Education reforms in India are actively targeting the persistently low learning levels amongst students. Ensuring that these policies are translated into action on the ground necessitates providing the required support and supervision to teachers and schools. School leaders are often looked at for this responsibility, but experiences increasingly show that it cannot be fulfilled by heads of schools alone. Thus, it is important to look at the support system beyond school level and strengthen the layer of frontline education officer for providing academic support. In most states, this layer comprises of Block and Cluster Resource Coordinators (BRC/CRC), a cadre of education administration established to provide academic resources, on-site mentoring and in-service training to teachers, as well as guidance for quality improvement to schools and clusters. In other states, these functions are carried out by similar agents, such as school inspectors, mentor teachers. However, recent evidence highlights that various structural and cultural issues prevent this layer from functioning optimally.
In response to the growing challenges of this layer of education administrators, technical experts, organisations and even state governments are increasingly engaging with this layer to understand its role as well as concerns, across different parts of the country. Recognising the criticality of strengthening this layer, CSF and Accountability Initiatives (AI) co-hosted a convening of various stakeholders in July, to learn from collective experiences and share ideas for change. As we designed our vision for the convening, we hoped to create a platform to assess and re-think the role of these institutions, draw out learnings for larger systemic reform and to build a collective voice on the issue.
AI presented a study on the functioning of this layer, which highlighted various structural issues that lead to BRC/CRCs feeling disempowered and thinking of themselves as mere data collectors. Experts like R.Govinda, Rukmini Banerjee, Urvashi Sahni and Vimala Ramachandran provided insights about the historical evolution of this layer, leading to its current administrative culture and the need for systemic and mindset transformations to re-invent this role. On the other hand, practitioners like JPAL, Creatnet Education, Kaivalya Education Foundation (KEF) and Ark shared their on-ground experiences of working with this layer, in various capacities. They shed light on interventions for supporting this layer through training and mentoring, and the importance of building capacity within the system to sustain these changes. This led to discussions on systemic restructuring programmes by Pune City Connect and BCG, to strengthen the state machinery and make this layer more academic oriented, and not purely administrative. They highlighted how ground interventions can be sustained through institutional reform and how this role can be redefined at a state level.
At CSF, we believe that the middle-management layer is a vital link between the state’s vision for education quality and on-ground implementation. Through the discussions, we identified critical aspects of the value chain that needs to be strengthened in order to support this layer–
- Roles and responsibilities: The disproportionate administrative burden of this middle management layer prevents it from providing the envisioned support to teachers. Thus, it is essential to clearly articulate the responsibilities of BRC/CRCs and redefine their role to make it more academic.
- Recruitment: Anecdotal evidence highlights that recruiting people with the right skills is necessary to ensure meaningful support for teachers. This requires mapping the competencies needed for the role, and accordingly designing a comprehensive and aspirational process for selection. Further, over the years, recruitment of middle management officers has not kept pace with increase in number of teachers. To ensure optimal support for all teachers, KEF recommended establishing an administrator to teacher ratio and accordingly recruiting adequate middle management officers.
- Capacity building: The layer of middle management at cluster/block and district level needs to be trained for carrying out evaluations as well as for providing feedback and mentoring to teachers. To enhance this layer, systematic initiatives need to focus on strengthening of State Institutes of Education Management and Training (SIEMATs) as well as provision of academic resources and training to middle-management officers.
As envisioned, the convening helped stimulate discussions and brainstorm around these issues. We will continue this work with our partner organisations to create wider learnings for the ecosystem, and build a collective national voice to advocate for strengthening this layer and providing an effective and consistent support system to teachers.