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Showing posts with label Education. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Education. Show all posts

The pervasive notion that 'nothing has been done in education in India' could not be further from the truth. In fact not only has a great deal been done, but its consequences have been faced over decades. In particular, what follows applies to introducing educational designs based on local context, using the experiences and strengths of the stakeholders, creating a situation where they play an active role in determining and implementing processes.

Though obviously much must have been done over the decades till the 80s, my experience ranges from mid-80s, when I was part of a team working on such classroom practices, textbooks and educational designs from 1986 onwards. Implementation of the programme called Prashika (Prathamik Shiksha Karyakram) focused on marginalised groups, with the team living in a tribal area as well as in a rural, deprived pocket and introducing the innovation in government primary schools. The work in Prashika was pathbreaking in many, many ways (integration of 5 subjects at the primary level, incorporation of multiple local languages, a hugely localised textbook/workbook that could only be completed with each child contributing, called Khushi-Khushi - still not matched anywhere, I believe). It provided hope that much was possible despite the difficulties faced and informed many of the later efforts that followed, both in the government and the NGO sector.

Later in DPEP - particularly Kerala, Assam, Karnataka, Haryana, UP, Bihar, TN, Nagaland and later with SSA Gujarat further work was done. Localised training, contexualisable textbooks (some really brilliant stuff still not matched anywhere - and that's a professional opinion), teacher determined assessment system, involvement of community knowledge, children constructing local histories / local environment books, peer learning and assessments, textbooks that would be 'complete' only along with a set of 50 district-specific books kept in the school library.... many, many innovative and large scale measures were conceived and actually implemented using a strategically developed implementation plan. 

In each first five states we were able to see 2-3 years of implementation, development of hundreds / thousands of teachers who implemented contextualised learning, a high degree of in-class practice backed by supportive, localisable material. These states changed their position in the national achievement surveys too, with Kerala rising to the top (it had been fairly close to the bottom before this, below Bihar in the first national survey). In the case of Gujarat, field testing was done in 630 schools, researched by MSU Baroda with very encouraging findings. 

However, as long as we were not visibly successful there were no problems. When change began to be visible on some scale and a palpable sense of energy was witnessed among teachers and communities, alarm bells began to ring. in each of these states, the powers that be - especially at state level, state institutions, administrations, political parties - found that this went against the command-and-control structures conducive to them being able to assert their authority. Schools didn't want to be told what to teach when and how - they had their own plans. Empowered teachers / school heads / even some VECs refused to kowtow to mediocre ideas or corruption oriented bosses - leading to huge conflicts all over the place. Unfortunately these never got reported, recorded or researched. The results were mass scale transfers, cases against state project directors who encouraged this (Kerala SPD was charge sheeted, Karnataka SPD given punishment posting in North Karnataka, Assam SPD sent to conflict zone during worst riots, Bihar SPD transferred to PHED and later kept without posting), the re-casting of State Resource Groups from those selected for tested capabilities to those stocked with ex-officio positions, the emasculation of the BRC-CRC structures from genuine teacher support institutions into data collection centres (believe it or not, we did have functional BRCs CRCs at one time!), the centralisation of powers away from the VECs and re-casting into SMCs with a different function, and major shift in recruitments away from districts to states (in one state the Education Minister held a Recruitment Mela in a stadium to personally appoint 3000 para-teachers). 

Interestingly, Prashika in MP faced a similar adminstrative backlash and was closed down.

Yes, like it or not, this is what ideas of empowerment through education come up against - and they fall short not because of lack of any purity in the idea itself or absence of rigour, but because after a point when it goes into implementation an idea is something else, and not its original pure self. You might look at the actual work and find it is not 'up to the standard' - yet when trying to create it for those who need education the most, other aspects need to be taken into account. Basically, empowering the weak is clearly seen by the strong as disempowering them - and the empire strikes back! One of the outcomes is that a few years later, it appears as if nothing has been done, and people gear themselves up to again come up with 'innovative' ideas, often weaker than might already have been tried, uninformed by the past.
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Myth # 6 – Stakeholders are concerned about education (as educationists understand it)
Curriculum developers, educationists, policy makers, thinkers on education, many ‘NGO types’, reformers and other highly respected people often talk of the ‘aims of education’ – be it in terms of creating a more democratic society or a more evolved person etc. Somehow, those who are actually affected by education are unable to get this. For the masses at large, the purpose of education is to make life better, go up the social ladder by getting a job or being able to earn a stable livelihood. This is nothing to sneer at or term as a ‘wrong’ or ‘limited’ expectation. In fact, this is what millions of parents are slaving away for, sacrificing a bit every day so that their next generation may attain a better life. By looking down upon this view, by treating the situation as if ‘we are doing education to them’ instead of with and for them (or perhaps us), those who design education tend to marginalize the very people education is meant for.  They also end up with curriculum, textbooks and processes that do not build on the experiences that children from less privileged backgrounds bring, something that is an enormous resource being wasted, which then continues the cycle of marginalization.

Like parents, teachers too have their own idea of what they would like. Despite what is often said, most teachers do want to succeed – what they would like is some practical (not philosophical) advice on how to handle the really difficult situation they face – increasing diversity, the changing nature of student population as more and more ‘left out’ groups join school (in Delhi slums, migration is leading to 7-10 home languages in the classroom, including Punjabi and Odia which are not contiguous in the ‘normal’ world), changing curricular expectations they haven't had time or support to absorb.  Even after attaining the PTR norms mandated by the RTE, we are going to have well over 50% schools with around 80-100 children, with 2-3 teachers handling 5 classes – that is, a very large proportion of teachers already are and will continue to work in multi-grade settings in the foreseeable future (while curriculum, pedagogy and materials continue to assume a mono-grade situation). Given that we are still short of 14 lakh teachers (the number was reported to have come down to 10 lakh, but with increased enrolment, is up again, the situation being much worse at the secondary level), the effect is felt by the 56 lakh who are there.  As mentioned, educationists may want high levels of learning to be attained using their policies and curriculum, but teachers just want to survive the day and, if possible, succeed in generating some learning.

And what kind of school would children want? Exercises on this have been few and far between. Most of the time children end up having to manage with whatever ‘we’ give out – from mid-day meals to ‘child-friendly elements’ to colourful books or whatever else. It is in the nature of children to find interest in whatever is made available, which is why there is a tendency to assume we have an idea of what they need. But engaging with them on the issue might reveal a lot more. For instance, talking with secondary school girls in a remote area in UP, we were discussing the need for toilets – but the girls said, “We can manage without the toilets, but what we can’t accept is that we are forced to choose Home Science and are not offered Mathematics.” This is surely something the authorities are not working on.

Simply listening to stakeholders might be a good idea. It would be revealing and educative for 'experts', helping reduce their arrogance and bringing their relationship with the stakeholders on a somewhat more equal footing.
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Myth # 7 – The education system exists to improve education
Systems tend to lead double lives – at a conceptual level they might be brilliant, with wonderfully competent and committed people leading them. Yet at the ground level, what is in operation may be entirely different. Thus despite terrific policy and capability at policy/decision-making levels in the health sector, what common people might be heard saying is: “It is better to pay through your nose at a private clinic, than to die for free at the government hospital.”

For the people, the ‘system’ comprises of those representatives they meet at the district, block, cluster and village level, and occasionally those at the state levels. To understand the situation, try asking a group of educational administrators about the finer aspects of TA-DA rules and how they apply them, and you will find they can animatedly discuss them for about two hours. But raise the issue of why children are not learning (which is actually their real responsibility) and you will get a different response… (It’s true, isn’t it?)

This is what tends to happen to any system  (or even organization) over time – ultimately it’s own nuances, requirements, procedures, structures and powers (or power) become its main concerns, with the reason for its very existence slowly dimming in the memory of its functionaries. Thus: 
  • teachers/CRC-BRC must spend more time collecting data even at the cost of teaching or improving learning, or 
  • every school must follow the given framework for its School Development Plan (because the need to compile the plans at the block level is more important than the need for it to be appropriate for that school), or 
  • every HT must maintain records for the officials 'above' even if it means she will not have time to support her teachers in improving the classroom process. 


It is as if children, teachers, HTs, SMCs all exist to feed the machinery ‘above’ which has to ‘control’ them, and ‘give’ them resources (from mid-day meals to teachers to textbooks to in-service training, from which often a ‘cut’ may be taken), ‘allow’ them to take decisions such as which would be the most convenient time for most children to attend school, ‘monitor’ the work of teachers, ‘test’ the learning of students, and ‘grant’ the privilege of education.

What the RTE implies is that it is those who get their salaries because of children who are the real ‘beneficiaries’ – which includes all the administrators, supervisors, inspectors, monitors, institutions, departments, ministries.  It is they who are accountable to children and teachers, or would be if they really existed for education.

As mentioned, give them enough time and systems end up existing more to perpetuate themselves - and the status quo within - rather than the purpose for which they are created. Try making a change in the way things are organised within a system and you might find it responds with a kind of ferocious energy it fails to display when similar urgency is required in its primary objective. For instance, if it were declared that an educationist rather than an IAS officer will head the Department of Education, you will get a lot more activity in the system (to prevent that) than if you declared (as is well known) that most children are failing to attain grade level learning across the country. 

Finally, systems exist to preserve the hold of the powerful. Issues that affect the middle classes or those more privileged get inordinate attention in the system. Thus nursery school admissions in private schools in Delhi are a big issue, or the allocation for poor children in elite private schools is endlessly discussed, or the class 10 board exam being needed (by children from better off families)... but the death of a 100+ children in a mid-day-meal from a poor section of society, or the low levels of  service in deprived areas or chronically low learning levels despite much money being invested - fail to receive that kind of attention.

For those seeking to make a dent in the system, it would be healthier to have a more 'aware' notion of what the education system really exists for. The puny strategies we use to make things better are unlikely to serve as even pinpricks to the system.
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To all those who are convinced that the non-detention policy is harming education…

Children’s apparent lack of learning becomes an issue mainly because it is easy to see that they have missed out on something. The fact that at a younger age learning is very fast and that clear milestones are available helps us perceive this – and therefore apply all kinds of expectations, tactics, at times even coercion to ‘ensure’ learning – one such being the detention system which, many believe, is needed in order to maintain ‘quality’. By making children lose a year because we couldn’t ensure their learning (and blaming them for it), we feel we can generate the fear required to make them ‘serious’ and learn.

If we are convinced about this, why should it apply only to school education? What if we could lay out clear benchmarks for adults to learn and grow – in general as well as in the work they do. Certainly it is possible to have a life-long ‘curriculum’ with two-year benchmarks (over their entire careers, and even post retirement) for educationists and curriculum developers, teachers, HMs, government officials, managers, businessmen, fathers and mothers (and grandparents), journalists, artists, municipal staff, auditors, accountants, administrators, intelligence agents and politicians. What if there was a ‘detention system’ (in terms of not being allowed to be promoted or get a pay increase or being sent back to some lower ‘grade’)? Yes, in some government jobs there is an ‘efficiency bar’ and the supposed HR policies and internal competition are expected to sort this out. But do they?

Can we as a nation claim that we have, every year, demonstrated the improvement required to declare ourselves ‘promoted’ to the next level (whatever that is)?

And what happens when police are unable to reduce crimes, leaders are unable to ensure the welfare of the poor, systems are unable to deliver basics such as electricity / water / education / health, or societies are unable to get men to have basic respect for women?
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Continuing to live with these myths is to deny ourselves the opportunity to succeed, especially for those who need education the most. The first step is to accept that these notions have indeed affected our work in trying to bring about better education. Acknowledging this is not a sign of defeat but of learning.

After acknowledgement, however, come reflection – and small steps. 

Here are some small steps that all of us can take: 
  1. Discuss these ‘myths’ and related issues with as many people as you can. Question and contest them, or support them, with your experiences, facts and data from your sphere.
  2. If you are in any way connected with education – as a student, parent, teacher, CRC-BRC, official or resource person, NGO worker or decision-maker, make one small change every month which in some way empowers children or teachers or HMs. (Our team, Ignus PAHAL, will soon be producing a poster presenting a graded list of these small, doable changes at the school level.)
  3. Talk with as many stakeholders as possible and within reach (and in the limited time available) about what they would like. They might suggest things they could do – and a small beginning may be made to a partnership in bringing about improvement that is gettable. It may be a better way to help children wash their hands before the mid-day meal, or managing to start the school 10 minutes earlier so that learning time increases, or ensuring used textbooks are circulated better, or working out how you may share your expertise with children or teachers.
  4. Find something interesting you can share with children. It may be a news item (e.g. did you know that for some reason, the MHRD – and some of the other ministries of education in the country – face a problem with monkeys troubling them?), or an interesting story you’ve read or know (but no moral tales please!) or a suggestion for something they can try out (e.g. making a paper plane turn in a predicted direction) or find out (e.g. why the inner margin of a textbook page is wider than the outer margin – okay, that is too easy but you get the idea).
  5. Find a way to convert complex educational ideas into simpler forms so that a person with no background in education or no access to ‘high’ language may understand it. E.g. ‘non-detention is not the same as non-evaluation, and that by detaining children we are making them pay the price for the system’s failure and also supporting the idea that it is fear which leads to learning’. Can you find a way to make this idea easy to understand for millions of teachers, parents, SMC members and others? (You can guess why this statement was selected as the example…)
  6. Use your mobile – call up a teacher, or text her an idea or send your appreciation. With children, use the stop-watch, camera and calendar in your phone to do activities. If you know an official and have a good enough relationship, make him or her uncomfortable by reading out sections of this article (don’t get into a bitter argument – a gentle, understanding approach may be more useful!).
  7. Finally, please add to the discussion on these 7 Myths and, perhaps more importantly, to the list of suggestions.

But all these are very small things, you might say. They can’t achieve much. Well, not if many, many, many of us are doing them! Perhaps it’s a myth too that only when some large government programme is in action can change take place. This ignores local ingenuity and the sheer numbers that can make government efforts look feeble – or boost them to make them actually succeed. Towards this, your views and ideas may be more powerful than you imagine. And that’s not a myth!
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Why do it
Whether on the TV or in newspapers or on social media sites – we are today surrounded everywhere by strong views on nationalism. Groups of people are getting angry and upset, calling each other names, being violent. Your students too are caught in this, though they may not fully be aware of it. They will be absorbing views from different sources, all of which may not be reliable. And they may end up adopting strong opinions (or even what you consider misguided ones) without giving them sufficient thoughts. For this reason, we have prepared a discussion guide. It is important that at this crucial time, when they might be making a choice, you, their teacher, reach out to them and help them think things through.

So here are some hints. Use them in the way they work best for you. Drop them or change them or add to them according to your need and situation.

Preliminary – setting the ground
For such a discussion, it would be best to prepare the ground gently rather than rush into it. Here are some questions you could ask.
  1. Have you been hearing or seeing the news or reading the newspapers?
  2. What are some of the big issues being discussed?
  3. What have you read or hear about the ‘nationalism debate’?


Provide background
Briefly give a background to the issue. It is possible many may not have heard it or may not have a clear idea of what happened.

Discuss the  issue
As students the following questions. Make sure you get everyone’s views, especially those who often don’t speak up. [Some hints are given in the brackets.]
  1. So what do you think it means to love your country? [taking care of the environment? Looking after those who are not able to take care of themselves? Singing patriotic songs? Joining the army? Being polite to others? What else? Especially in our daily lives, what do we do (or can do) to show our patriotism?]
  2. What are the best ways to show your love for your country? [you can use the list from the previous question to identify 2-3 of the ‘best’ or ‘most important’ ways and discuss why students think they are the best.]
  3. What are some of the things you would not do if you love your country? [e.g. spitting everywhere as it spreads disease, not dirtying or vandalizing the environment, not jumping a queue or try to take an undue advantage…]
  4. Even in a family everyone is not able to agree on everything? Have you seen any example of this? What happens in such a case?
  5. So if someone does no agree with you, is it a good idea to beat him or her up? Why?
  6. What do you think are the best ways to deal with disagreement?
  7. And what if on the issue of loving your country, someone says something you don’t find pleasant? What should you do?
  8. What are the best ways of finding out more deeply why people think the way they think? And how can you use that to help them see things differently?


Afterwards
Of course, this discussion will not end here. Give students some materials to read. Organize one or two follow up events. Suggest that the students have their own discussion group and contact you for help if needed.

All the best!
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The pervasive notion that 'nothing has been done in education in India' could not be further from the truth. In fact not only has a great deal been done, but its consequences have been faced over decades. In particular, what follows applies to introducing educational designs based on local context, using the experiences and strengths of the stakeholders, creating a situation where they play an active role in determining and implementing processes.

Though obviously much must have been done over the decades till the 80s, my experience ranges from mid-80s, when I was part of a team working on such classroom practices, textbooks and educational designs from 1986 onwards. Implementation of the programme called Prashika (Prathamik Shiksha Karyakram) focused on marginalised groups, with the team living in a tribal area as well as in a rural, deprived pocket and introducing the innovation in government primary schools. The work in Prashika was pathbreaking in many, many ways (integration of 5 subjects at the primary level, incorporation of multiple local languages, a hugely localised textbook/workbook that could only be completed with each child contributing, called Khushi-Khushi - still not matched anywhere, I believe). It provided hope that much was possible despite the difficulties faced and informed many of the later efforts that followed, both in the government and the NGO sector.

Later in DPEP - particularly Kerala, Assam, Karnataka, Haryana, UP, Bihar, TN, Nagaland and later with SSA Gujarat further work was done. Localised training, contexualisable textbooks (some really brilliant stuff still not matched anywhere - and that's a professional opinion), teacher determined assessment system, involvement of community knowledge, children constructing local histories / local environment books, peer learning and assessments, textbooks that would be 'complete' only along with a set of 50 district-specific books kept in the school library.... many, many innovative and large scale measures were conceived and actually implemented using a strategically developed implementation plan. 

In each first five states we were able to see 2-3 years of implementation, development of hundreds / thousands of teachers who implemented contextualised learning, a high degree of in-class practice backed by supportive, localisable material. These states changed their position in the national achievement surveys too, with Kerala rising to the top (it had been fairly close to the bottom before this, below Bihar in the first national survey). In the case of Gujarat, field testing was done in 630 schools, researched by MSU Baroda with very encouraging findings. 

However, as long as we were not visibly successful there were no problems. When change began to be visible on some scale and a palpable sense of energy was witnessed among teachers and communities, alarm bells began to ring. in each of these states, the powers that be - especially at state level, state institutions, administrations, political parties - found that this went against the command-and-control structures conducive to them being able to assert their authority. Schools didn't want to be told what to teach when and how - they had their own plans. Empowered teachers / school heads / even some VECs refused to kowtow to mediocre ideas or corruption oriented bosses - leading to huge conflicts all over the place. Unfortunately these never got reported, recorded or researched. The results were mass scale transfers, cases against state project directors who encouraged this (Kerala SPD was charge sheeted, Karnataka SPD given punishment posting in North Karnataka, Assam SPD sent to conflict zone during worst riots, Bihar SPD transferred to PHED and later kept without posting), the re-casting of State Resource Groups from those selected for tested capabilities to those stocked with ex-officio positions, the emasculation of the BRC-CRC structures from genuine teacher support institutions into data collection centres (believe it or not, we did have functional BRCs CRCs at one time!), the centralisation of powers away from the VECs and re-casting into SMCs with a different function, and major shift in recruitments away from districts to states (in one state the Education Minister held a Recruitment Mela in a stadium to personally appoint 3000 para-teachers). 

Interestingly, Prashika in MP faced a similar adminstrative backlash and was closed down.

Yes, like it or not, this is what ideas of empowerment through education come up against - and they fall short not because of lack of any purity in the idea itself or absence of rigour, but because after a point when it goes into implementation an idea is something else, and not its original pure self. You might look at the actual work and find it is not 'up to the standard' - yet when trying to create it for those who need education the most, other aspects need to be taken into account. Basically, empowering the weak is clearly seen by the strong as disempowering them - and the empire strikes back! One of the outcomes is that a few years later, it appears as if nothing has been done, and people gear themselves up to again come up with 'innovative' ideas, often weaker than might already have been tried, uninformed by the past.
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‘It took me quite some time to get the little girl to let me know what was bothering her,’ said Prof. A. K. Sharma, the former Director of NCERT. The year was 2000 and he was telling me about an incident from a class 2 maths period in the model school in the NCERT campus. The teacher had just completed teaching children subtraction of two-digit numbers with ‘borrowing’, and he had found two children hesitating over the problems they had been given to solve.

The first, a girl, had made a ‘mistake’ as she had failed to borrow from the tens side. Being a grandfatherly and kindly figure, he was able to cajole the girl to speak up. Very softly, looking down and away from him all the while, she said, ‘We learnt in the moral science class that borrowing is bad.’

Reeling from this, he approached the other child, a boy, and discussed why he had not completed his work on the problem. After much exchange, the boy said, ‘But why should I borrow 1? I want to borrow 2.’


Taking part in a recent session on ‘error analysis’, I was reminded of Prof. Sharma’s advice to engage with children to understand their ‘errors’ rather than rely on their work on paper. In numerous assessment experiences since, I’ve seen children who are otherwise very competent falter because of an issue at home or a fight with a friend or because they are being bullied. In open-ended questions in language, teachers are hard put to identify if there really is an ‘error’ or if the child’s view is a valid, logical interpretation. (And asking only close-ended questions is hardly sufficient to understand children’s abilities.) It becomes even more difficult when it comes to children from marginalized backgrounds – as they encounter discrimination and even denigration (of their background, language or culture), they often resist by ‘not-learning’ or do not answer out of fear of being ‘disciplined’.

As the evaluation industry expands in the Indian context with more and more professionals taking in rigorous analysis of children’s responses and analyses of their ‘errors’, the tendency is to interpret these within the framework of the subject for which the test was conducted. But do we know what we really assess when we look closely at children’s responses? What if it’s not a maths or language issue but something else altogether?
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Improving educational quality ends up being about change rather than tinkering with some elements. 

What then are the qualities of those involved in bringing about this change? 

Here are my guesses. As can be expected, this is a long wish-list! I need your help to identify which ones are really important. And suggestions, too, about how to generate these qualities in the people we work with.

A change-maker:
  1. is sharp, can quickly see what needs to be changed, and has effective ways of helping others see this too, but without getting into a conflict!
  2. can spot opportunities for introducing change
  3. does not have a sense of hierarchy; does not discriminate
  4. has a sense of humour, which gives her/him the ability to live with the difficulties and slow pace of change
  5. at the same time, s/he can take quick decisions and act fast if needed
  6. is aware that he may himself by a victim of the old ways of thinking and living; so is constantly examining himself and trying to improve himself
  7. can help a person see what is wrong without feeling bad or without that person feeling he is being disliked.
  8. has a sense of strategy – that is, of actions that will slowly, perhaps indirectly, bring about the change desired, in stages
  9. is honest and has the greatest accountability to herself, on behalf of those she works for
  10. is aware that there will be some conflicts, and has a plan and ability to deal with this; if necessary, generates conflict, though in a calibrated manner
  11. is aware that his role is that of enabling others to deliver rather than deliver on their behalf
  12. knows how long change takes, and does not give up
  13. Can work as a team member, and also get others to work as a team – for which, helps by:
  • Sharing goals
  • Sharing information
  • Recognizing, utilizing and balancing the strengths and weaknesses of the group
  • Ensuring recognition as a team

What kind of process would help develop these qualities? 
What kind of reflection, debate and conversation do you think is needed? 
And can it be done in the kind of time-frames we usually have?
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If you're a person working to improve the educational system in a country like ours, here's something you'll recognize: whether it's journalists or academics, colleagues from NGOs or 'well-wishers' of children, everyone is pretty good at 'problem pointing'. They're really good at telling us exactly how BAD things are. Numerous articles, speeches, social media entries, research pieces, presentations, and even protests, copiously crib about a range of ills affecting education : how the system is dysfunctional, teachers are absent, accountability is missing, children aren't learning, process is dated, children are oppressed, administration is rigid, policies are rich but unimplemented, how the disadvantaged continue to get a raw deal right through... Recognize it? I do, for some of this is what I do as well!


But here's the rub - all this elaboration on what is wrong (some of it is serious research that is credible as well), how far has it helped find exactly what to do. That is, what to do which would help us get rid of the problems being pointed out. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for the growing numbers of those who are able to detail their dissatisfaction at the continued limitations of our education system. It's just that I'm unable to learn enough from it to know what needs to be done.


Because when one gets down to the doing, a whole lot of other things unfold that you were not quite prepared for. Turns out dealing with diversity is not exactly easy, and most of the pat suggestions don't really hold in face of the actual ground realities. Turns out that poor (or even exploitative) governance is such an all-pervading reality that what we can do in / through education just pales in front of it (try sitting in a district education office for a day if you don't believe me). Turns out that our 'log frames', strategies, plans and spreadsheets capture something in our mind but all of it simply crumbles when the actual implementation takes place. It's often noticed that some of the best experts, especially those from the universities, are usually eager to help in the planning and the evaluation - but not the part that comes in between, i.e. the implementation!


So I've come to the unfortunate conclusion that a great proportion of those involved tend to complain mainly because it is the easiest thing to do. Just like many newspaper sections talk of potholes on the roads, delayed or poor services, or lack of facilities (usually in a self-righteous tone that includes phrases such as 'even 60 years after independence' - you get the picture). All this in the hope that saying what is wrong will somehow make it go away. As if it really does! 


Where does all this leave us? To my mind, it leaves us with a lot of cribbing all around us. Every day we continue to read, hear, powerpoint and wordprocess an overdose of shortcomings. Such solutions as are offered are usually: 

  • trite ('there should be accountability' - which is easy to say, of course) or 
  • platitudinous  ('teachers should be dedicated to their vocation') or 
  • superficial ('implement play way method!' - makes one's skin crawl) or 
  • autocratic ('strictly monitor these damned teachers, don't let them get away' ) or 
  • misguided ('pay teachers more / less if their students learn more / less' - you can see how this will favour the already advantaged, isn't it) or 
  • even desperate and daft ('put a web cam in every class').




I'm doing the same, of course, cribbing. But let me try to redeem myself by making a few (hopefully) concrete suggestions:


  • The first thing is to recognize the huge potential of all this cribbing. It represents an enormous and growing 'cognitive surplus' that can be put to better use to further what the 'cribber' is interested in - actual improvement.
  • Along the lines of wikipedia, bring out a collective, well-organised and evolving situational analysis to which people can keep contributing. This will help generate a more structured, well-rounded understanding that might increase the likelihood of finding effective strategies.This should include a critique of the kind of superficial solutions mentioned earlier, with case studies of the difficulties they landed in or the actual improvement they brought about. An analysis of serious efforts and the difficulties faced would help bring about a nuanced problematization.
  • Those involved in change efforts could find ways of identifying any 'cribber' who shows potential, and involve her/him in actual improvement processes - either the process would improve or the cribbing would be contained.
  • Publicize and set standards for the kind of writing that is deemed as being helpful. This is not easy at all - but the degree to which the social discourse on education is getting overwhelmed by this collective bemoaning (and the resultant diversion from / inability to actually address the issues) is now making it imperative that we find a way out. Any news channel / newspaper could initiate this by developing a policy paper on how to cover the social sector and then actually following it. Once an example is set, others would follow suit (simply because the initiating body would come out looking better, and therefore be likely to grab a bigger share of sensible eyeballs). 
You might feel that I've totally mis-read the situation, that we need more people to actually be pointing out what is going wrong. Well, point away - but that's no guarantee it will make the problem go away!
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Have you ever noticed that we get angry (or at least show it) only with those who we think are weaker than us? Thus it seems OK for parents or teachers to be angry with children, for officers and trainers to shout at teachers. But if children are angry with adults, even if they are in the right and the adult is in the wrong, it is considered NOT OK! And teachers, when upset with their so-called 'superiors' either keep quiet or make some sort of mild protest. Only occasionally does it boil over, and when it does, it is again considered NOT OK!

So what is the view we should take? Is it a good idea not to get angry at all? This is the advocated position of many. In fact there are training programmes (including those for teachers) on anger management (i.e., about managing the anger we show to those who we consider our 'inferiors'). These include things called 'positive discipline' and 'emotional punishment' – as if it is OK to do the same old thing in another way.

 In case this is not clear, the 'same old thing' means the belief that it is OK for adults to have power over children, or for some to be considered 'superiors' of others. The 'anger management' and 'positive' approach does not question this right to discipline or punish – it only says 'do it less violently please, but do it because you have a right to do it.' Something wrong there, isn't it?


The other approach would be – get angry wherever you should! That is, if you are in the right, get angry with your boss or with the adult (if you are a child or an adolescent), if they are in the wrong. Do I hear you clicking your tongue again? Something doesn't sound QUITE OK about this, isn't it? How can those who are 'below' scream at those who are 'above'? You fear it will lead to conflict, division and general breakdown of order (i.e. of who should listen to whom).

Hmm, perhaps this kind of all-round getting angry business won't really help. We're too scared of it anyway.



But it also seems there are areas where we SHOULD GET ANGRY – and we don't. When a child is molested or deprived or hurt or demeaned – we don't see much anger. When teachers who really want to teach better and teach differently are ridiculed to the extent that they give up trying to improve – we see NO anger. When a girl is brutalized (or even killed) because she refused to get married at 14, we don't seethe with anger! When an education system is run year after year and the children who've invested their entire childhood in it, emerge without any learning to show for it – we are simply not consumed with anger!
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Our hearts go out to the sufferings of people in Japan. The pictures of the tsunami rushing in and engulfing everything in sight, wreaking havoc – will stay with us. Our sympathies and support should – and will – be available to help our fellow human beings in whatever way we can.

Our horror – and the desire to do something – would obviously be even more if we saw something similar happening all around us. And in a way something similar is happening all around us, only it is not as dramatic as a physical tsunami, making it a little difficult to be noticed by most people. It is what I would call the tsunami of poor quality of education that is hitting a million schools and tens of millions of children, its impact likely to be visible over the years rather than right now, instantly, in front of our eyes.

The Tsunami Around Us
No this is not alarmist, but an effort to put across a real picture and the urgency with which it needs to be recognized and acted upon. Every day, in hundreds of thousands of locations across the country, children make their way to the school. Around a quarter of them may find their teacher not there. This number alone is staggering, ranging as it would between one and two million teachers. MILLION! And if each teacher has 30 children in his class, you can estimate the number but not really conceive how enormous it is. And it is huge not just in terms of numbers, but for each child who loses a day of learning, and does so for many days every month, it is incalculable.

Had the facilities or the teachers not been available we could have cried over our fate in terms of being an underdeveloped country. But having the infrastructure (over 98% children have a school within a kilometre, and most buildings are not bad) and teachers actually in place (though the number of vacancies is still very large) – it is horrifying to watch or at least it should be, for there doesn't seem to be a sense of horror, or as much of it as would shake the country into action.

However the story doesn't end there. It is when 'teaching' takes place that the impact on children is often at its greatest. Decades ago, the Yashpal Committee's report on The Burden of the School Bag had detailed the 'burden of incomprehension' a majority of children bear. And it is difficult to see if things have changed dramatically, despite changed curricula, textbooks, the use of TLM, evolving assessment patterns, new training programmes… The number of children attending school – and their diversity – too has grown in leaps and bounds, while the approach to handling their needs has remained fairly static. Hence, survey after survey shows that – despite a degree of improvement – we continue to be far from the levels of learning desired (and possible).

But it is when it comes to the process that the greatest deadening effect takes place. Rote memorization, 'explanation' ina language not necessarily understood by children, a disregard for the needs of children who are too poor to be able to attend regularly, (an often active) discrimination in the classroom, are the lot of a majority of our children. If you doubt this, all you have to do is visit any 10 government schools in different locations, especially those away from 'headquarters'.

This is not to say that all government schools are bad and that the 'bad' is restricted to government schools. It is to point out that even if only a third of schools are like the ones described above (and the number is surely more than that), it adds up to literally hundreds of thousands of schools and tens of millions of children – a slow tsunami of poor quality education that is surely wreaking havoc on the potential of our children, our country.

Dealing With It
So after all this panic, what do we do?
As in any disaster, stay calm! First recognize that there is a problem and accept that something must be done about it.

Second, realize that you are the right person to do something about it. Anyone is, everyone is. Every small action counts. Even if you smile at a child, say an encouraging word to a teacher, raise this issue with friends, relatives and colleagues, you are doing something.

Third, if you are willing to be more proactive or are already active, please do look at the urgency of the situation. Children cannot wait for us to learn or get our act together slowly. We need to quickly:
  • Establish the minimum conditions that must obtain. These are well laid out in the RTE (Right to Education) and its rules. Raise this issue wherever you can, and directly with the school or education authorities.
  • Encourage and support the community and the school management committees (SMCs) drawn from among the community to become more active. You can help in setting them up, in record keeping, in setting the agenda, in follow up, in helping ensure that teachers take them seriously and that they in turn don't take an adversarial position vis-à-vis teachers. You can use your position to ensure that the educational agenda is not hijacked by the money-making or power-gaining agenda.


If you are a Head Teacher, supervisor, CRC-BRC / district level teacher educator or officer:
  • Model the kind of behaviour you want from teachers
  • Share practical steps they can take in their classes, especially in terms of activity-based teaching (see the many entries in this blog for support)
  • Encourage teachers to be innovative, support them. If they ask questions, don't be dismissive (pass on the questions here if you can answer them!)


If you are a planner / policy-maker / decision- maker, please start by not dismissing what you have just read here. It is real, and it is happening – and it's on a gargantuan scale. On any given day, the number of children who are in school and not learning is more than the population of many countries – and it is a shame. What kind of performance standards can you set in place? What kind of outcomes can you insist on? How can you prepare the institutions and the system to deliver this, monitor them effectively and enable an ongoing improvement? Once again, the many entries in this blog would be helpful – and you could always share issues you would like others to provide suggestions / inputs on.

As surely as Japan will recover from the huge earthquake and the devastating tsunami, we can deal with this too. But first we have to see it as an emergency and address it. With all our might.
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We repeatedly find ourselves saying that working on improving education implies change. That is because the very core of education – in terms of key relationships, processes and the critical outcomes desired – itself is expected to undergo a transformation. Some of the biggest differences expected are in terms of
  • undoing the existing hierarchy,
  • increasing accountability,
  • evolving the role of the key stakeholders such as children and community from passive to active,
  • in fact even a reversal of the notion of the 'beneficiary' (especially after the RTE, children and the community are the reasons why the education system exists; and teachers, educational officers and others in the system are the beneficiaries in that they get their salaries because children have a right to education)
  • preparing children for life rather than just for examinations.




Thus it is not just a case of revision in components such as curriculum or textbooks or training or assessment but bringing about much deeper changes that will then manifest themselves in the different components. Change, therefore, in the underpinnings or the foundations themselves, implies major shift in emphasis, ways of working, the means used, the technical and human / social capabilities required, and a myriad other things. All this adds up to one word: change.

Much has been said on the issue of what this change is and the different ways of bringing it about (and more will appear too). But the one unresolved question confronting us is: how will we know if real change is actually happening, and to what extent? Is there any way in which we can capture / describe and 'measure' such deep change? As of now, the question really has us stumped. Any suggestions? 
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The pervasive notion that 'nothing has been done in education in India' could not be further from the truth. In fact not only has a great deal been done, but its consequences have been faced over decades. In particular, what follows applies to introducing educational designs based on local context, using the experiences and strengths of the stakeholders, creating a situation where they play an active role in determining and implementing processes.

Though obviously much must have been done over the decades till the 80s, my experience ranges from mid-80s, when I was part of a team working on such classroom practices, textbooks and educational designs from 1986 onwards. Implementation of the programme called Prashika (Prathamik Shiksha Karyakram) focused on marginalised groups, with the team living in a tribal area as well as in a rural, deprived pocket and introducing the innovation in government primary schools. The work in Prashika was pathbreaking in many, many ways (integration of 5 subjects at the primary level, incorporation of multiple local languages, a hugely localised textbook/workbook that could only be completed with each child contributing, called Khushi-Khushi - still not matched anywhere, I believe). It provided hope that much was possible despite the difficulties faced and informed many of the later efforts that followed, both in the government and the NGO sector.

Later in DPEP - particularly Kerala, Assam, Karnataka, Haryana, UP, Bihar, TN, Nagaland and later with SSA Gujarat further work was done. Localised training, contexualisable textbooks (some really brilliant stuff still not matched anywhere - and that's a professional opinion), teacher determined assessment system, involvement of community knowledge, children constructing local histories / local environment books, peer learning and assessments, textbooks that would be 'complete' only along with a set of 50 district-specific books kept in the school library.... many, many innovative and large scale measures were conceived and actually implemented using a strategically developed implementation plan. 

In each first five states we were able to see 2-3 years of implementation, development of hundreds / thousands of teachers who implemented contextualised learning, a high degree of in-class practice backed by supportive, localisable material. These states changed their position in the national achievement surveys too, with Kerala rising to the top (it had been fairly close to the bottom before this, below Bihar in the first national survey). In the case of Gujarat, field testing was done in 630 schools, researched by MSU Baroda with very encouraging findings. 

However, as long as we were not visibly successful there were no problems. When change began to be visible on some scale and a palpable sense of energy was witnessed among teachers and communities, alarm bells began to ring. in each of these states, the powers that be - especially at state level, state institutions, administrations, political parties - found that this went against the command-and-control structures conducive to them being able to assert their authority. Schools didn't want to be told what to teach when and how - they had their own plans. Empowered teachers / school heads / even some VECs refused to kowtow to mediocre ideas or corruption oriented bosses - leading to huge conflicts all over the place. Unfortunately these never got reported, recorded or researched. The results were mass scale transfers, cases against state project directors who encouraged this (Kerala SPD was charge sheeted, Karnataka SPD given punishment posting in North Karnataka, Assam SPD sent to conflict zone during worst riots, Bihar SPD transferred to PHED and later kept without posting), the re-casting of State Resource Groups from those selected for tested capabilities to those stocked with ex-officio positions, the emasculation of the BRC-CRC structures from genuine teacher support institutions into data collection centres (believe it or not, we did have functional BRCs CRCs at one time!), the centralisation of powers away from the VECs and re-casting into SMCs with a different function, and major shift in recruitments away from districts to states (in one state the Education Minister held a Recruitment Mela in a stadium to personally appoint 3000 para-teachers). 

Interestingly, Prashika in MP faced a similar adminstrative backlash and was closed down.

Yes, like it or not, this is what ideas of empowerment through education come up against - and they fall short not because of lack of any purity in the idea itself or absence of rigour, but because after a point when it goes into implementation an idea is something else, and not its original pure self. You might look at the actual work and find it is not 'up to the standard' - yet when trying to create it for those who need education the most, other aspects need to be taken into account. Basically, empowering the weak is clearly seen by the strong as disempowering them - and the empire strikes back! One of the outcomes is that a few years later, it appears as if nothing has been done, and people gear themselves up to again come up with 'innovative' ideas, often weaker than might already have been tried, uninformed by the past.
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