The government of India recently released a new National Education Policy 2020 which offers a peek into its vision of India’s education system. The stated aim is “for India to have an education system by 2040 that is second to none, with equitable access to the highest-quality education for all learners regardless of social or economic background.” On the face of it, it is more of a vision than a policy. It outlines what Indian education system should look like and in that it is progressive and ambitious. Even so, it is ahistorical and lacks specifics.
This is part II of a multi-part series of articles in which I try to describe and analyse some key aspects of the new policy related to teachers and schools. You can find part I, which discusses key aspects of school education, here.
The policy admits that the ‘quality of teacher education, recruitment, deployment, service conditions, and empowerment of teachers is not where it should be’, leading to substandard teacher quality and motivation. To improve quality, the government proposes a large number of merit-based scholarships for studying in 4 year B. Ed. programs. While this may attract more high school graduates, the lowered cost may be more of an incentive than the motivation to become a teacher. A complementary approach may be to offer merit scholarships to college graduates for the shorter B.Ed. program. This may ensure that the teachers have proper motivation, deep subject knowledge as well as pedagogical training.
The government also recognizes that the shortage of teachers is higher in rural areas and seeks to incentivise teaching in rural schools through ‘the provision of local housing near or on the school premises or increased housing allowances’. This has the potential to increase the number of applicants but the incentive again may not be sufficiently education related, given the perks of a government job and lack of high paying non-teaching options. The policy could have studied the model of ‘Teach for India’ and developed a community of motivated college graduates who could potentially become regular teachers. Another idea proposed is ‘local job opportunities to local students, especially female students’. While hiring local graduates as teachers may be useful, the focus on female students has the potential to either improve their economic standing (through new opportunities) or to restrict their career pursuits (if parents see local teaching as the only career option) – these trade-offs need to be studied carefully within different contexts.
Another good element of the policy is the halting of excessive teacher transfers. The government proposes a digital interface to manage transfers and ensure transparency. The government should provide details about criterion and guidelines for teacher transfer, and ensure sufficient longevity of teachers in schools where they perform well. The directive that ‘teachers will not be engaged any longer in work that is not directly related to teaching’ is long overdue.
The policy introduces the idea of recruitment of teachers for groups of schools or sharing of teachers across schools. The government stipulates that this “could automatically create relationships among schools across the school complex; it would also help ensure excellent subject-wise distribution of teachers, creating a more vibrant teacher knowledge base.” While these are encouraging possibilities, collaboration among schools and teachers would be needed to ensure that the differences across schools does not lead to worse outcomes for smaller schools.
The policy also prescribes giving teachers ‘more autonomy in choosing aspects of pedagogy, so that they may teach in the manner they find most effective for the students in their classrooms’. This may help improve student learning, if properly implemented. This will need enhancement of school infrastructure and facilities which teachers can innovatively use to try out new ideas. There is also a provision for giving teachers ‘continuous opportunities for self-improvement and to learn the latest innovations and advances in their professions’. Increasing the number of motivated teachers who understand and implement best pedagogical methods suitable to the local context may benefit student outcomes, both academic and non-academic.
The government has decided to develop a ‘robust merit-based structure of tenure, promotion, and salary structure…with multiple levels within each teacher stage, that incentivises and recognizes outstanding teachers’. Previous policies that also tried to do the same and it is not clear whether they have achieved the desired outcomes. A careful analysis of teachers’, schools’ and students’ incentives is required in order to develop policy interventions that improve educational outcomes. For example, teacher merit pay may be helpful if teachers improve their teaching but can be deleterious if they change the nature of tests to embellish their students’ scores. The appraisal policy for teachers should consider how the incentives change their teaching behavior.
The policy stipulates career growth for teachers within a single school stage (i.e., Foundational, Preparatory, Middle, or Secondary), and no career progression-related incentive to move from being teachers in early stages to later stages or vice versa. The justification for this restriction is not clear. While some teachers may prefer to teach in one school stage throughout their lives, others may decide to move across stages – it is not clear why this is harmful.
The move to gradually integrate teacher education into multidisciplinary colleges and universities is commendable as it may allow B. Ed. students to pursue minors or electives in other fields of interest while allowing non-B.Ed. students to pursue minors or electives in education. It may also be helpful to offer options for senior college students to elect into a double major in education and a specialized subject. More innovative ideas need to be considered while reforming the B. Ed. degree, which the policy stipulates but lacks details on. For example, senior B. Ed. students could be assigned to teach in local schools for a semester as part of their degree completion requirements.
Due to large fixed costs of running schools, the policy rightly recognizes that ‘small schools present a systemic challenge for governance and management.’ The document states that ‘small school sizes have rendered it economically sub-optimal and operationally complex to run good schools, in terms of deployment of teachers as well as the provision of critical physical resources.’ Hence, the policy recommends school complex/cluster. This may ensure efficient sharing of fixed costs across schools, for example, libraries, laboratories, playgrounds etc. The idea is feasible but there would have to be good coordination among the school managements to ensure that frictions are reduced. For example, a large school with a library, laboratory and playground may not want to share their costly resources if the other schools using them do not use them carefully and judiciously. They may also want the schools using these resources to pay for maintenance and operations. These details will have to be attended to.
The policy proposes that ‘un-utilized capacity of school infrastructure could be used to promote social, intellectual, and volunteer activities for the community and to promote social cohesion during non-teaching / schooling hours and may be used as a “Samajik Chetna Kendra.’ While the intention might be to foster a sense of community, this might lead to diversion of educational resources in ways that worsen student outcomes. Already, government schools are used for events like marriages, political rallies etc.
The recognition of the public education system as ‘the foundation of a vibrant democratic society’ is commendable. The government states that the ‘current regulatory regime has not been able to curb the commercialization and economic exploitation of parents by many for-profit private schools, yet at the same time it has all too often inadvertently discouraged public-spirited private/philanthropic schools.’ However, the policy does not propose steps that will reduce exploitation or encourage philanthropic schools except for restructuring of the bureaucracy overseeing school education and public disclosure of information. The policy could have offered directions for regulating tuition fee changes, incentives for competition, reforms in the admissions process, school audits etc.
On the bureaucratic front, the policy aims to reduce ‘conflicts of interests and excessive centralized concentration of power’ within agencies. To that end, it proposes that the state’s reformed Department of school education will be responsible for ‘overall monitoring and policy-making for continual improvement of the public education system’; the Directorate of school education will oversee the ‘educational operations and service provision for the public schooling system’; the State School Standards Authority (SSSA) will ‘establish a minimal set of standards’ to be followed by all schools in the state; and the academic matters, including academic standards and curricula in the State will be led by the State Councils for Educational Research and Training (SCERTs). The operational framework that implements this bureaucratic separation will also have to ensure sufficient coordination and alignment of objectives across these branches.
The ideas for improvement in teacher quality and better management of schools are feasible. How the stakeholders respond to the change in incentives and how well it aligns with the objective of improving students outcomes will be key.