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Educational deprivation in India: some quick observations

posted Nov 13, 2012, 5:45 PM by Anirban Pal   [ updated Jun 25, 2013, 4:11 AM by Nilanjan Nath ]

From the very little that I know so far about the most pressing problems in education in India, these are the summaries:

  • The rural schools are generally more deprived in terms of teachers and the ability of parents to pay for educational services.
  • Incidence of child labor can be seen even in big cities like Kolkata. Many of these children do not go to school. Mid-day meals have increased school enrollment and attendance but there are still some who are falling through the cracks. 
  • Student-teacher ratio and teacher quality are issues that are mentioned. But I am not sure if these should matter a lot. Students can learn a lot by themselves by interacting with one another. The full potential for self-learning and peer-learning is perhaps not yet been recognized.
  • Students who get exposure are more likely to use improved educational tools. Those kids who are privileged enough to have access to the world wide web and who are made aware of resources such as the Khan Academy, very quickly learn to make full use of them to enhance their learning themselves. They do not need external incentives for them to adopt these new learning strategies. 
  • The problem seem to be about lack of awareness of what is available for free. And this lack of awareness is at different levels. Schools don't know that there are resources, tools and technologies (both hardware and software) available for free. Teachers don't know some of the tools that they can use for free. And students and parents don't know what they can use for free. 

I invite all those who have been associated with learning and education in India to add to this list of observations. We need to better understand where the problems are before we can think of a solution. Thank you.

In search of a manifesto...

posted Nov 13, 2012, 5:44 PM by Anirban Pal   [ updated Nov 13, 2012, 5:44 PM by Nilanjan Nath ]

Each person might have different things that drive them to participate in shaping FUTURE SOCIETY. For instance, I am most interested in social justice and equity. I am not talking about equality in outcome but equality in opportunity. Indian education system does not provide equal opportunities to all. Class (primarily understood as an income category but which also encompasses other social and economic ordinal attributes such as caste, level of education of parents, ones social milieu etc.) is seen as an important determinant of the opportunities for learning and their capacity to aspire. And schools are important sites where social classes are being reproduced. I would like to see this injustice addressed. One way to address this is to create social spaces where students from deprived schools can directly interact as equals with those from more privileged schools. The idea is to somehow break the metaphorical walls of the schools that divide communities based on different identities (social class identities being one of the most damaging among these cleavages that reproduce inequity in educational opportunities). Physical spaces for such interaction are very limited. We hardly see children of a maid play or go to school with the children of her employer, for instance. This has profound long-term effect on the development of children and how they perceive themselves and their peers from other class categories. The question is: Can a social space be created that would encourage kids from different backgrounds to socialize with one another? Cyberspace has offered similar opportunities for physically and socially remote communities to interact. Creating virtual communities of kids from different background in the cyberspace will not be enough to address the gap in educational opportunities in India. But it still has to be recognized as an integral part of the overall education solution.

The second problem I find is about the availability and quality of teachers. But before that we have to realize the different roles that teachers play. Teachers are essential. But professionalization of teachers is not essential. Home schooling is permitted in many countries. The role of a teacher can be played by parents, by peers, or by others in the social circle of a child. Some serve as role models, others as experts in specific subject matters, still others as comrades in the exercise of self-learning through exploration and discovery. The general conception is that the professional teacher brings in pedagogical expertise and subject matter expertise along with ability to enforce discipline among students. Given the shortage of good teachers in schools in rural areas, we need to think of ways to reduce the work load of professional teachers in schools by making greater use of peer-learning, experiential learning, activities-based learning etc. Best practices in such pedagogical techniques need to be recognized, documented, and disseminated more widely.  

Third is the larger issue of governance and institutions that sets the norms within the education system. They deal with allocation of resources , regulate what is taught, how it is taught, who teaches, what counts as quality education (accreditation) etc. These norms operate at different levels - national, state, local, school and household level of the child. We have to think harder about the fairness and applicability of these norms. So far, we have taken these formal and informal institutions/norms as given. At the level of the household, are the norms by which parents allocate resources between the girl child and the boy child fair? At national or state levels, are these institutions micro-managing schools by enforcing rigid norms and standards for hiring teachers, salaries, etc.? What are the effects of these norms? Who are the powerful actors in the governance and decision-making in the education arena? These are questions that need to be carefully thought through in order to institutionalize any innovation in the governance of the education sector.

I am hoping that the visitors to this site will comment on these thoughts or contribute their own ideas on what they see as problem areas or potential areas of intervention to reform education. Thank you.  

Marks, Grades, Badges: How best to evaluate student learning?

posted Nov 13, 2012, 5:42 PM by Anirban Pal   [ updated Nov 13, 2012, 5:42 PM by Nilanjan Nath ]

A lot of new thinking is going into how to improve the way we measure learning among students. Badges are seen to have a lot of promise in this area. A recent blog post has interesting things to say about them. Have a look.

http://gettingsmart.com/cms/blog/2012/11/why-a-badge-is-better-than-an-a/

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