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Monthly Archives: April 2013

From Designing A Report Card That Communicates, Donovan R. Walling–a snapshot of a message to parents from the school, from a report card of The Oliver School, Massachusetts for the school year 1919-1920. Rather inspiring, persuasive, personal and carefully worded. I wonder if it struck a chord with the parents of that time.

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Dhirendra Davey

I had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Dhirendra Davey, principal of The Shishukunj International School in Indore. The one hour spent with him was extremely candid and insightful, thanks to my guide who was able to set this meeting up for me at a short notice.

Although acknowledging the shortcomings of the present education scenario in the country, it was good to hear Mr. Davey’s enthusiastic and positive words full of hope about the future of education in India. Especially in the context of CCE, he was of the view that it would greatly help the students in their overall development, over a period of time.

It also becomes all the more necessary for schools to implement CCE with a positive vigour, and impart the same in the teachers and parents in order to effectively reach the students. He reiterated that finding good teachers was the hardest job for the management, and the quality pool has a long way to go. A lot of tough decisions cannot be taken due to lack of alternates. This is majorly due to the fact that teachers in India have not gotten their due credit, both in terms of respect and monetary value.

He stressed on the fact that a child’s aspiration and capability are often not aligned with the parents’ expectations and that leads to unnecessary tension and communication gaps between the parents and children. It becomes the responsibility of teachers and the school to facilitate the right direction for the child, and align parents’ interests with child’s aspirations. This is where the role of communication comes in. Assessment itself becomes a primary way of communication between stakeholders. That has to be taken in a positive stride. It is important not to stop students from day one, but let them learn and explore as they go on. Competition and labeling leads to depression and insecurity. Schools must guide parents and students for the student to grow into a responsible and successful citizen.

It feels like I’ve walked a full circle. That circle has taken almost eight months to complete. I started off wanting to explore the possibility of redesigning the way student performance is represented. When I began my research, I had to take a step back to understand what schools were actually evaluating and on what basis. This further required the understanding of the pressures and responsibilities of the teachers who teach, guide and assess students; the parents who are ever anxious and mostly perplexed as to their child’s learning progress; the school managements trying to grasp new systems while dealing with existing issues of infrastructure, teacher quality, and resources; and finally the students for whom the report card is perhaps one of the scariest artefacts of their childhood, and marks are numbers that have a direct impact on their relationship with their peers and with their parents at home.

The research brought to light few key problem areas that need to be tackled in the realm of student assessment, which became intervention opportunities. These needed to be analyzed and viewed objectively to identify what is possible to achieve within the scope of this project as an academic Graphic Design exercise.

Problem 1. Evaluation methods have changed with the introduction of CCE, but that has not reflected in the student’s learning methods and teacher’s teaching methods. A change in teacher’s teaching methods can be brought about only through a shift in training methods, curriculum and orientation. The workshops that CBSE conducts and the supporting material as of now are not adequate enough to practically facilitate teachers to be able to change their methods of teaching.

Possible Intervention. Redesign teacher training material in collaboration with training institutes/B.Ed colleges to bring about a shift in teaching methods.

+ Will cause shift in mindset from the root, and since the teachers have major impact on student learning, even a small positive change in this direction will go a long way in how classes are conducted, how performance is monitored and how they are guided.

Would require re-thinking of the curriculum itself, as well as familiarization of existing teachers with the new system to be able to translate it into training material of practical use for new teachers. This is well beyond the scope of the project.

Problem 2. CCE is largely misunderstood by schools, teachers, parents and students. There are many misconceptions and unclear concepts that need to be demystified. Schools have not understood the system properly, so the implementation is faulty which causes undue stress and anxiety in the stakeholders. Efforts need to be made to communicate the new process and its impact to parents, in order to create the desired change in outlook towards education.

Possible Intervention. De-Mystify CCE for Parents.

+ This would be an attempt to bring about a perceptional change in the parents’ mind about student performance. Parents would understand how their children are being taught in schools, and would hopefully be able to streamline their efforts at home in the same direction. Misconceptions would be cleared and a solid understanding would facilitate the child’s progress.

Possible Intervention. Redesign the Report Card.

+ Since the report card is the only document that communicates student performance from the school to parents, it serves an extremely sensitive purpose of guiding the way parents look at performance. Right now, it is mainly a question of how well the child did with respect to the others students in class. This mindset needs to be changed to make assessment a diagnostic process rather than one that merely documents one’s activities through an academic year.

+ The Report Card could also serve the purpose of making parents aware of the new system by simply changing the way they are made to look at the information that is represented.

The way performance is represented will affect how performance is perceived.

 Report cards are usually forgotten after a child has moved on from one class to another. Students are scared to show parents their report cards. These are actually design opportunities, rather than negatives.  

Problem 3. CCE is posing as a bigger burden than the earlier system. Due to its continuos and comprehensive nature, CCE is proving to be a huge burden on students, teachers and parents, contrary to what its objective is–to reduce stress and facilitate holistic learning. Parents have the added pressure of making sure their children’s projects are done well, on a regular basis. Teachers not only have to take classes but now also monitor the entire class’ progress continuously, and for each child individually which makes it extremely stressful for them.

Possible Intervention. Design a tool for teachers to be able to log their student observations and monitor performance continuously over a period of time.

+ Would lessen the fatigue of teachers, and provide them with a tool that helps them log observations from time to time, and go back to them while filling the report card or talking to the parents. It would reduce the burden of having to maintain many registers and make their job slightly easier.

– There are huge differences in the resources and tools available to teachers depending on the school and area. Modernized schools in urban areas already use online portals to log data and communicate with parents. Schools in low-key, and rural areas on the other hand do not have any resources at all. Intervention might not be scalable.

Problem 4. Low motivation of teachers. In India, the social status of school teachers is not very high and neither are their salaries. Teaching, as a profession is not attractive to most people and is often seen as something that one could opt for if nothing else works out. If the education system has to improve, good quality teachers are of utmost importance. Their working conditions, workloads, salary structure and social status also has to be looked after carefully. 

Possible Intervention. Policy advocacy to the government to increase salaries of government teachers and incentivize more well-qualified and passionate people to take up the teaching profession. 

+ No amount of technology and learning aids can affect student’s learning like a good teacher would. If good teachers are brought into the system, all the other issues would take care of themselves.

If teachers are well motivated, it would directly have a positive impact on student learning.

We do not have enough credibility to advocate these issues, since we’re outsiders of the system, standing at the periphery. It could have been possible if this was being done for (or to help) a group of credible teachers and educationists. The complexities of the system need much more in-depth understanding. 

Concern and Reason Diagram-04This updated concern diagram includes the reasons for various concerns that were made evident through research. Some of the parameters like “Poor Coping Skills” now has indicators of parents and teachers as well (it only was a school (principal) concern in the earlier diagram). Possible reasons give context to certain concerns, and help identify the root causes of the multi-fold issue at hand.

Mapping the concerns of the stakeholders (from the MDI, Gurgaon survey), depicting how the concerns of teachers and parents are not shared by any of the other stakeholders and hence are not addressed. Teachers and parents have immense influence over a child and play an extremely vital role in their learning process. The concerns of these two need to be addressed to create a suitable environment at school and home for a child’s education.

Concern Diagram-01

A friend of mine, Nishita Gill (@Gills_Whit) pointed me towards this article on Fast Company that explains how Khan Academy uses different methods to improve learning. Apart from using analytic tools to understand the learning abilities of students to create adaptive testing tools that test according to the learner, and provide real time feedback, what was interesting is the little experiment they conducted based on Carol Dweck’s research where each question is followed by a simple line, “The more you learn today, the smarter you’ll be tomorrow.” This lead to a 5% increase in problems attempted and proficiency earned.

If nothing else, this has encouraged me to believe that simple changes in the way we deliver information, and create communication tools could possibly bring about some amount of change in mindset of all those involved, even if at a sub-conscious level.

So, what is the need to develop a spirit of inquiry in students? The education system by and large is designed to mould the kind of people that are required by the society. There is an emphasis on the job market in India. Parents educate their children so they can pass the job qualifications, and if the child is a bright student, the aim is to get the child into the best of colleges so he/she can get the best of the jobs and earn the biggest (fattest) pay packages that the job market has to offer.

Education and Society

The scenario is changing though. There is a need to create people who are original thinkers, risk takers, innovators and generally street smart, if we are to start creating those jobs and become a sustainable nation instead of banking on foreign companies to hire us for cheap labour. In order to be able to cater to this shift, we need to bring back the joy of learning that was lost, thanks to the colonial enterprise that churned out people who could work only in an assembly line and obey orders. This requires a shift from the tiffin dabba system that we are so used to, which is a compartmentalized, one size fits all approach to education where the student is not able to find any connections between what he/she is studying and the real world; to the thaali system which is flexible and allows for cross connections to be made between what is being taught in schools and everything outside of school. A system that is adaptive to each student’s needs and builds on their potential, and lets them work on the weaknesses.

Tiffin Dabba vs Thaali

This attitude can be changed by bringing in changes in testing. If we begin to test for understanding and application, the focus of teaching and learning will have to change accordingly. Adaptive testing with immediate feedback is a possible model to consider. The other option is to try and bring about a change in the mindset of the parents. If we can change the way they look at performance and growth of their child, it might give them more insights into their child’s interests and identify his/her potential as well as consult with the teachers to remedy the weaknesses.

In a perfect worldIn a perfect world, parents would let students study what interested them and the society would create avenues for the students to excel and contribute in the field of their choice. Simultaneously, teachers would be turn students into individuals who are capable of creating and making their choices, and are able to differentiate between right and wrong for themselves. This would only happen if the teachers were able to spend time with each student helping them grow as capable individuals.

I’m at a stage with the project where I think I’ve reached the point of highest confusion. All my information seems to be in place, the problems identified, the reasons noted, and the connections made. Bad news is, I’m unsure of what to do next, how to intervene, where to intervene and whether it is even in my capability to intervene and bring a positive change (the positivity again needs to be validated by folks more reliable and credible than I). Good news is, a (any) step forward from this point means we’re closer to the end goal.

To put things in perspective and figure out which direction to head in, Tarun and I sat down with a plethora of information on our side, a dozen first and second-hand experiences to share and some million questions that required debating.

We started out by analyzing a CCE report card of a class 5 student from DPS, Bopal. The shift in performance representation from marks to grades, the sophistication of performance criteria and the absence of any kind of basis for the given grades seemed to make the report card an extremely complicated document to comprehend for us–let alone the general demographic of parents overburdened with official and household activities. If you look at it from a distance, the report card is an ocean of random letters placed in a tabular format. The english language section has the most number of sub-criteria, moving on to mathematics, environmental studies and then computers, arts, social skills, behaviour, etc. The academic year is divided into two terms and none of the grades (of the same criteria) are placed next to each other for successive terms so the progress is difficult to fathom.

A Sea of Alphabets

The report card then has the overall grade of the student below all the subject grades, and a one line subjective comment on the student’s performance from the teacher. Question remains, how is this helping the parents monitor their child’s learning over a period of time? How is it helping teachers communicate to parents the strengths and weaknesses of the student? Above all, how is it serving as a diagnostic tool to monitor progress and work on the areas where the student is lagging, before it is too late? How is a parent supposed to comprehend a sea of alphabets spread across a page? What do they tell him/her about his/her child? What is the basis for these alphabets (grades)? Where is the continuos and comprehensive feedback? It seems like the report card and the evaluation system is still doing what it used to before the implementation of CCE, except that now emotional and social aspects of a student are also being graded. The aim is still to judge the progress in learning with the overall picture (overall grade) rather than go into the details of understanding and application of what is learnt over time.

Following that train of thought, the next question that came up was the necessity of an evaluation system that measures understanding and application of knowledge progressively and gives feedback to students from time to time rather than at the end of the term. Why is it that a shift is required from rote learning to application? Why should we move from a colonial mindset to a system that encourages original thinking? Is it even required? Maybe a comparison between tiffin dabbas and thaalis would shed some light on the same (in the next post).

A meeting with Dr. Shailendra Gupta, Registrar at the Calorx Teachers’ University brought to light the issues in the teaching profession, and a very strong opinion validating the fact that teachers are the fulcrum of the education system and until good and motivated teachers are brought in, the scenario will not improve.

In order for the CCE to truly act as a diagnostic/monitoring tool, rather than a mere documentation of student performance, teacher’s workload has to be reduced by 50% and a “remedial” mindset has to be brought in. The motivation of the teachers is really low and most people do not want to join the profession because of the extremely poor salaries (in Govt. schools).

Professionalism in education has to come in for performance to improve and systems to work smoothly. The best minds in the country need to be attracted to education, so the future of the country can be shaped well. All of this will not happen till teacher’s salaries, their working conditions and workloads are taken care of.