The TSR Subramanian Committee does not hold back its punches when it says India’s education system is in disarray. This is the third education policy that a committee has come up with since independence. The previous two were failures. Not because the suggestions enshrined in them were faulty, but because they weren’t implemented.
The TSR panel has made some good suggestions targeting the many ills that plague our education system. But it fails to tackle the core injustices and sectarian minefields that surface every now and then. However, to be fair to the panel, that wasn’t its mandate. Its principal focus was on improving the quality of education by creating conditions that improve the standard of teaching, learning, assessment and promote transparency in the management of education. And the team has done a decent job at that.
Let’s see what some of the best suggestions are and how they could be potential game-changers.
How to improve governance in education
At every level, the administration and management of education is in tatters. Why are substandard teachers recruited? Why only a select few of them get their preferred postings and others are subjected to transfers? Why is it not done on merit? Why is there no system to measure a teacher’s performance? Why do undeserving institutions get accreditation rapidly? One factor that explains all this is “political interference”.
Arbitrary procedures and purchasable approvals define the governance at every level. How do we solve these problems? Here’s what the team’s suggestions are.
# Teacher Recruitment
Create an autonomous teacher recruitment board and set up an independent mechanism for teacher recruitment. Teacher eligibility test (TET) is a good start. This will ensure a good quality pool.
# No distractions on campuses of learning
This writer had suggested here that the whole notion of student activism and party politics in campuses is wrong. Politics, if allowed in campuses, should be restricted to only protesting and discussing issues related to the university or hostel problems of students. The TSR panel seems to be well seized of the issue.
It recommended a careful and non-emotional examination of the issue of permitting chapters of national political parties, or caste/community based organisations within university campuses.
The committee asks if it’s desirable to allow students to continue in campuses for long periods, even after the normal schedules for each courses are over.
Student groups that are explicitly based on caste, religion, or any political party should be abjured through the statutes governing the universities and institutions.
These are welcome initiatives and one hopes that the Human Resources and Development Minister would follow up on these so that universities are defined by their academic atmosphere instead of protests, gheraos and dharnas. This would ensure that students who work hard and spend a lot of money on securing admissions to these colleges aren’t robbed of their ambitions. The primary aim of any educational institution is to impart knowledge. Everything else is secondary. Kranti can wait.
# Expenditure on education
The committee recommends that the outlay on education should be raised to a minimum level of six percent of GDP with immediate effect.
Additional funding needs to be secured for meeting the needs of early childhood care education.
To meet the needs for vocational/skills training, additional funding outside the six percent limit needs to be generated.
It is not clear from the report whether the committee is recommending six percent spending outlay for states and centre or the centre’s alone. If it’s the latter, one can be sure that this wouldn’t see the light of the day.
According to World Bank data, our total (local, regional and central) government expenditure on education is about four percent of the GDP. Raising it to six percent would require concerted efforts from all states, a true test of cooperative federalism.
How to make public schools great again
# Consolidate schools, not expand.
All the states should carry out mapping to identify schools with low enrollment and inadequate infrastructure. Such schools, if they are located in close proximity to each other, should be merged. This would improve academic performance as there will be an increase in teacher availability due to redeployment, resulting in cost-effective management.
# Skiling India early.
Vocational education subjects - the ones offered in Indian Training Institutes (ITIs) can also be offered in schools from class VIII onwards, as a formal stream along with science, maths and other subjects, leading to certification by the respective boards of education.
The vocational skills qualifications acquired through ITIs could be given certificate of equivalence to class X or class XII.
# Skilled tribals
Importance of introducing skills-based education in school curriculum in tribal areas cannot be overstated. The committee cites the example of the success of Dantewada in Bastar, where a livelihood college offers nearly 20 courses, both in soft and industrial skills, and has created many job opportunities for tribal youth.
Thus, the committee has recommended special focus on skills-based education for tribal areas.
# Imparting values
The TSR Committee feels that the process of making the students acquainted with the basics of all religions, the values inherent therein and also a comparative study of the philosophy of all religions should begin at the middle stage of schooling and continue up to the university level.
The basics of India’s Constitution such as its preamble, fundamental rights and duties must form the part of the education system.
Every school, both public and private, should be encouraged to bring Yoga in as part of the schooling process. Every child should learn the basics of Yoga.
How to make teaching great again
# Make teaching attractive
Establish a new central service, which will function as an all-India service, with officers hired on a permanent basis to various state governments. Human Resources and Development Ministry can be the supervising authority.
The TSR Committee recommends creation of separate teacher recruitment commissions similar to the Public Service Commission for recruiting teachers, principals and other academic and management cadres in educational institutions.
For elementary schools, district cadres should be created for better management.
Teachers should not be deputed for any non-academic activity other than census, election or disaster relief. They should not be asked to oversee preparation of mid-day meal.
# Making of good teachers
Who teaches the teachers? Are good teachers born or are they made? Experts believe it’s the latter. The Economist special report shows in detail how teaching can be taught.
To achieve this, the committee suggests well thought-out teacher training systems and bats for the introduction of a four-year integrated BEd course, or a two-year BEd course after graduation for those who want to pursue teaching.
The committee says that these courses should be strong in subject content and students should acquire pedagogical skills along with subject knowledge. It further recommends:
Two-month compulsory vacation training every five years must be introduced.
There should be a separate academic cadre for teacher trainers who should have the same qualifications as college lecturers and enjoy the same pay scales.
Good BEd colleges and university departments should be used for in-house training of teachers. This would save money on the infrastructure front.
# Hiring good teachers
Those who want to take up teaching as a profession should have a clear cut path in that direction. For this purpose, the committee recommends the possibility of introducing a five-year integrated course after class X for elementary school teachers, and five-year course after class XII for higher secondary teachers.
This is very important and would achieve two goals; help stanch the flow of those graduates who, when they cannot find jobs elsewhere, enter the teaching profession as a last resort; and facilitate the entry of those genuinely interested in teaching. It also calls for:
Strict implementation of TET. Centre and the states should jointly lay down norms and standards for TET.
For entry in existing BEd courses, there should be a minimum eligibility condition of 50 percent marks in graduation.
#Making teachers accountable
Teachers and headmasters should be held accountable for failure to achieve learning outcomes within a prescribed time frame.
To ensure continuing minimal standards in teacher performance, compulsory licensing or certification for teachers in government and private schools based on independent external testing should be done every 10 years.
Absenteeism and indiscipline must be handled with utmost strictness. Principals or headmasters should be empowered to take disciplinary action against errant teachers.
# Better principals
There should be a separate cadre of school principals, selected on merit and aptitude, from among those with at least five years of teaching experience.
They should have a minimum seven-year tenure and a higher pay scale.
#Making pre-schools great again
Realising the importance of early childhood years (specifically from birth to the age of six), the committee recommends that early childhood care education should be declared a right, and a programme for pre-school education needs to be implemented without delay. The National Council for Educational Research and Training should formulate curricular framework for pre-primary education on the lines of a play school.
# Role of anganwadis
Since, at present, aanganwadis work as a sort of a play school, the committee thinks that locating these centres in the premises of local primary schools will be beneficial. Doing this will facilitate utilisation of common facilities and in addition the child will get familiar with the school premises. Also, the transition from aanganwadis to primary school will be seamless.
The committee believes that in due course all government primary schools should have facilities for pre-primary education.
States should create a cadre of pre-primary teachers and make necessary arrangements for their pre and in-service training.
Three language policy
The committee has recommended that the medium of instruction up to class V must be the regional language.
As long as the above is ensured, the choice of the second (at primary level) and third language (at secondary level) should be left to individual states to decide.
How to improve the current curriculum and examination process
The committee realises the need to move away from the culture of rote learning. For this, it makes some good suggestions:
Reduce curriculum load. Examinations should be designed to test wider awareness, understanding and comprehension, and not merely the ability to reproduce text book script.
Reform the examination process. Centre and the states should work together to put in place processes, which will restore confidence in the system. This is the need of the hour. To give one example, the exams conducted by the government recruiting agencies – say Staff Selection Commission (SSC) – are in very poor shape. The dates of exam are decided randomly, the results are not declared on time and so on. The SSC segment’s incompetence can be judged by the fact that the 2015 exam results are not out yet. The 2016 exam has been postponed. This is not the exception but the norm. The fate of lakhs of aspiring candidates hangs in balance. The confidence in the system is lost.
The performance of a student should not be judged only by results in the board examinations. Credit should be given to periodic classroom tests and evaluation. This is good thinking on the committee’s part which has the potential to considerably diffuse the tension the students face during their final exam because their fate and one year’s hard work is tested in three hours. However, it needs to be noted that these evaluations be considered under the board’s watch. It won’t be wise to entrust schools with this responsibility.
The feasibility of adapting percentile system over percentage system should be examined by the experts.
The practice of giving grace marks to promote students in exams should be stopped.
A system of online-on-demand board examinations should gradually be tried out as this will offer flexibility and reduce year-end stress for students and parents.
A national level test open to those who completed class XII from any school board should be designed so that students don’t have to appear in different entrance tests. This is an ill thought out idea. It will curtail the rights of states to hold their own exams and be detrimental to institutional independence. The committee should have taken some lessons from the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test controversy.
Board examinations shouldn’t be discontinued.
Class X board exam for science and mathematics should be conducted in two parts. A student who does not expect to study mathematics further may choose the basic (lower) level, while another may choose the advanced (higher) level.
The panel has good intentions here to give full freedom to students to exercise their choice and there should be no compulsion on them. But the committee ignored one important stakeholder: parents. Will they allow that freedom? That is the question.
A competent counsellor would be able to recognise the special aptitude and skills of children from an early age and be able to steer them into appropriate openings as apprentices.
This is a commendable suggestion. Indian students must develop the habit of starting work early and not wait for their formal education to end. Encouraging students to take apprenticeships is a step in the right direction. They need to develop work ethic in their early years.
How to create centres of excellence in higher education
A climate needs to be created to facilitate the establishment of 100 such institutions over the next 10 years. To achieve this, a regulatory framework needs to be put in place.
Full freedom should be given to establish such units.
Full autonomy should be given to them to decide choice of subjects, location, pedagogy, recruitment of faculty from India or abroad as well as freedom to fix tuition fees – with the proviso that over a five-year period the new venture will be subject to careful scrutiny by the official accreditation/evaluation agency. At the time of evaluation, if the institution fails to figure in the highest quality bracket available, their approval should be withdrawn.
The Economic Times reports today (29 June) that the Prime Minister’s Office is not in favour of the proposal that these new universities face a penalty in the event they can’t meet certain quality parameters in 10-15 years.
The PM’s Office is learnt to have advised the HRD Ministry that the time period must be longer for a fair assessment of whether a new university has emerged as world-class. This is important because world-class institutions cannot be created in such a short period. Some can even take one generation.
These new initiatives should be totally free from any regulation from national or state agencies until then.
High-quality foreign universities (say, top 200) should be encouraged to establish presence in India.
A national higher education fellowship fund can be created, which will offer 10 lakh new fellowships annually to qualified students belonging to economically weaker sections to pursue higher learning. This fund should be open for contribution from alumni of various institutions.
No university should have more than 100 affiliated colleges.The universities which have more than 100 affiliated colleges should be split.The initiative recently launched to rank top universities in the country should be extended to all the existing institutions of higher learning.
States should invest in recruitment of permanent faculty. They shy away from doing so because the process is time-consuming.
The problem gets compounded due to litigation thanks to RTI-wielding warriors whose favourite go-to place is judiciary once the exam results are out. Also, the state saves the exchequer out-go on salaries of full time faculty. But there is no alternative to hiring permanent teachers.
The committee feels that recruiting ad-hoc and part-time faculty impacts adversely the quality of teaching and research. To solve the problem of lack of teachers, the committee has suggested that, for most undergraduate programmes, the requirement to possess a doctoral degree should be done away with.
Diffusing the RTE minefield
There are so many sectarian minefields in the Right to Education (RTE) Act that one wonders whether this was done deliberately or it is just an example of horrible policymaking. Be that as it may, neutralisation of this act was one of the main demands of core BJP supporters. It’s good to know that the committee is aware of the damage the RTE act is doing.
# Bring minority schools on par with the non-minority ones.
RTE Act puts an obligation on the unaided non-minority schools to admit 25 percent of children under Section 12(1)(c) in classes. Note that the minority schools are exempt. The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of this act in the case of ‘Society for Unaided Private Schools of Rajasthan Vs Union of India, (2012) and reiterated the same in the Pramati Judgment (2014).
The panel has recommended that minority institutes should not be exempt from compulsorily admitting 25 percent students from economically weaker sections. While this is not what the doctor ordered, it’s a welcome change.
Remember, while applying the law to all the schools, minority or majority has to be a fundamental principle and will ensure parity, it won’t automatically put a stop at the scores of schools that are staring at closure due to huge financial burden they are forced to bear by financing the education of 25 percent of the total intake, for social justice.
Instead, the committee could have recommended a step towards voucher system. At least, one expected it to suggest a pilot programme. Vouchers are state-funded scholarships targeting low-income groups who can use them to attend private schools. Poor students can register themselves at their chosen schools and pay their fees via vouchers issued by the state.
One is afraid to note that such out-of-the-box thinking is conspicuous from the committee’s approach.
# Review ‘no detention’ policy.
The committee has recommended that the no-detention policy should be continued but only up to class V. Currently, no child can be held back or expelled from the school until the end of class VIII. This policy has resulted in poor learning outcomes for students. For example, this Times Of India report says that only 24 percent of class VIII students could read class II textbooks in Maharashtra. One frequently gets to read such news time to time.
Additionally, the committee notes that the number of students failing their class IX examinations has been on the increase in many states. In Delhi, for instance, the number of repeating students as a percentage of total students enrolled in class IX rose from 2.8 percent in 2010 to 13.4 percent in 2014.
Given this dire scenario, the committee’s suggestion come off as half-hearted. Maybe it doesn’t want to ruffle too many feathers. The TSR Committee says detention should be resorted to only as a last option and after giving the child remedial coaching and at least two extra chances. One is afraid this is too little and won’t improve situation much.
# Learning outcomes or infrastructure requirements
The RTE Act needs to be amended to provide, in addition to infrastructure requirements, norms for learning outcomes which directly affect quality of education.
Note the ‘in addition’ part. The committee is well aware of the fact that many private schools, located in slums and other congested areas, simply cannot conform to stringent infrastructure norms set by the RTE Act. For such schools there is no space for building additional rooms or providing a playground and hence they are prone to closure. The committee should have recommended to give more weightage to learning outcomes compared to infrastructure norms.
But all is not lost. It has suggested a way out. It has recommended that states should be given flexibility to determine their own norms for infrastructure requirement consistent with local conditions. This should help, however it may not suffice.
The committee feels that infrastructure norms for recognition of private schools should also be applied to government schools.
It’s time the latter faced the music of the law too.
Reforming And Strengthening Institutions
All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) has largely failed to execute its mandate as a regulator. The TSR Committee has recommended that administrative reforms suggested by Kaw Committee should be enacted which say that AICTE should function as a facilitating mentoring agency rather than a regulatory body and should focus attention on research, innovation, business startups and patenting.
The University Grants Commission should be revamped, made considerably leaner and thinner, and should be the nodal point for administration of the proposed national higher education fellowship programme, without any other promotional or regulatory function to perform.
Indira Gandhi National Open University should be designated as the national university in the field of distance education. It should be given the autonomy to set its own standards and offer online programmes in different fields.
The committee realises the importance of information technology in education. As we have learnt from the success of massive open online courses, platforms like Khan Academy, online lectures from institutes of global repute like Harvard, the opportunities and potential for a country like India in this field are immense.
IT can act as an aide to the teacher in the classroom, in remedial education, in training of teachers, for adult literacy, in higher education etc. But implementation will be the key. It’s simply not possible to reap the benefits of IT in the education sector and usher in a digital revolution without first providing the digital infrastructure to the remotest of areas. In this regard, the government is failing, as this report shows.
Lastly, it’s very hard for one to talk of education reform and not go on tirade against the coaching ‘epidemic’ or tuition culture. This committee is also not free from that prejudice. It notes that “left to market forces, it has been well established that private coaching increases disparities between classes of students; the relatively well-off segments of the student population can benefit through supplementary coaching, whereas the educationally and socially backward classes generally cannot afford supplementary coaching classes.”
Despite the lamentation, it has diagnosed the problem well. It’s a symptom and not the disease. The committee rightly recognises that coaching classes are a reflection of teaching levels in school and improperly structured curriculum encourages rote learning. One more reason is the attention that a student gets in a tuition class or coaching is far more than what he/she does in school. This is the biggest factor at play in the minds of parents behind sending their kids to these classes.
To sum up, the committee has made many good recommendations. Some would need more deliberation and discussion. Though, the report cannot be called transformational, but if implemented, it will certainly bring in some long overdue changes.
News Courtesy: Swarajya Mag (link)
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