Friday, March 13, 2015

High impact education interventions

What are the high impact interventions in education for developing countries? For those like India, which have largely surmounted the inputs and access challenges, and where learning outcomes are the primary concern, I can think of three high impact interventions.

1. Transition from "teaching to the class" to "teaching to the child" - It is now well established that children have differential learning trajectories. Therefore, the conventional approach of "teaching to the class", a large group at that, will not realize uniform learning outcomes. The different initial learning levels among students in a class exacerbates the "teaching-learning" gaps. It is therefore essential that class-room instruction has to be tailored around "teaching to the child" by remediating those lagging behind and bringing them upto speed with the rest.

In many developed countries, smaller class-rooms and highly motivated and well-trained teachers enable "teaching to the child". But in countries with large class-room environments, students at varying initial learning levels, and poorly-motivated teachers, the challenge lies with identifying the right strategy for "teaching to the child". One approach would be to group children across grades based on their initial learning levels, and moving them across groups based on their learning progress. A similar approach can be adopted within each grade too. Another approach would be to divide each class period into two halves, with the second half devoted to remediation of those lagging behind. Alternatively, the same remediation can be done through off-school hours instruction by trained volunteers. All these strategies are most likely to be contextual, to be selected based on the specific conditions available.

2. The adage that you cannot monitor what you cannot measure applies with great force to learning outcomes. Currently, monitoring of learning outcomes does not find place in the realms of data being collected by supervisors. Part of the reason is the sheer difficulty of quantifying primary school learning outcomes, especially in the aggregate, in a meaningful and reliable manner.

Any effective push towards improving learning outcomes requires the development of a credible quantifiable learning levels monitoring framework. This has to be multi-tiered, tailored to meet the functional needs and supervisory bandwidth available at each level of monitoring. A cognitively salient dashboard that enables effective supervision and can be disseminated through tablets and smart-phones can be a powerful instrument to improve learning outcomes.

3. Finally, a first order requirement for the success of all these measures is effective enforcement of accountability. Primarily, teachers and the school establishment have to be accountable to parents and the local community. One way to achieve this is effective functioning of School Management Committees. But SMCs have their limitations and cannot be a substitute for more institutional accountability of the school to local community. A fundamental requirement is to dismantle the current system, where teachers are employees of the state government, and make them employees of the local government. 

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