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The last post on this blog was written a good three months ago. That’s 90 days of neglecting an intense attempt to revolutionize the way children in CBSE schools in India are graded and evaluated for their performance. One might think that I’m getting ahead of myself here, but touching even one node of this complex mess, is no less than waking a sleeping giant. I found myself at the bottom of the ocean, still diving down, because there is no bottom to begin with. There is no landing ground. You can push, you can pull, you can swim, you can wade the current, but its never ending. This, among other reasons is why I decided to take a nice big break, pull my neck out of the water, breathe in some oxygen, freshen my mind—maybe look at the world ashore to help me innovate under water.

In any revolution, it is (obviously) important to know and believe in two things. One, what the revolution is against, and two, what is it that the revolution aims to achieve. But when we’re dealing with an ultra-complex system such as education, with its multi dimensional set of issues and consequences, far reaching beyond school, and no clear right answers, its hard to pinpoint why we’re doing what we’re doing, to what end, and most importantly, if it would even have any (desired) impact.

I’m not one to get intimidated by the complexity of the issue at hand, but I’m merely acknowledging it. And lately, I’ve begun to believe that most complex systems when broken down to their bare essence, have focal points that are extremely simple, devoid of any other link or attachment. They stand on their own, and cannot be broken down any further.

The education system in India is essentially geared to making sure that when children grow up, they get jobs—and this is what parents want for their kids as well. There is no emphasis on what an individual is to do once he/she does get a job, or the way forward from there. Why the emphasis on getting a job? There was a beautiful post on Quora where someone explained how our grandparents (in an Indian middle class family) had nothing, and their aim in life was to fend for their family. Consequently, for the parent, studies in school were everything, they had to aim to be toppers and excel because security of jobs were the most important thing. But in today’s life, self-esteem and respect from society take the forefront for the most of us. The post explains this in beautiful detail.

What I realized is that seeing where our parents come from, their objective is to facilitate and do everything they can to make sure their children lead a comfortable life. A comfortable life, till very recently, meant a steady job with a big pay. Money, takes center stage. And the entire education system is designed just to achieve the same objective—to help people get secure jobs, so they can make money and live a comfortable life. Therefore, the focus is not on actually educating the children and making sure that they learn, but is to give them the fodder required to land them comfortable jobs.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the global paradigm is changing. We have moved into an era of entrepreneurship, innovation, and a passion-driven job landscape. Therefore, it becomes extremely important to not just give children the knowledge, but the knowledge of how to apply that knowledge. Teach them to create opportunities for themselves, rather than wait for a huge multinational to hire you, or for the FDI to come through. Teach them their place in the society, so that they can contribute at a global scale, and not just be concerned with their individual lives. Teach them that they can and will have an impact on other people, and it is necessary to realize one’s own potential.

Parents need to realize that a comfortable life for their children cannot be the foremost objective. It has to be to create an environment where the child can pave his/her own way. We have to teach our children to be fearless. And life could still be just as comfortable, if not more rewarding.

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I accompanied Graphic Design faculty Rupesh Vyas to Shreyas Foundation to attend their Parent-Teacher meeting, wherein report cards of the students were shown to the parents. Shreyas’ education system is based on the Montessori way of thinking. It felt like a cross between a Gurukul and a Montessori school. They instruct both in English and Gujarati, depending on the choice of the students and parents.

Shreyas1copy

What was also interesting to see that after an initial presentation covering major themes and focus of the school’s activities, teachers were seated on the floor spread across the courtyard with report “books” of students. Parents flocked around the concerned teachers and discussed student learning, not performance.

Shreyas2 Shreyas3The report books contain student records from the time they joined school, and not just of that year. Since there are no examinations till class 7, all subjects have only descriptive feedback from subject teachers. This feedback is specific to the conceptual level (eg. Long division).

Shreyas4A detailed analysis of the report books shall follow along with analysis of report cards from other schools.

 

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

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).

An interesting survey conducted by MDI, Gurgaon sheds light on what the different concerns of stakeholders (principals, teachers, students and parents) regarding public examinations are. In order to make sense of the data, I mapped the results to see who’s concerned about what. This allowed me to figure out what the most common concern was (shared by all stakeholders), down to the concerns that were specific to an individual stakeholder.

IMG_9649 copy blogTo further understand the scenario (and clearly visualize the issues), I plotted the concerns on a graph with four quadrants (each for one stakeholder). The concerns that were shared by more than one stakeholder were placed on the intersection of the quadrants, and the individual concerns were placed further away from the intersections.

IMG_9644 copy blogThis exercise lead to a rather pressing insight. While child centric issues are common concerns for all stakeholders, the concerns that revolve around teachers–teacher’s strain, low self esteem, etc. are not taken into consideration by any of the other stakeholders.

A teacher shapes the child’s future. If the teacher’s concerns are not addressed, no amount of infrastructural changes and curriculum improvements will help in educating a child. This is one area that seems pivotal to the entire education system and needs to be addressed immediately.

IMG_9657 copy blogTo put together all the pieces, I created a stakeholder chart which marked the interest of the particular stakeholder in student evaluation, as well as the issues/difficulties/expectations they have. This enabled me to identify the problem areas that need to be dealt with and how these problems are linked to the different stakeholders.