We know how to educate children, as is evident in elite schools — our inability to do so for all children is due to the failure in understanding the role of politics and technology(Getty Images)
We know how to educate children, as is evident in elite schools — our inability to do so for all children is due to the failure in understanding the role of politics and technology(Getty Images)

NEP ignores a key aspect: The critical role of parents | Opinion

Governments will do the hard slog only if their efforts are visible and impressive to parents, a key voting bloc
By Azeez Gupta and Vishal Sunil
UPDATED ON AUG 21, 2020 06:29 PM IST

The new National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has been received with broad praise. The goal of universalisation of Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) and the focus on achieving universal foundational literacy and numeracy (FLN) is especially laudable. The challenge now lies in translating policy into action on the ground at scale. Most policy suggestions are not new — several state governments have been trying hard to implement such reforms. However, the lack of consistent political will and the slow pace of adopting emerging technologies have stymied these efforts. We know how to educate children, as is evident in elite schools — our inability to do so for all children is due to the failure in understanding the role of politics and technology.

How are parents, from less-privileged backgrounds, expected to understand the value of the current reforms such as curriculum overhaul, teacher-training or activity-based learning in schools? These are all hidden behind school walls, parents are not involved, and the visible impact of better education manifests later in life. As a result, the public-school system has lost the perception battle to the private system. The latter takes huge pains to dazzle their most critical constituency — parents — through fancy brochures or computer labs. Public educators tend to be poor publicists.

Unfortunately, NEP ignores the political-economy aspects of education and the critical need to involve the parent as a teacher and voter. Parents are only mentioned 25 times, as compared to 221 mentions for teachers. The opaqueness of progress and lack of value realisation by the constituents is why politicians across the spectrum have, in turn, not paid attention to education, as compared to other sectors such as infrastructure and skills training. Education reform attempts come and go, based on the whims and fancies of officials and their unpredictable tenures.

Even beyond political incentives, it is vital that parents are involved directly in the learning process of their children. Such home effects have been shown to be key drivers of learning outcomes. Parent and community engagement is not just a political carrot, but also essential for the child’s progress. Models designed to include teachers as key facilitators for parent interactions also increase community respect for teachers, another key objective of the NEP. Across the board, teachers are motivated by how parents value them more, realise the positive things happening in school, and express their admiration for their efforts — in comparison even to private schools.

Recently, we see that, when parents notice education improvements, it translates into political popularity — Delhi, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh are all early examples. In this context, governments and politicians will only do the hard slog to translate NEP into reality if their efforts are easily visible and impressive to parents, a key voting bloc.

A natural question is, how? How can we bring parents on board and achieve universal FLN throughout India? How can government achieve this scale with a high Return on Investment (ROI)?

The answer has been staring us in the face all along — the digital revolution. India is expected to have 820 million smartphone users by 2022 and, for the first time, India has more rural Internet users than urban. This is the time to use these tail winds and adopt innovative low-tech to enable school-home connections and engage parents where they are.

Specifically, school systems need to leverage technology and mass media communication to show parents daily and directly that they are investing in their children’s success, and that the child is actually learning. Technology can play a key role in bringing about this behavioural change by implementing the Aspiration, Information & Measurement (AIM) framework. We can use social media platforms such as Facebook and Youtube to bring about awareness, we can leverage messaging platforms such as WhatsApp and Telegram to disseminate educational content to learning communities, and we can use Artificial Intelligence and Big-Data to measure these learning outcomes at scale. The possibilities are endless. Now is the time to commit to an approach spearheaded by technology and digital India.

There is evidence of the effectiveness and high ROI for tech-enabled information interventions. Many research studies have shown that low-cost interventions such as text message nudge the learning process along. In our organisation, Rocket Learning, we have seen that tech- and media-enabled models of leveraging government infrastructure to build parental aspiration, information gateways and, social motivation have led to up to 80% of parents conducting learning activities with children on a regular basis district-wide.

The writing on the wall is clear — for the system to change for the long-term, we need initiatives and technology that achieve both educational and political success, as was the case with the midday meal scheme. It is imperative that the recently announced FLN mission, which builds on NEP, both addresses the political economy problem and adopts technology quickly to achieve universal ECCE. It must be accompanied by a national mass media and social media campaign that specifically targets communities, as in Swachh Bharat or Skill India. The mission must create a virtuous cycle of governments pulling parents along and vice versa.

Azeez Gupta and Vishal Sunil are serial entrepreneurs with backgrounds from Pratham, McKinsey, Harvard Business School and IIT Delhi. They are the co-founders of Rocket Learning, an ed-tech social enterprise focusing on foundational learning for young children
The views expressed are personal
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