By Vikas Plakkot:
The current situation
The Government, Corporates, Media – everyone is talking about ‘Education in India’. There are no second opinions on the fact that lack of excellent education, in whatever way we define excellence, is probably the root cause of most issues in the World. There are a million NGOs toiling it out to bring about a change, the government is bringing in new schemes to enhance existing systems, and corporates are pledging exorbitant money for funding new programs or improving infrastructure. In spite of the entire buzz around it and the efforts being made, the numbers have hardly changed. The high school dropout rates still remain above 85% (Source: DISE) – an alarming loss of potential.
Need for fresh ideas
In 2010, School Report Cards under DISE won a zillion awards in the e-governance category for the accountability it brought and the data it managed to capture. An annual exercise in data collection, DISE holds extremely large sets of data about each school in every district of India. However, it doesn’t take long for one to realize the shortcomings in the model. With all due credit to NUEPA for the fabulous work they’re doing, it is no secret that we are in need of fresh ideas for tracking every single parameter in the education system.
Key data like student attendance, teacher attendance, or even cleanliness levels of toilets aren’t mapped by any survey systems at this point. It comes as no surprise that there are schools where a teacher was absent for 24 years without being noticed! And of course they were paid all these years while elsewhere, some kids struggle to meet their basic needs in life.
There is an obvious need for fresh ideas. There is an evident need to bring in technology, which can solve these issues. J-PAL Action Lab recently conducted a research in rural Udaipur where they used a simple camera picture with time-stamp to understand whether the teacher was in school or not, tying it to financial incentives. Over the thirty months of study, not only was there a significant improvement in teacher education but also in the learning levels of the students. If a mobile camera could have this impact, we can only imagine the magic technology can weave.
At SocialCops, we are continuously looking for ways to tackle this issue – from integrated voice response systems to Android apps, we’re working on technology that can aid in revolutionizing the monitoring system in schools. If we could track teacher attendance, student attendance, toilet quality, mid-day meal quality on a real time basis – it would bring in accountability levels that are clearly lacking at this point.
Through our project “SchoolPedia” – we are testing out various solutions to these problems. While we are aware that our solutions might not be that magical potion, we still believe it can effect some foundational changes in the system. In conjunction with other mindset and policy level changes like higher respect for the profession, better pay scale, and superior teacher training modules – we might just manage to change the face of Indian education for good.
Imagine – tomorrow, if you could just go online and watch a live school map with real time data – parents can track the quality of schools they are sending their kids to, the DEOs can continuously track the performance of schools under their jurisdiction, and governments can prioritize where and what to fix much more efficiently. Most importantly, citizens can hold everyone in the system accountable – probably one of the most powerful weapons in our large democracy.
Imagine – tomorrow, anybody in the world could know what is happening in any school in India at any given point in time – just like this map.