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.

Egyptian education system doesn’t prepare youth for Jobs

Interview with Salma Wahba, youth and adolescent development officer for Unicef Egypt

How would you describe youth unemployment in Egypt?

The unemployment rate overall in Egypt is 13.4%. Unemployment is one of the most pressing concerns among young people as it affects them the most. According to national statistics in 2013, 55% of all those unemployed are aged 15 to 24, and an additional 23% are aged 25 to 29. The unemployment rate among young women is almost double that of young men.

What are the main causes?

Egypt has been facing three years of serious economic challenges and an unstable political context. This has led to growth stagnation, increased unemployment and poverty.

There is also a significant mismatch between the skills of new labour market entrants and the requirements of the labour market. The education system is not preparing young people with the skills for the modern workplace and career guidance in general, is not available.

In Egypt, youth still prefer to work for the government, rather than the private sector, perceiving it to be a secure job. Many young people are waiting for the job that best fits their qualifications rather than actively seeking employment and accepting jobs that they think are below their level. This is a major cultural barrier among youth in Egypt.

What do you see as the long term consequences?

In a country like Egypt where youth constitute one-fifth of the population, more than 16m people, not dealing with youth unemployment could have serious consequences. It creates frustration among youth about their future and their role in society as productive individuals. It also wastes Egypt’s great opportunity of benefiting from the potential of its demography.

Where should youth unemployment fit into the international agenda?

Youth issues and particularly youth unemployment should undoubtedly feature strongly in the post-2015 development agenda as it is an issue of global concern. It is clear that the post-2015 agenda must give a higher focus on equity and inclusion, and supporting the young generation, particularly the most disadvantaged.

What are the solutions to the crisis?

The most obvious solution is to create jobs for youth entering the labour force. More innovative solutions need to be investigated and put in place such as providing incentives to employers to reserve jobs for youth.

Partnerships need to be developed among government, private sector, civil society and young people themselves to develop and implement an integrated strategy, focusing on those most disadvantaged. Addressing the mismatch between the skills young people have and the requirements of the job market is essential. This could be either through the formal education system or through non-formal education with important distinct skills.

In Egypt, Unicef’s interventions are focused on the skills development of young people, focusing on those most marginalised, through the ‘Building Young Futures’ programme. The programme has demonstrated the importance of focusing on the youth at an earlier stage (15-17 years) before they venture into the labour market. This proved to be very rewarding as they are, in general, more receptive to change and to new modes of thinking.

Japan faces new challenges

Japan has long been regarded as one of the world’s educational superpowers. In the post-war era, life expectancy and high-school attendance soared, for example between 1947 and 2006, University attendance increased from 10% to 49%. In 2014, Japan can viably say it is counted as one of the most advanced nation on Earth. Japan consistently ranks among the highest in PISA tests.

However, there have been concerns lately that Japan is losing its innovative ‘edge’, one argument for this has been that Japan has simply been following an educational formula established in the west and now that it has cracked and surpassed that formula, it is left with little room for improvement. There is the concern that Japan’s current educational system prepares children excellently for university and higher education but does little to prepare them for business and life.

One of Japan’s fundamental principles is that ‘all children can be achievers’ and this is echoed in the fact that social background seems to have little impact on educational outcomes. However, as the Japanese government now tries to devolve authority over schools to local authorities, it is essential that they also pass equity reforms that ensure the best teachers and leaders are recruited and incentivised into schools that need the extra boost and help.

As mentioned, Japan will need to redesign its curriculum to make it more engaging, appealing and relevant to pupils. While this is an area where Japan has made significant advances, it still lags behind other world leaders. Shifting from subject-based curricula to competency-based curricula will allow for a far more applicable and broad educational teaching experience for Japanese children.

Beyond just the issue of curricula, Japan must focus on how teachers will deliver it. If Japan is to continue delivering high and higher standards while changing its curricula, staff must be properly trained on how to use and engage with it. Teacher must also learn to encourage long-term sustainable learning for life, rather than treating children as cattle in preparation for exams and the temporary, situational knowledge that they entail.

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.

Teacher Tuesday Week 7: Mosammat from Bangladesh

If someone told you there was a floating school in Bangladesh, you’d immediately begin to questions its logistics and structural integrity. If someone told you there was a floating school in Bangladesh that featured computers with internet access which were powered exclusively by solar panels, you’d think they’d begun to confuse reality with a Terry Pratchett novel.

However, that is exactly what is happening as you’re reading this. Mosammat Reba Khatun is 40 years old and lives in a small riverside village in Bangladesh. For the past ten years she has been teaching Bengali, Maths and English on Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha’s floating school on the Gumani river in the Pabna district in northwest Bangladesh. In total, the school teaches 90 students between six and nine years old. Almost two-thirds of the pupils are girls.

It may seem like a bizarre and fantastical notion at first but the rationale behind Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha’s floating school is quite logical. Mosammat tells us that “flooding is a major problem in Bangladesh. In the monsoon season, at least a third of the country is affected by flooding which isolates entire communities and means children can’t get to school so we thought ‘if the children can’t come to school, the school will come to the children’”.

Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha was a 2012 WISE Award winner (World Innovation Summit in Education, Qatar). You can find many more details, including videos, about the solar-powered floating schools on the WISE website.

Because the school is mobile, it is able to travel around villages in the remote river basin where it makes port. This means that the teachers within the school can discuss and converse with local parents easily. As if the case with much of the developing world, Mosammat tells us “the children under age 5 are malnourished and infant mortality rate is high. Girls are not allowed to move around freely.  We meet with the parents monthly to encourage them to send their children to school regularly…as a result; the rate of early marriage is reduced” The fact that the school doubles as a means of transport enables wider communication, a truly novel and innovative idea.

The solar-powered nature of the boat means that technology can be used aboard it The latest EFA Global Monitoring Report 2013/4  notes that technology as an excellent means of disseminating information not only for pupils for also for teachers, the internet provides an excellent platform for teachers in developing countries to take a self-guided approach to their development. Macmillan Education have released TeachPitch, a free, global teacher-learning platform for teachers global to continually self-improve.

Despite the yet untold potential of technology and internet in developing communities, it seems there will never be a substitute for a caring, dedicated teacher. Mosammat finished her interview by saying “I decided to become a teacher because I love children and wanted to help them towards developing a better future,” Mosammat told us. “I think teaching is a gift of a lifetime. It has given me immense opportunity to give back to my community, help poor students to access to school, and impart positively on children.”

With the right attitude, a good deal of determination and even more innovation, Mosammat is helping deliver education to children in spite of natural and cultural barriers, she is a paragon of pedagogy and a trailblazer of global education.

Teacher Tuesday: Esnart Chapomba from Malawi

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Today marks the start of the EFAReport’s 10-week campaign that has been dubbed ‘Teacher Tuesday’. Every Tuesday for the next 10 weeks, a teacher from a different part of the World will be discussing the issues that they face and what they feel needs to be done to improve education globally.

This week, it was Esnart Chapomba from Malawi‘s turn. Malawi has had a free education policy since 1994 and is currently working toward ensuring there are no more than 60 children per class around the country. Esnart discussed what affects him as an educator, including certain problems you may not have known about or expected.

Teacher shortages – The most prominent issue Esnart discusses is the chronic lack of teachers in Malawi. He describes how some rural schools, with pupil numbers in excess of 1000, have only 4 teachers. This grossly disproportionate ratio is sadly reflected throughout most of Sub-Saharan Africa, UNESCO estimates 902,000 new primary school teachers will be needed to keep up with Sub-Saharan Africa’s projected population growth.

The poorest being hardest hit As is the general trend with global education, Esnart points out that it is children in the most rural and disadvantaged communities who are suffering the most. Esnart describes the difficulties of trying to teach a class of 230 pupils and how it simply isn’t manageable or feasible for one person. However, it isn’t just children who are suffering because of teacher shortages but also teachers themselves. Teachers are disenchanted and demotivated because of the circumstances they face, however the Malawian Government is trying to combat this by providing a stimulus for teachers in rural communities to better their lives.

Structures & Resources – Even items as basic as pencils and paper are scarce for Esnart and his colleagues, with up to 10 children sharing one textbook. Also, there are no classrooms big enough to accommodate due to the sheer size of classes which leads to lessons being taught outside which, because of the lack of structure, leads to a distracting teaching and learning environment.

Lack of Quality – This quote is taken directly from Esnart’s speech:

“You will be shocked to hear that some children in Malawi reach grades three and four without being able to add up, read or write. I’ve even seen children as old as 9 and 10 who are unable to read and write their names when clearly they should be able to do this. These children will miss out on good opportunities and will be without the skills they need to have a decent future.”

This only adds impetus to the need for not simply education but quality education which increases life chances and opens doors that otherwise remain firmly closed.

Dropout Rates – Possibly due to the demotivating effects of poor learning environments/lack of quality education, a significant number of pupils will drop out before completing primary level education. The dropout rate is also higher among girls (4% higher, to be exact) which unfortunately is prevalent throughout the developing world. Pupils deserve more conducive learning environments and egalitarian social structures.

All of the issues that Esnart brought up in his speech and more must be addressed if we are to see a truly fair, effective global education agenda in post-2015. This final quote from Esnart perfectly encapsulates the power education wields and the impact it can have in developing countries.

“An education must prepare our children to be productive citizens of our country so that we can lift ourselves out of the vicious cycle of poverty and have a better future.”

ORIGINAL POST HERE