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.

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.

 

As I asked my faculty and peers to recollect their experiences with report cards from their childhood, this e-mail reply from Animation faculty Ajay Tiwari was thought provoking and moving.

I think first of all this term “report card” itself should change … it actually creates categories like “students”, “teachers” and “parents” and as far as I remember my childhood I was merely an in-between the teacher and my parents … the teachers gives you the marks and the parents are the ones who sign on it … (if it was good marks all I got was compliments and if it was bad then I got scolding … the card did nothing apart from this) … it was just about how have I performed in the class and for average and not so intelligent students the report cards used to be a nightmare … so I guess the whole idea of education as well as the “role of students” in their own education is being seen in new light so I wonder what is being “reported” in these cards … what does it say about “the performance” and the marks and the ranks of the students in the class … instead of uniting I find the cards used to do more of categorizing e.g. good students, bad students, passed, failed etc. … it was just about the numbers and nothing else … it was all the same … there was nothing “me” about that report card … sometimes I look back at my own school report cards and it definitely brings wonderful memories of the school 🙂 but how can they also make the “present” wonderful … interesting … something that doesn’t force me to take it “passively” but something that I relate to “actively” … after all it is a culmination of how I had been going through my own education till the time the report card was generated…

Following more speculation and debate, it was decided that out of the listed interventions in this post, to redesign the report card would be the right way to go. Not because any of the other listed interventions are not as necessary to be taken forward, but because the academic framework of this project (timelines et all), lack of expertise in the field of education (and its systemic understanding as well as the minute details) allow for something that is actionable, doable and is the need of the hour (rather than long term systemic changes which would take immense research and time to pursue).

CCE Complaint Report card FrontCCE Complaint Report card BackCCE Sample Report Card

The Report Card is the primary communication device between the schools and parents about student performance, apart from Parent-Teacher meetings. With the shift to the CCE system, the report card itself has become extremely complicated with numerous attributes being graded and feedback being provided across various verticals in scholastic and co-scholastic areas. A primary level analysis shows that it is a sea of alphabets, which does not provide enough context to understand student learning. There are a multitude of questions that crop up, when one thinks of the report card. Some of them are listed below, and I hope to be able to answer a majority of them with the development of the design of the report card.

  • Who is the report card for? Parents? Teachers? Students? 
  • Do grades give a clear picture of student learning? What are the substitutes? 
  • What kind of different indicators can be used to communicate performance? 
  • Performance is never static, it has to be measured over a period of time. Any sort of conclusions or feedback must be based on performance over a period. Is the report card dynamic enough to provide this kind of information to parents? 
  • How does the report card provide feedback for the student, so as to facilitate progress in learning?
  • Wouldn’t it be better for the report card to be a log of performance and conversation with parents and students rather than an end-statement?
  • How can teacher’s burden to fill in report cards be decreased? Or can they be motivated to do so? Can we help them find joy? Can it be integrated into their daily routines, inclusive of teaching/school hours?
  • Is it possible to connect performance in one area with that in another? Help parents see the connections and possibilities of the direction in which the student is growing?
  • How do we communicate negative remarks so they are taken in a positive stride and give direction to parents to help their children cope up?
  • What are schools giving feedback on? Time bound assessment? Are other factors taken into consideration, like child background, event at home, etc.? How is periodic assessment seen by parents? Are parents and teachers able to ask the right questions and figure out necessary remedial action based on assessment?
  • Is it possible to replace the categorization and labeling that occurs due to assessment with a spirit of collaboration and a mash-up of diverse skills that could be brought together so students can learn from each other?
  • Is there a scope for personalization of the report card so as to remove fear from the students’ minds and build in a spirit of active ownership of their education?

Its not just the visual representation of various elements in the report card that is of concern to us, but also the content that goes in and the way it is perceived by parents and students. We want to use the report card as a medium that provides actionable information in an understandable manner to facilitate positive dialogue among teachers, parents and students. It could also be a way to identify and unlock a particular student’s talents. This becomes even more relevant in the scenario where working parents hardly spend time with their children (with the television switched off).

The constraints are many–the biggest of which is the stress on teachers to do an honest and clear job of evaluation and providing feedback, keeping in mind all the other work they have, and their low motivation and poor job satisfaction (in general). Too much information might overwhelm students and parents, too little might not provide the entire picture clearly. These report cards are used across all CBSE schools in the country, and hence cost constraints also would need to be taken into consideration.

All said and done, its an extremely exciting opportunity for me. The complexity of something that is presented on a simple sheet of paper(s) intrigues me to no end.

Getting ready for a deep-dive.

 

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.

Screen Shot 2013-04-29 at 8.57.52 PM

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