Delivering on outcomes is most important determinant of efficacy and effectiveness of educational intervention, irrespective of the scale.
In the past two decades, access and quality issues in educational set-up have dominated discourses in all academic and policy-related forums. All this while, India witnessed many innovations like smart classrooms, app-based learning, online tutoring, and implementation of initiatives like activity-based learning, computer-assisted learning, comprehensive and continuous evaluation, no-detention policy, an initiative of system-wide monitoring through National Achievement Surveys, and above all the Right to Education Act. But a declining trend in learning levels and quality of learning raises the question: “Is providing school education enough?”
Although these initiatives can improve learning, somewhere it implies they could not generate intended return on efforts and investment. The World Development Report 2018 has put it across strongly that countries need to prioritise the agenda of learning, and not just schooling, in their policies. The report reminds policy-makers and stakeholders of education’s promise to learners and public at large.
The pressing challenge
Educational access has failed to keep pace with learning and learning levels. Shortfall in learning is experienced at a very early stage, and builds up as learner progresses through various levels. Studies showed that more than three-fourth learners of Class 2 in rural India could not read a single word in grade-appropriate text (ASER, 2017). About half of students in Class 5 and three-fourth students of Class 8 could read Class 2 level text proficiently. These are not just figures from a study based on a specific sample, they present facts on how India is failing to deliver on the basic promise of education.
The Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan launched in March 2009 aimed to increase enrolment rate to 90% at secondary and 75% at higher secondary stage by 2017. It aimed to improve the quality of secondary education by making schools conform to prescribed norms, removing gender, socio-economic and disability barriers, and providing universal access to secondary level education by 2017.
The first goal is very clear. Policy-makers knew how many learners should be enrolled each year to achieve the goal. And we know the results were encouraging. Contrary to this, there is no clearly articulated metric for the quality goal. It sends out an ambiguous signal about the notion of quality and its significance among stakeholders. It is the first and most critical barrier towards meeting quality goals.
Rapid technological changes
It is predicted that most of the jobs that exist today may disappear in the next 10 years. But it is also predicted that there will be demand for different skills in the coming decades. These future skills will require a solid foundation of basic skills and knowledge, which will enable individuals to assess new situations, adapt their thinking and ways of working. This, in turn, will enable individuals to adapt to the economic changes that may occur in their lifetime. It is imperative for systems and countries to build human capital with basic skills, to boost economic growth by facilitating the adoption of technologies and innovations at a faster pace.
Focus on both outcomes & inputs
Most conversations about the education system revolve around increasing inputs, such as textbooks, technology or school infrastructure. The discussion also considers the size of our education system in comparison with other countries, how much it costs the taxpayer to fund the school system, what is the expense of getting a child to complete schooling, how policy has evolved over the years, and so on. However, we tend to pay much less attention to the most important aspect of schooling or education, i.e. its impact on the learners, the knowledge and skills they acquire or need to acquire.
School inputs, management and governance should benefit both learner and teacher, facilitate learner-teacher interaction and improve learning. Investments and policies should be driven towards those inputs and processes that can have greatest impact on learners.
Learners & learning outcomes
Delivering on outcomes is the most important determinant of efficacy and effectiveness of any educational intervention irrespective of the scale. The scale may vary from a product or service used at a classroom or school level or a nationwide educational programme or a policy initiative. In this way, education systems can fulfil their promise.
Certain features that make interventions efficacious are:
Learner at the heart: The first challenge is to make all the stakeholders consider for whom are we working, what are the challenges our learners will to face, and what do we need to do to address them.
The learning triangle: All the elements of successful learning are available within the classrooms. These elements are the learners with potential and motivation; teachers with the capacity to make an impact on the learner; and the conditions in which teacher and learner interact.
Clear measurable goals: This is the fundamental principle that drives efficacious systems to set clear goals of learning. By defining a target, it is possible to monitor progress towards a goal in real time.
Evidence-based decision: Stakeholders need to utilise the evidence of intended outcomes through valid and reliable measures. They need to understand whether students are achieving targets for the measures defined, how they are performing on skill(s), whether any population groups are lagging and by how much, and which factors are correlated or causally associated with better student achievement.
Monitoring mechanism: A stronger machinery to monitor progress in outcomes, modifying plan of action based on evidence, focusing on areas that are strongly associated with (positively or negatively) learning outcomes are a few factors that improve the possibility of achieving the intended learning outcomes.
The movement has begun
In the digital age, people’s work and life depend upon their knowledge and skills. In this situation, efficacy measurable impact on learning is quickly emerging as an acid test for the learners, public and decision-makers across many policy areas. This wider trend and movement of commitment and accountability are much needed in India, to which we can contribute, and from which we can learn.
Priyanka Sharma is the Efficacy and Research Lead, Pearson India.