Several debates on technology’s ‘enabling role’ in school education focus on its most visible forms—curriculum-mapped tablets, digital classrooms and laptop-enabled virtual lessons. While these examples are powerful and potentially disruptive, their impact is restricted to classroom transactions. More significantly, technology also has the potential to drive better governance in schools, delivering macro-level change across classrooms, schools and education systems. This has also been our experience at the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, where we support the Boston Consulting Group in driving systemic change programmes in schools in Haryana and Rajasthan—using technology to standardise academic and administrative operations.
The success in these schools has established that technology can indeed be used in public schools to enable transparency and faster decision-making, establish accountability in the system, and create last-mile change within the system.
Enabling transparency and faster decision-making
Academic transparency was an important concern for public schools in Haryana. For example, take the administrative process for public school teacher transfers in this north Indian state. In the past, this was completed in an ad hoc way over the entire academic year, with little or no transparency. In addition, there was a significant cost to students in the form of teacher absenteeism.
Recently, as part of the systemic change programme, the entire process was moved online. Now, 60,000 teachers participated simultaneously in the transfer process and more than 11,000 were transferred. The entire process took three months, with a significant time reduction expected in subsequent cycles. The new system also received a 90% satisfaction rating among the teachers it had moved.
In this way, the state-wide adoption of a management information system (MIS) enabled a seamless, transparent and efficient process. What’s more, this encouraged the state to invest in an Aadhaar-linked database for all school students. For the first time, updated information on the state’s school-going children was available at one place. This also revealed the existence of 4.5 lakh fake/duplicate students, reducing the state’s financial burden.
The student database helped the state to expedite scholarship endowments. Scholarship disbursements that used to take months to materialise can now be deposited directly into student accounts within three weeks of the school year’s onset.
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Similarly, the Rajasthan government recently embarked upon a systemic school transformation programme. The initiative has helped the state create a database of 14,000 schools, 40 lakh students and 1.5 lakh staff, which is helping streamline admissions, teacher appointments, scholarship payments, and day-to-day academic and administrative functions. Early estimates suggest the move is helping the state save about 25% of officials’ time, which was previously taken up by administrative and academic tasks, which were not central to improving student outcomes.
Establishing academic accountability
Haryana also introduced a rigorous system to monitor academic quality and outcomes. Driven by thoughtful dashboards and a mobile-based academic monitoring system (AMS), the state monitors, tracks and measures school academic performance against set targets, automatically identifies challenges, and assigns officers to help resolve them.
Almost 30% of schools have already been visited by inspectors, and over 3,000 issues have been identified. Challenges regarding teacher absenteeism, academic quality and infrastructure are now tracked continuously, and addressed by relevant officers.
These changes in the academic monitoring systems are reflected in how teachers are assessed. Annual performance appraisal reports that used to take place in a random manner, on paper, are now only available online, and teacher performance is directly linked to measurable academic outcomes.
Creating last-mile changes
It is crucial to convey the changes to the ‘last-mile’ in the system, and that the state has put technology to work in building a two-way communication process between the school systems’ main stakeholders: principals, district officials and parents.
Through a combination of phone calls and online forms, detailed and real-time feedback is being taken from all three on their perception of academic quality, their views on the change programme, and the support required for them to be better connected to the digitally-enhanced education model.
Although distinct in some features and scope, the systemic change programmes running successfully in Haryana and Rajasthan share some common features. They have both been designed to be accessible through web and mobile-based interfaces. They constitute a single, real-time source of state-wide school and student information. And finally, all administrative processes have been re-hauled to work through these systems, driving better governance in schools.
The impact of technology on learning outcomes can already be witnessed in these two initiatives. Following the systemic change programme, the latest reports from the National Achievement Survey suggest Haryana has posted a 5-7% improvement in learning levels. This makes us optimistic in thinking that other states can achieve similar improvements too, if they adopt macro technology-led transformations for an improvement in their learning outcomes.
The author, Prachi Windlass is director, India Education, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. Views are personal