Monday, February 22, 2010

Sibal’s new mantra

I do not know how to take this new mantra.

Today afternoon, I picked up the Deccan Herald and started reading. Sunday spot light said “HRD minister Kapil Sibal’s education reforms must pass the test of ‘Quality’ and ‘Actual learning’”. This tempted me to read more and under this major heading there were four separate columns. I read all the four columns. After reading all the articles, my impression about the HRD minister did not change. I felt the reforms that he is trying to bring in are like empty sweet boxes. His intentions could be right but I think the basic ground work and a deep analysis on the current system is very much necessary to bring in some changes to it. Sibal is now known for making big announcements and seeking attention over it. He has an average of one major announcement every month. His objective may be is to revolutionize the India’s education sector, but my question to him would be, is he going in the right direction?

There were many announcements that created a lot of arguments amongst us in the recent past. Like the following: Making Class X board exam optional, setting up an over arching higher education body, proposal for an education finance corporation to provide easy loan and list goes on. While we are all still in the process of understanding what exactly is in Sibal’s mind, we are not given enough time to do so before we could hear his next major announcement. The major issue I had with accepting some of his new changes were not on his intentions, but on what exactly is the current need in the system? Are we equipped enough to come up with new reforms? Have we looked in to all the basic needs before we make any new changes? And finally it zero downs to Quality. Before we even make some systemic changes, basic problems like quality of education, adequate infrastructure and the like should be taken care. When there is no quality in teaching, how will it matter if a student takes the class X board exam or not? Basically, there is no focus on ‘Actual learning’ of a student.

Now again, the latest hot announcement is that he is coming up with a new proposal of posting business graduates as head masters of rural high schools to run them effectively. Does this mean the head masters of the schools who are currently running the operations are ineffective? And is it as simple a solution to replace them with business graduates? This is where I think Mr. Sibal is taking decisions without analyzing the actual need. A government school in a rural set up; even in a semi-urban set up is flooded with so many problems. Very basic problems like, non-availability of adequate teachers, the quality of teaching, basic infrastructure, managing the students, maintenance, cleanliness, proper allocation of funds, retaining students throughout the year, ratio of students joining the school and many more such problems. Without fixing them, no matter who joins as the head master of the school, will he/she be effective? Or if they hire business graduates, will they be effective?

And, I do agree that we need to take the Indian education system to the global standard. At the same time, in doing so, we need to prioritize the actions and take decisions accordingly. Getting fascinated over the systems followed in other countries, implementing new reforms without thinking about our internal problems, will be a great challenge and will run into serious problems. All we need to do is to fix our internal problems first and then talk about bringing new reforms. After implementing all these reforms, if a student ends up not learning anything; what is it that we achieve? Having so many things to learn from our past failures, without fixing them and thinking of new measures is certainly a focus beyond what is required.

There is one more disappointment to add to. As we know majority of the India is rural, it is disheartening to see that there is no or very less focus on rural technology and agricultural education. This shows that, there is no in depth analysis made on what exactly is required for us. Agricultural education is to be given more weightage in rural areas and encourage people who have left the villages to go back to their villages to continue with agriculture. I do not think how serious this problem could be for us in the future if nothing is done on this aspect!

Now, coming back to the effective management of the school, Instead of bringing new business graduates, I think they should train the existing faculty and the head masters of all the schools. A program needs to be developed to equip them with some of the best management practices that they can adopt in smooth functioning of the school. This is very much doable and I have seen some initiatives of Azim Premji Foundation and Govt of Karnataka doing it jointly. I have seen the result of it by personally visiting some of the schools in northern districts of Karnataka. Teachers and the School management were trained on the ‘Quality Management’ tools. I think it worked out beautifully.

We need such programs in a larger scale. These programs will help in strengthening the existing systems. More private players, NGOs and other talented individuals should be given stake in the whole process. They should start looking at some of the new ways of hiring teachers like hiring retired professionals, involving senior citizens who are knowledgeable, hiring part time teaching volunteers, collaborating with corporate to train on several aspects and many more. Our system should not focus on examinations and certificates; those are secondary. Primary focus should be the quality and the actual learning of the student.

So, I think without fixing the basic issues that we have, coming up with fancy reforms will never help. And eventually Indian education system will not get the expected recognition globally. Sibal needs to look in to all such matters and also more importantly, hear to some of the researchers who are trying to come up with some good suggestions in doing so. People are ready to help. Work with them.

So, I am not too sure of what is there for us in the coming future. Perhaps! One more announcement of ‘5 working days and 2 weekend holidays for all government schools’?



shravana said...

i think u r right in analysing Mr sibil as we see only announcements and promises and
nothing else from the HRD ministry.


sunaath said...

What is in Sibal's mind? He wants to get some glory as the person who revolutionized India's education system!
He may create chaos while he is after his quixotic ventures. That does not matter to him!

T S said...

Hey Srikanth very good thinking and analyzing about our basic education system.
People try for shorter and immediate changes which will not give good results for longer time.
as you said there number of basic problems in the primary educational system.

Since one month I am visiting most of the premium schools in the market and had a discussion with HM's and Principals.
They keep mention about basic problems like what you said in your blog, then what about the economical grade and public primary schools position?
Especially in the rural area?

They can replace business graduate for HM's and they can tie up with many universities but until and unless if they don't focus and solve the basic problems and needs of the schools and the students, it is difficult to get or match the global standards of education system.

Good writing..!!

Manjunath TS

Raghu said...

Well thought out write up.

It is true that there is no quick fix for improving the current education system. We need to first address their basic problems before we go ahead with the implementation of some fancy ideas.


Srik said...

Thanks Shravana, Sunnath, TS and Raghu for your thoughtful comments.

Manjunath Byadigere said...

Nice write up Srikanth.

The funda,as everybody knows and most of them have mentioned, is to understand the basic problems our education system is facing and bring up appropriate remedies to the problems.

I think, the most important of all the basic education needs is the need for school enrolment, esp girl child enrolment.I think almost 25% of girls in our country have not been to school at all! that is a huge number and shows how poor we are in basic education.Its a pity our Honourable Minister is dreaming instead of walking on the ground.

Dr Manjunath Byadigere.

Sudhi said...

Your analysis has came out in a well thoughtout manner.

Present Headmasters are not incapable or inefficient (except few cases). By hiring management graduates for Headmaster post, you cannot change the whole scenario rather it may even become problem since you cannot pay corporate level salary to them and if you want to retain them by increasing their salary, it will become another overhead on cost of education.

As you said, we need to understand the basic problems first and then go ahead with meaningful solutions.


Narasim said...

Thank you for a thoughtful assessment of the Minister's remarks and the reality.

The Minister's approach seems like multi-tasking that is so dear to so many business gurus. What is the point of announcements without follow up action? Hope he follows up on at least a couple of announcements.

Drawing attention to rural education is noteworthy because majority of Indians live in rural areas. Unless we address primary and secondary education first most people will be left behind. Sometimes I wonder if that is the intent of education policy makers.

Vaishnavi said...

I agree with you fully that existing staff need to be trained instead of bringing in business grads.

The line of thinking that Sibal has seems to be over-confident and not practical.

It's good to have ideas, it's more important for them to be doable. And education is such an important matter. Just announcing policies will not help. Just like you have visited schools in North Karnataka, Sibal needs to make his own visits to figure out what reality is.