The government hopes to achieve this by 2022 when India will be rejoining the exercise after opting out 13 years ago after a shameful showing.
How badly India needs to fix the fundamentals of school education is evident from the fact that, while college-admission cut-offs have reached absurdly high levels, learning levels in government-run schools have been declining since 2008, as per ASER. Pedagogy in the country needs to be drastically re-imagined for achieving the desired learning outcomes; from classroom teaching at the right level to incorporating digital teaching aids that are customised to students’ learning needs, a host of measures have been recommended by experts. The National Education Policy 2020 (NEP) also dwells upon this at length. Pedagogy and curricula having specific but significant variations across boards—a hazard of education being a state subject—complicates the uniform implementation of such reforms. However, the country is now off to a promising start with the launch of the STARS (Strengthening Teaching-Learning and Results for States) initiative of the Centre to improve learning outcomes in schools by focussing on improving pedagogy. The funding will be divvied up among six states— Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, and Odisha. The government will also set up a central assessment centre, named Parakh that will set the standards for the 60-odd examination boards in the country. The aim is to shift school education away from high-stakes examinations—the 100% cut-offs and grade inflation by boards are a result of this—towards a holistic assessment of learning. This, many expect, will be the precursor to an SAT-style common entrance examination. The eventual aim will be to have India improve its performance in global learning assessment exercises, like OECD’s PISA. The government hopes to achieve this by 2022 when India will be rejoining the exercise after opting out 13 years ago after a shameful showing.
While standardisation of assessment of learning across the country is desirable, an article in this newspaper by Rashmi Sharma, an Icrier researcher, shows that this is easier said than done. Sharma’s article, based on her study in Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan, highlights a number of problem areas, including a lack of proper vision behind teacher training, and agencies being tasked with pedagogical improvement while their core mandate was very different. Sharma also points out that the boards are populated by people who have risen through the ranks in administrative roles. To ensure that the NEP vision is meaningfully realised, both the Centre and states will have to fix these problems, as also relook spending. Sharma talks about how a top-down approach to pedagogical reform has yielded very little in terms of learning outcomes—so, perhaps the need is to let schools assess their strengths, and then direct funding as per their needs. An assessment of schools based on how their students perform on a common-SAT styled exam will also reveal a clearer picture of school performance. And, ultimately, if it becomes clear that government schools continue to lag private schools because of systemic issues, perhaps a DBT in the form of education coupons can be thought of.