Learnings about Improving Education

(Notes and References from documentation for NGOs and Teachers)
John D’Souza, Tanvi Patel and CED DocumentationTeam

The Quality of Quality Education

While no one will dispute that quality of education should be improved, the debate lies in what do we mean by it.

Every year we find the percentage bar for admission to colleges, goes up. More students are scoring high nineties than ever before. Is this a sign of quality? Every year we are also producing a large army of matriculates, graduates, and post-graduates, all of whom finally end up taking up jobs which do not need that higher level of education. Does this indicate quality?

Except for the professional courses like Medical, Engineering, Management and now Media Studies, there is no real need level demanded off the educational system. The irony lies in the fact that most jobs require abilities like good communication, analytical, or methodological skills. None of these are tested in the examination system and entrance examinations which actually act as the main arbiter of “merit” and are actually responsible for the structure of the entire education system.

Thus there seems to be a consensus on the purpose of education, as the preparation for jobs, the race for which it relies on an examination system which despite reforms, ends up raising the quality of the art of scoring at examinations, most finely tuned by the coaching classes methodology.

Every year, one needs to score more marks to get into those colleges and institutions, which by their reputation, place one in the qualitatively higher job circuit. Contrast this scaling of higher peaks, to the abysmal record of primary education particularly, in rural India and among the poor in cities.

Consider the scenario where one answers a hundred and one questions in three hours, after attending coaching classes, which “scientifically” train a person on how to select portions of choice and cover syllabus, and answer both objective and subjective questions. In contrast, consider someone who helps his family harvest the Rabi crop or tends to draught animals, burns an oil lamp to study midnight and then walks two kilometers to school the next day to study Geography of Mumbai or some Math problem.

The entire emphasis on the examination as the final arbiter of quality has promoted rote based learning, and text book centered information reproduction.

The other judge of the quality of education is in terms of how it shapes and impacts the students. Does the education equip you to express yourself clearly, formulate and communicate your ideas, understand and interpret natural and manmade systems?

Perhaps one of the important reasons why the computer and Internet has caught on is that the child learns to play with it, understand how it works, whether s/he is playing games or some quiz. However even that creativity is sought to be killed as the emphasis in computer education is on, testing whether you know how to do the most obscure routine in a application rather than how you would go about finding out how to do it.

Conceptualizing Quality

Concern for quality has remained vague and poorly anchored in social theory. The processes and imperatives associated with global competitiveness in the face of rapid technological change and financial uncertainty have taken their toll on children's right to grow up and be educated in a protective ethos. The problems are not entirely new, but seem greatly compounded by the use of the market as the sole reference point for judging the worth of an idea or policy. Since knowledge and training are as critical as factors in the current political economy, education at every level is being called upon to be market-oriented and market-worthy. This situation has created the apprehension that the concept of education itself may be in a state of crisis.

The issue of quality cannot be seen in isolation from the socio-cultural context of education. Any attempt to reform education, whether in a developed or a developing society, ultimately addresses our perspective on modernity, more specifically, on how the project of modernization is doing in the early 21st century, where it is heading, and what correctives it requires. Ever since the idea of mass education became an assumed goal of state policy, the role of the school has been to spread the culture of reason. Such a culture necessarily carries a transformative responsibility towards the milieu, and it is in the fulfilling of that responsibility that the system has performed less than satisfactorily.

Measuring Quality

The debate of quality can also be looked at from two other similar dichotomies. One: quality in the sense of its essence, or character. This is more or less philosophical and ideological. Gandhi spoke of Nai Taleem, a pedagogic education system merging the world of work and the world of knowledge, which encompassed his ideas on social-economic-political transformation; his redefinition of progress, development, and human life; his regeneration of Parampara (tradition); and his vision of Swaraj. Philosophers generally see the essence of education along the same lines as their respective philosophies. J Krishnamurthy calls for an education which eliminates fear, so that education can chance upon the significance and essence of life. Psychologists, depending on their persuasion, drew their conclusion on the purpose of education, As a consequence, the quality is measures on how well these purposes are served.

Krishna Kumar gives the contrasts the precepts between the Behaviorist and Contructionist, which then inform the expectations of socialisations and “education” from that schools, based on which parameters and benchmarks of quality are determined.

Behaviourism Constructivism
Assumptions about the child’s nature Responsive to the environment Interactive with the environment
Antecedents Conventional pedagogies; definition of knowledge as something received and to be transmitted Ideas and innovations associated with Rousseau, Dewey and Montessori
Knowledge created by action and in the course of relating to reality
Emphasis Making outcomes predictable Individual development
Implication Teacher looks for proof of learning Teacher observes and responds to the child’s progress

(History of Quality Debate, Krishna Kumar and Padma M. Sarangapani, Contemporary Education Dialogue, Vol 2:1, Monsoon 2004, page 30. [J. N20.01052004CED30]

Krishna Kumar highlights that this aspect of the quality debate brings into focus neglected issues like:

Each of these factors has tremendous implications for organizations providing innovations in education. Many of us need to take time out, to consider these, and allow these to inform the innovative systems, capacity building as well as institution building efforts.

The second aspect of quality lies in measurement, and comparing to certain standards. Borrowed from industrial management, This view of quality depends on some critical specifications, most of them quantitative – How much do you know? Certain minimum standards are set -- 30 percent out of the 50% choice for third class, 45 for second and 60 for first! You don’t need to know how to ask the right questions? Nor how to use the right answer. These too have tremendous implications for innovators, as the new systems must have definite answers and alternatives, if they are to pass the standards set by these quality management tools.

True, the understanding is that the fulfilling of these standards makes for good education. This premise and its changing relevance in different situations and paradigm, is often not questioned. Thus standards tend to be same for the urban elite student and for the first generation learners. And since all parameters are never evenly scored, or emphasized, these have increasingly skewed conclusions.

However for lack of any other objective external monitoring, much is made of this method.

The GOI and UNICEF are working in close collaboration with state governments, teachers, and local communities across India to design and demonstrate the Quality Package Project in 14,000 primary schools. Considerable sophisticated attempts have been made to define quality such that it find meaning for both aspects of quality. (Quality Specifications in Schools,, UNICEF, June 2004.[R.N21.29]
Areas School related factors impacting quality Follow up responsibilities
Teaching-learning processes Availability and use of classroom teaching-learning materials.
Continuous assessment by teachers of students’ understanding of the material being taught.
Child-centred teaching-learning practices.
Time devoted to teaching by teachers (having more than one job has a detrimental impact on students' learning achievements.
Development and supply of essential teaching-learning materials (identification of minimum learning materials).
Teacher support The teacher’s command of the subject matter.
Ongoing professional development for the teacher, including in-service training and in-school support.
Regular evaluation of teaching-learning practices by supervisors.

In-service teacher training and support to improve active learning, continuous supportive student
assessment and rational class management; (DIETS, BRCs and CRCs; and teacher networks).
School and classroom environment Class size/separate room for each class.
School meals
Health programmes such as, de-worming.
Availability of clean drinking water & separate toilets for girls.
Improvements to school environment and facilities (community and local bodies).
Community participation
Participate in mapping and quality assessment exercise.
Promotion of community participation.
NGOs to build community capacities. School development plans.

The non school factors those of the community, economy and household factors though important and determining somehow seem out of the purview of these quality assessments.

Resource persons at the cluster level, head-teachers and community representatives will be trained in mapping the quality status of the school system at the local level against each parameter. This participatory process, which puts the responsibility for mapping upon the main beneficiaries, is aimed at improving the quality of the process and facilitating better ownership of subsequent plans.

External Quality Reviews

The Prof. A. Gnanam Committee that has prepared a revised curriculum and syllabus for matriculation schools has mooted this external quality review (EQR) system to make the institutions strive for self-improvement and make them voluntarily conscious of the need to improve quality and deliver better education. For long, matriculation schools have been seen as those run by educational entrepreneurs whose sole objective is to make money, with very few institutions seeking to provide high quality education. Even their striving for quality was oriented more towards getting higher pass percentage so that it becomes a ruse for hiking fees and other charges. Many parents from middle classes who want to give their children English medium education crowd such institutions, unmindful of the fee structure, officials and academics involved in the system note.

The EQR system has been mooted by the Prof. Gnanam Committee in lieu of the present 'inspection system' for matriculation schools. In a mass education system where the number of institutions is too large and mobility of students is happening across large distances, an inspectorate type of regulation might not bring in the expected enhancement of essential quality.

The proposed EQR system combines internal responsibilities with external reference points and leads the institutions towards self improvement, the report notes. - Review system mooted to improve quality of unaided schools, K. Ramachandran, The Hindu, 15/10/2004 [C.ELDOC.N20.15oct04h1.pdf]

Other Quality Assessment Tools suggested are:

Some of the suggestions for improving quality that have come up so far are:


In order to enhance accountability, Local Bodies like Panchayat Raj should be given more control of implementation of government policies. Monitoring and R eview functions should be handled by Village Education committees, and Parents-Teachers Association given the task of ratifying decisions on academic matters including planning and development functions, which should be more in control of the principal.

The quality assessment is expected to be participatory and involve all stake holders: the teachers, the parents & community, the government policy & funding, NGOs and civil society. The NGOs particularly have a dual task of finding out and developing innovative solutions, and practices, as well as ensuring that these participatory processes, particularly the involvement of the community and parental education is of a high order.

The other task for NGOs, and civil society actors, is to ensure that the household level factors, like economic situation, cultural practices, and employment opportunities are taken care of.

For further reading:

History of the Debate on Quality-Krishna Kumar article

Quality Specifications in Schools, United Nations Children's Fund, 01/06/2004, [R.N21.29]

i Quality of Education at the Beginning of the 21st Century
Lessons from India, Krishna Kumar, Central Institute of Education, University of Delhi

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