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To tackle the learning crisis, put the states to the wheel

States need to be empowered to create three-to-four year plans (as opposed to the current annual planning cycle) that can meet the unique needs of their children.

analysis Updated: Apr 24, 2019 08:46 IST
Ashish Dhawan
Ashish Dhawan
indian education system,NITI Aayog,education in india
From a political point of view, quality reforms in education have been a hard sell, especially since there is less certainty about what works, while the results are even harder to measure. (HT Photo )

In India, the nature of the learning crisis is that it starts early on and increases as children reach higher grades. Majority of the children don’t acquire basic skills such as reading even by class 3 and so many of them get left behind, leading to an inequitable education system. This problem of education quality is both political and technical in nature.

From a political point of view, quality reforms in education have been a hard sell, especially since there is less certainty about what works, while the results are even harder to measure. There are issues with the diagnosis itself and the lack of nuanced discourse ultimately lead to misalignment between goals, policies and budget. Improving quality is a complex challenge. Trade-offs are often made between focusing on more measurable and visible inputs, such as infrastructure, vis-a-vis ensuring that all teachers and students are empowered and motivated to create a high-quality teaching and learning environment in a classroom.

The underlying issue here is that of diffused policy priorities. There is not enough salience of the fact that the problem starts in classes 1 and 2 and this is when the child needs all possible support to learn and stay in the education system. Moreover, a traditional mindset could lead to more attention being given to the best in the class, pushing the majority to drop out of the system altogether.

Emphasising on quality requires a systemic overhaul, which calls for moving away from piecemeal interventions that are either technically deficient or are not owned by the system. The Centre must put states at the wheel and provide technical assistance and budgetary flexibility. Such a system will allow the states to design their own programmes, monitor and evaluate the implementation of it. There is a need to move away from a one-size-fits-all approach to a more contextualised one.

States need to be empowered to create three-to-four year plans (as opposed to the current annual planning cycle) that can meet the unique needs of their children. Of course a common minimum guideline for what makes a programme effective can be provided. From a pedagogic perspective, the 5Ts — teaching approaches, tools for teachers and students, tests, training on content and delivery, and finally teacher support — should be the key ingredients of any programme to improve foundational learning.

Working on a mission-mode to achieve universal foundational learning and numeracy will mean combining pedagogical inputs with key policy reforms to monitor performance and strengthen the system at all levels. At a state level, reliable, regular, comparable and comprehensive data on learning outcomes in early years will create incentives for improvement and will align reform priorities. The NITI Aayog’s State Education Quality Index is certainly a step in the right direction. It will motivate and incentivise states to focus on learning outcomes.

We know that quality education is a powerful economic driver. The challenge for the new government will be to capitalise on this, given India’s young population. There is ample evidence from a number of developing countries, such as Kenya, Philippines, Brazil and Vietnam, that show success in expanding education systems, while improving learning outcomes, in a short time frame. Drawing from these few precious examples, the new government will have to arrive at a roadmap that will make achieving basic skills of reading and maths in primary classes the topmost priority for the next five years.

Ashish Dhawan is Founder and Chairman, Central Square Foundation

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Apr 24, 2019 08:46 IST