at the school level, the racial selection changed to the neighbourhood level. People chose neighbourhoods that were white or black, so the discrimination in choosing the school just shifted to the discrimination in choosing the home.

BRR: Both India and Pakistan have passed the right to education laws. Do you consider education a right in the same sense as a right to life and property or would you have a different notion for it?

PS: At the philosophical level, there is an important distinction between rights and entitlements which is getting blurred. I would use the language of entitlements instead of rights for education or healthcare or employment. So, this is an entitlement that you are getting from the society. It’s not your right in the sense as is your right to life, liberty and property.

BRR: What does the right imply and where does the responsibility lie?

PS: Normally, it is the parents’ responsibility. That is how the world has been, except for the last century or so. But, in the rights’ language, it is the state’s responsibility.

BRR: Can the state force the kids to school?

PS: In Pakistan, yes. In India we don’t have any penalty for parents if their children are not in school. In the first draft of the RTE Act of India, the provision of penalty was there. There were monetary fines followed by prison; but we removed that clause.

If it is the child’s right given by the state, then, naturally, it is the state’s responsibility to ensure that children are in school–by making the school engaging and meaningful to children and parents.

In Pakistan, the RTE laws of Islamabad and Sindh both have penal clauses–monetary fine of about Rs 50,000. So, you have got to ask yourself: on one hand, the parents are so poor that they can’t send the child to school and now you are asking that poor parent to pay Rs 50,000 fine?!

BRR: What are you other findings about Pakistani laws?

PS: I am concerned about the requirement to complete the curriculum by the teacher. Both Pakistani and Indian laws say that the teacher has the obligation to complete the syllabus, which I think is the worst thing one can possibly do, at least in the primary education.

In primary education, the focus should be whether the child is able to read or not, whether she/he can do the maths or not that. Completing the syllabus does not really matter if the child cannot read nor can do elementary maths.

The legal requirements of making sure that teacher completes the syllabus are perverse. They undermine the larger purpose of education. What they should judge instead is the students’ ability to read and comprehend. The important thing is learning outcomes.

Then, quality is also talked about in the Pakistan laws. But, there is no independent definition of quality. So, I may guarantee you quality education; but what does that quality actually mean? Defining minimum standards of quality is important–and assessment of students should be based on those standards.

BRR: What does “free” mean and include in Indian RTE laws?

PS: It means that the tuition is free across the board. The rest varies from state to state depending upon their respective fiscal strengths. Some states also provide text books, note books. In addition to that, some states provide midday meals, uniforms and winter jerseys, while some of the states also provide transport.

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ASER 2013: Enough of Outlays, Get Started on Outcomes NOW

Learning Achievements, School Choice

Kumar Anand

Senior Associate, Research

Centre for Civil Society

The ninth Annual Survey of Education Report (ASER) was published last week. ASER is an annual household survey to assess children’s schooling (both public and private) status and basic learning levels in reading and arithmetic, among other things. With the number of children surveyed at 569,664 from 15,941 villages of 550 districts, the sample size of ASER is larger than that of the NSS survey rounds.

Some of the important findings of ASER 2013 are:

  1. School Enrollment: Enrollment figures for children (age group 6-14) have been 96% or more since 2009, touching 96.7% in 2013. Private school enrollment stood at 29% in 2013. The number has been rising consistently from 18.7% in 2006.
  2. School Attendance: School attendance of children varies across the country. Overall, children’s attendance in government school has gone from 74.3% in 2009 to 70.7% in 2013 in primary schools and from 77% in 2009 to 71.8% in 2013 in upper primary schools.
  3. School Facilities: Facilities (available and usable) like drinking water, toilets, kitchen shed, library, etc. have been steadily improving over the years. While only 47.2% of government schools had useable toilets in 2010, in 2013 that number stood at 62.6%.

These are encouraging numbers. All these are inputs to achieve one thing and one thing only – providing quality education to children. But this is where the good news ends. The signs of success/failure of whether these efforts have been translating in providing quality education or not can also be found in ASER – in their surveys on learning outcomes.

The most worrying aspect of ASER 2013 continues to be the falling learning outcomes. As the report notes, “For a variety of reasons, close to 78% of children in Std. III and about 50% of children in Std. V cannot read Std. II text as yet. Without immediate and urgent help, these children cannot make progress in the education system. Grade level teaching of the syllabus cannot be done effectively unless the basic skill of reading with understanding is in place. Without this fundamental skill, the child cannot progress in other subjects either.”

The figures below shows the level of reading competency over the last five years for government and private schools separately.

Figure 1: % Children in Std. III who can read at least Std. I level text

Source: ASER 2013, India Findings

Figure 2: % Children in Std. V who can read at least Std. II level text
Source: ASER 2013, India Findings

As is evident from the figures above, the learning levels have consistently been falling in government schools while it is holding steady in private schools. The condition is equally grim when it comes to competency in basic arithmetic, as seen in the figures below.

Figure 3: % Children in Std. III who can at least do subtraction
Source: ASER 2013, India Findings

Figure 4: % of Children in Std. V who can do division


Source: ASER 2013, India Findings

As seen in figures 3 and 4 above, performance of both government and private schools have declined – more so for government schools than for private schools.

Learning outcomes have been accorded due importance in various policy documents and government initiatives of recent times like the 12th Five Year Plan document’s chapter on education, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) guidelines for 2014-15, Economic Survey 2012-13 chapter on Human Development, etc., but there is no PLAN that takes on the issue of learning outcomes head-on and on a war-footing.

Is it the lack of resources that is causing these falling competencies? The evidence says otherwise. Not only has the total general government expenditure (Central and State governments combined) been rising, their share as a percentage of GDP and as a percentage of total expenditure has been rising as well.

Figure 5: General Government (Central and State Governments combined) expenditure on education (in Rupees billion)
Source: Economic Survey 2012-13

Figure 6: General Government (Central and State Governments combined) expenditure on education (as percentage of GDP)
Source: Economic Survey 2012-13

Also, PAISA Report of 2012 finds that per student allocation have also increased from Rs 9367 in 2010-11 to Rs 11509 in 2012-13.
Thus we see that there has been no lack of commitment to excellence in education on the part of governments as far as resource allocation is concerned. However, steady fall in learning outcomes as seen in figures above begs the question – What are we doing wrong?

Yamini Aiyar over at the Accountability Initiative notes some important learning from their flagship PAISA survey over the years. They found that planning, budgeting and decision making are not related to learning outcomes. They also found that the entire elementary education planning and budgeting system is extremely centralized resulting in a mismatch between school level needs (even of the most basic things like inputs) and actual expenditure. Outputs and outcomes are far removed from any influence of parents or schools.

The dichotomy that exists between the centralised system of service delivery and the increasing focus on learning outcomes makes it almost impossible to get the desired results. Some pertinent questions raised by ASER and PAISA reports points in the direction that simply increasing outlays every year is not the answer. They have been highlighting that an outcomes based system requires autonomy and innovation at the school level.

What better way to have the autonomy with parents and students than by granting them the independence of going to a school of their choice? And what better way to encourage innovation and competition than to let many schools (private) bloom by removing the roadblocks in their setting up and functioning?

A major rethink of our outmoded ways of imparting education is necessary. Why not let parents and students decide who can best meet their needs?

For a quick summary of the ASER 2013, read this or see this.

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Education quality worsens under UPA: ASER

Learning Achievements



New Delhi:Despite levying a tax to fund education and enacting a law to ensure access to education for all children between the ages of 6 and 14, the government hasn’t succeeded in improving learning outcomes in India’s schools, according to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) published on Wednesday.
The quality of learning—as measured by reading, writing, and arithmetic—has either shown no improvement or actually worsened in the nine years of the United Progressive Alliance government’s rule, said the report, prepared by the non-profit Pratham Education Foundation.
The proportion of all children in Class 5 who can read a Class 2 level text has declined by almost 15 percentage points since 2005. Similarly, the portion of students in Class 8 who can do divisions has declined by almost 23 percentage points during the same period.
While three out of every five students in standard 5 were able to read the text books prescribed for pupils who were three years junior in 2005, only one out of two is up to the task now.

Still, the enrolment level in schools has made significant strides with 97% of children now in schools, compared with 93% in 2005.
“There are several major challenges for the education sector, from introducing at least one year of pre-school education to building mechanisms for open learning, continuing education, vocational training and quality education and research at the university level,” Madhav Chavan, chief executive and president of Pratham Education Foundation, said in the report. “Political decisions are needed to address problems and they need to take into account the overall changing realities of India.” The two major issues needed to be tackled urgently are the dramatic shift to private school enrolment in rural areas and a crisis of learning, Chavan said.
“When ASER started measuring enrolment in 2005, the all-India rural private primary school enrolment was about 17%. ASER seems to have caught a big change in its early stages—rural private school enrolment rose to 29% by 2013,” Chavan added.
The data serves to underscore two key points—India’s aspiration to be a knowledge economy looks misplaced and the UPA government won’t have much to brag about when it comes to education.
“The problem is immediate and urgent. We have not moved forward for years,” said Chavan. “We have got students to schools but the learning outcome remains poor.”
The survey, carried out in 550 rural districts of India found that even the right to education (RTE) has not helped to improve education outcomes. Instead, the Act seems to have focused on enrolment at the expense of quality.

“In our country everything is input-driven but output measurement is not there,” Chavan said
Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, who released the report, concurred. “(The) learning outcome is surprisingly disappointing,” he said.
He added that it is time a similar study is conducted in urban areas and the results compared with the national average. If the urban results are as bad, it would be a disaster and if the results are better, it would serve to highlight disparities in the educational system between the cities and the countryside, he explained.
The report paints a grim picture of the quality of education in government schools, even as it notes that there has been a steady increase in private school enrolment from 18.7% in 2006 to 29% in 2013. In some states such as Manipur and Kerala, nearly 70% of the students are in private schools. Even in states such as Uttar Pradesh, the proportion is close to 50%.
In states where enrolment in government schools is high, a higher portion of students were found to depend on private tuitions to supplement what they learnt in school. For example, in Bihar and Odisha, where only 8.4% and 7.3% of students are in private schools, respectively, 52.2% and 51.2% of students were taking private tuitions.
One reason for the lack of improvement in the educational system is that there is too much debate and too little action, said Ashish Dhawan, chief executive officer of Central Square Foundation, a philanthropic organization that’s active in the education sector.
“Education needs to get priority status. Even after 8 years of ASER telling us that children are not learning basics of literacy and numeracy, our policies continue to focus on outlays and inputs instead of talking about outcomes and impact,” added Dhawan who is also the co-founder of venture capital fund ChrysCapital.
“We now need to do systematic tests and a deeper analysis to understand where the problem lies and start acting to improve the situation. We need scientifically created learning assessments that are low-stakes, test conceptual understanding of every child in Classes 3, 5, 8 and 10 in every state and then use this data to improve teacher training programmes and feed into remediation strategies,” he said.


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Improving Learning in Primary Schools of Developing Countries: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Experiments

Learning Achievements, Teacher education and training

 Patrick J. McEwan

Wellesley College, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

August 2013

There is a vast non-experimental literature on school effectiveness in developing countries (for reviews, see Velez, Schiefelbein, & Valenzuela, 1993; Fuller & Clarke, 1994; Hanushek, 1995; Kremer, 1995; Glewwe, 2002). It uses regression analysis to identify the putative determinants of student learning, but it is hampered in two ways. First, it does not credibly distinguish between the causal effects of schools, and the confounding effects of the children and families that happen to attend those schools. Second, many datasets contain only simple proxies of school quality, such as teacher credentials and pupil-teacher ratios, that do not encompass the complex menu of investment choices available to policy-makers. Experimental research addresses both issues. The use of random assignment of students or schools to school-based treatments improves the internal validity of causal inferences (Glewwe & Kremer, 2006; Duflo, Glennerster, & Kremer, 2008). Moreover, researchers have evaluated a rich variety of policy-relevant treatments that encompass (1) instructional interventions that combine teacher training, textbooks and other materials, class size reduction, and computer assisted instruction; (2) school-based health and nutrition treatments, such as de-worming and micronutrient supplementation; and (3) interventions that modify stakeholder incentives to improve learning, such as school report cards, performance pay, and school-based management. It is a propitious moment to survey this literature, and assess whether there are lessons for policy-makers and researchers. I conducted a literature search in economics, education, and health, identifying 76 published and unpublished experiments that evaluate 110 treatments (see the Appendix). In each case, researchers randomly assigned children, schools, or entire villages to receive a school-based treatment, versus “business-as-usual” in the same setting. I coded effect sizes and their standard errors for outcome variables in language and mathematics. I further coded study attributes that describe the category of treatment, details on the country and experimental sample, outcome measures, and the study quality. Two categories of interventions—monetary grants and school-based deworming—have mean effects that are close to zero and statistically insignificant (based on a random effects model). School-based nutritional treatments, treatments that provide information to parents or students, and treatments that improve school management and supervision tend to have small mean effect sizes—from 0.04 to 0.06 standard deviations—that are not always robust to controls for study moderators. The largest average effect sizes are observed for treatments that incorporate instructional materials (0.08); computers or instructional technology (0.15); teacher training (0.12); smaller classes, smaller learning groups within classes, or ability grouping (0.12); student and teacher performance incentives (0.10); and contract or volunteer teachers (0.10). The categories are not mutually exclusive, however, and meta-regressions that control for treatment heterogeneity and other moderators suggest that the effects of materials and contract teachers, in particular, are partly accounted for by overlapping treatments. For example, instructional materials have few effects on learning in the absence of teacher training (Glewwe et al., 2004, 2009), and contract and volunteer teacher interventions usually overlap with class size reduction and/or instructional treatments (e.g., Banerjee et al., 2007; Bold et al., 2012).

A challenge to the interpretation of learning effects is that some treatments, particularly deworming and school feeding programs, affect enrollment and attainment, despite weaker effects on learning (Miguel & Kremer, 2004; Baird et al., 2012; Petrosino et al., 2013). Even when attainment increases, it is plausible that student time is not being used productively in classrooms. This suggests that interventions with a primary focus on access should be combined—in future research and in practice—with interventions explicitly designed to increase learning. Most papers contain minimal data cost on costs, complicating an assessment of whether specific treatments in the meta-analytic sample—or categories of treatments—are relatively more cost-effective despite smaller effect sizes (or less so despite larger ones). As an alternative, I combine effect sizes with auxiliary cost estimates for 15 treatment arms that are analyzed in Kremer et al. (2013). The results suggest that some interventions are relatively less cost-effective than others, such as computer assisted instruction in India and class size reduction in Kenya. However, the conclusions are tempered by the small samples, the inability to statistically distinguish between ranked cost-effectiveness ratios, and the evidence—cited above—that many treatments affect additional outcomes such as attainment. The review also suggests methodological lessons for the conduct of future experiments. The overwhelming majority of instructional and incentive-based experiments use cluster-randomized assignment of schools (or groups of schools) to a treatment. The statistical power of these experiments is primarily determined by the number of clusters and the intraclass correlation of the outcome variable. The intraclass correlations for test scores are higher in developing-country settings than typical U.S. standards (Zopluoglu, 2012). Further, this paper shows that “typical” effect sizes of some categories of treatments are smaller than commonly assumed. Viewed together, the evidence suggests many smaller cluster-randomized experiments—particularly those with fewer than 50 schools per treatment arm—are under-powered. I further argue that experiments can enhance the potential external validity of their results by (1) adding treatment arms that manipulate key features of the treatment (such as the implementing agency); (2) experimenting within representative samples, and conducting subgroup analysis within policy-relevant and pre-specified subgroups of the full sample; (3) measuring a wider range of learning outcomes and not “cherry-picking” effects across those outcomes; (4) collecting process data that can be used to conduct (non-experimental) tests of the potential causal mechanisms of “black-box” experimental effects; and (5) complementing their findings with high-quality quasi-experimental research that evaluates scaled-up treatments using representative samples of schools. I further suggest that experimental reports, especially in economics, could benefit from a common reporting standard, along the lines of the CONSORT standards widely used in medicine. The next section describes the conceptual framework that organizes the review, including a typology of school-based treaments used in the coding of studies. I then describe data and methods, including the literature search, the criteria for study inclusion and exclusion, the coding of experiments, and the statistical methods used to analyze effect sizes. The results section describes mean effect sizes by categories of treatment, as well as meta-regression models that analyze the correlates of those effects. The final section reviews lessons for policy and future experimental research.

Click here to read more. http://academics.wellesley.edu/Economics/mcewan/PDF/meta.pdf


Female education linked to under-5 mortality rate

Learning Achievements

The Hindu


If all women in India had completed secondary education, the under-five mortality rate would be 61 per cent lower, UNESCO has said.

India and Nigeria account for more than a third of child deaths worldwide. If all women in both countries had completed secondary education, the under-five mortality rate would have been 61 per cent lower in India and 43 per cent lesser in Nigeria, saving 1.35 million children’s lives.

Simple solutions such as mosquito nets and clean water can prevent some of the worst child diseases, but only if mothers are taught to use them. Almost a quarter of child deaths in India are due to pneumonia and over one-tenth are due to diarrhoea, according to the WHO-UNICEF Report. The Education for All Global Monitoring Report’s new analysis shows that pneumonia could be reduced by 14 per cent if women had just one extra year of education. Diarrhoea would be reduced by eight per cent if all mothers completed primary education, and by 30 per cent if they had secondary education.

If all women had attended secondary school, they would know the nutrients that children need, the hygiene rules that they should follow and they also would have a stronger voice in the home to ensure proper care.

The analysis has been released in time for the UN General Assembly discussions on the post-2015 development agenda.

UNESCO’s new analysis proves that in South and West Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa, nearly three million girls are married by the age 15 years — below the legal age of marriage. If all young women completed primary education, the number of child brides would be reduced by almost half a million. Completing secondary education would reduce that number by two million. In these regions, 3.4 million young women give birth by the age of 17 years. If all young women completed primary schooling, this would result in 340,000 fewer early births, and if they all completed secondary education, the total would fall by two million.

Findings also show that a secondary, rather than a primary education, increases tolerance towards people of a different religion or those speaking a different language. In India, those with secondary education were 19 per cent less likely to express intolerance towards people speaking a different language compared with those with less than primary education.

If all women were equipped with just a primary education, maternal deaths would be cut by two-thirds, saving 189,000 women’s lives each year.

“The findings confirm more clearly than ever that education can transform lives and societies for the better,” said Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO. “The world’s education goals are very much an unfinished agenda, however, this new evidence should give us all renewed energy to complete what we set out to do,” she added.


Why Primary Education Matters- Voices from the Field

Learning Achievements, Primary Education

Martine de Luna


September 17, 2013

Imagine having to swim through a river each day to get to school? No, not wade; not slosh through with wellingtons and a waterproof jacket: I mean swim doggie-paddle style through a deep, running river.

This is the reality for young students in the small town of Casili, a region north of the capital city of Manila, here, in the Philippines where I live. Here, the children of Casili literally swim towards an education. Due to lack of infrastructure and bureaucracy issues in the local government, the kids arrive at their school house drenched (and likely at-risk for flu, if we are to be honest) every day.

And yet, they do so with smiles. They are among the lucky ones with access to education.

They should — and they do — consider themselves blessed. I, too, consider them privileged, because at least they have access to accredited teachers, government-approved curricula and even a chance at a college scholarship. They are not among the 57 million children globally, who are currently out of school.

As a former member of the education force, this number astounds and appalls me. Approximately half of the out-of-school youth, a majority of whom are girls, are located in sub-Saharan Africa. UNESCO predicts this number will skyrocket by 2015, if no action is taken by local governments and NGOs to provide education access to these children.


I used to teach children how to read. These were children from a privileged upbringing, from some of the top schools in our country. And when I think of the 40 some students I used to tutor, I have to reflect: How fortunate is this child to be able to read, write or pick up a book and engage in a conversation! This is because I understand that literacy and basic learning skills (reading, counting, etc.) are foundational to a child’s overall development.

There is a clear correlation between illiteracy and poverty. That is why #2 of the Millennium Development Goals of the UN focuses on the right to primary education for all children. Here are the current targets:

Target 2.A:  Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling

•           Enrolment in primary education in developing regions reached 90 per cent in 2010, up from 82 per cent in 1999, which means more kids than ever are attending primary school.

•           In 2011, 57 million children of primary school age were out of school.

•           Even as countries with the toughest challenges have made large strides, progress on primary school enrolment has slowed. Between 2008 and 2011, the number of out-of-school children of primary age fell by only 3 million.

•           Globally, 123 million youth (aged 15 to 24) lack basic reading and writing skills. 61 per cent of them are young women.

•           Gender gaps in youth literacy rates are also narrowing. Globally, there were 95 literate young women for every 100 young men in 2010, compared with 90 women in 1990.

Let’s go back to that number again: 57 million children without access to education or hope to one day be able to read or write. Fifty-seven million children with lack of life skills that can equip them against disease, early pregnancy, abuse and exploitation.

We have to step up to meet the Millennium Development Goal for Education because schools give children the building blocks for practical life skills. We have to actively engage in efforts to build sound school structures,  invest in quality books and teachers, and clamor for the strong support of governments, corporations and communities.

We have to teach our own children — those who have the privilege of a quarterly report card and a lunchbox — to care. Unless we teach our own children to be grateful for their schooling, and ultimately fight for children’s right to education the world over… then, as moms, our own children’s good grades will be for naught. In communities such as those in sub-Saharan Africa, a school is more than a place to learn how to read or write: It is safe haven for support and socialization, access to clean water and even vaccines. It is a mecca for young people to start life right.

I’ve seen three children in Casili sharing one tattered textbook, with a more eager longing in their eyes than any students in the top schools in the country. And it makes me think: What if they were my children?

What would I sacrifice so that my child could open up a book and learn the ABCs?

What would I do to give my son the privilege of raising his hand in a classroom filled with other students as hungry for knowledge as he?

What can I do, as a mother to help meet the millennium development goal promoting the right to primary education?

As a former teacher, I will always be a champion for a child’s right to education. Moreover, as a mother, I will not just advocate for each child’s right to learn; I will ultimately fight for each child’s right to a life that will afford him or her with opportunities. The most basic of these opportunities being a quality primary education, teachers who will champion them, and systems that will compel them to succeed–even if poverty dictated otherwise.

How about you? What would you do to champion each child’s right to learn?

Martine de Luna is a writer, a former educator, an attachment parenting advocate and work-at-home mother. She blogs at www.daintymom.com, and is a Managing Editor for the Asian regional writers of the World Moms Blog.


India wins five medals at 54th International Mathematics Olympiad

Learning Achievements

2-Aug-2013 :

The Times of India

The Indian team has won two silver and three bronze medals at the 54th International Mathematics Olympiad, a statement said on Thursday.

“Sangik Saha from Kolkata and Shubham Sinha from New Delhi clinched the silvers while Pallav Goyal from Bhilai, Pranab Nuti from Hyderabad and Anish Prasad Sevekari from Pune bagged the bronzes,” it said.

Chaitanya Tappu from Pune was also part of the team.

The event was held at Santa Marta, Colombia, where a total of 528 students from 97 countries participated.

The Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, an institution under the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai sponsored the six-member team.

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