State Proves International Level Education Possible in Gov Schools

Providing students of government schools with education of international standard is what Nand Kumar (IAS) hopes to do. Till 2018, Kumar was the principal secretary for school education in Maharashtra and oversaw the implementation of various initiatives focused on improving the quality of education, teachers’ performance and promoting healthy competition among schools. He spearheaded CM Devendra Fadnavis’ flagship project ‘Pragat Shaikshanik Maharashtra’ which aimed to increase the academic performance of students and even launched the ‘international board’ in the state. 
Kumar spoke to TOI about the new education policy and what it means to provide international level education. Excerpts from the interview…
Q. How does the government define international level education?
A. Internationally, best education means 15-year-olds being able to score above average in the Programme for International Students’ Assessment (PISA). Notwithstanding divergent opinions, PISA is the most acclaimed international students’ assessment and it tests students on the 21st century skills through maths, science and language. India has rightly planned for select education system students to appear in the 2021 round of PISA with planned gradual expansion to other education systems in the country. 

Q. How can the proposed New Education Policy (NEP) help us achieve this goal?
A. The NEP is very pragmatic in its intent and all the ingredients like 21st century skills etc of internationally best quality education have been incorporated. However, it stops short of using the international quality and assessment. Also, one of the aims of imparting 21st century skills should be to enable employment in any part of the world. I feel this should have been provided expressly in NEP.

Q. But NEP alone can’t get India to the top of the global academic ladder. Training of teachers, too, is important.
A. Preparing our teachers is definitely the real issue. In my opinion, ‘Aspirational Pilot’ should be planned and executed. The country has about 7 million teachers and it is safe to assume that at least 5% of these are of excellent quality (3.5 lakh), which is huge. By following the RTE norms of one teacher for every 30 students, about 10,000 schools with an average enrolment of 1,000 each can be run with the help of these teachers. Thus every state can run at least 100 showcase schools with existing teachers by proper vision formation and imparting high quality training only. These teachers (and schools) can be selected through well-defined yardsticks and method to run showcase schools. Processes to be followed in these schools will cover all those skills that are required in PISA test. 

Q. How can the remaining 95% teachers be motivated?
A. The need of the hour is to create such models that can be seen by other teachers. It starts with celebrating successes of teachers in all forms by the system as well as the society. In many states, teachers have been eliciting community participation for creation of various facilities in schools, making schools digital, teachers are running WhatsApp groups and sharing their good work and getting accolades from officers and other teachers. 

Q. You initiated the international board in Maharashtra. Have you achieved the desired results?
A. The experience of the Maharashtra International Education Board (MIEB) schools show that parents want such schools and a large number of teachers apply for selection even without additional financial incentives. They apply because through MIEB schools they want to fulfil their aspirations. In MIEB pilots, additional infrastructural cost also has to be met with community participation, village panchayat funds and CSRs, but no direct government funding. It is designed so purposefully as the negativity around the poor performance of government schools makes it difficult to convince the governments for additional budgets. The need is to showcase a successful model that works for government schools with Indian languages as a medium and very strong English. MIEB Schools are satisfying all these requirements and hence, it’s no wonder that these schools have waiting lists running in the thousands. 

Q. How do we quantify the achievement of teachers in raising the academic standards?
A. ASER tests available online are such tests. Demonstrated capability of schools where 100% children are able to read and do basic arithmetic will be a feat in the current scenario of poor quality, particularly in government-run schools. Maharashtra celebrated all such successes by the teachers and communities and issued government circulars to replicate such practices that include making schools digital, Pragat Schools, frequent evaluations of students similar to ASER etc. As a result, between the 2014 and 2018 ASER reports, Maharashtra clocked maximum progress both in Maths and Language at Grade 5 levels among all the states. It saw two trend reversals. One, government schools started performing better than earlier compared to private schools and two, they started getting students from private schools rather than losing out to them. If only government schools are considered through this indicator then Maharashtra is at the top. This has resulted in the highly pragmatic environment among teachers. Therefore, they are able to think of international best quality schools.
Q. Does the government have money to fund education to the desired level?
A. Vietnam is not a very rich country. It is in turmoil, but is ranked 12 under PISA. In the 2015 round of PISA, Asian countries like Japan and Singapore occupied the top slot. In 2013, Japan spent 3.67% of its GDP and 9.31% of government funds on school education. Singapore spent 2.9% and 19.96% and Vietnam spent 5.65% and 18.52% respectively. Thus spending 20% of the funds on education set by GoI is a good benchmark. We should not wait to get 6% of the GDP. We must start improving the quality. In any case, our children do not have the luxury to wait. A single day of poor quality education is a big loss for them.


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