India needs to address education issues if it is to become a global leader

The last Indian general election transformed Prime Minister Narendra Modi from an international pariah, accused of human rights abuses, to a superstar and raised hope that India had turned a corner. Prime Minister David Cameron praised Modi, saying he “got more votes than any other politician anywhere in the universe,” and investors and political strategists have India back in their good books.

But this new optimism is at best unfounded, and perhaps completely wrong. Even if we take Modi at his word — that he is a reformer more interested in building high-speed train systems than temples — it is unclear if the Indian people have the will to lift themselves out of poverty and disease. The case study of education reform, an area in which I have worked for more than a decade, is instructive.

India has over 400 million school- and college-age citizens, more than any country. Yet it has an educational system that has failed its people and simply has not taken steps to redress the issue. For example, when India last participated in the global PISA test, a standardized test of math, science and literacy designed to compare school systems across the world, it came in second to last among more than 70 participating countries.

Teacher absenteeism is 25 percent in government schools, even though teachers often receive the highest salary in an Indian village. The deficiency of public schools has created the largest private school system in the world, with some private schools costing less than $100 per year and producing outcomes far better than those from public schools.

Children sitting on floor looking at their books

Source: Corbis

Children study inside their classroom after having their free midday meal, distributed by a government-run primary school, in a village in Bihar, India.

How has the Indian government redressed the collapse of the public school system? For starters, India’s bureaucrats declared the PISA test unsuitable for India and withdrew the country from further rounds of testing. Instead of encouraging competition against decrepit public schools, the government has placed onerous operating burdens on private schools through the misleadingly named Right to Education (RTE) Act.

On the surface, RTE is a “pro-poor” piece of legislation as it allocates 25 percent of seats in all private schools for poor students who otherwise would go to public schools. In reality, RTE creates more opportunity for political patronage as the allocation of that 25 percent is influenced by corrupt local politicians in exchange for favors or cash. In short, RTE accepts that private schools are doing a great job by mandating that one-quarter of their capacity be reserved for poor students, while simultaneously punishing them through added regulation.

India Education Facts

  • Total Number of Students (Primary and Secondary): 179 million
  • Number of Schools (Primary and Secondary): 1.3 million
  • Typical School Year: April to March
  • Top Schools: Doon School (Dehradun); Cathedral and John Connon (Mumbai); Delhi Public School (Delhi); Mayo School (Ajmer); Welham Girls’ School (Dehradun)

In higher education, the situation is no better — contrary to the impression that India has a quality higher education system given the performance of its graduates abroad. This impression is the result of sample bias: Students graduating from the top 1 percent of institutions (nearly 200,000 students) tend to leave India in search of economic opportunity, masking the reality of the country’s subpar higher education system.

Overall, India has approximately 20 million students in higher education. The government, however, refuses to encourage private investment in higher education by mandating that it remain a “nonprofit” activity.

Meanwhile, private nonprofit colleges, often owned by corrupt politicians, take advantage of the excess demand for higher education by eliciting cash bribes for admission, a practice that is so prevalent in India that locals have invented a term for it: “capitation fees.”

Students outdoors filling out forms during the day

Source: Getty

Students fill out forms during the admission process for the 2014–15 academic session at Daulat Ram College in New Delhi, India.

And what has changed since that last dramatic general election? The new minister responsible for education, Smriti Irani, is a 38-year-old soap opera actress without a college degree (despite her recent declaration that she has a “degree” from Yale based on a six-day course). Her first publicly announced reform to the educational system is a campaign to introduce buttermilk in public school lunches. Not a word against RTE or investment in higher education to build the millions of new seats of capacity we need each year.

How can India get out of this mess without money and develop an improved educational system? The answer lies in implementing Prime Minister Modi’s own mantra of “more governance, less government.” Unlike India’s health care system (the most privatized in the world), its educational system is not deregulated to allow for-profit investment in schools and universities.

The government claims it is loath to allow for-profit education in order to protect students from poor quality. But why is it acceptable to allow a profiteering hospital to perform brain surgery but objectionable to allow a student to take a math class at a for-profit university?

The Indian government should set up the accreditation framework and stand back. Whether the capital comes in the form of for-profit or nonprofit investment should not matter. Presently, the government is tying the hands of investors in the Indian educational system by mandating nonprofit institutions and, in doing so, limiting the amount of capital invested and the quality of education provided. India should learn from the successes and mistakes of other countries such as the U.S., Brazil and China that have deregulated education.

Deregulation is usually opposed because it comes with the threat of job cuts or closure of government-run facilities. But in this case, deregulation does not require government investment or reduced support to existing public educational institutions. It will, however, generate more competition for public schools and private “nonprofit” schools owned by politicians and influential industrialists.

I ask once more: Do the Indian people have the will to move forward? When it comes to education, that is really all it takes to solve the problem. And in a nation of nearly 1.3 billion people, surely there is enough collective energy and willpower to make that investment in the nation’s future.

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Nicaraguan farmer doubles profit and sends son to school

 

Melvin Estrada is a cabbage farmer in Chagüite Grande, a small village in northern Nicaragua. He used to sell his cabbages for an average of 20 cents each, struggling to provide for his family.

With support from the U.S. Agency for International Development, TechnoServe helped Melvin and fellow members of the Tomatoya-Chagüite Grande cooperative increase their yields and grow higher quality produce. Melvin’s farm now uses a drip irrigation system and successive plantings, allowing him to harvest cabbage year-round to meet the demand of a national supermarket chain.

As a result of these improvements, Melvin has more than doubled his income. The extra money has helped him buy more nutritious food for his family and send his son to school. “An education is the best inheritance he can receive,” Melvin says.

Teachers For EFA

http://www.teachersforefa.unesco.org/fora/

A forum running from 2nd – 16th July encouraging discussion amongst teachers around the world on how to promote inclusion and equality in teacher practices. Sign up and get involved.

EfA Day 2014!

Today is EfA Day 2014 and pupils all around the United Kingdom are doing all sorts of different activities to raise awareness about the serious issue of global education.

Whitehall Infant School in Uxbridge did a non-uniform day and raised money for their partner school in Nepal:

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Cherbourg school in Eastleigh had a great morning and mate an animated video about Education for All (which we’ll be putting up next week). Here’s a picture of Cherbourg’s schools council:

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Director Mary Sinnott and Fundraising Coordinator Nick Evans visited Orchard Primary School. Their year 3 pupils wrote letters to David Cameron explaining why global education is such an important issue and used no technology like PC’s or whiteboards (or even lights!). Year 6 and reception pupils took a mile-long walk during school hours to know what it would be like to take a long walk to school.

Teacher Tuesday Week 10: Siti from Indonesia

The 10th and final Teacher Tuesday saw us speaking to Siti, a teacher from Indonesia who specialises in special needs education. Siti was moved into special needs teaching after meeting disabled street children in 2001, she qualified with a master’s degree in 2005.

Siti explains how she implements good teaching practice in classes with disabled children ‘I arrange the class in a U-shape so that all pupils receive an equal amount of my attention and focus’. Siti also mentioned in her TweetChat that ‘awareness-raising amongst staff, pupils and parents has helped remove the stigma of disability.’ Awareness-raising as a pre-emptive measure is essential for many aspects of global education.

Siti actively encourages students with disabilities to demonstrate their skills and talents which she says ‘boosts their self-confidence’ and allows other children to ‘see them as part of their group’. For example, Siti has Grade 2 pupils who have excelled at dancing and singing.

Siti has noted that the 2013/4 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, Teaching and learning: Achieving quality for all is one of her greatest resources. The report gives her a strategy for monitoring the progress of disabled children through assessment. This also acts as a diagnostic for how different children with disabilities react to particular teaching methods and whether are working/need re-evaluating.

Like all good teachers, Siti is constantly trying to develop her teaching style and methods. She says that at present, professional development is ‘independently organized by the school. It is training given by friends who have experience, a sort of network of other teachers. It’s very informal.’ The fact that professional development is externally delivered by volunteers demonstrates the level of commitment these teachers have to helping their pupils.

Siti believes that to truly eliminate barriers to teaching and stigma attached to disability, training needs to be provided at a governmental level, as done in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

Recruiting, training and hiring teachers with disabilities is also an effective method of removing the stigma of disability as they ‘can better understand the needs of the children in their classroom. Mozambique, for instance, has been running training for visually impaired primary school teachers for more than 10 years. Communities have become familiar with their children being taught by visually impaired teachers, resulting in a positive change of attitude and helping create a more welcoming environment for teachers and students with disabilities.’

Through the efforts of individuals like Siti, education is improving not just for disabled children but for all children as they learn to see themselves and others without prejudice.

#TeacherTuesday What it means to be a teacher in the UK

imageWhat does it means to be a teacher in the UK? This is the question I was asked on twitter, when the Steve Sinnott Foundation asked me to write a post for #TeacherTuesday. I can only really speak from my experience, and I am currently trying to steer away from debates on pedagogy that seem to serve only to entrench positions. My post last week was an attempt to define myself through what I do, and this method has proved very effective in helping me be self-reflective, and in being able to express more clearly my values than through philosophising on pedagogy. Whilst I will thus approach this question from the same, personal, perspective, I will also attempt as far as possible to speak for my colleagues in the UK, and more specifically in England.

The question has two parts really: what it means to be a teacher, and what this means specifically in the UK. The professional network and learning community I have discovered through Twitter has enabled me to connect with educators in various countries, and whilst we share many common values and challenges, I will seek to define that which may be more specific to the UK.

So, what does it mean to be a teacher? Perhaps the first thing to say is that I rarely see myself as a teacher. There are two reasons for this. One, I suffer from the impostor complex, where I regularly believe I will be unmasked as a fake, an intruder. I look at my colleagues and see them as teachers, but still struggle to class myself, to label myself, as one. I see myself primarily as a learner, and this is, paradoxically perhaps, where my strength as a teacher lies. The second reason is that I have done other things before becoming a teacher and have thus been able to define myself professionally and personally in many other ways, and some of those definitions still appear valid to me. I am a teacher, but I am still a traveller, a resort manager, a receptionist, a shipwright, a property developer and a builder! These other definitions and other skills mean that I am able to relate learning to many different situations and skills. I am not alone in this diverse experience before coming to teaching. The image of a career teacher is still in the public conscience, but the reality is changing, as this collaborative blog is starting to show us. Teachers are all fascinating individuals with other passions, experiences and skills.

Being a teacher is a career which has a very long and complicated job description, which goes from pastoral care of children (in loco parentis), through daily classroom teaching, to administrative and managerial tasks. I believe that the care element of our job is the most important one, and without it, all the other tasks are impossible or ineffective. I remember that when I first saw the table of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I understood better my gut feelings about relationships and the classroom environment. If children are cold or hungry, or in fear, then they will find it harder to learn.

The purposes of education are various and often escape definition, but for me, our goal is to foster the personal development of young people, to help them to learn, and to prepare them for the world they will face when they leave full-time education. By this I do not mean moulding them to fit society, but rather equipping them with the skills they will need to shape the world of the future. As many commentators on education have noted, the system we have at the moment is perhaps not broken, but is at the very least out-dated and ill prepares our children for the future. Schools in England do not in general devote enough time or resources to career advice, and individual teachers are often ill-equipped to advise students. The best practice is often in isolated pockets, in rare schools which have developed a vision for the future, in departments, and more often than not, in the hands of individual teachers.

I believe that the most productive thing we can do to rise to this challenge is to listen to our students. It was very refreshing to read Cees’ post highlighting the benefits of student-focused learning and feedback from pupils. Too often there are barriers between teacher and student, hierarchies and power structures which can impede rather than help the learning process. It is through our dialogue with students that we can break down these barriers between us, between the present and the future. The relationships we build with students, together with the classroom environment in which we evolve, are as vital to learning as any pedagogy. Being a teacher means understanding your students, in terms of their academic level as well as their individual histories and needs. We are not machines transmitting or dispensing knowledge. As Arthur C. Clarke said, teachers who can be replaced by robots should be. The increasing use of technology in learning is forcing teachers to re-evaluate their role, and to make sure that they continue to offer what robots cannot.

What does it mean to be a teacher in the UK? This document shows that the status of teachers in the UK is not high, but it is about average for OECD countries. The public believe we should be paid a little more than we are for the job we do. We are generally respected as a profession – over 80% of the public trust us to tell the truth – although one must worry that over 10 % of the population do not trust teachers to tell the truth. We are second only to doctors in this survey and well above the police (65%), journalists (21%) and politicians (18%). We must maintain and build on this trust, and one of the key challenges to us is engaging parents and the wider community in what we do.

This information in the survey above begs the question: why do politicians have so much say in how we educate our children in this country? I do not intend to descend into politics, but for those reading this post outside of the UK, there is some background information (necessarily biased by my own values) of which you should be aware. The government, and specifically the Minister for Education, wield enormous power in terms of how they can reform the school system in England (there are separate systems in place in the other countries of the UK), and teachers are rarely consulted about these changes. The general impression at the moment is that while the government may be well-intentioned in trying to raise standards, their unilateral decisions and failure to consult teachers and educational researchers means that there are many wrong decisions being made.

Unions are in place, and do attempt to negotiate with the government. According to the unions, teachers are demotivated and dissatisfied with their jobs, yet whilst 47% have “seriously considered leaving the profession”, 68% are satisfied with their jobs. I find enormous satisfaction in my job, and whilst there are days when it is one of the hardest jobs in the world, teaching is a very rewarding profession. Many of the pressures we are feeling are being felt elsewhere as well, often more sharply. One of the biggest challenges facing teachers is to find the balance between defending the working conditions we need to do our jobs, and accepting the necessary changes that must take place in education.

The use of twitter and blogs has shown me the power that teachers can have in collaboration. Recently the schools inspection body in England (OFSTED) invited five prominent educators from the blogosphere to discuss the inspection process and the role of OFSTED in improving schools. The conversation resulted in the important development of OFSTED acknowledging that they would no longer grade individual teachers during their visits. This process shows how teachers can have more voice through informal collaboration than they may have through the unions.
So what are the main challenges and barriers facing teachers in the UK at the moment? Contrary to many teachers, I do not believe that the government, OFSTED, or school leaders are necessarily barriers to individual teachers effecting change. We can do this through the example of what we do, through speaking out on social media, and through building powerful professional networks. Whilst we must aim to improve our own classroom practice, to work with immediate colleagues and for the good of our schools, we must also look outside our classrooms, outside our departments and our schools to learn, to share and to collaborate. We must not forget the huge advances in education over the last century, the usually well-equipped working environment and the public support we have. The challenges are there, but we can accept them and enjoy meeting them. The barriers are there, but they are also, to a large extent, within us.


Rory Gallagher (@eddiekayshun) is a teacher of languages at The Thomas Hardye School, Dorchester in southern England.
He has been teaching in secondary schools in the UK for three years. Before that he taught English as a Foreign Language in Italy and in Japan, worked as a Resort Manager in the south of France, and ran his own business as a builder and decorator on the island of Corsica. He is always learning, and loves sharing his learning. His latest projects include a Masters in Education on student feedback, and a collaborative blog which gives teachers a forum to voice their values and experiences.

Teacher Tuesday Week 6: Cees from The Netherlands

cees7Until now, Teacher Tuesday has focused on countries that are still developing and learning how to produce good teaching structures and what is conducive to an effective educational system.

So today we observe the other end of the spectrum. Not only what are triumphs of teachers, schools and systems in the worlds’ most ‘successful’ countries in terms of education but also what problems are they facing? This week, we spoke to Cees, a history teacher from the Netherlands.

Dutch pupils are consistently among the highest performers in the Organisation for Economic Collaboration and Development’s (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) with 15-year-olds scoring higher than average in literacy, mathematics and science.

I find it difficult to answer why the Netherlands are doing so well because what do grades mean?” – …To which countries did you compare?’ Is Cees’ first reaction when he is confronted with the statistics regarding exceptional performance in Dutch schools.

There are a number of reasons Dutch and North American/Western European education are successful, including:

Class sizes: Cess teaches several classes with an average size of 26. Many studies have shown that smaller, more focused classes are integral to a well-structured learning environment. This stands in opposition to the stories of Margaret and

Professional Development: Every year, Dutch teachers have to fill out a professional self-assessment, therein they have to set out their points for development and goals. Their head teacher goes through this with them and puts them on development courses tailored to their specific needs. Cees says ‘A teacher can spend anywhere between 5-10% of their work time on professional development’. By investing in its teachers, the Dutch education system is providing quality teaching for its students.

Feedback from pupils: All Dutch teachers are formally evaluated by their pupils. This accountability forms part of the basis for their professional development and constant self-improvement.

Pupil-centralism: Much of the Dutch education system is pupil-centric where pupils are in charge of their own education journey and teachers teach cooperation, self-motivation and how to learn as well as the topic they cover.

These are just a few examples of strengths within the Dutch education system. However, it is not without its own criticisms. There is an internal argument that this education system is ‘too standardised and designed to do well in international rankings such as PISA but which does little to address the needs of the individual pupil.’

This notion is exemplified by OperationEducation, an organisation in the Netherlands dedicated to individuals finding their own strengths and talents in a holistic manner, rather than being represented as data on a page. OperationEducation claim ‘We need a different definition of ‘excellent’ education’ and point out the need to find a means of expressing achievement that doesn’t come in the form of an education certificate to make a ‘valuable contributions to society’

Cees says he is ‘really hopeful about technology helping us to improve the organization that is needed to implement student-centered learning. Last Friday we had a mind-blowing presentation of the Dutch educational entrepreneur Bob Hofman that introduced ‘Peerscholar’. This computer program is a very good example of how teachers will be able to help students really reflect on eachothers’ work, and which will improve their responsibility to their own learning process. Less focus on grades and more on the content and the reflection of how they are learning.’