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Our Response to the Draft NEP 2019- Part 2

Our complete formal response to Draft NEP 2019 written by Radha Gopalan, other GenWise mentors and Vishnu Agnihotri, is available here- it covers our overall observations on the NEP, some observations on specific points and also makes recommendations. This post and others in this series, cover some of the ideas and recommendations presented in our formal response. To have a conversation with us, please follow us on twitter at @Genwise_ or write to vishnu@genwise.in

In the previous post, we made some recommendations on creating the mindset change required to transform our education system. However the system also needs to have the capacity to bring about change. 'Capacity' can refer to many different things, like-

  1. Having a sufficient number of teachers

  2. Knowing how children learn something e.g. Math or Language

  3. Teachers having the ability to help students learn

  4. Educational leaders knowing how to build a 'learning community' of teachers

Without the required capacity, our goals would just be wishful thinking.

In this post, we share our recommendations regarding capacity building.

Recommendations on Capacity Building

1. Community Learning Hubs- These will be high-quality learning spaces, with a library, ‘maker-space’, craft material, computers with internet etc. co-located in the same facility with adequate staffing. A lot can be done with simple tools and modest budgets, as long as there is a resourceful facilitator. The initial target could be to have several such centres at district/ block level and ultimately one per school-complex (the Draft NEP proposes 'school-complexes', which are groups of schools in the same area). The centre should be open to all children in the community (even if not enrolled in the school), and be open beyond school hours also. Local ‘vocational experts’ can operate in this facility; local craftsmen, electricians, plumbers etc. should play as important a role as facilitators in this space, as scientists, engineers, doctors etc. This space should be used for local contests, study circles, community dialogues and celebrating festivals, and become the ‘learning hub’ for the community.

Some of the best work and learning in colleges in the country is happening in such informal clubs and groups and the presence of a vibrant learning hub in each community could create a huge transformation. This initiative is related to the School Complexes proposed in Chapter 7 of the Draft NEP. However, the Community Learning Hubs will be most powerful when the community takes ownership of this space, and the kind of energy of informal collaborations that is seen in a community during festivals, gets transferred to learning (learning here is defined in the broadest sense as any activity that does not involve ‘passive consumption’). School Complexes must look at their role as enabling the community to run a vibrant learning hub, rather than seeing this hub as an extension of the formal schooling system.

Pasi Sahlberg, Finnish Educator, believes that the excellent performance of Finland in PISA is influenced by the opportunity available to Finnish children to engage in productive activities outside of school- whether reading because of the ‘dense library system’ or immersion in sports, arts and culture through one of the many ‘NGO clubs’. Closer to home, experts believe that the relatively higher levels of literacy and reading ability in Kerala was influenced by the availability of reading material at low cost and the availability of reading rooms or ‘vayanashalas’ across towns. Thus the NEP should look at ways of nurturing informal networks and communities that support the work of schools in helping all children to succeed.

2. Nurturing Vibrant Communities of Practice of Teachers- It is important that the teacher is a ‘professional practitioner’ of her craft, just like a doctor is a professional practitioner of the craft of medicine. Like the doctor who knows the patient well is the best person to treat him (and not some medical expert), it is the teacher who is in the best position to help the learner learn (unfortunately the teacher is sometimes not trusted with this). Just like the doctor though, the teacher also needs to refer to research journals or speak with academic experts. to hone her understanding and knowledge, while also contributing to this knowledge, through her on-field experience. All thriving professions require vibrant communities of practice. Nurturing such communities is an extremely important aspect of capacity building.

The school complexes proposed in the Draft NEP probably provide an opportunity to nurture such communities of practice. Vibrant communities of practice have always existed in our country. Some of these have also been nurtured consciously by educational leaders e.g. In Gujarat, during the early years of implementing ‘Pragya’, master resource persons from SCERT would visit schools in a block, capturing snippets of lessons on video, and these would be discussed by teachers across schools in the block after a couple of days, leading to a rich exchange, and motivating teachers.

However, much more can be done to consciously nurture teacher-led communities of practice. The challenge of ‘scaling’ good learning across thousands of schools and students, should be looked at as proliferating such networks of practice with ‘top-down’ initiatives nurturing ‘bottom-up’ communities and ideas. The Berkana Institute’s framework of Name-Connect-Nourish-Illuminate offers an effective paradigm to look at nurturing such networks. The power of building a vibrant community of teacher practice is that it is a self-organizing system (see pages 14-16 of Donella Meadows' paper on the power of self-organization to change systems)

A powerful example of a self-organizing community of teacher practice is the practice of ‘Lesson Study’ in Japan, that has been in existence for one hundred and thirty years. Lesson Study involves teachers working together to design, test, and improve lesson sequences, with multiple teachers observing the session, reviewing the sessions jointly and other teachers reteaching the revised lesson plans. This practice introduces teachers to the power of collaborative inquiry and the important role observation plays in opening our eyes to alternative practice. Many good ideas come from the teachers’ own experiences, increasing their confidence in practising the craft of teaching. This practice gained international attention after publication of results from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) video study.

3. Educational Leaders with strong context of teaching-learning- Given the complexity in education, it is important to ensure in some way that Educational Leaders and Administrators have at least 10 years of teaching experience or strong context about education. A ‘governance paradigm’ without an understanding of how learning happens is not sufficient to be an effective educational leader. The assumption that a great administrator in urban development, forests or agriculture can make a great educational administrator is flawed (especially in a posting of 1-2 years).

A career path should be available for teachers to grow into the highest roles in educational leadership. Lateral entry could also be allowed to exceptional individuals with a proven track record. IAS officers who come into education roles should be identified at least 2 years in advance of their actual posting and should undergo a rigorous orientation of at least 15 days and be certified by a committee before their appointment in an educational leadership role. Perhaps it is time to create an ‘Indian Education Service’ under the Civil Services.

4. Centre for Evidence Based Practice- Constitute a ‘Centre for Evidence Based Practice’ at the central level (with representation from states), staffed with high quality researchers and teachers. This can include fellows who are part of the centre for a few months to a couple of years. This centre should collate existing evidence and do new/ further research in important areas of curriculum and pedagogy, teacher development, how to bring systemic change etc. The members from this centre should be part of committees (state and central) that define and deploy educational programs. The centre should network with educators around the country and around the world. The centre should have a high quality website of resources, start its own journal and publish high-quality research (the What Works Clearinghouse initiative in the US could guide the design of this repository. This centre could be responsible for training and certifying educational leaders, including those who make a lateral entry into the government education system.

5. Repository of good questions and projects- No effort to change the education system will work unless the ‘goal posts’ are changed. In this light, the Draft NEP rightly speaks about reforming the board examinations to assess the ability of students to think critically and reason on their own. However, such learning can happen only when teachers frame discerning questions and learning tasks and engage students in working on these. (Often it appears that there is agreement on the kind of learning that is being targeted, but on seeing the actual questions, differences in opinion surface). Initially it is difficult for teachers to differentiate between such questions and other questions, or even if they can, there is a fear that discerning questions will be too tough for students. An easily accessible repository of good questions, projects and learning tasks will go a long way towards demonstrating the kind of learning we are targeting, and catalyzing the process. Teachers and even students should be allowed to add questions and projects to this repository with incentives for quality submissions.

6. Video Repository of good teaching practices- The good learning tasks repository suggested above provides teachers with engaging learning tasks that promote critical thinking and real learning. However, without specific guidance on how these should be facilitated (at least in the initial years), there is a danger that students will be taught the answers to good questions, by rote. Providing teachers with an easily accessible collection of teaching videos will help in promoting best practices in teaching-learning. Teachers can be encouraged to submit their own videos to this repository (though these will need to be curated). Examples of such videos are shared here- see this lesson on historical methods and this lesson on getting students to think about odd and even numbers.

7. Lateral Induction of Teachers, Facilitators and other Education Professionals- There are several people in the country with strong capabilities in different areas of education (sometimes without formal qualifications)- teaching, teacher training, assessment, e-learning and so on. There are very few avenues for these people to be recruited into the government system at the central or state level; where these people are retained, they are hired as consultants. Given the urgent need for capacity building in the country, teachers and other professionals should be inducted at all levels, irrespective of formal qualifications, as long as they can demonstrate expertise. Independent identification of good teachers and master-teachers can be done through a process of exam + demo class + interview. Some of these people may also be used to staff the community learning hubs mentioned above.