Shekhar Shah, the moderator of the panel 'Action Plan 2025: Rethinking Policy' at the recently held 2013 School Choice National Conference in Delhi asked the three panelists what they thought were the three most important things India should do to improve learning outcomes by 2025. Here's what each of them had to say.
Amit Kaushik (Ab Initio Consulting)
Define the national vision for education for the next 20 years. That is something that is seriously lacking at this point of time. The last National Policy in Education was introduced by the Govt in 1986 and subsequently amended in 1992. It's over 21 years now since then. For a nation that talks about its under-25 population and leveraging the demographic dividend, not having in place a vision for what the education system should be in the next 5, 10, 20 years is a serious gap.
Set up an Educational Regulatory Authority which regulates how both public and private schools function and has responsibility for policy and implementation.
It would have to be at the state level, but you will need to have a national body as well. Just like you have the NCPCR (National Commission for Protection of Child Rights) and the SCPCRs in the states, you will need to have a similar model. The biggest concerns with encouraging private investment in schools is that it would become exploitative and parents and teachers would be exploited. A regulatory commision in place would take care of some of these aspects.
Encourage private investments for profit in the education space. There is no getting away from this. Sooner or later we will have to bite the bullet and the sooner we bite it the better for all of us.
Ramya Venkataraman (Leader of Education Practice at McKinsey & Company)
Launch a standard national student learning outcome assessment which is run by a third party, with low stakes for students, and meant for feedback for the students.
Launch a large number of different kinds of Public Private Partnerships including using govt infrastructure, including subsidising affordable private schools and making them viable, including supporting aided schools, including private expertise for the govt systems. Potentially at the Centre, have a couple of templates for these which allows states to get jump started on this. For e.g. the Mumbai Schools Public Private Partnership took 10 years to come to fruition. It could happen in a year if there is a template that people are comfortable with.
To a question from the moderator on who should be doing this,
Ramya responded saying, Firstly, it's not so much about a lot of experimentation. There are 3-4 models that are more or less now emerging. It is about going deeper on these models and probably some experimentation within that, in terms of with fees vs without fees, teacher salaries at par with Govt and not at par etc..
Ramya said she would answer the how more than the who. The standard national assessment would be an important way to measure many of these experiements to see which direction these are headed in. Who should do it - my sense to be very practical is that it will end up being the education department of every state more than a central entity. The central entity can do the collection of the research, but the education departments of the states will implement it.
- Encourage ongoing inservice teacher development through certain initiatives like need for ongoing professional certification with a range of alternative options around that.
Prof. Karthik Muralidharan (University of California at San Diego)
You can't ignore the govt system. That is still 60-70% of particularly primary enrollment. As Lant Pritchett famously said, most of these things are not stuck at the policy level. It is all about implementation. To me, in the public system it is Governance, Governance, Governance. It is not rocket science.
There was a nationally representative panel study of teacher absence in 2003 and 2010. The only thing that matters in reducing teacher absence is not fancy buildings or increase in salaries etc.., but just good old monitoring. For e.g., did a superior officer visit your school in the past three months? The average DEO tenure in India is less than one year. 20% of DEO positions are vacant. When you have that kind of governance vacuum it doesn't matter what you are doing.
As Lant Pritchett famously said, our neighbour may be a failing state, but we are a flailing state, where there is no connection between the head and the roots. The head can make the most beautifully crafted policy sitting in the Planning Commission. There's no connection between that and what's actually happening. So in the public system, its Governance, Governance, Governance.
On the private side, you will really need a larger framework for leveraging non-state actors for improving a whole range of things. Lant Pritchett in his paper using first principles of fiscal federalism, clearly delineates what types of functions should sit at what levels of government and which are the things and functions that might best be done by private entities.
We desperately need more research. The rhetoric to substance ratio is unbelievable. People say we need to make decisions now and can't wait for research. This is what we have done for 60 years and that has not solved our mess. So I would rather kind of hold off before making big decisions till we understand things. RTE is a classic example of something which is extremely well intentioned, but based on research, you realise most of these things are not where the action is in terms of outcomes. So whether it is private schooling or technology, we need research.
Everybody is throwing technology at the problems. What it takes is an enormous amount of clarity of thought on how you are going to deploy the technology in the classroom and what is the binding constraint to status quo.For instance, are you going to be using technology to
- circumvent gaps in teachers' knowledge?
- have more individualised curriculum?
- shorten the feedback loop for the student?
- encourage student effort by providing instant motivation?
All this requires careful thinking and this is not something administrators have the bandwidth for. These are research functions and we have to invest over the long term in understanding these things. Otherwise you are just flailing around with a bunch of small scale pilots without systematcially pulling together learning in a way that can inform what we can do in terms of policy.