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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.

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.

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.

 

Mr. Vineet Joshi, Chairman, CBSE
Photo coutresy – India Today

I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Vineet Joshi, the current chairman of CBSE. The Continuous & Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) system has been put into place during his tenure. I was curious to know if there were impact assessment studies done by the CBSE, and what their plans were on bridging the gaps that are evident with the implementation of the system presently.

1. To create demand and understanding amongst parents, CBSE has come up with a system of Parent Advocates, who are given basic training in the CCE methodology by the CBSE, so that they can keep a check on the school’s methods of teaching and implementation of CCE.

2. A Maintenance & Mentoring program was initiated in which a principal of a particular school acted as a mentor for a cluster of schools to make sure good practices were followed in their cluster. These principals are given specially designed tools by the CBSE to monitor progress of schools.

3. To make sure that students do not suffer due to biased teachers, there is a system of Evidence of Assessment in which 15 papers of students ranking top, middle and bottom in the school results are collected and examined by experts, and feedback is given to the school regarding evaluation practices.

4. Raw data on performance of students from schools across the country has just been collected for the years 2006-12. It is now being cleaned and formatted for analysis. This would provide indicators on the success of CCE. Although, the indicators used to analyze this data would be dicey, as the parameters on which success is measured are subjective in nature.

5. Intensive teacher training workshops are being held across the country to train the teachers in the CCE methodology of teaching as well as assessment. These workshops are often conducted by private agencies to cater to the huge numbers spread across the country.

6. There has been an attempt to brand CCE in order to create awareness about it, and capture the mindspace of parents, so that there is constant demand for a fair and effective system.

One of the major concerns that Mr. Joshi pointed out was how gravely CCE is misunderstood by teachers, schools, students and parents. There is a common myth that CCE means frequent testing, and that assessment means correcting a huge number of papers week after week. He was of the opinion that assessment has to be inclusive of teaching, and an in-classroom activity.

It seems to me that it is important to understand what the actual mandate of the CCE is, and to compare it with what is being implemented in schools, and what parents and students make of it.

I was given a report which summarizes a mass survey conducted by the CBSE after one year of implementation of the CCE. Analysis of the report shall follow next.

_ Where does the pressure on the child to perform come from? How does the competitive mental model set in? What are the causes? What are the effects of competition on education?

_ What is the impact assessment of the new CCE system put in place by CBSE? Are students able to cope up with the transition? This would require a deeper study of the system from the perspective of students, teachers, parents and CBSE officials. Students are used to rote learning methods, but with changing evaluation methods and (hopefully) teaching methods, are students geared up/oriented to change their study habits? Does the new system meet the original goals of evaluation?

_ How do teachers go about evaluation? What is the process? Do they have the time and resources to do justice to the evaluation that is expected of them?

What follows next is interviews with CBSE Officials and Parents before scenarios can be built. 

On saturday, 13th October, I went to Riverside School to meet Veena Das & Nikita Desai. Since it was after school hours, I did not see many students in the campus. I had a chance to sit down with the two teachers for about an hour and discuss my project with them. My intention was to study Riverside as a model of education, in the current context, and see if any of the principles that the school embodies can be adapted/scaled up to the national level.

 

The alternative schooling model, since it does not adhere to the well known CBSE/ICSE boards, is not very popular among Indian parents. It is generally found that the students come from a higher bracket of the society. This model of education does not believe in the rote learning methods. Rather, they rely on experience based learning, with practicals and field visits to equip the student with the necessary skills required to grow in the 21st century. Personal character growth is given more emphasis than pure academics.

The teachers are highly motivated & passionate about what they do. Here is what makes the most difference. Since the management is keen on making sure that the teachers are happy and given freedom with the students in the classes, the teachers are motivated to put their best into each session. Preparation before every session becomes essential.

Teachers maintain a daily log of every student where they note down any particular observations. A monthly progress report is communicated to the parents, which keeps them in the loop and makes them participate in their child’s learning. There is also a process of self assessment and peer assessment where in the students themselves are involved in their own evaluation.

These students are exposed to many career options, and know that there is nothing limiting them. They have the necessary support, and this model gives them the confidence to take up whatever they want. This might not be the case with most middle class families pressurizing children to choose one of a few secure career options. Competitive examinations might prove difficult for the student to handle. The school does not take any responsibility for that. Those examinations follow a separate pattern, and hence separate method of learning is required.

The challenge is to scale this model up to a level where it penetrates through strata and becomes a viable option for more number of children.

Howard Gardner, in his recent talk titled “Truth, Beauty and Goodness Reframed”, frames two questions, What should we teach and what should students learn? Should this be different in the 21st century and, if so, how? To move beyond greed and fear, and, that, he says, should be the backbone of all educational ventures.

So how does one move beyond greed and fear? It got me thinking. What in schools brings greed and fear? Students are greedy for marks, and afraid of examinations and failing. This is directly related to the notion of competition. If competition is replaced by collaborative learning, one would automatically move beyond greed and fear.

In this age, information assimilation is not a problem at all. So why is it that we have examinations in which students are expected to memorize and reproduce? Can we not have open book examinations in schools? Examinations that are designed to test the capability of a student to apply what he/she has learned rather than what he/she has learned. They could also be collaborative in nature, in the form of group projects and activities that encourage sharing, inspiring and motivating among students.

Reading through the Montessori system of education brought some understanding as to what we’re really looking for in the 21st century. Also, why our current education system is as it is.

Quoting directly from their website,

The traditional educational system was designed during the industrial revolution, when the masses moved into urban areas to work in factories.

They created an effective method of training the following generations of factory workers. Children were instructed to memorize and regurgitate facts – to stop working when the bell rings – to sit in nice, neat rows of desks and ask for permission to move. It is no longer relevant in our modern culture.

Today, successful people work on projects not factory lines. They are rewarded for creating things rather than following orders. And, they are expected to adapt quickly to change within their profession, rather than working at the same job for 50 years.

 Our world doesn’t need more test takers, memorizers or followers.

Now, more than ever, we need critical thinkers, entrepreneurs and do-ers.

It seems to me that it is quite clear as to what we need children to be in this time. The question for India, is how to develop systems that create such kind of learning environments for children. Efforts are being made in various places, by select individuals or groups, and the government is slowly realizing the need to adapt and rethink.

Now the question is, where do we (designers) come in? This is a question I posed to Rupesh Vyas, Graphic Design coordinator and faculty at NID. He affirmed my belief that the role of a designer, given such a situation, is to understand, organize and spearhead the project. If design thinking is to make meaning, then it is our job to make sense of the chaos and streamline the process.

A recent article in the Times of India talked about the Gujarat Council for Educational Research and Training (GCERT) implementing Jean Piaget’s principles for child development by incorporating changes directed towards making learning more innovative, creative and fun.

The plan is to make learning in primary schools more experience based rather than having children mug up and reproduce information. Application of Logic, and Assimilation of Knowledge would follow Experiences.

Evaluation methods would also need to be changed accordingly since there is to be no discrimination amongst students. They would be allowed to learn at their own pace. Drafts for new textbooks have been worked on and modules for teachers have been prepared to equip them with tools and methods to be innovative and creative with children in the classroom.

This seems to be a positive step forward in terms of school education. The practical implementation of the new system is still in question. It would be interesting to talk to the concerned authorities and get their view points. Transition from the existing system, to the new proposed one would also be a challenge. Changes in mental models are slightly difficult to bring about.

Experience based learning is not a new concept. Alternative education schools thrive on this system. But what has always concerned me is how children from alternative education backgrounds make the switch to the mainstream (or cope up with the highly competitive nature of entrance exams and such like). A conversation with Khyati Trehan, who studied in Sri Aurobindo, brought to light that these children went to school not to meet their friends or hang out with them, but with the desire to become “intelligent” and that they would get to do something interesting everyday. 

Alternative education in the country is growing as a concept but is still only accessible to the higher strata of the society. I am going to talk to Kiran Bir Sethi, the founder of Riverside school, in this week. She would hopefully be able to answer some of my queries and give her view points on the current evaluation system, the transition it is going through and the possibilities that lay ahead of us.