Over the past two decades, we have done well as a nation to bring children to school, with enrolment in elementary education improving from 81% in 2000-01 to over 96% in 2014-15. There have been a host of initiatives to improve access; yet, there is much to be accomplished when it comes to providing quality education.
Four out of 10 students who enter Class I, drop out by Class VIII. The state of learning outcomes across subjects is dismal. As the new education policy is being rolled out, the policymakers have a daunting task in upholding the values of inclusion, justice and equity in education—especially in a culturally, socially and economically diverse country like India.
In my view, there are four key levers for change. By failing to prepare, we are preparing to fail: When we talk about improvement in student achievement, the most weighty factor, as per John Hattie’s meta study, is teacher efficacy. For most of the 17,000 teacher-training colleges in the country, the end goal is not teacher preparation, it is teacher certification. Would we allow medicine students to become doctors, simply on clearing an exam? Definitely not! Then why do we trust our children with unprepared teachers?
When Finland’s education system was ailing in 1970, the first reform the country undertook was to shut down 80% of their sub-standard teacher colleges. Increasingly, education colleges globally are getting attached to schools, just as medical colleges are attached to hospitals.
Set up teacher education programmes in high performing and innovative schools. Make continuous professional development mandatory for teachers and, in existing programmes, build a component for at least six months of practice teaching.
Focus on learning, not attainment: Moving away from rote learning has been on the agenda for decades now. The national curriculum framework, 2005, laid a solid foundation, to steer us away from rote learning, yet its vision is far from accomplished. Lack of reforms in the examination system and the higher education institution’s obsession with marks as the sole criterion for admission, ensures that we are not able to transcend into realms of real and meaningful education.
With routine and repetitive cognitive tasks increasingly being outsourced to machines and the large population of the so-called educated but unemployable people continually growing, we need a sense of urgency in curricular and examination reforms.
Good leaders make good schools: The third area is developing legitimacy and support for school leaders. The average school principal across private and government schools has had little education, training or support in running good schools. We need strong systems for schools to assess themselves and to acquire mandatory accreditations and ratings, with a focus on school improvement. We need a Central University dedicated to school leadership development.
The fourth potential area of work concerns private schools. About 40% of our population goes to private schools, majority of which are run on per-student costs similar to or even lower than government schools. It is critical for the government to recognize their contribution and to support and nurture these institutions apart from holding them accountable. The policy must incentivise private schools to formulate mechanisms to attract private investments in education.
We hope the proposed policy focuses on clear outcomes and puts measurable programme evaluation metrics in place.
Manit Jain is co-chair of Ficci’s school committee and co-founder of Heritage School.