Wednesday, May 04, 2016

What happens when you seriously try to empower children, teachers and community through large scale education initiatives?

The pervasive notion that 'nothing has been done in education in India' could not be further from the truth. In fact not only has a great deal been done, but its consequences have been faced over decades. In particular, what follows applies to introducing educational designs based on local context, using the experiences and strengths of the stakeholders, creating a situation where they play an active role in determining and implementing processes.

Though obviously much must have been done over the decades till the 80s, my experience ranges from mid-80s, when I was part of a team working on such classroom practices, textbooks and educational designs from 1986 onwards. Implementation of the programme called Prashika (Prathamik Shiksha Karyakram) focused on marginalised groups, with the team living in a tribal area as well as in a rural, deprived pocket and introducing the innovation in government primary schools. The work in Prashika was pathbreaking in many, many ways (integration of 5 subjects at the primary level, incorporation of multiple local languages, a hugely localised textbook/workbook that could only be completed with each child contributing, called Khushi-Khushi - still not matched anywhere, I believe). It provided hope that much was possible despite the difficulties faced and informed many of the later efforts that followed, both in the government and the NGO sector.

Later in DPEP - particularly Kerala, Assam, Karnataka, Haryana, UP, Bihar, TN, Nagaland and later with SSA Gujarat further work was done. Localised training, contexualisable textbooks (some really brilliant stuff still not matched anywhere - and that's a professional opinion), teacher determined assessment system, involvement of community knowledge, children constructing local histories / local environment books, peer learning and assessments, textbooks that would be 'complete' only along with a set of 50 district-specific books kept in the school library.... many, many innovative and large scale measures were conceived and actually implemented using a strategically developed implementation plan. 

In each first five states we were able to see 2-3 years of implementation, development of hundreds / thousands of teachers who implemented contextualised learning, a high degree of in-class practice backed by supportive, localisable material. These states changed their position in the national achievement surveys too, with Kerala rising to the top (it had been fairly close to the bottom before this, below Bihar in the first national survey). In the case of Gujarat, field testing was done in 630 schools, researched by MSU Baroda with very encouraging findings. 

However, as long as we were not visibly successful there were no problems. When change began to be visible on some scale and a palpable sense of energy was witnessed among teachers and communities, alarm bells began to ring. in each of these states, the powers that be - especially at state level, state institutions, administrations, political parties - found that this went against the command-and-control structures conducive to them being able to assert their authority. Schools didn't want to be told what to teach when and how - they had their own plans. Empowered teachers / school heads / even some VECs refused to kowtow to mediocre ideas or corruption oriented bosses - leading to huge conflicts all over the place. Unfortunately these never got reported, recorded or researched. The results were mass scale transfers, cases against state project directors who encouraged this (Kerala SPD was charge sheeted, Karnataka SPD given punishment posting in North Karnataka, Assam SPD sent to conflict zone during worst riots, Bihar SPD transferred to PHED and later kept without posting), the re-casting of State Resource Groups from those selected for tested capabilities to those stocked with ex-officio positions, the emasculation of the BRC-CRC structures from genuine teacher support institutions into data collection centres (believe it or not, we did have functional BRCs CRCs at one time!), the centralisation of powers away from the VECs and re-casting into SMCs with a different function, and major shift in recruitments away from districts to states (in one state the Education Minister held a Recruitment Mela in a stadium to personally appoint 3000 para-teachers). 

Interestingly, Prashika in MP faced a similar adminstrative backlash and was closed down.

Yes, like it or not, this is what ideas of empowerment through education come up against - and they fall short not because of lack of any purity in the idea itself or absence of rigour, but because after a point when it goes into implementation an idea is something else, and not its original pure self. You might look at the actual work and find it is not 'up to the standard' - yet when trying to create it for those who need education the most, other aspects need to be taken into account. Basically, empowering the weak is clearly seen by the strong as disempowering them - and the empire strikes back! One of the outcomes is that a few years later, it appears as if nothing has been done, and people gear themselves up to again come up with 'innovative' ideas, often weaker than might already have been tried, uninformed by the past.


K P mohanan said...

I had to do a lot of google search to find out what DPEP, SSA, SPD, PHED, BRC, CRL, VEC and SMC mean. Having done that, it seems to me that given what Subir says,trying to improve the quality of learning through the edifice that the government has provided -- from NCERT and NIE to VEC and SMC -- is not going to work, because of the very nature of our politics and bureaucracy.

What is the alternative, then? One possibility is to work outside the government edifice. That means the private schools that the government cannot control. But these are largely part of the educational industry motivated by greed and desire for fame and power, not by the vision of high quality education. But then, we might be able to find a small number of schools or school groups that are not into the game of making money, and want to do something for the children instead (or at least in addition if not instead.) After a large number of failures, I have finally found one, in Punea. And my friends in Chennai have found one more, and possibly yet another in Bangalore in the offing.

If this works, and if the money driven society perceive the young who go through these experimental schools as having high market value , perhaps they would start clamouring for high quality education of the kind that we aim at. (Real education that does not care about money paradoxically resulting in more money for those who want it.) In Singapore, for instance, I converted my students to the value of thinking abilities by showing them that higher thinking abilities lead to significantly higher pay. We might try the same pragmatic strategy for convincing the middle class of the value of learning outcomes like cooperation, empathy, compassion, and understanding of oneself.

I don't know if this will work, but we are going to try, beginning this year.


Chitra said...

True words and the important thing is we don't find space or exposure to discuss the obstacle.
Nobody is ready to hear that.They love to hear only the"wow" "good" "Super".

vir said...

Schools didn't want to be told what to teach when and how - they had their own plans. Empowered teachers / school heads / even some VECs refused to kowtow to mediocre ideas or corruption oriented bosses

On the other side student asks questions from a teacher about coming late to classroom or not completing the lesson.

When do we can dream this stage in our education system which prevail for real empowerment and strengthening of school, teacher and enrolled students. Developing trust in a teacher can resolve many questions and teacher can find same respect in society which was very high in the past.

Parveen said...

The Past has always be altered to suit the 'empowered empires'. You are quite right in pointing it out that quite weak innovations are taken as miracles now. The changes we needed in society were forced to leave the education system and when we see a disaster-like situation all around, we curse education!
Teachers, even today-IF EMPOWERED + Dedicated are sent to hibernation by the system. It makes you surrender to the devils who are there in the market to make money-nothing else!

Dhan B. Subba said...

"Schools didn't want to be told what to teach when and how - they had their own plans. Empowered teachers / school heads / even some VECs refused to kowtow to mediocre ideas or corruption oriented bosses - leading to huge conflicts all over the place." However, I believe, if there is even single person in the system who can lead the system with sincerity, the conflicts can be minimised. I am very much hopeful.

vaibhav pandya said...

I experienced this while traveling to different schools at various places of india during last six month. We are not empowering but taking away power. Solution is right there, De-centralize, contextual learning environment. Yet we want to keep on searching from mind and keep on fooling people. Huge amount been spent and corporate government partnership is now killing on name of standardization.

Unknown said...

Dear Subir,

Very well encapsulated! Through your rich experience in education you are highlighting the realities in terms of challenges and possibilities and the good work already done. It is assuring to those of us who are concerned about the future generations that there has been good work done. However what is of major concern is that the demographic dividend that we are in the midst of wanting to benefit from, could very easily morph into a dragonlike Demographic disaster which will engulf many in its wake via its all consuming fire as we have already seen in various reservation agitations ie the Jat agitation and now the Patidar agitation. Unless the principles espoused by the Prof Yashpal Committee in the NCF 2005 are transformed into an implementable action plan for our school education, we will continue to dive deeper into the mess we are entrenched in. I propose that the current challenge is to implement in a time bound manner, an action plan which harnesses the latent abilities of our children in schools. This we will need to do despite being ranged against the entrenched system and forces who have vested interests in not allowing change to happen. With like minded people who have the experience to change the direction of this Titanic education ship we may be able to prevent it from sinking. The actions we take in the next 2-3 years will show us if we will reap the dividend or face the disaster. I think with Modiji willing to take political risks, the time is ripe to make concerted efforts to change the direction of this ship. With more than 200 Crore children in our schools does someone understand the implication of such a large number coming out on streets seeking reservations in jobs on the basis of anything but merit and committing violence to achieve their ends. Ensuring that activity based experiential learning if implemented slowly but surely would ensure that children come out of schools with their minds functioning, ready to contribute to solving tomorrows problems rather than becoming the problems of tomorrow. It is eminently doable if we have the resolve. We need education revolution not transformation. Like a friend of mine mentioned once, this is the second freedom revolution that we need to take part in. Nothing less will work. The need of the our is nothing less than this. If not now when? If not this then what? Let the positive professionals and citizens get together to save, nay, build our future.

Romona Vimazel said...

This is very very notable post. Especially the part types of sentences . Like the author facing a blank sheet of paper, a blogger will be perplexed unless given something specific to write about. Have students blog about a current issue, about a specific peice of writing, or some question that comes up in the course.' is very touchable fact. Well done. Awaiting next one ..