Strengthen state-level elementary education architecture
There is a wide variation in the extent of integration among administrative bodies overseeing school administration at the state level
To achieve inclusive and high-quality elementary education, as envisaged in the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, states need to urgently start working on two things. First, a cohesive administrative architecture in which all organisations related to elementary education are well-integrated and aligned with the policy goals of NEP 2020. And second, a clearly articulated education policy, which reflects state-level priorities and a resource-based implementation plan.
NEP 2020 aims to ensure that children in government schools must be proficient in basic reading, writing and maths, defined as Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN), by class 3. To achieve this, the state administrative architecture has to be integrated into a cohesive whole. This includes the State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT) and district institute of education and training (DIETs, which are responsible for curriculum development, teacher training and research), State Institute of Educational Management & Training (SEIMAT, which train school administrators and district education officers), frontline administrative bodies (teacher support and trainings at the block and sub-block level), and state-level departments of education, panchayati raj, social welfare, tribal welfare, which run government schools, including hiring and managing of teachers. As pre-primary education is now a part of the school education system, convergence with the state departments of women and child development and also health is also important as they undertake child health-related interventions and National Early Childhood Care and Education through anganwadi centres.
At present, there is a wide variation in the extent of integration among administrative bodies overseeing school administration at the state level. The administrative architecture has also not been reorganised and aligned to address specific education-related goals and challenges of the state.
For example, SCERT in Himachal Pradesh is the product of a merger between B.Ed college and the State Institute of Education in 1984. But it has not been reorganised in terms of its staffing, organisational structure and vision and mission. An evidence of the misalignment is that HP SCERT functions as a stand-alone institution and is not integrated with the state department of education, Samagra Shiksha project office, DIETs or the frontline administration. SCERT trainings happen independently and in parallel to those of the education department and SSA.
Consequently, schools and teachers are subjected to multiple training and research development demands. A well-integrated administrative architecture would lead to a cohesive training calendar at the level of the school and the teacher, a training curriculum which reinforces locally implementable strategies for improving student learning. Specialist organisations such as SEIMATs in Madhya Pradesh are in a similar position, poorly resourced and not integrated with the school education department.
Furthermore, every state has its own pattern of staffing these organisations.
In some states such as Rajasthan, SCERT is headed by an Indian Administrative Service officer, in others such as Himachal Pradesh it is headed by a B.Ed. faculty member. The staffing pattern impacts the DNA of an organisation.
A bureaucrat-led organisation has different sets of strengths and limitations than one led by an academic or sector specialist. Bureaucrats have better connection with policy-making circles, which is an important strength if leveraged well but a critical limitation is frequent transfers and lack of deep understanding of the school education sector. On the other hand, academics may lack the connections and the networks with the education bureaucracy. Which leadership structure is well suited to fulfil the mandate of SCERT and how it is to be integrated with the rest of the education administration structure requires deep thinking about how state level education goals are to be achieved.
States also need their state policy on education reform. This must clearly articulate the specific education-related problems of the state and most importantly, the strategies and resources needed to overcome them. The only state that has an education policy is Meghalaya and it was developed way back in 1978.
When states undertake reform, it’s often to implement provisions of national-level policies and donor-funded programmes, rarely is it based on an assessment of their own priorities. And reform is often piecemeal and episodic rather than holistic which takes care of all aspects of the school education system from administration, classroom transaction, to monitoring and evaluation.
For example, recently, the Bihar government amended last year’s policy and declared that hiring for primary and secondary school headmasters will take place through a separate recruitment process rather than through promotions. But other aspects of teacher cadre rationalisation focusing on streamlining recruitments, promotions, transfers remain as is.
Other challenges include the fact that Bihar does not have functional Block and Cluster Resource Centres and new sub-district level bodies are needed for teacher training and academic support. Furthermore, the challenges facing the Bihar school education system are different from say the highly urbanised Tamil Nadu, which has an effective and transparent teacher cadre management system.
School education, given its service delivery focus and donor interest, is a highly visible example of the urgent need for restructuring the state level bureaucratic framework.
In school education, NEP 2020 has provided an enabling environment, which must be acted upon by the states to get their house in order.
The Indian state is only as far as the states of India are. And the times call for their leadership.
Priyadarshini Singh is a Research Fellow with the State Capacity Initiative at CPR.
(This article is based on an on-going research project for the RISE program at the University of Pennsylvania)
The views expressed are personal