Insights into Editorial: On the learning curve: transforming education outcomes in India
With more than 1.5 million schools, 260 million enrolments and 12 million teachers, India has the largest, most diverse and complicated learning systems in the world.
While access to education has been an enormous success story and is now nearly universal, children are not learning well, and the trend has been worrying as 52.2% of students in Class 5 cannot read a Class 2 level text, and 74.1% cannot solve a division problem.
Today, we are not only in the middle of Industry 4.0, but also wide-spread disruption due to other factors.
Besides frontline service providers (teachers), there are a number of other officials and administrators who form an important part of the educational set-up.
Of course, there is automation that is changing the nature of jobs and learning. There is climate change too, higher urbanisation, growing income equalities, and anti-globalisation resulting from hyper-nationalism.
Among the lakhs of employees on the payrolls of State governments in India, the education department, unarguably, has the largest share of employees.
According to the latest third party assessment in February 2019, 94 blocks out of a total of 119 in Haryana have been declared ‘Saksham’ (abled/skilled), i.e. have 80% or more students who are grade level competent.
The overall grade competence has been assessed at 80%, which is a giant leap in learning outcomes when compared to the overall grade competence of 40% in 2014.
Under Saksham Campaign, If a block is found to be ‘Saksham’, the block officials are recognised by no less than the Chief Minister, and a large-scale ‘show and tell’ event is organised to honour them.
Further, when all blocks in a district are declared as ‘Saksham’, the entire district is also accorded ‘Saksham’ status.
About the NITI Aayog’s Aspirational Districts Programme:
The ‘Transformation of Aspirational Districts’ programme aims to quickly and effectively transform these districts.
The broad contours of the programme are Convergence (of Central & State Schemes), Collaboration (of Central, State level ‘Prabhari’ Officers & District Collectors), and Competition among districts driven by a mass Movement.
With States as the main drivers, this program will focus on the strength of each district, identify low-hanging fruits for immediate improvement, measure progress, and rank districts.
To enable optimum utilization of their potential, this program focusses closely on improving people’s ability to participate fully in the burgeoning economy.
The districts have been ranked in a transparent basis on parameters across Health & Nutrition, Education, Agriculture & Water Resources, Financial Inclusion & Skill Development, and Basic Infrastructure through key performance indicators.
Replication of above as Aspirational Districts and States programme in Learning Outcomes as well:
Under Saksham campaign, State officials nominate their block for the ‘Saksham Ghoshna’ once they are reasonably confident that their block has achieved the 80% target as a result of remedial programmes, teacher training and internal assessments.
Most importantly, there is a constant focus on recognising and disseminating best practices of select districts to other States, which act as a reward for well-performing local administrations while providing impetus to other districts to adopt similar measures.
This strategy has already shown success and districts that were ranked low in baseline surveys, have shown remarkable progress in subsequent rounds of assessment.
Given the success of these initiatives, it is abundantly clear that the right incentive structures for stakeholders lead to administrative efficiency, which then improves the quality of service delivery.
States therefore need to induce competition and give a boost to put all key actors in education in the driver’s seat to improve their learning levels.
Further, with encouragement from above, such campaigns lead to a shift in the mindset of a State’s education administrators, many of whom otherwise believe that high learning outcomes are almost unachievable.
The Haryana case study: Visible Transformation in Learning Outcomes:
A successful example of implementing such a road map can be seen in Haryana, which has created a race among its administrative blocks to be declared as ‘Saksham’ (abled/skilled), i.e. have 80% or more students who are grade level competent.
Education transformation programmes by States run the risk of falling flat, as they are often unaccompanied by a single transformation change road map that all key actors agree upon and work towards.
Given the size of the education department, any effort to introduce education reforms must ensure that the incentives of all stakeholders are aligned throughout the system to ensure their participation.
The valuable lesson from Haryana example is that inducing competition among administrative units helps invigorate key stakeholders to work in tandem in order to achieve intended outcomes.
Competition also makes abstract goals such as ‘learning outcomes’ more real by defining exact ‘actionable’ metrics on which improvement is desired.
Political commitment to improving the quality of education backed by strong review and monitoring mechanisms can spur meaningful activity in States.
The successes that we are already witnessing in India with the systemic approach to transforming education are inspiring.
Improvement in learning outcomes is an immediate goal for India to fulfil its aspirations of playing a greater role in the global economy and a systemic transformation is the best solution that we have so far.
Districts and thereby States are prodded and encouraged to first catch-up with the best district within their state, and subsequently aspire to become one of the best in the country, by competing with, and learning from others in the spirit of competitive & cooperative federalism.