By Pradeep S. Mehta
At two separate public events recently, Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant laid great emphasis on health and education. India, he stressed, cannot register high growth for long without a good education (and healthcare) network; and for a good education system to develop, we must pose a challenge for states and assess their performance on a real-time basis.
This can be achieved by creating a benchmarking framework to compare states with the aim of improving their performance in education. That’s easier said than done, as our education system has complexities such as multiple education boards, different assessment systems, a limited understanding of quality, data relevance issues, a mismatch between public funds and performance, and conflicting theories on the merit of benchmarking itself.
One school of thought favours measurements as a necessary ingredient for better management, but another feels being obsessed with measurements can lead to data manipulation, over-regulation and undermining of widely-held learning theories. It’s different matter that a robust measurement system of any public scheme does not exist, or if it does it’s poor. The result is that policies are designed either whimsically or a commonsense basis. One can imagine the consequences of such decisions.
The moot point is: can there really be a benchmarking framework that gets the best out of states while ensuring that state specificities are not compromised and states adhere to a set of national objectives, while keeping the learner at the centre?
The answer, surprisingly, is “yes”. if one evaluates and analyses expert inputs collated over a year by CUTS International in its bid to formulate recommendations for the New Education Policy.
We don’t know yet when the new policy will be out but it can start by creating a fairly robust benchmarking system premised upon key national objectives. To begin with, the policy can spell out a clear definition of what “quality education” means; as it is now unfortunately only equated with learning outcomes. The policy would do well by defining quality education holistically as a combination of inputs, processes and outcomes which may include infrastructure, teacher, classrooms, school functioning, student-teacher interaction, assessments, school environment, curriculum, learning outcomes, retention rates, dropout rates and age-appropriate grade completion. Similarly, “learning” also needs to be looked at holistically to include learning for development of identity, development of the capacity to live in society and development of skills or even learning capacities.
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