In this article, Ashish Dhawan, Founder and Chairman of Central Square Foundation, lays out five broad priorities for the New Education Policy – ensuring robust data on children’s learning, strengthening school-based management, integrating early childhood education into the school system, engaging the private sector, and leveraging technology.
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The formulation of the New Education Policy (NEP) is an opportunity for the government to propose measures to improve the quality of school education in India. It is pertinent that this policy is based on evidence and constant experimentation, and is focused on improving the learning standards of all children.
To facilitate this discussion, I have identified five broad priorities for the NEP. These are: tracking the learning trajectories of all children, strengthening the role of school leadership1 and school management committees (SMC)2, improving school readiness by a strong preschool intervention, engaging private sector for innovation, and use of technology for implementing successful initiatives at scale. These policy interventions have the capacity to improve achievement levels of the children and provide opportunities for innovation, experimentation and scale.
Ensure timely and reliable learning data on all children
The emphasis on improving learning outcomes through the NEP is opportune. An important pre-condition to do so is to improve the capacity to design, administer and use data from robust and standardised learning assessments. We need to strengthen the entire framework of assessments - from classrooms to the district, state and national levels.
At the national level, the National Achievement Survey (NAS)3 should be reformed and strengthened to provide a national benchmark for education, compare state performance, and monitor improvement. This could usher in a new generation of inter-state sharing of innovative programmes and policies which improve learning. At the state level, a similar role could be played by the State Learning Achievement Surveys (SLAS). They provide flexibility to the states to adapt assessments to the requirements of their own programmes and conditions, and provide granular and in-depth analysis.
Robust assessments would require strengthening of the enabling conditions (guiding policy documents, adequate funding, dedicated teams etc.) and improving technical capacity4 Also, the assessments should be periodic (say, once every two years at the national level and annually at the state one), and cover both government and private schools with results made publicly available.
Strengthen school-based management
School management rests on the twin pillars of school leadership and SMCs. Unfortunately, the centralising tendency of the bureaucracy has ensured that decisions which can and should be taken at the school level are regularly ‘passed up’. NEP should explicitly aim to institute a merit-based selection process for school leaders (which is the international norm and current policy in states like Gujarat), and put in place a continuous professional development programme for school leaders. Evidence suggests that involving communities through information dissemination, capacity building and devolution of authority can improve broad school parameters such as parental engagement and student attendance (Bruns et al. 2011). It should be ensured that the composition of SMCs is representative and there is clarity regarding their functions, roles and responsibilities5. This exercise needs to be guided by a rigorous external and internal evaluation of school quality, the results of which should be made available to parents and administrators.
Integrate early childhood education into the school system
India’s previous policy goals have been primarily focused on universalising primary education. The NEP could break from the past by including early childhood education (ECE) as one of the critical levers. Global research establishes the significance of ECE for a child’s future success (Heckman et al. 2009. It is critical that we introduce two years of free and compulsory pre-primary education and build awareness about the importance of ECE among parents. We also need a ‘School Readiness Framework’ that helps identify learning strengths and gaps of children entering grade 1 and assists the teachers in providing focused support to students. To support this, we need to create a strong ECE curriculum with age-relevant skill development delivered by a well-trained and experienced cadre of teachers.
Engage the private sector
In recent years, the rapid growth of private schools across urban and rural areas has marked a dramatic change in the education landscape in India. In 2007-08, in grades 1 to 8, about 72% children were enrolled in government schools and 28% children in private schools; in 2013-14 these figures were 61% and 39% respectively. The share of private school enrolment for grades 1 to 8 has been growing at an annual rate of close to 6%. Given the size and scope of the private sector, there is a strong case for it to play a vital role in education provision6. The government needs to provide support through an effective regulatory environment, enabling clear autonomy and accountability norms.
We should start by simplifying the current regulatory framework and making it more outcome-focused. For example, changing input-focused norms for school recognition to a more nuanced system based on child learning and well-being could incentivise high-potential operators and entrepreneurs to enter the education sector. Also, providers need autonomy in admissions, fees and teacher deployment that allows them to innovate, particularly in customisation of instruction, staffing and other decisions affecting student outcomes. Increased school autonomy should ideally be accompanied by greater transparency and accountability in operations, with policymakers responsible for monitoring school quality (on the lines of Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted), UK or Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), Dubai)7.
Leverage technology to bridge the ‘capacity gap’
Technology has the potential to provide personalised learning opportunities to students, scale-high quality training solutions for teachers and school leaders, and use real-time data for accountability and efficiency8. To achieve its true potential, we must ensure universal access to reliable hardware and internet connectivity, and develop high-quality contextualised digital content and innovative tech-enabled learning models for delivering high-quality learning. Education departments should build robust data and management information systems at student, school and teacher levels and use them to guide policymaking, planning and resource allocation.
The NEP is an opportunity to create a roadmap for education excellence for the whole country. As education is a concurrent subject (falls under the purview of central and state governments), it is important that the Centre and states work on creating this roadmap together. The central government should incentivise the states to adopt some of the above-mentioned reforms and proactively invest in states with innovative ideas for improving learning and strong intent to execute them. The states should become laboratories for experimenting and tweaking reforms, which later could be scaled up. A well-designed NEP, with a strong focus on improving student learning, would do exactly that.
- School leadership recognises the role of a principal beyond that of an administrator. It includes providing academic leadership, teacher training and focus on student achievement.
- Section 21 of the Right to Education (RTE) Act mandates the formation of School Management Committees (SMCs) which are elected bodies at the school level. They comprise parents, teachers and local administration. It is intended to provide parent members a platform to engage actively in school-level decision making.
- The National Achievement Survey (NAS) is conducted by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) every three years for different grades. For example, the cycle 3 for NAS (2009-2012) was for grades 3, 5 and 8. State Learning Achievement Surveys (SLAS), usually conducted by SCERTs, are state-level assessment with different timelines than NAS.
- For more detail on implementing robust large-scale assessments, please see Guidelines for Large-Scale Learner Assessments: Practices for Design, Implementation and Use of Assessments by States
- There is a lot of innovation and local adaptation of the SMC model by state governments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Please see this report for details.
- One important way in which the private sector could become involved in education is through its Corporate Social Responsibility programme. Also Section 12(1)(c) of the Right to Education (RTE) Act states that 25% of seats in private schools are to be reserved for economically and socially disadvantaged groups; the aim is to involve the private sector in achieving education for all. Yet there are considerable bottlenecks in its effective implementation.
- World Bank has developed a framework for school systems to engage the private sector. It maps the policies and assesses them on their orientation towards promoting learning for all.
- To know more about how technology could scale quality learning, please see Central Square Foundation’s (CSF) report: ‘The EdTech Promise: Catalysing Quality School Education at Scale’.
- Deora, V and A Anastasia (2014), ‘Guidelines for Large-Scale Learner Assessments: Practices for Design, Implementation and Use of Assessments by States’, Central Square Foundation.
- Bruns, B, D Filmer and HA Patrinos (2011), ‘Making schools work: New evidence on Accountability Reforms’, World Bank.
- Heckman, J, M Seong, R Pinto, PA Savelyev and A Yavitz (2009), ‘The Rate of Return to the High/ Scope Perry Preschool Program’, National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 15471.