Tag Archives: India

The potential, promise and pitfalls of blended learning in India

This story was written by Liz Willen and originally published on The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.

Photo: Kim Palmer

JAISALMER, India – In a rural desert school, students from this corner of Northwest India sit on the floor, squirming and awaiting instruction They have few desks and supplies and not a single computer. The setting seems highly unlikely for an innovation like blended learning to take root.

Yet throughout India, a number of digital initiatives are underway aimed at improving education in areas that lack sufficient trained and experienced teachers. The Hechinger Report visited schools in India recently and talked to experts about blended learning – which includes an element of online learning with in-class instruction – and the potential it has for helping both teachers and students in the world’s second-most populous country.

Progress is desperately needed: The UNESCO Institute for Statistics estimates that India, where half of the 1.2 billion population is under 25, will need some three million new primary school teachers by 2030. India’s education system has long lagged behind others, despite the country’s enactment of the 2009 Right to Education (RTE) ACT, which was supposed to give every child in the country the right to a full-time elementary education “of satisfactory and equitable quality.”

India has also had long had a problem with keeping girls in school. And many of the public, government-run schools – where 70 percent of all children study – have no computers or tablets.

So why is there so much optimism about blended learning as a solution? Many believe it has to do with both the huge population of India, the country’s many education needs and its chronic shortage of qualified teachers. If done well, blended learning can help all kinds of students – including slow learners – get up to speed, while boosting the ability of those who learn more quickly to master competencies and move ahead.

“I think blended learning has the potential to have a huge impact on education in India,” said Aarushi Prabhakar, an education specialist at Mindspark (also known as IACApplications), a company that that promotes a personalized interactive approach to math and language instruction catering to each child’s pace and style of learning.

Prabhakar acknowledged the lack of computers and connectivity in many Indian public schools, but said plenty of efforts are afoot to build offline solutions or add basic internet connectivity. In addition, the private sector operates 25 percent of the nation’s 1.5 million schools; those schools tend to have better facilities and more up-to-date technical equipment.

She and others are heartened by a public push from senior education officials in India on the potential of technology-aided solutions, and by the “e-India,” strategy led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Tulsi Parida, a director of growth for English learning apps at Zaya Learning Labs in India, said Zaya largely works in schools that have their own digital equipment, or finds ways to persuade outside entities to get computers donated or loaned to the schools. The education nonprofit, which provides after-school programs, designed its own blended learning model and apps to work anywhere in the world. We first heard about Zaya via the  Christensen Institute, a nonprofit think tank that has been out front in studying blended learning and student-centered design around the world.

Zaya’s team “trains the teachers throughout the year, with school visits at least once a month, to share best practices on blended learning,” Parida said, adding that the insights teachers gain from the school visits inform their training, as well. School “implementation managers” visit schools regularly to make sure teachers are trained in blended learning techniques and synchronize the data to double-check progress.

“We are trying to make it more intuitive for teachers in the coming year,” Parida said in an email.

It wasn’t possible to see Mindspark in action, so we asked the company a question many who follow blended learning want to ask: how can we be sure blended learning is working? Prabhakar told us about a randomized trial of the product that showed a large improvement in learning after only four months of a child’s exposure to the program, some of which is outlined in this video.  (Keep in mind this comes from the company itself, so we couldn’t independently verify the results.)

A more nuanced view of how blended learning is working in India can be seen in a 2015 report done by the membership and advocacy group CoSN. A senior delegation including a number of American educators visited the country, and also wondered how blended learning “could be implemented in the absence of electricity and internet access.”

It’s a question worth following, and reading more about in the report.

The new digital efforts come at a time of deep concern over the decline of education standards in India, both in government and private schools. They also come as India’s government is pushing to increase digital literacy in the country and add more projectors, speakers, whiteboards and interactive learning opportunities – and could have fascinating implications for countries struggling to catch up with technology and new ways of reaching students.

Interview with Rukmini Banerji

Dr. Rukmini Banerji

Dr. Rukmini Banerji

Rukmini Banerji is director of the Assessment Survey Evaluation Research (ASER) Center in New Delhi, India, and senior member of the national leadership of Pratham, an organization that reaches three million primary school age children in India every year.

In this interview, which is part of the Lead the Change Series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, she describes her own work with educational change what she sees as the status of education in India today:

“Looking back at the last two decades and more, we can see the impressive progress that India has made in providing educational opportunities to children. Today we have more than 96% of children (in the age group 6-14) enrolled in school. There is a government primary school in almost every habitation in the country. Children get free meals in schools, in many states textbooks and uniforms are also free. In 2010, the India Parliament passed the Right to Education Act which guarantees free and compulsory education to all children ages 6-14. In terms of inputs and infrastructure, the Indian government has made huge strides in the provision of schooling. Now it is time to look at some of the outcomes of schooling and more specifically at the question: are our children learning?”

This Lead the Change interview appears as part of a series that features experts from around the globe, highlights promising research and practice, and offers expert insight on small- and large-scale educational change. Recently, Lead the Change has also published interviews with Diane Ravitch, and the contributors to Leading Educational Change: Global Issues, Challenges, and Lessons on Whole-System Reform (Teachers College Press, 2013) edited by Helen Janc Malone, have participated in a series of blogs from Education Week.

 

India’s ongoing effort to implement the Right to Education Act

Recent reports from India show that the country is grappling with several issues surrounding the implementation of the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, also known as the Right to Education Act (RTE). RTE was signed into law in 2009 with the aim of providing every child between the ages of 6-14 with a high quality, compulsory education. Yet, as outlined below, the country’s efforts to comply with the law have brought to light various issues that have hindered an already confusing and complicated process.

The apparent first step in the effort to educate all children involves enrolling them in school. In some parts of the country, such as Navi Mumbai, 80% of public school seats remain unoccupied. The Times of India quoted one official as saying that last year only a handful of the over 3,000 available private school seats had been filled. The Indian Express noted the particular concerns raised by parents of nursery school children, as well as children with special needs. As one Delhi school principal shared, “In totality, there are no dearth of seats in city schools. But when everyone is looking to get their children into the ‘so-called best schools’ in the city, it is then we have a problem. And frankly, the problem will continue till the problem of supply and demand is solved.”

Reports from areas such as Aurangabad show that private schools, which are legally required to designate 25% of their highly coveted seats to disadvantaged students, are finding ways to bypass this requirement. By altering the application schedule, or failing to post admission dates in public spaces, and in some cases even creating illegal admission tests or enrolling fictitious students, these private schools violate the RTE. As a result, civic organizations are taking up the effort to disseminate information to parents, and the government has promised strict oversight of admission procedures. However, this year the government has also transferred the admission process online, which raises questions about how those who are illiterate and/or do not have access to the internet will be able to apply for school admission at all (some reports indicate that this online system is purposely intended for “unaided,” or private, non-minority schools). Reports from Chennai show that the government has declared only a one week time period for enrolment, which would further hinder the process and is contrary to the spirit of the RTE.

Even with these enrolment issues, some reports point to a drastic increase in applications from urban poor families, from 140,000 last year to 360,000 for next year. As more and more families seek to enroll their children in school, the standard lottery admission process has proven tedious and contributed to an increase in complaints. Many of the complaints derive from the lack of transparency, which has led some parents to apply to a number of schools to increase the changes of their child getting in.

Once students are enrolled in school, concerns arise about what goes on inside of schools. On this topic, reports point to schools’ lack of compliance in terms of infrastructure and teacher training. According to dnaindia.com, only 59.67% of students are in schools that have met the teacher student ratios outlined in RTE. Further, while RTE mandates that all teachers in the country be trained by 2015, India has 660,000 untrained teachers and 500,000 vacant positions.

Student attendance is an additional concern, as The New Indian Express reports that the Education Department in Karnataka has called for an RTE amendment that would establish an authority to maintain attendance records, notifying the parents of absent children. A recent article in The Times of India, quotes Ossie Fernandes, director of Human Rights Foundation (HRF), as saying, “there is no auditing…to check whether RTE is implemented.” Fernandes went on to suggest that if government and private schools are serious about implementing RTE, they should be open to independent school inspections.

Yet, some say that India must first address the larger issue of childhood poverty and slavery, which has forced many children into the workplace rather than the classroom. According to the recent Global Slavery Index, India is home to half of the world’s modern slaves. Despite the government’s 2012 ban of all types of child labor under the age of 14, little has changed in the past two years. With a poverty rate of approximately 25%, and more than 50% of the population under the age of 25, a recent editorial in The Nation suggests that implementation and enforcement of either the child labor law or the RTE will require the ratification of the International Labor Organization’s Convention 182.

Widespread call to improve vocational education

Christopher Furlong, BBC

Christopher Furlong, BBC

News reports from this past month have shown that many countries are rethinking the role of vocational training in their education systems.

In Denmarkwww.dr.dk reports that the government is considering new academic entrance requirements to vocational programs that some fear would result in thousands of students being barred from such programs.

Denmark is not alone in it’s effort to “raise the bar” on vocational education. The BBC reported that a survey of British employers showed almost 60% believe the government does not do enough to provide students with the vocational training they need.  The Guardian has also reported that a new standard will be applied to vocational education, allowing for diplomas endorsed by companies such as Kawasaki, Honda, and Volvo, but also hotels and even the Royal Ballet School, which is backing a qualification in performing arts.

Similarly, Thailand is also pledging to reform education to meet the demands of employers by reforming their system of vocational education. As reported in The Nation, the Education Ministry shared plans to work with the private sector to jointly design curriculum and training programs that give students real-life experiences as well as an academic education. The Thai government will also work with Germany, Australia, Japan and China – countries that have large investments in Thailand. However, in an earlier article, The Nation also reported that some researchers have expressed concerns that the government could still be doing more.

Similar news reports, collected from online sources over the past month, show a widespread call to improve vocational education, to reconsider the academic curriculum, and for educators to work alongside employers. These reports can be found coming from countries such as MalaysiaNigeriaThe United Arab EmiratesLiberiaSudanGhanaIreland, and India.

Teacher Quality in India, England, Finland, and Sweden

A quick scan of the recent news on teacher quality illustrates the continuing debates over the best strategies to develop the most effective teaching force.  In India, a recent panel discussion suggested there is a divide between those who call for greater focus on attracting the most promising candidates by elevating the status of the profession, raising salaries, and establishing guidelines for professional responsibilities, and those who call for updating teacher training programs so that candidates will be better prepared for the challenges of the profession.

In England, the strategy of using financial incentives and higher standards for professional entry to increase the quality of the labor pool has been in the news again as the Mail Online reports that the number of job applicants for teaching training positions in math and physics in particular has “collapsed.”  Two years ago the UK Education Secretary, Michael Gove, sought to improve teacher quality by withdrawing funding for teacher training to students who achieved only the third class honors degree. The measure put the country in line with other high performing countries, such as Finland and South Korea, but the story reports that the cut-off score contributed to over 700 teacher training vacancies in math and almost 400 in physics. Related reforms include an increase in the number of candidates training in schools rather than teacher training colleges which Geoff Whitty discussed in a recent IEN post. ICTScoop also describes a project designed to recruit new teachers help improve literacy and numeracy in underserved areas as “getting off to a slow start.”

At EDUCA 2013, Thailand’s annual conference for teacher professional development, Pasi Sahlberg explained Finland’s approach to teacher quality. The government has accomplished this by funding teacher education, recruiting the best candidates as teachers, and giving teachers more time to prepare for classes. While what Sahlberg calls this “Less Is More” approach often emphasizes teacher preparation and recruitment, Sweden is experimenting with further investments  in professional development. For example, with funding provided by the European Union, a new project will provide coaching and observation support for teachers in select schools.

Addressing teacher quality in Australia and India

Reports over the past month show that Australia and India are countries are implementing new policies to address teacher quality, albeit with two distinctly different approaches.

In Australia, principals will be given the power to address teacher behavior as part of an $150 million reform effort to improve the quality of teaching. Education Minister Adrian Piccoli described it to the AAP as “more like a private sector approach to performance management….It’s going to be a fair process but a tougher process than what exists already.” Teachers who fail to meet the new standards of conduct could be released, demoted, fined or cautioned. Additional reforms include salaries based on meeting standards rather than employment length.

In India, the government has adopted a three-pronged strategy to improve teacher quality, which includes (i) the strengthening of Teacher Education Institutions, (ii) the revision of curriculum for teacher education in accordance with the National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education 2009 and (iii) the laying down of minimum qualifications for Teacher Educators and their continuous professional development.

In Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of the Indian state of Kerala, the District Institute of Education and Training (DIET) will embark on a three-month study to analyze how classroom practices correspond to the prescribed curriculum of the district’s primary schools.  As Mohammed Kabir, a DIET official, explained to The Hindu, “There is an increasing need to analyze the problems faced by practicing teachers to get a complete picture. Sometimes, teachers follow textbook-based teaching while the curriculum mandates on activity-based learning. This might be out of habit or due to lack of understanding about the methodology. Here, teachers can open up on the problems they face in adapting to the methods”, said Mohammed Kabir, a DIET official.

Scan of news: Teachers

Scotland: Susan Quinn, Union president, highlighted members' concerns.

Scotland: Susan Quinn, Union president, highlighted members’ concerns.

Over the past month, reports from various countries have shown both the concerns of teachers and concern about teachers. For example, reports of teacher concerns include India and Argentina, where teachers are looking for reliable salary payments, decent facilities, and quality education for allFinland, where teachers are concerned about a sharp increase in violent student behavior in the classroom; and Greece, where teachers are fighting for the right to protest in the midst of austerity measures that threaten the country’s education system itself. Additionally, in Scotland teachers are protesting a new curriculum and an unmanageable workload.

Reports of concerns about teachers include Lithuania, where students recently outperformed teachers on an exam created by the European Union; Israel, where teachers’ lack of expertise in mathematics has been blamed for student difficulties with the subject; and Malaysia, where the Education Ministry plans to conduct diagnostic exercises to benchmark Science teachers in terms of their content knowledge and pedagogical skills in the field.