It is believed the world has started moving from a services-led economy to knowledge-led. India is expected to gain from becoming a knowledge economy given it virtually skipped the transition from an industrial to a services economy. Even in its services sector, knowledge industries such as IT, banking and telecom were at the forefront of our growth story. So when the world embraces the knowledge economy, would India be a big gainer? Are we going to achieve our leadership position globally riding on knowledge economy?
Let’s look at what it takes to gain from a knowledge economy. At the core is the availability of human resources, who can harness technological- and knowledge-led advancements to their advantage and create successful business propositions, governance models and lifestyle changes that disrupt existing paradigms. India scores high on human resources, particularly those who are young and can excel with the said advancements. The requisite is to create an environment that facilities our young minds to absorb, reflect and think along the contours of innovation. Hence arises the question: Does our school ecosystem focus on such outcomes from education? In short, are we bothered about our school children’s learning outcomes?
Unfortunately, study after study seem to suggest we are not. While the PISA results (administered in 2009 when two Indian states participated—India henceforth declined to participate in this survey) were contested, ASER (Beyond Basics survey, 2017, of youth in the age group 14-18) results also showed we were below ‘Grade Level’ (ability to deal with what is expected of a student in that grade). This study highlighted an important criterion—language skills. Deficiency in language and comprehension skills led to poor outcomes in maths and science. In a recent research we undertook at KPMG in India, we looked at the National Achievement Survey 2017 (mhrd.gov.in/NAS), which was more broad-based across 25,000 students in 700 districts, and found learning outcomes across states continue to be below par. While access to education has substantially increased, the quality of education doesn’t seem to be our focus. Since the turn of the millennium, our government has spent a lot in school education through the SSA and RMSA. These initiatives led to a steady increase in the number of enrolments, especially in primary and secondary schools.
Why do we have such abysmal outcomes despite all efforts? In the current system, the outcome of education is measured by examination scores, efficiency is measured in enrolment rate, effectiveness in terms of access and so on, overlooking a critical aspect—students’ real learning needs in the classroom. Learning outcomes have been disconnected from these interventions. There is more emphasis on ‘teaching’ rather than ‘learning’ in the teaching-learning process.
In a report we released recently (Learning outcomes—at the core of knowledge economy, CII-KPMG in India), we studied some good practices from other countries and states within India that were doing relatively better, and what has worked for them. We also tried to look at what could be some initiatives that will have similar impact in India. Fundamental changes are required in the teaching-learning process, evaluation and feedback mechanisms. Leveraging the power of technology, connectivity and digital platforms, we need to promote active use of adaptive learning platforms to curate personalised learning paths. Students need to be tested in concepts and competencies. Assessments should be looked at more as a diagnostic for feedback and course correction, and not as a statement of capability.
Curriculum has to follow a ‘whole language approach’ where listening, speaking, reading, writing skills are emphasised through contextualised and experiential learning. Concepts should be contextualised to community and geography by creating experiences that students can relate to. Counselling for decision-making relating to career has to be introduced at middle school level, not upper secondary.
Teachers are most important change agents—mandatory up-skilling every two years, perhaps through short-term skill development programmes (or online), should be made available. There should be continuous and constructive evaluation of teachers. Practices such as co-teaching, mentoring, teacher reflection and peer collaboration need to be encouraged. We have to create a teacher-educator mentorship network to help enhance professional competencies of other teachers.
Accountability of schools should be defined and must focus on learning outcomes and student performance—today, it is on financial performance and utilisation of hard assets. This awareness should start with Cluster Resource Centres or Block Resource Centres, passed on to the school management and then to teachers. Emphasis should be on scientific and focused data collection, and this should be the basis for evaluation and reforms.
Education is a key instrument for social and economic transformation, and the most important means of nation building. Let’s work towards getting the real benefits of education for our children.
The author is partner & head of Education & Skill Development sector, KPMG in India
(The full report mentioned in this article can be accessed here: goo.gl/h2F6NA)