Letter to Smriti Irani: Five steps to take India’s education system from mediocre to world class

Amit Chandra, Anu Aga and Ashish Dhawan, Times of India on June 10, 2014

Dear HRD minister,

Congratulations on BJP’s victory in the general elections. We now eagerly await the measures that your government will take to drive socio-economic prosperity for the country. As the government prepares for such measures, it is important to note that for any growth model to be successful we need an educated and skilled population. That’s why PM Narendra Modi placed skills at the head of his “skill, scale and speed” formula to transform India.

As you assume your newly assigned responsibilities, we take this opportunity to share our perspective on five big reforms that could transform India’s education system from a mediocre to a world-class system.

First, our education system currently suffers from an apparent ‘Licence Raj’ that restricts entry and operation of private players. Even policies such as RTE neglect that private schools are a large part of the education ecosystem (already 40% of school students and 60% of college students are enrolled in private institutions). These norms have led to the shutdown of a large number of affordable private schools that serve low-income students. The government must deregulate school education and treat government and private schools as equal partners in solving India’s education crisis.

Second, it is important not only to invest more in education but to do so more strategically. Central government should invest more resources in teacher education and development, principal training, ICT in education and assessments. It is also critical for the ministry of human resource development to rework its results framework document (RFD) to include student learning outcomes. Furthermore, a portion of the budget allocation to states should be contingent upon the adoption of progressive education policies and improvement of outcomes. There is an opportunity to create version 2.0 of the central education budget that shifts focus from inputs and outlays to outcomes and impact, while holding states accountable.

Third, improve quality standards through nationwide assessments. Assessments need to be at the core of any planning exercise for improving India’s education system. The government should introduce statewide learning assessments that are undertaken at regular periods during a child’s school journey, which can also contribute to remediation and improvement in teaching. Additionally, a school rating system should be instituted to set targets for school level improvements. The National Achievement Survey (NAS) should be revamped such that it becomes a barometer for student learning and the de facto benchmark for state performance.

Modi’s government in Gujarat has already taken a lead in this regard with the Gunotsav programme, an accountability framework for quality of primary education that includes learning outcomes of children as well as co-scholastic activities, optimal use of financial resources and community participation. This model can be replicated in other states.

Fourth, equip school principals to become efficient school leaders. Great leaders make great institutions, in every sphere. In schools principals are the highest point of leverage, yet their role is often restricted to administrative functions. There is a need to reimagine the role of the principal — as an instructional leader, rather than an administrator. Moreover, we need to institute stricter guidelines for recruitment of school leaders that prioritise merit over seniority. Gujarat has again taken the lead by establishing the headmaster eligibility test for selection of its principals. The government should set up centres for school leadership in every state and mandate induction as well as ongoing training for all principals.

Fifth, improve teacher quality for better learning outcomes. It is unfortunate that teaching today does not attract the best talent. We need public awareness campaigns in India that are able to effectively project teaching as a rewarding and meaningful profession. Centres of excellence need to be created for teacher education in prestigious universities across India. Our Teacher Education Institutes (TEI) capacity is extremely fragmented with over 11 lakh seats in 14,000 TEIs. Most of this capacity is of poor quality that has been created through non-transparent, poorly formulated TEI recognition procedures. Government should build and scale high-quality institutes at top 10 central universities and strengthen SCERTs and DIETs.

We believe that every child in India deserves excellent education. We also believe that given the vastness and diversity of our country we can only succeed with thorough experimentation and analysis, rather than a mere adoption of predefined rules. Our country needs bold reforms and focused implementation with clear targets for learning outcomes to achieve this goal.

Our emerging market peers — China, Brazil and Poland, among others — have made education reform a priority as they recognise it as the surest path to sustained economic development. In the run-up to elections we circulated a letter signed by leading citizens — Cyrus Mistry, Kumar Birla, Anand Mahindra, Gurcharan Das and 30 others — that highlighted the need for prioritising education in the policy agenda and suggested reforms. The future of 240 million children is at stake, and as concerned citizens we urge your attention to these bold steps that can truly improve their lives.

Thank you.

Read the entire article in The Times Of India

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