With much fanfare a group of economists, most notably Raghuram Rajan and Abhijit Banerjee, published their “Economic Strategy for India.” Part of this strategy is also a reform by . We want to focus on two aspects in particular: teacher training and the Right to Education Act.
The plan has a couple of aspects we appreciate (such as making teacher training more practice oriented), but they lack a proper strategy for implementation. It repeats the same mistakes from the past, such as the reliance on ICT for teacher training while ignoring the need to invest heavily in District Institutes of Education and Training. It reads for instance, “Specifically, we recommend developing a portal for in-service teacher training that can host thousands of videos (including translations in all major Indian languages), and training modules for various topics that are relevant for in-service teacher training.” The Central government has started a training platform for pre-service training of teachers on SWAYAM. The feedback by teachers has been negative. It seems that none of the vocal advocates for this kind of teacher training has taken a closer look at what is actually taught on these platforms.
Source: Ch-32 Teacher Education/YouTube.
This is unscientific nonsense presented on a national platform for teacher education.
Using ICT for teacher training is not a panacea. One still needs to have DIETs that are staffed properly and high quality content. Creating yet another IT-platform with ‘thousands’ of videos illustrates a lack of realization that the priority must be on providing content of high quality. Further, using Distance Courses while arguing for more practice oriented training is a strange combination. We do not need yet another platform and more videos.
It is argued that learning outcomes have deteriorated. What is not mentioned is that the composition of school children shifted dramatically. What is also missing is the fact that the Right to Education Act, which is criticized, has not been implemented. Less than 10% of the schools fulfill the minimum norms. They criticize a law which was not implemented. We are wondering how they can know what would have happened if it was. What we know is that the quality of education is low in an India that did not implement the Act. How can you know the counterfactual (that is, an India where it was implemented)?
Second, they make the same mistake like NITI Aayog. They claim there is a dichotomy between the provision of inputs and the focus on learning levels. This is not true. Indeed, we see no reason why having toilets for girls, ramps for children with disabilities and a building would be a bad thing. We do not think it is smart to rely on meta-reviews that ‘prove’ that inputs just don’t matter. It matters whether there is a toilet where menstruating girls can go, a ramp for disabled children and a building. We should even think about extending the norms to electricity and ventilators.
The attack on the Right to Education Act is misleading. The Act is not the problem here. The issue is often to find in governance, in how States are managing to put the federal framework into practice, the priority and vision they have for public education, and how they attempt to change such a complex system. What is required is a vision and a strategy to muddle through. This includes improving the capacity and staffing of the middle tier of the bureaucracy, making teacher training a priority, focusing on DIETs, using technology to make SMCs more powerful, ensuring timely payments of teacher salaries, infusing trust into the system, steer all actors towards learning, fulfilling the RTE input norms in a time-bound manner, and so much more.
The oversimplification by the economists is misleading. To claim things will be just fine if only there were no input requirements is absurd. Inputs are not enough. A whole ecosystem, including teacher training institutes and the frontline bureaucracy needs to be transformed. But the idea that deregulation and privatization will lead magically to improved learning levels is not based on evidence, but ideology. It ignores many contextual factors and a highly complex implementation puzzle. Easy solutions which are ideologically loaded and largely imported will not solve the crisis in learning that India faces. Instead, the focus should be on homegrown solutions and ideas.
Such homegrown ideas do exist. For instance, the Bihar Education Policy Center has developed a concrete plan how mobile phones of SMC members can be used for large scale social audits and how funds can reach schools on time.
The need to invest in DIETs and its faculty has been known for long.
The Accountability Initiative has repeatedly the need to invest into the frontline bureaucracy.
We have a couple of other demands to make learning reality in our schools:
Rather than imported ideas, oversimplified pseudo-solutions and the same old failing demand to make education a tradeable commodity, we should create a strong and inclusive public education system. Indeed, as Jean Dréze pointed out: “We need to go beyond self-interest or we’re doomed.”