When I took over as Secretary of Education, I received plenty of advice on how education should be managed in this country. I had one question for them. Why did not the change take place for so many years? I realised that we were looking for solutions outside of India but not in our homeland. So, I decided to travel to over 20 states to understand what the problems were. And to my amazement, I found solutions.
I saw that the government and non-profit organisations, on their own or working in tandem, were doing great work and had come up with solutions to a large number of problems. I, therefore, concluded that instead of importing solutions—many of which come from alien contexts and require piloting to see what works here—we should look for Indian examples. The solutions are here.
Focus on the teacher value-chain
Teachers are pivotal to the education system. Though I had heard this from advisers and experienced this during my travels, discussing it with experts in the education space confirmed that the right way forward would be to set this value-chain right. We are looking at the entire continuum of a teacher’s role—from introducing rigorous pre-service training, skills testing and regular in-service training, to addressing issues related to absenteeism, administrative responsibilities and quality of teaching.
Over the next 4-5 months, we will put an end to the rampant fraud in B.Ed colleges. NCTE (National Council for Teacher Education) has already sought affidavits from them, and the 40 percent that have not responded will soon lose their affiliation. In addition, we are putting in place a system to assess the quality of pre-service training at these colleges. In order to help students evaluate these colleges, we have hired a third-party agency, Quality Council of India, to rate them. We are also looking at introducing examination like CAT or SAT, for entry into the teaching profession and a detailed induction programme for new teachers.
Absenteeism is a big problem among teachers, with 25-28 per cent not showing up for work. In order to find a solution one needs to understand the context. In Kerala, for instance, the community will not take it kindly if teachers are absent. In Uttar Pradesh (UP), teachers consider it their right to remain absent. Some of them participate in local politics and it is quite common for them to seek transfers to schools located close to their political work. This interest in politics leads to absenteeism in UP schools.We have therefore proposed that once a teacher is assigned to a school, she or he can be transferred only in the case of a promotion—similar to the system followed by the civil services.
Administrative burden is another reason for absenteeism. Teachers have to send detailed hand-written administrative reports to the government. Going forward, all these requirements will be via a tablet, through which documentation can be uploaded every fortnight. Additionally, these tablets will be used for biometric attendance and feature training videos.
Plans will be implemented this year. Intermediate outputs will be visible within the year. Some of the outcomes (such as the impact of the action taken to regulate B.Ed colleges) are longer term, but much of the implementation will take place this year. We will use technology for real-time monitoring of progress and to help identify and correct any department inefficiencies. From August 1, we are introducing GPS-enabled tablets in Chhattisgarh schools. We will review the progress in three months, and after that, we will decide whether to launch this programme in other states.
The fundamental limitation to effective implementation of these plans depend on attitude. You have to make people believe that alternative scenarios are possible, even if little has changed in the past. By showcasing what is already working, the ideas become more saleable. Existing institutions within the system also inhibit the flow of ideas and new approaches. For example, Anganwadi are integrated with schooling in Rajasthan, but not in other states. The absence of this essential integration creates constraints with implementation and outcomes.
Find a solution through collaboration
After having identified teachers as a key part of the solution, we held intensive workshops with more than a hundred non-profit organisations to understand their contribution and ways in which they can help government. Given the number of successful examples from across the country, we realised that we don’t really need to run pilot programmes before scaling. This is because pilots often involve huge resources. Such resources, however, are seldom available while scaling. An idea is worth if it is politically acceptable, socially desirable, technologically feasible, financially viable and administratively doable. We had seen solutions on the ground that met these conditions; all we had to do was give states an opportunity to choose the ones they considered feasible.
That’s when we came up with the idea of holding regional workshops to showcase the work of non-profit organisations and generate interest within state governments for these solutions. We are also launching a portal in a few months, which will serve as a ‘marriage bureau’ for non-profit organisations and states. It will list the gaps identified by the states and also enable them to negotiate on the platform. After the partnership, the government does not expect these non-profit organisations to scale up dramatically but maintain their own pace. Ultimately, the goal is that the government funds the programme and takes over. This has already started happening. For example, Akshara Foundation, which has been working in Karnataka, has recently signed a MoU for expansion into Orissa, funded fully by the state.
Here, private sector can also contribute. Companies can participate in the education sector by using their CSR funds and providing technological support. With the kind of coordinated effort we are now seeing in education, companies can fund projects that fit within a larger purpose and align with national priorities. They will derive comfort from the fact that progress is being monitored, and due diligence has been carried out on the non-profit partners.
(The author is secretary, Department of School Education and Literacy, Government of India.)