Wednesday, October 4, 2017

IAS Diaries Part 21- National Achievement Survey (NAS)

It was our first day at MHRD filled with novelty and enthusiasm. We all were looking forward to our work allocation as that was to define the next three months in the capitol. I was made part of an on-going project pertaining to the National Achievement Survey (NAS) and Learning outcomes (LOs). As I sat on my desk looking at the order, few glimpses of district training surfaced when these terms were mentioned though only as a passing reference. Courtesy the ignorance, I immediately looked it up. And upon my readings what bothered me was the looming communication gap between the populace and the institutions.

Education is something which fascinates almost everyone of us. Give us any article, post, blog or journal on education and we would pounce wearing our reading hats. We talk about it all the time, we ponder upon it, all the time. And yet we, most of us, do not know what all goes on in the making of our young generations with education as the prime mover. Here at MHRD, the initial days were highly stimulating with visits to KVS, NVS, CBSE, NCTE, NIOS, NUEPA, NCERT and several other institutions doing work in education sector. With these comprehensive attachments, you find yourself on course to understand the nuances of this gigantic system of school education. 

As far as NAS is concerned, it is being executed by NCERT in coordination with Education Departments of the States and their respective SCERT. This is not the first edition of NAS though as earlier NCERT has done several iterations with these kind of surveys. But there are several improvements for the present version which makes it very unique and much more effective. Unlike before, this one will be on a single assessment day. For the first time, it goes a level down and allows reports to be drawn at the district level. Earlier it was only possible at the national or state level. And the most significant reform among all is the fact that the question items are mapped to the respective Learning Outcomes (LOs) of that particular grade whereas earlier they were based simply on the curriculum. 

The LOs were formulated not very long ago and represent what a child should know, possess and apply after the end of a particular grade. For example, a grade 5 student should be able to understand a bar chart and draw some basic inferences from it. These LOs were developed for all the grades and circulated across the country. Various training programs were organized to sensitize teachers and parents about the relevance of these LOs. Here is a link to download the LOs. At the time when I came on board, the test items were under review by the assessment experts. Having come from the other side where we only attempted questions, this science of developing questions was fascinating experience. The amount of thought process and energy which goes into developing the stem of the questions and the four possible options, is tremendous. There were days when we had day-long debates on particular questions and on specific options. But it is only when you analyze the data from these surveys that you realize every bit of that industry was worth. 

The Education Survey Division (ESD) at NCERT has been given the mandate to carry out all sorts of surveys and assessments. The faculties working in ESD are all experts in assessment, sampling techniques, data management and data analysis. Once they were done with the preliminary work for NAS, state representatives were trained and then the district representatives. Meanwhile travelling to all these regional NAS workshops across India, it was enthralling to see educationists from different region and how their capacity, grasp and grievance were unique in themselves. Given the diversity and colossal expanse, a national level survey in our country would always be a challenging task. The linguistic dimension, logistical complexity and state capacity resulted in different set of problems requiring innovation at every step. 

You might be aware about the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) Test conceptualized and executed by OECD. This test is for all the 15 year old students across the world as it is based on some mutually agreed global competencies and allows nations do assess the performance of their students on an international scale. India participated in PISA 2009 but the results were disappointing. There are several factors which help to understand why. The pedagogy required to inculcate that level of analysis is absent, the contextualization of the questions is inadequate and our national surveys are not aligned to this type of analysis. 

NAS is perhaps one step in that direction. We must assess whether our children are actually learning something or not. We must see if they are inculcating the necessary skills at the right time. We must bridge the gaps by way of linking teacher trainings to the results of these surveys. And also we must move towards achieving these global competencies. The forthcoming versions of NAS may be remodeled gradually to achieve that sort of level. But firstly, we must make such assessments a high-priority item because we would only know which direction we need to go after we find out where we stand right now!

To read more posts on IAS Diaries, CLICK HERE.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

IAS Diaries Part 20 - The Kendriya Vidyalaya Project

I still remember the first day when I joined this private school into the first grade. Just next to the assembly ground of the school, there stood a high rail bridge. It was fascinating to see trains come and go.  I had no idea that even my stint there was going to be only transactional, like those trains. I heard my parents talking about my admission to one of the KVs in the city. They were desparately hoping that it comes through. Not just because it was near and economic but because they like everyone else had heard so much praise for the KV teachers. Determined, passionate and a repository of knowledge.

I was very fortunate to make it to the list, something I feel strongly with the advantage of hindsight now. Although then, I liked the red colored uniform of that private school more than bleeding blue. The next 12 years were spent in the guidance of several amazing teachers who have shaped generations after generations. My father once told me,"Your teachers must have been real good, not once in these 12 years I had to bother". It was true. Every bit of it. The KV family was not just about education. It was much more, it was rather about growing up into a decent human being. Grounded, humble and simplistic socialisation into the world.

All these memories came gushing back to me when we were in the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan HQ as part of our work as Assistant Secretaries in Department of School Education and Literacy , MHRD. It was then that it occurred to me that the place provided an opportunity to give back to my alma mater. We were told that Delhi itself had more than 40 KVs. I thought we, as a batch are 180 officers, even if  20 per cent of us spare two hours on a weekend, we could cover all these schools by arranging an interactive session with the senior most classes. At this level, it may seem extremely ordinary a thought, but try to see it from the side of students.

We, in our schooldays never got such forums to interact with people from all walks of life. This is something which is paramount to have clarity in thought process and to generate adequate amount of confidence to achieve your ambitions. And hence, with the concurrence of Commissioner Sir, I floated this idea amoung my collegues. Education is that one domain that is perhaps close to everyone. It's quintessential nature is ubiquitously accpeted without opposition. We had several people who signed up for this initiative and it was decided that these special interactive sessions for the students would be kept on every Saturday. And so it began.

About Kendriya Vidyalayas, there is this one thing you will always notice, the warmth of welcome they offer to any guest coming into the premises. The preparedness of the scouts, the colorful paintings on the walls, inspirational words floating on the notice boards and the endless youthful outbursts in the air. As far as in the schools we went to, we never had a fixed framework in mind for the workshop. We just asked the dear students to fire their questions without hesitation. And one hour passed, then the second and then some more time passed. But the questions never ended. They had so much to ask, so much to discuss, to understand and extrapolate. If only we could have such sessions more often.

"Why don't they allow girls to join the Army? We are strong, just like the guys!"

"I want to became a scientist and help the poor with my innovation. But how?"

"I want to become a teacher. But my parent wants me to go for IAS. How can I convince them?"

"I only like Mathematics. Why do I have to study other subjects?"

I am not saying we could answer all questions perfectly and that we are the best people to at least attempt answering these questions. The whole point is to promote the idea of having this dialogue. At least begining to talk about it. There is no gurantee that we  would adequately answer all these questions but surely we would trigger a thirst for answers, which would suffice. Similar was the experience from everyone who had gone for these workshops. The students were elated and teachers happy for them. They desired that this forum be instituitionalised going forward. Something that we must do at the national level. We have willing people from all professions wanting to go to schools explaining their work to our future generations. We must make that connect.

This experiment went on for several weekends and we tried to cover as many schools as we can. We also got requests from several other school chains for conducting such workshops clearly indicating the vacuum of human resource when it comes to counseling and guidance. Unfortunately our tenure was pretty short but we all have resolved to continue the spirit in our subdivisions, in our districts and in our cadres. All of us, you and me,  have been fortunate enough to receive decent education which ensured that we stand on our feet. And ergo, we have a moral obligation towards the younger lot, to guide them, to help them and to enable them to fly.

At the end, I would like to sincerely thank all those from IAS 2015 batch who took out time for these students. I know you would continue doing that whereever you go. We all should, for a better tomorrow.

For reading more posts on IAS Diaries, CLICK HERE.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Irremediable Damage

On the sidelines of an educational workshop held in Bengaluru, met this person who had returned from US after his entrepreneurial stint in financial transaction domain. What triggered this reversal was a deep rooted desire to use his expertise in technology to uplift people of his motherland.
Among the several inspirational anecdotes highlighting our rendezvous, one was truly fundamental. Commenting upon the several facets of education system which he perceived as wrong and which needed immediate amends, he said,"When I was working with transactions, errors could be corrected, it was only a matter of credit or debit. That could be dealt with later. When it comes to education, these problems impact the way an entire generation is learning. What goes wrong is irreversible. Irremediable damage!"

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Special Batch

My father was a Mathematics teacher. And although everyone got to learn much more than the subject from him, his teaching was truly remarkable. His love for the subject unparalleled, his zeal to pass on that love, discernible.
One day I accompanied him to the place where he gave tuition. The last time slot was earmarked for this "Special Batch" comprising of underprivileged children whose parents couldn't afford the fees. I asked one boy what he wanted to become, "Teacher", he responded without a thought. Surprised at the clarity, I asked him why, "I will also run a special batch", he said gleefully.
Happy Teachers' Day.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Right Questions

The other day we had this guest faculty who was talking about the correlation of physical activity and health, and how sports play a pivotal role in one's health prospects. To exemplify the dismal status and prejudiced mindsets in our country, he shared an interesting anecdote.
~In India, when parents meet, they ask,"What does your kid study? Where does he study? What percentage he got?". Once I was in Australia and talking to this friend of mine. He told me that when parents meet here, they ask,"What does your kid play?"