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How much do we know about Education in India




Everyone has an opinion on education. Start a conversation at a dinner table,  a tea shop, an academic seminar, a global conference, a train, a bus or flight –  everyone you meet will have something to say about it. Often, they will know  precisely how bad it is, how much worse it has become and what needs to be done  to fix the ills. When I say precisely, I don’t mean that – I mean with a great  deal of authority. Very definite and well articulated opinions. And they may  well be right. Because nobody can really answer (most of) the big questions in  education in India with any degree of precision.

Policy: The holy grail here is evidence based policy  making. It would obviously be great if every decision made had a solid basis in  proven hypothesis. If we knew for sure, to take a facetious example, that  children study better in white shirts than blue shirts, and this had been tested  rigorously, then it would be easy to create a policy that tends towards white  shirts as school uniforms. This is also better for policy makers as they have  the evidence to fall back upon and even justify their decisions. In practice of  course evidence is just one part of the policy making puzzle and may even prove  to be inconvenient in some circumstances. Yet, it is what stands closest to fact  in the vast unknown.

Data: The first hurdle of course is the availability of  data. There is some available on the ministry website and some with affiliated  institutions. Some data is gathered in large studies such as those conducted by  the Azim Premji foundation, Pratham, Accountability Initiative etc. and these  answer specific questions each year. The Karnataka Learning Partnership and  Centre for Civil Society are taking the lead on compiling some data that are  available to all while investors and private consulting firms have their own  data sets that are not available in the public domain. Each of these serves a  limited purpose and researchers often find themselves stuck because they have no  credible information sources or good data unless they set up a data collection  process themselves as part of their studies. That is either very expensive and  time consuming or forces them to dramatically reduce the scope of their  work.

Research: There is a wide range of research done on  education in India, only some of it academic. (On a personal note, I wonder if I  should still be surprised when one silo has not even heard of the work done in  another – oh right, I did say silo) Firstly there is academic work that is being  done across schools of education in India and abroad (primarily in the UK and  the USA). The quality and impact of the work differs greatly depending upon the  access and funding they receive. There is some excellent work of limited scope  and reach being published in small journals and post- conference books that gets  lost in the sheer volumes of papers being produced in an uncurated world. Then  there are rigorous investigations by celebrity scholars – my favourites being  Prof. Geeta Kingdom of the Institute of Education and Prof. Karthik  Muralidharan of UC San Diego who have told cogent and critical truths about  teaching and learning in India. Much research is also done in the investor  community – some of it philanthropic, some driven by pure investment principles.  Central Square Foundation, for example, incubates many projects that do much  good in the education sector and curates information and data that forms the  basis of investment (and re-investment) research. Consulting firms with  education arms too co-create interesting and useful research in the field of  education.

Application of Research: Useful research? Did I hear  laughter in the background? For research to be useful, it not only needs to be  rigorous and relevant (and much of it clearly is) but also needs to be  accessible. Over and above that – it needs to address real questions that help  decision makers at all three levels – policy, institution and the classroom. If  education is about benefiting the child (the marginal child as economists would  say), then we need to be able to answer the questions schools and teachers ask  regularly. In the past forty-eight hours, this is the range of questions I have  been asked –

From a school owner – Is there a guide or research that points me to the  characteristics teacher quality? In teacher selection – how do I recruit a  good teacher? (We all know good teachers, we know their qualifications etc.  which is partial knowledge)

From a School trust – What is the right proportion of male and female  teachers that will enhance achievements of boys and girls?  (K. Muralidharan had a paper that partially answered that question)  (Of course, all recruitment has to be regardless of gender – so the question can  only be about the impact of gender skew in the teacher cohort)

From a teacher-leader: Is a multi ability class better than streaming  into ability sections? If I have been told that I must achieve high  performance, and if achievement is my only goal , what are the consequences of  my decision?

From the management of a large school group seeking to expand: Is it  better to raise the grade level (from primary to secondary) or open another  primary school if I want to serve my area better?

From a potential investor: What are the returns to investment to RTE  compliance? -If I invest, is there a case for giving loans to ensure RTE  (Right to Education act) compliance? Will I get my money back with a fair  return?

From the management team of a small Business School: How do I fill seats  in my B-School during this slowdown? Numbers in engineering and business  schools are seen to be falling – is there a forecast that will help me plan  capacity?

The answers are out there. Some have been researched, some await their turn.  Most decisions will also depend upon the context, experience and ability of the  person in charge. But it is better to have some validation based on good data.  There is very little data, and much of it is not very good quality data. And so,  we wait, unable to fully answer these questions and decide the our future  education path.

Read more:  http://forbesindia.com/blog/economy-policy/how-much-do-we-know-about-education-in-india/#ixzz2mxUVfCvj

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