I’m not a big fan of Elvis Presley but a line from one of his songs has stuck in my mind — “A little less conversation, a little more action, please.” When it comes to improving learning outcomes in India, we have no time to waste. No time for conference speakers to drone on, no time for research that only produces another report on poor learning levels in the country, and no time to complain about how accountability systems and processes are broken. Too many children are not learning and every moment that we don’t act is a moment wasted in a child’s life. We also need to act in ways that will focus on improving learning. While there has been an increase in education spending over the last five years, learning outcomes have been poor and have been declining.
First, we need clear examples of what good quality education looks like. There aren’t enough real cases that demonstrate what good quality education means for every child in the classroom and raise the bar for what our education system should deliver. My litmus test for this is my own eight-year-old son. When I evaluate the performance of the schools that we run in partnership with the government, I constantly ask myself whether I would send my son to the schools. If the answer is yes, I know we’re doing something right. If I’m not sure, we need to do better.
Second, we need to focus on classroom practice, because that’s where change needs to happen. Teachers need to be equipped with the right training on effective techniques and they should be introduced to concepts such as differentiation, where each child learns according to his or her level. Teacher training must be practical and teachers must be provided feedback on the job.
Third, we need to involve parents. I cringe when I hear someone say, “These parents are not educated and won’t provide any support to the child.” This is untrue. We’ve seen parents deeply invested in their child’s education — attendance at our parent-teacher meetings is 95%. They are willing to do what it takes to ensure their child doesn’t struggle the way they did.
Fourth, we need to scale programmes that demonstrate impact and not just run to the next innovation or pilot. Supporting the expansion of a proven model to 1,000 schools is more likely to lead to classroom impact than supporting 10 new programmes that all strive to “redefine education.” Programmes must be rigorously evaluated for impact before they are scaled.
Fifth, we need to partner more. Whether it’s public-private partnerships or NGO partnerships or State government knowledge sharing, more needs to happen. It takes a village to raise a child and it will take a nation working together to ensure that all children get the education they deserve.
The writer is CEO, Peepul India, an education non-profit