Millennium Post

A novel education map

Educational reforms in India must be based on individualised learning levels requiring newer data-driven assessments, discuss Gaurav Dwivedi & Charu Malhotra

A novel education map

'I only took the regular course.' (Mock Turtle)

`What was that?' inquired Alice.

`Reeling and Writhing, of course, to begin with,' the Mock Turtle replied; `and then the different branches of Arithmetic -- Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.'

`I never heard of "Uglification,"' Alice ventured to say. `What is it?'

The Gryphon lifted up both its paws in surprise. `What! Never heard of uglifying!' it exclaimed. `You know what to beautify is, I suppose?'

(Excerpt from Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll)

The goalpost for education policy in post-independence India has progressed from bridging literacy levels to attaining learning levels. Yet, despite years of providing universal access to school education, we are still grappling with the question of student abilities and competencies which form the bedrock of human capital and efforts to bridge the gap between education and employability are still in progress.

A 'classroots' level analysis of our education provision from a 'Rights-Based Framework' i.e., 'Right to Life', 'Right to Education' and 'Right to Work', begs the question — are our classrooms equipping students with the freedom to choose a life they will value in the functional world of work? Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 'Beyond Basics' and the National Achievement Surveys (NAS) reveal that school-leaving students lack algorithmic thinking, perform low on problem-solving and lack abilities to mediate literacy and numeracy in daily life or to perform tasks linked to real-life contexts. A critical reason for this poor output is that education ecosystems are hard-pressed to create meaningful links between learning outcomes transacted in the classroom and assessment data to inform teaching-learning.

Assessments in India are terra incognita, lacking a community of practice. Using assessment data as a diagnostic for improving student attainment and teacher effectiveness follows ad-hoc practices. But what is increasingly apparent is that there is consensus to transform assessment methodology. While states don't usually conduct standardised assessments till grade IX, Chhattisgarh is bringing common standards through state-level standardised tests.

A change of leadership in March 2018, around the time NAS 2017 results rolled in, prompted Chhattisgarh to carve its own trajectory and reject the trodden path. NAS 2017 came up with worrisome results. In almost all sections, Chhattisgarh was placed around the middle of the table. The troubling question was why, despite a multi-year plan to improve the education ecosystem through a quality campaign (UDISE data collected, syllabus covered, mid-day meals served, CCE, formative and summative assessments conducted), did grade V and VIII students on average respond only 47 per cent and 36 per cent respectively in Math (NAS 2017)? Rote learning does not prepare students for NAS who find the changed assessment methodology stressful and unintelligible. While teachers are routinely provided training, most find themselves at sea when it comes to following up on exam results and are unable to pinpoint why students don't perform to expectations. Links between training and classroom practice, conceptual understanding and learning outcomes and their relation to textbook chapters alongside assessment and remediation are not clearly established. So, the premise that triggered the change was that while student performance can be aggregated in cohorts, each child is unique and therefore, teachers must address personalised learning in heterogeneous groups. The challenge was to create a mechanism for raising the tide that would raise all boats.

The solution was introducing State Level Assessments (SLA) — a statewide census-based assessment of students in grades I-VIII deploying standardised question papers, designed on the NCERT defined learning outcomes and using granular data and analytics for individualised teaching and learning. The first SLA in April 2019 replaced the year-end examinations, with SLA 2019 results as the zero-line dataset and plans afoot for SLA 2020 as the midline and the SLA 2021 as the end-line data set. In this sense, SLA 2019 could be considered as a diagnostic, with the results being used to inform the direction of the remedial efforts over the subsequent 2-3 years for creating a personalised learning plan for each student across the state. The scale was larger than what had been previously attempted — 3.8 million children in grades I-VIII, 2 lakh teachers, 30,000 schools and 1.2 crore assessments. State performance across subjects and classes averaged at 60 per cent, Math average across all classes was 67 per cent and the lowest-performing Learning Outcomes across all Districts were noticed in classes VI and VII, mostly in English followed by Science. Creating the zero-line was challenging enough but the real challenge starts now. Data snapshot of each student is now available which allows teachers to unlock learning blocks with specifically designed micro-teaching remediation strategies. The pressing need is to reorient teacher training and teacher practice using student performance data as the starting point.

The SLA experience shows that large scale positive disruption is possible anywhere, anytime and administering an appropriate solution early on is better than waiting interminably for the perfect solution or the perfect time. That a standardised approach to SLA was not the norm did not deter the State, nor did the challenges of numbers, terrain, geographical access or network connectivity. It relied on available resources, innovative strategy, clear communication and advocacy within the system. Non-action was a bigger risk.

The SLA is not an exercise in isolation. Chhattisgarh has created an Assessment Centre in the SCERT on the back of a 48 crore rupees sanction from MHRD. The Centre will function as the axis of quality improvement involving assessment design, standards for teacher practice and teaching strategies based on analysis from assessments, data analysis, outreach activities, and internal capacity to institutionalise data-driven approach to teaching and remediation. The State's Teacher Training Management System is being linked to the student scorecard to provide insights on learning gains of individual students linked to learning outcomes and to provide teachers with the materials they need to address their students' needs.

Developing the right policy paradigm with a long-term vision and rigorous execution is the sine qua non for the education sector. But a line of caution — much of the policy design in the education sector is based on incomplete, outdated or otherwise flawed data. The reverse is equally true. Results of pilot interventions are disproportionately magnified and education trajectories are littered with "innovations" not designed for scale. The Chhattisgarh model aims to demonstrate that specific interventions designed for scale and backed by an empowered institutional ecosystem can deliver results.

Gaurav Dwivedi is Principal Secretary, School Education, Government of Chhattisgarh and Charu Malhotra is Director, K-12 Public Education, KPMG. Views expressed are strictly personal

Gaurav Dwivedi & Charu Malhotra

Gaurav Dwivedi & Charu Malhotra

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