Year of Opportunities

Year of Opportunities

The last 3 days have reported that in many cities world-over, and many states in India school closure after re-opening is inevitable, or continued school closure for the year (depending on which part of the world or country you reside in), although pre-Diwali in India, there was hope that the High schoolers (Grades 9 to 12) would be back with access to their campus with all social distancing norms followed of course. With Maharshtra announcing school closure till the 31st of December yesterday as has been the decision in Gujarat and Rajasthan, students across grades, have in effect, been in some form of virtual engagement as part of the new normal schooling experience for most parts of the academic year now.

The debate and discussions about declaring 2020-21  a ‘gap’ year have led to an acceptance of ‘virtual schooling’, embracing technology and optimising its usage. I was amazed at how easily many succumbed to the pressure of dismissing it as a ‘write-off’ year, instead of finding ways to resolve or salvage in the initial months of lockdown. How does one ‘write-off’ a year? And if one were to deep dive into the science behind ‘gap’ years, one would understand that these are meant to be great learning experiences especially for skill development that undergraduate students take on.

Is this an ideal K-12 school year? Almost rhetoric as a question now but I think way too much time was spent in court rooms than a collaborative effort by adults (educators and parents) to find a mid path for students as far as fees, timings and expectations are concerned. The students, however irrespective of their age or year-block emerged to adapt, become resilient, maintained their wits about them as they navigated a world they were unfamiliar with. They did this with the best possible level of concentration and discipline that can be imagined. Each year-block has different developmental needs, and depending on their level of maturity, and experience, children simply ‘got-on’.

Virtual engagements, on-line or remote learning required a different kind of handling, and educators and teachers learnt to adapt as well. In fact juggling both personal and professional roles required a lot of effort but there emerged a desire to ‘make – the – best’ of what was at hand and work towards treating this year as a year of learning – socio emotional, life skills and yes yes all the functional and ‘learning’ objectives we have defined as part of the syllabus.

The community of educators by and large have treated this year as an opportunity to re-think, re-visit, evaluate and restructure a lot of what they did in the physical world. More in-depth work, more need to skill-up and more time spent collaborating than ever before. In fact plenty of creativity (technology does make it happen seamlessly), more conversations with students and allowing children to emerge more independent and take ownership for their work.

Parents coped too. Coped with their commitments, and making sense of the expectations and their role for mentoring their children at home. Faced with crazy schedules, they adapted with patience, tolerance and of ‘letting-go’ for most parents at least (Still concerned how some continue to micro manage their children by giving off answers to the assessments underway – remember parents, you have finished your school and have all your cherished report cards, the ones now belong to your children for their efforts, and showcasing what they have understood).

For me, that’s been the best possible outcome as students are learning to manage themselves with their own struggles and challenges, and learning to ‘accept’ and find solutions. And doing it day in and day out, in the bargaining gaining valuable experience of how to manage.

Someone asked me last evening about ‘reduced’ content as part of the ‘syllabus’. My answer is simple. We have taught these children life skills that will make them much stronger, we have given them roots to understand themselves and expectations and as adults – as educators and parents, we have also given them the empowerment to ‘work-it-out’ thereby creating problem solvers, thinkers and balanced individuals and if one truly reflects about what’s happened in the past 8 months – the skills that have helped most ‘get-over-the-line’ are the skills that these children have experienced. Have a good look around you – some are swimming with their heads above effortlessly and creating bottom line records for their companies, some have improvised to a different level of existence and some simply, need more time. Which one do you think you want your children to be part of 15 years from now?

While staring at a second/third wave, and governments  reporting of vaccines coming through by March/June, we may have to recognise that the world of tomorrow will now adopt a new avatar and all the learnings of these past 8 months must become foundational grounds for more research, blending learning and thinking about making curriculum relevant and skill based in this country.

As a nation, our greatest strength is resilience and we seem to bounce back from just about anything, and I hope while the need to ‘normalise’ physical world access is critical, using the lessons of this time spent in lockdown will lead to more success and creativity in the teaching- learning. There’s a reason wise men say, history repeats itself when one does not respect. We have as a community world-wide lost so much, why would we not treat it as an opportunity to re-write history instead?

And re-write it through our children and providing them with the necessary skill sets to do so. And these cannot be ‘knowledge’ or a collection of facts but true learning.

Year of Opportunity, if you allow your mind to think about growth.

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Importance of Research & Development in Schools

Importance of Research & Development in Schools

Even pre pandemic, I always believed that with the ‘skilling’ and professional development initiative that schools focused on for their teachers to keep them abreast of developments in the world and to be more inspiring in those classrooms, there needed to be a real directive towards ‘upgrades’. Research & Development continues to be an area that school managements and school leaders tend to ‘drag’ their feet over. Quite frankly, and I will admit, the day to day administrative and academic trouble- shooting has dominated decision making, and ensuring that the ‘ship is afloat’ often led to this area of development – research low on the the priority list.

‘Upgrades’ in schools are really best practices, experiments with empirical evidence amassed and creation of new hypothesis to work with, furthering existing theories or implementation strategies for teachers, parents and students and essentially creating a repository of ideas, tools and resources to keep the ‘engine of innovation’ chugging along to create ‘impactful’ decisions that benefit a child and make a teacher’s effort seamless and sustainable. Had we invested wisely in this area (and I know a handful of schools do focus on this) or even consciously, we would have harnessed the true power of technology and virtual learning and in the last 8 months, we would have scaled up instead of ‘coping’ and made it more seamless. We would have been a bit more prepared for change and we would not have had the kind of rocky start that we all embraced.

Nonetheless, the pandemic has taught many lessons and shaken us out of our comfort zone, forcing us to think beyond. How many, however have considered creating an R & D cell for each developmental program in their school?

Out National Education Policy finally has defined the structure for all national and international schools in this country that is globally prevalent. India will now create learning stories for children age appropriately (in layman words, the school structure):

– Foundational Years: Nursery to Grade 2

– Preparatory Years: Grades 3 to 5

– Middle School: Grades 6 to 8

– High School: Grades 9 to 12

The reason for this structure is that each phase has the unique learning patterns, developmental growth and socio emotional needs, and therefore it is necessary to ‘invest’ in creation of unique ‘cells’ whose role is primarily to focus on collating and curating best practices, initiate research and experiments on new ideas while continuing with the vision of the school. Our educational landscape is not a static model, and the need to constantly innovate is the need to keep up with changing variables and disruptions that alter the way things are. Corona Virus is that one disruption that warns us that despite the world facing what it did 100 years ago, and despite all the technological advances, the whole world continues to be in different stages of lockdown, unlockdown and we are expected to hit the worst in the next few months, writing off 2020 just as they did 100 years. That means we cannot take anything for granted. And we need to be vigilant, alert and proactive not reactive as we have been.

If volatility is a constant, as educators, we need to utilise this time to build on research and through this alter some myths and traditional practices and create more ‘modern’ and ‘futuristic’ strategies of teaching and learning and edtech for me is only a part of the execution and access to carefully documented intel to create something new.

While there is a tendency to look to Universities to further new theories or propose alterations to philosophies proposed decades or lifetimes ago, I hope progressive schools can start the process by empowering their leadership to organically structure some ideas and hopefully inspire some educators to undertake a full fledged research program when there is a need.

Do not get me wrong, I am in favour of any kind of research that will help us help children, I am only hoping that those responsible for execution now get empowered to create best practices given their vast experience with execution and who better than them to understand the pros and cons of which ideas will work, which will not.

This dedicated section in a school, can comprise of those teachers who value research, question or challenge, are thinking beyond board syllabus nd perhaps empowering them as ‘leaders’ (coordinators or supervisors) would simply do injustice to their talents for they enjoy enjoy creation and not leadership and supervision. To motivate professionally challenge them, would mean they need empowerment in different ways.

This R & D for each phase would dedicate time and effort, and resources and bring in new ideas and develop unique plans understanding the growth and learning of their children as they progress with every milestone.

Over the years, school rankings could also focus on the quality of research that each school is able to contribute to the industry, and mirroring what the University counterparts are known for, this inclusion will not only throw up new educationalists and their theories but also organically empower team members, improve the overall quality of execution and importantly help the future generations learn effectively.

With the uncertainty of our times, let’s re-think some of the things that we have not led, and let this pandemic herald a dawn of creation with lessons for another 100 years.

I have always wondered … how we go back in time and follow theorists. Time this generation of experienced hands, create a new line of thinking. And we all know, it is necessary for the sake of our future.

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Year of Opportunities

Balancing Physical World & Online

As the Centre gives a go ahead, at least 7 States are gearing up to welcome high school students – Grades 9 to 12 back to campus with all the social distancing, sanitation protocols in place. Considered the ‘business end’ of life for a student’s academic journey before University transition, the grades culminate into those ‘all-important’ mark-sheets that become important documents of ‘achievement’ and with that logic, ushering the older students into a face to face world appears to be extremely crucial for administrators and even parents, and let’s be fair some children much rather discuss doubts in person than virtually, and because these students are more independent and mature, social distancing norms can be exercised more efficiently. ‘Safer’ participants as a starting point than the younger children, is the rationale.

So far so good you would think. Except, the Centre and the States have categorically stated that the consent of the parent is important, and no one can be forced if they are uncomfortable to attend physical school. Which means the option to be ‘home-schooled’ on line must be there.

On paper, this seems like a perfect proposition- no force, everyone has a choice and everyone has a right to a decision.

Except, imagine the plight of a teachers managing physical classroom students and those in the virtual space. How does the teacher navigate this efficiently?

There’s been a clear admission by all that physical world teaching learning and virtual world require different skill sets, including managing complexity and also ensuring that students remain on task in both platforms requires a different kind of handling. The split with some in physical class and some in virtual classrooms synchronously will definitely put a strain on the teachers who will have to double up, extend their time and effort as they are expected to answer queries round the clock …. and also monitor two platforms.

My worry when I read reports of what is happening in other countries and cities around the world is that teachers are exhausted and finding it very challenging to be productive with limited time on hand. There are demands of their time, like never before and teachers have expressed their own disappointment as they know they are not able to attend to every query like they would be able to with one single platform.

Are we even thinking about the teachers??

‘Paper perfect’ suggestions need to be tested and I am eagerly awaiting the feedback as Punjab is all set to start from October 19th. There must be lessons that can give us strategies and experiences that we can analyse to ensure that the teachers are able to optimise and are not stretched and that students get the best possible support that is also sustainable.

With all the hue and cry about fees, I would be intrigued to know which way the Courts would rule – ‘discounted’ for online while paying full fee for physical classes? Now this will be an interesting development to track, and yet I urge everyone to spare a thought for the teachers who are being tossed between the parental expectations and government directives for the management.

Many parents that I have spoken to, are simply not keen to send the children to school yet. And continue to have expectations of high quality education at ‘discounted’ rates.

Personally, while these are challenging times for all, and I do recognise families have undergone financial challenges, but so have managements and with them the teachers. Hope this move to unlockdown does not land up yet again in Courts!

Dialog between managements and schools is important, and not roping in local politicians to intervene.

Again, in all this I still worry about the mental health of the teacher, and their ability to cope with this new normal that is expected of them!

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Should We or Should We Not?

Should We or Should We Not?

We’ve heard from the Ministry of Home Affairs clearing the path to commence K-12 in the physical world post October 15th, 2020 and with that single announcement created a flutter given that different States would use their discretion and understanding of their numbers or cases, medical capabilities to decide if and when they would create standard operating procedures directing school managements to commence operations. Imagine the pressure on the local municipal bodies to verify all procedures and grant clearances and the ‘rush’ to get this done? What if in the process there is super spreading?

This in the backdrop of rising numbers, US and UK extending their lockdown for almost six months, and WHO directives about a second wave. While many educators continue to decode “structure” and “age-criteria” for schools in the Brick n Mortar world with the NEP announcement, the current challenge lies with States deciding whether it is safe for children to return to schools. I would assume this puts a lot of pressure and onus on school owners, as they will have to get undertakings, create infrastructure, orient children and essentially focus heavily on administrative operations including well being of teachers and other team members, not to mention transport woes and sanitation protocols. Those without playgrounds or ventilation face the uphill task given what we know about assembling in closed, air-conditioned spaces without proper ventilation (many schools are single storey buildings). To mobilise this mammoth operation requires financial investment and for schools that have suffered huge losses on account of non-payment of fees, this will be tricky. Assuming schools manage this within 2-3 weeks of States sanctioning permissions, how many parents will send children to school?

The directive is also clear, parents will not be obligated to send children and on-line teaching-learning must continue, in that case how do school managements manage “dual” programs, monitoring children in school and at home, and spare a real thought about teachers that will be expected to personalise for those on-line and then in school (extending their hours) and they still have to manage their own children and their own homes? There’s been tremendous effort, but this kind of expectation is unreal! Residential schools might be the easier route then, given children and teachers will be in a ‘bio-bubble’ post all quarantine measures and perhaps normalise quicker!

Parents need to be oriented about the challenges of managing daily routines should schools re-open and also that the world will not just go back to normal. In-door activities will still be restricted, outdoor will be encouraged, perhaps schools may insist on 3 day testing cycles for all, to ensure safety and security of all concerned. Worry is, the hurry to open all schools may contribute to a rising number, and are our cities equipped with enough medical facilities to deal with this?

I do not have all the answers to these questions, and fellow educators are in discussion with government officials, outsourced agencies that are conducting feasibility studies of mobilising, parent bodies and anyone who can guide them about the next step. Point is, no one can take that decisive decision and for me, schools must fulfil a certain criteria certified by a third party agency that has the ability to create SOPs, and perhaps bring children in small cohorts with complete transparency on part of parents via some app to enable them to register movements, and medical information that is updated real time. Their access to medical facilities, and organisation of infrastructure for school staff to live on campus like they do in hospitals, and breaks in between would mean that “bio-bubbles” will need to be created with so many families in one school, this is practically impossible!

Just a fleeting thought – would it not be possible to wait out these months, and consider a start in December for us to track developments and get ready with detailed preparation? Let’s plan well in advance, build capacities and capabilities to ensure that we do not put our children, the teachers and their respective families at risk.

Lots to think about and the next few weeks will feature deep conversations and research pulling in data from what other countries have experienced, what worked and what did not! Tricky months ahead and many more conversations and discussions, and I would be surprised if this is a sweeping sanction or decision. Schools will have to understand their own limitations and restrictions and be sensible about start dates even if the States are to allow it!

God knows we want to normalise, planning well would be the key.

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“Stroke of genius if you can solve everybody’s problems …”

“Stroke of genius if you can solve everybody’s problems …”

2020 has recorded a fair number of petitions for the K-12 industry since lockdown and un-lockdown times and I will admit, for unaided, private schools, the all-familiar areas of fee related writs make their rounds again. The Indian education sector broadly polarised between public and private is perhaps the most challenged Corona virus sector (well, every sector will raise its hand, so I will rephrase that to “as affected”) and given that it plays a significant part in the role of building nations that are considered progressive, the current differentiated state wise developments will have deep consequences. Some of these short-sighted populist decisions taken by some states may come back to haunt us in more ways than we can imagine.

 

History will verify that nations that have rebuilt post wars/calamities, consciously allocated a sizeable amount to developing their education sector, especially primary education. In India, on the other hand, as a developing nation, despite the obvious population and demographic challenges we face, budget allocation year on year, leaves a lot to be desired for government aided schools. One can therefore only imagine the disruption that the pandemic has caused. The inequalities between the public and private sectors have been statistically documented time and time again, and I would safely say, if pre pandemic we were twenty years behind in terms of policies and systems, post pandemic, we will find ourselves staring down the barrel, if we do not allow experts to partake in decision making and unite this eco system. The gap threatens to widen, and I worry only hindsight will get us into a common discussion point if we do not arrest the current trends in the country. Will that be devasting? Ofcourse, it will.

 

The private sector, for most parts operating with its own funding has increasingly found more enrolments over the last decade, be it budget schools or mid-size or the more elite ones given their pace for change, systems and processes, infrastructure upgrades, IT capabilities, teaching-learning outcomes and best practices . For this one part of the industry, coping with lockdown times, therefore was perhaps ‘relatively’ easier as they could make the switch to remote learning or on-line in a short period of time. That meant that learning could continue for those enrolled into these schools since April 2020 without interruption given schools were under lockdown.

 

So how it is that an industry that could normalise for most parts became a Government intervention directive, and those not happy (parents) landed up in High Courts? For me personally, what was most surprising was that petitioners who were not pleased with judgements in certain states (not their own), decided to make it a pan India appeal and registered their prayer to the honourable Supreme Court, without first approaching their respective High Courts! Well, I am told by many in these unprecedented times, this is to be expected. The SC in the second week of July, refused to entertain the plea seeking, inter alia, a waiver of private school fees for a period of three months starting April 1 to July 1, 2020 and regulatory mechanisms of fees PAN India during lockdown. Live Law, July 11 2020 reported,  “the bench was not inclined to entertain the plea and would not want to go into the merits of the issue and directed the petitioner to approach High Courts of respective states” . The bench was categoric, “It would be a stroke of genius if you can solve everybody’s problems. Problems of each state are different. It’s a situation where facts of all states must be considered. We don’t know how to solve the issue for the whole country, and that’s what you have prayed for. Whether it is release of prisoners, migrant workers, petitioners are moving this Court and feeling depraved that we are not giving the kind of relief sought. Why as a jurisdictional court, can you not approach the High Court first?”

 

So, what’s the crux of the matter you ask?

 

One of the first High Courts to direct petitioners who requested a waiver of fees for school closures was Delhi, and the Court was clear that parents must honour their commitments as long as learning was on “on-line”.

That is my opinion spurned many into action to convincing state governments to issue guide-lines to ban online classes. The reasons cited were excessive screen time, inability of the teachers, lack of IT infra at home, pressure on parents etc. The fundamental reason for all this was simply that if there was no on-line learning, schools would not be entitled to collect fees. Problem solved, in their mind. No consideration that lockdown would be many months, and perhaps a year, and this would be developmentally a set back for their children. Short-sighted, in my opinion.

As an educator, I marvel at the rationale for this directive by some states, driven largely by a non-paying fee motive for if the argument was only “screen-time”, this can be easily managed as experts – from mental health to health professionals will validate not to mention researchers world-wide. Passive recreational screen-time is detrimental when uncontrolled, but balanced, interactive engagements on the other hand, are in fact developmentally required in these lockdown times that scream for socio emotional learning! Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh were states that went ahead and directed schools to discontinue on-line teaching, but courts directed them to re-think in the interest of continuous learning and for the sake of the children. It was clear with the verdict that the High Court expected States to have done more home-work prior to issuing directives, not after and then find ways to validate it.

Quite frankly, remote learning has been around for 2 centuries but unfortunately it was only in the early 2000 did some progressive nations embrace its power and potential, and understand that technology is an enabler and invested in both IT infrastructure, skilling and exposure of teachers and students to this new reality of learning. We are in 2020, and in India, we are still discussing and debating its merit instead of optimising on how to do it better. Despite these petitions and government interventions, the fact of the matter is that private unaided schools have the ability and the capability to deliver classroom experiences on -line, and should be allowed to continue to upskill their teachers, and create opportunities for better student engagement so that we kickstart our “normalising”. There’s evidence of months of engagement already, there’s validation from many parents and even teachers who have toiled hard. Only part is getting all parents to accept this remote learning as “school” and honouring their fee payments to the schools.

Well if it was this simple, we would not have petitions and TweetStorms initiated by educators, a section of parents and teachers urging some state government to take back their earlier directives.

Five High Courts have directed their States to permit on-line learning under some regulations and guidelines, which means that parents must honour their fee commitments while some states have cancelled on-line learning. This in effect means, for a sector already polarised with its inequalities between public and private and “altered” education in many ways for government schools via TV channels and other mediums (a welcome solution for millions of students in government schools for sure), we now have further polarisation  by creating disparity because of different state directives, and those with perhaps the capacity to do it seamlessly, find themselves in no man’s land! And these are schools who are self-funded, rely on fee collections for a large part of their expenditure, and regulated in every way. These schools are now termed “money-making” institutions who are not sympathetic to the plight of the parents faced with financial challenges, yet these were the “sought-after” schools pre-pandemic and the one that would cement the foundation for their children?

The ground reality is that non-payment of fees (because they cannot be collected in some states) will lead to large scale unemployment as managements unable to sustain themselves, will be forced to shut down, forcing teachers and administrative staff to be laid off. Yet again, I bring up the point about those that can manage, are held back, and while disallowing them to operate with dialog with their own parents because of some “blanket” decisions, and instead of directing parents to honour their contractual commitments (as some states have done), the states are over loading themselves with problems that already has in its aided schools.

Makes one wonder how as a nation, this divided policy will serve anyone;  if holding back those who can offer seamless online school experience will serve anyone’s purpose in the long run; if these decisions made today, are in the hope that schools will open soon and this problem resolves itself? At this stage, with our rising numbers and new discoveries around the spread of the virus not to mention lack of vaccine anytime before 2021, does anyone really believe we will get any time in the physical world with the kids this academic year?

Point is shall learning be allowed to continue for some, while we build capabilities for those with no access or skills, or shall we all stay at ground zero?

Point is does the private unaided sector be the one to always defend its act and justify itself simply because it is “private”. Does this marginalisation of this sector work for our economic growth, and lack of support or stimulus to this sector serve any purpose?

While you consider this, also remember right to learn is a constitutional right for every child, so is right to choose where one learns, how one learns, and ofcourse the right to earn.

While you reflect on the real motive or purpose of some of these populist directives, I leave you with what the honourable SC opinioned, “Stroke of genius if you can solve everybody’s problems …”

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Focus on Quality of Teaching Training Courses

Focus on Quality of Teacher Training Courses

Nation wide K-12 educator participation has been requested as the state wise SOPs are being framed for the implementation of the National Education Policy 2020 in the next academic year – from webinars to round table conferences, to surveys – you name it, and there is feedback about each aspect of the document before policies are framed which is a welcome sign as it prevents this becoming another debate. Better to deliberate now and work out logistics including exception to the cases, and avoid this becoming another roadblock in time.

One of the key areas of discussions is centred around qualifications of teachers, their certification, the duration of the degrees etc. For me, the importance of recognising that qualifications are necessary from certified & recognised organisations is a good starting point (who is certifying and on what grounds is also something that needs complete transparency and clarity including governance). I worry however about the quality of content, the upgrade status of the syllabus keeping in mind the vision of the NEP and importantly, the quality of trainers.

I was in discussion with a senior trainer a few weeks back and she passionately spoke about the quantum of information available with the diploma and degree programs in the country. Everyone is aware, we love our ‘quantity’ in this country (if you are slogging days and nights over reams of paper, for some this is defined as hard work and assumed success), and to be honest, that does not bother me too much. More can be good for some, and it is a matter of how it is organised and managed, how often is it upgraded and honestly, who is facilitating this?

Well, that’s where this gets interesting and a bit complicated. Unfortunately, the teaching profession in this country is lower down the pecking order for most when all other bucket choices don’t work out. For some it is most definitely a matter of passion and for many, it is a safe, reliable alternative that provides flexibility (well these pandemic times will question this on all accounts!). While the past two decades have seen progress with private players stepping up and rewarding teachers, the truth is as a country, we know we have our challenges on this front which we have done very little to address over the years. ‘Teach for America’ if you recall was initiated to address a similar situation in the US – bring ‘talent’ into the education space as a starting point, to ensure those that learn from strong facilitators will emerge therefore more evolved!

As a nation, we need to start thinking about this. How can we make this profession enticing enough to attract the best in class. Not for a moment I am suggesting that the talent is not good, all I am simply saying is that teaching should be featured more in the top choices rather than the bottom ones. Make it a level playing field like it is for engineering, medicine, finance etc.

With this change in mindset, I believe we will start evaluating the quality of the diplomas and degrees from the perspective of syllabus and content, and if the vision is the future, these courses need a re-think immediately. The move away from rote to application as part of the NEP must also be applicable for the way we impart education to aspiring teachers. It has to be relevant, futuristic and implementable.

With my dissertation on the Capital Structure Theory – Optimum Debt-Equity ratio as part of my final submission on the MBA, as someone who values research, I know I have scanned every theorist from Miller and Modigliani and tried to validate my hypothesis with a dogged determination. After over a lac of words and using the hotel industry in India as a case study, all I can say is that, theory holds its place to explain rationale, a lot depends on the field experience.

Simply put – we need to pack in more internships with these qualifications, more time learning on the job, kind of like what the undergraduate programs in the US have – students working for a whole year before they are awarded their degree after a 4 year program completion.

This for me is crucial, as lecture hall knowledge about theorists and class room teaching are too much of a gap to bridge when one starts work especially if the candidate has never worked a day in his/her life and is thrust in front of a classroom of children with different learning abilities and the teacher is meant to get into the act and optimise. Some can. Some simply cannot, and for me, the biggest worry is the unsuspecting children who are assigned to the class.

Hopefully, decision makers will take a long hard look at the content being curated on these programs and internships and field experience to apply these ideas before teachers become teachers and give them the confidence as well to deliver what they are set out to! Regular revisions, upgrades, inclusion of technology skilling are some obvious decisions to be factored in. Currently, this is not as progressive as we would like it to be. With the pandemic if hindsight is permitted, I would say we have fallen short.

With that, I will focus on who is facilitating these courses? Back to my discussion with this senior lecturer and she was taken aback when I said how can someone who has never taught in a school at any age be able to facilitate with confidence because the ground realities are very different from creating a perfect lesson plan and walking into a classroom to find half the class absent, some disinterested, some unwell and some incident that occurs that needs more counselling than content delivery? What sounds perfect in a lecture does not fit into every classroom, every year and this will be stated openly by anyone who has ever taught. For me therefore the quality of the faculty teaching must also come from a place of experience to be able to give practical advice to students. This is an area that needs screening, review and also governance year on year.

And last but not the least, as a Trustee, I have hired a few teachers as interns for teacher-support to provide opportunities to them to learn on the job and hopefully inspire them to take on qualifications and teaching full time. These were stay-at-home mums who had given up rewarding banking or law careers to look after their children and I found in many cases, the out-of-box thinking, the creativity, the simplicity, and the patience these ladies had with children was as much or in some cases, far more impactful than perhaps the qualified and experienced teachers.

This brings me to the question I leave everyone with – will mandates warrant hiring so that we can tick the boxes, or will we start recognising talent for what it is? I do believe like the NEP has pointed out, the BED in its 4, 3, 2, 1 year versions allows those experienced in other fields that are qualified to also skill them up with a more flexible programs and shorter versions of it. Hope this is aligned to what the academic boards and States are factoring in when creating these SOPs. It is these minute details that need careful consideration for I know I have been forced to take on some teachers simply because the ‘rule’ stated it on paper.

Let’s broaden our mindset and ring some changes with an eye on the future.

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Time to Introspect School Leaders?

Time to Introspect School Leaders?

This is one of those Monday morning motivational quotes by Leadership First that happened to coincide with the new training initiative by us at the Agarkar Centre of Excellence (ACE) – Empowering School Leaders that got me thinking about the National Education Policy 2020 and how everyone is talking about implementation, and simply not enough in my opinion about the responsibilities that school leaders will shoulder in the months to come. Are they ready?

There has been plenty of discussion already about the appreciation of the NEP2020 by the Centre after 34 years, but we all know when different States start adopting their own machinery, it can get a bit tricky. A simple case of inter-district or inter-state travel does not have the necessary clarity that one desires as we move towards un-lock down phase number – ?! (sorry, I have lost track of these phases now). Approved in Cabinet, educators are awaiting what each State puts out as a set of protocols to be followed by schools. News is out that Karnataka is all set to be the first state that will lead by example and eagerly awaited are the set of procedures presented by an appointed Committee. So far, there’s speed in thinking about implementation by some States, when many worried that the process would take forever! That part we must be grateful for. Agree?

On that note, while protocols are shared, the schools as units will orient themselves with structures; this new reality with the pandemic means that the leadership at the helm will play a critical part in execution – more than ever, as some senior educators have pointed out given the uncertainty of times. The ambiguity is a certain, the facts will evolve constantly is another certainty and therefore, the driver of this machinery – the school leader must be up to the task to embrace this decade with all its developments and create the next in line ready for the transition. I have often shared this during our mentoring and training programmes with Principals that as an industry, we must learn from counterparts in other industries. As a service industry, we must know that there are market forces, intense competition, and some old traditional systems must make way for a new age of learning, and for that, Principals of schools need to start thinking like Chief Executive Officers (CEOs). The yesteryear expectation of delivering on “academics” has already made way for a “broader” role with the competition intensifying in the past decade or so in India. From a supervisory role, the need to move into a more “driving” role that is futuristic with a pulse on changing variables, the ability to innovate and make quick decisions, and the sheer confidence to take some risks will define the leaders that take their schools to the legacies they envisioned. It simply cannot be about infrastructure but its optimisation to create opportunities to learn, it simply cannot be about academic achievements, but about creating those extra ordinary experiences for each and every student while achieving the “performance” targets that make thinkers out of the children who can step into the real world with the confidence of a master, and yet continue to learn and be open minded.

The leaders of tomorrow must invest deeply in research & development and understand competitive trends, find academic & administrative solutions efficiently and with speed and build communities. These leaders will encounter challenging decisions and changes in organisational structure to manage complexity, and the need to make it a seamless process. Many lessons to be learnt from the corporate world and the companies that have re-engineered?

I think so. Often, we tend to be restricted to the thought process that we have built w ithin our own industries, and if school leaders truly believe in creating impact, they will have to un-learn, relearn and keep at it for some time and then start the process all over again – kind of what many CEOs will share as part of their journey. Design thinking is simply not restricted to the way we teach our children but the way we engineer strategies in the way we manage our teams to deliver.

The leader must be a complete people person with ready, customised solutions for the faculty for if the implementation must succeed, their ability to motivate and direct, empower and support will play a crucial part in the way teachers respond and each one may need a different kind of handling. For me, the school leader must be the compassionate educator who understands both sides of the coin and will balance policies with realities by communicating with deeper understanding with both the Management and the parent body. Communication is non-negotiable and leaders will have to think like start-up entrepreneurs if they must ride the storm in the next few years and any entrepreneur will validate that communication is King.

Recognising the power of technology and communication internally and externally and creating experiences for the children that are deeply personal requires tremendous effort, and that’s when some personal introspection is important. Are we ready as leaders, do we know enough about systems and processes that are changing, are we reading enough, are we delegating wisely, so that we have enough time to think ahead, do we have the energy and the ability to put in hard hours, and most importantly is our vision aligning with that of the organisation? Have we “checked” this? Can this be nurtured?

Before we begin implementation of the NEP2020 we must as leaders take stock of our existing reality, and this gap analysis will help define roles and responsibilities in a manner that the processes that follow for the children we nurture are seamless and bring in more dynamism and relevance to what and how they are learning.

As we move into the school resumption phase, and the new look NEP2020, we know only some facts. The rest is the VUCA world disrupted largely by technology one would have said a few conferences ago, and one that has been honestly disrupted by this pandemic. To build further, and plug the damages, and continue to think ahead of the curve will require a different kind of approach and mindset.

There’s a need to start thinking about that now.

ACE Education customises mentoring programs for school leaders. For more details write to us on [email protected]

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Humanising the Digital Space

Humanising the Digital Space

There are strong indications that India as a nation is ‘not-too-keen’ on commencing the physical world operations in its public or private sector schools, at least till the end of the year. Speculation was strong during the unlockdown phase 1 and media continues to throw up different reports on what States are thinking, third party auditors who are guiding schools for their SOPs when they do eventually open, and if the ‘mood’ is to be determined by what the Centre believes is ‘safe’ and ‘ideal’ and in the national interests of its citizens especially the youngest who may be the most vulnerable, we may be looking at a longer time in the virtual world.

States continue with their onward march with this consideration of opening schools and when; some are currently simply discussing fee payment challenges that parents have, and the possibility of some schools closing down on account of lack of funds, and trying to work out NEP guidelines for implementation given its time line is next year as well for SOPs.

As the world opens up gradually – France first off to start schools followed by UK, and South East countries as well, the general sense after Israel reported an increase in spikes by asymptomatic children to the senior staff, or the United States of America for that matter, the ground reality is that there are associated risks with schools opening up. For example, one logistic problem for Italy appears to be ordering 3 million single tables and chairs for their schools to maintain social distancing when they do open up. School resumption, assuming parents are willing to send their children (which if we have to go by the survey conducted by different State authorities and Academic Boards, not to mention, independent media houses, parents are clearly in favour of not!) is a complex set of protocols that needs careful consideration and a step-by-step execution with every stake-holder oriented and on board, and that means there needs to be a passage of time after an announcement by the Centre and their respective States, for the schools to get into ‘operation-getback’. Sanitation, re-arrangement of furniture, quarantine of staff if returning from different states, not to mention infirmary upgrades and tracking devices, staff and children training and flexible schedules of learning which may need plenty of adjustment and re-thinks. Also the SOPs when a child tests positive or a staff member,  what happens then?

This is all assuming that parents ‘trust’ their educational partner (and when I look at what is happening with some parent petitions against some schools over fee payments, I dare, the appears to be a general lack of support for establishments) and want to send their children to school in the absence of a vaccine which as many countries are in their trial phase it expected early next year only.

The alternative, as educators have been advocating since the first lockdown in March has been a year of virtual engagements, and when ‘safe’ a possibility of opening in Jan 2021. That does not mean that the academic year can be treated as a year written off simply because every age group has different needs, need specific attention and well meaning parents with WFH schedules are struggling to cope with learning outcomes that trained teachers can deliver on seamlessly. This is now an established fact, with parents in support of virtual engagements.

Assuming India slips into its second wave, which as scientists and the medical fraternity warn us might be more dangerous than the first for we let the guard down easily ( history is witness to this), we may well use all our time and effort and concentrate ‘humanising’ the digital learning with socio emotional learning so children can ‘normalise’, research creative ways to engage children with break-away sessions, synchronous and asynchronous work so that it is not a burn out for teachers or students, ‘re-organise’ curriculum targets so that essentials are covered that are non negotiable, and work on more deeper learning than an introduction of many new concepts. We might as well look at the next 4 months as a period of accelerating the systems and processes and collaborating with other schools to create a ‘fresh, energised’ format of learning.

It is critical to embrace the reality, sooner than later and find ways to build capabilities and capacity instead of worrying whether online or physical world. Let’s face it, we do not as a community have many answers only facts of what is reported  as schools world-over have started opening up and their experiences matter when we take our first step. Mind you, except the US most other countries are not reporting the one day highs or spikes like India is at the moment and we have not even fully opened up as a nation!

Let’s for a moment accept that online is no substitute for the physical world, but it sure is an able partner when we speak of continuous learning, one that will not put a child ‘back’ given there has been a loss of ‘learning’ for a prolonged period of time and research does suggest that this has far reaching impacts.

Learning for most schools is about projects, activities, it is about thinking laterally, working on core skills including life skills but it offers that ‘consistency’ to a ‘normal’ routine at home for children who are otherwise left ‘unattended’. There will either be a case of a household doing too much or too little, both ends extreme in my opinion and not in the interest of the child.

Therefore, experts need to dig deep, find innovative ideas of how to manage the virtual space for those with IT capabilities, and focus on bringing these capabilities to those that do not.

It is critical that we move fast when we see the writing on the wall, and optimise. The communication between now and when schools open will be crucial and critical, and cannot be ignored. A decision about sending a child back to school involves state directives in terms of permissions but it will entirely depend on each school’s capacity and capability not to mention the willingness of the parents. Joint effort. Wasn’t it supposed to always be that?

Let’s focus on humanising the digital space as never before so at least one section of our community, our children emerge ‘protected’ from the devastating effects of this pandemic.

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Equitable & Inclusive Education

Equitable & Inclusive Education

Section 6 of the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP) focuses on equitable and inclusive education. For me personally, from all the aspects factored in the new policy (and I have written about this extensively already), what is the most exciting aspect of the policy – is this! Well let me categorically state, the vision is all encompassing and focuses on ‘every’ child because as a country battling with reservations and physical and mental learning challenges, government school challenges of lack of enrolments, we have done painfully little to address the needs of every child. Yes, implementation will no doubt be the key! We have been saying for all aspects ever since the announcement.

The policy states, “Education is the single greatest tool for achieving social justice and equality. Inclusive and equitable education – while indeed an essential goal in its own right – is also critical to achieving an inclusive and equitable society in which every citizen has the opportunity to dream, thrive, and contribute to the nation. The education system must aim to benefit India’s children so that no child loses any opportunity to learn and excel because of circumstances of birth or background. This Policy reaffirms that bridging the social category gaps in access, participation, and learning outcomes in school education will continue to be one of the major goals of all education sector development programmes.”

Pretty impressive in its wordings?

You have to accept there is intent! For those who work extensively in private and public schools will most definitely want to see its translation and implementation as States interpret this overarching framework shared in the months to follow and will reserve their comments till then.

Fair!

The reason for this scepticism, is that this will be a herculean task for this ‘all inclusive & equitable’ vision will have infrastructure challenges, curriculum hurdles and core standards of assessments and progression with different academic boards, not to mention capabilities of the teaching faculty and most importantly, changing variables as we see learning transforming to a blended format for years to follow.

Having being associated for a school for differently abled children for a decade (a project still dear to my heart), I still remember the earlier days when the world was not as ‘accepting’ in this country, we had our work cut out. Working with academic board officials to ‘modify’ curriculum and make it more functional for children on the spectrum but allowing their worried parents the satisfaction of ‘qualifications’ that would be recognised at college admissions and the uphill task to have the children find a placement once they passed Grade X. From government department visits to liaising officers, those days were spent with ‘pleas’ and anxiety for children and even more their parents. Teachers at the centre as always!

As I said, this is extremely difficult simply because in this country and for that matter world over, we label children bases of IQ testing, some evaluation that defines their ability and then compartmentalise them within a box with academic targets that are not matching pace, and do nothing for the functionality of these children, setting them back further. Academic Boards be it state or national/international, need to consider revisions if we have to be that ‘inclusive’ society, so that no child is indeed left behind (and while we are at it, make the process of getting ‘certification’ easier!!) This was almost 15 years ago, and unfortunately, the battle for special schools continues – lack of funding and dedicated efforts to drive this, for me continues to be an area of concern. Capacity in private or public schools to manage volumes has not been thought through, and perhaps we need to revaluate our teaching degrees that qualify teachers – it is up to date? Relevant? Does it pack enough field experience?

There are many specialists, however who have invested a great deal of time and effort and have some time-tested strategies that will be useful reference points when creating the inclusive SOPs by States. I do hope this collaboration takes place before policies are drafted.

Case to point, RTE was beautiful in spirit – allowing children opportunities but I worry without any tangible research and findings we will continue to add to our problems. Strongly bat for experts to invest some dedicated effort to understand the ground realities. For the report card on this is not looking very promising. Focus on the implementation and before deciding blanket policies, a greater effort for this sector will be beneficial to all – children, teachers and parents.

Having said this, I do like the fact that we recognise that every citizen of this country will be awarded respect and dignity irrespective of caste, creed or ability, and for a country churning out 12 million each year into the work force, each child’s future will be hopefully secure. Again we are talking about changes that have to happen at various levels, an integration of departments and a collective effort by many.

Wow, how’s that for pressure?!

This space will be closely watched, and I know many of us passionate about providing direction will be working fiercely to bring in changes that we badly need.

NEP vision document, good starting point? At least for the sake of the children?

Optimist as always, I will say – yes!

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Got the importance it needed - EMOTIONAL SECURITY

Got the Importance It Needed? – EMOTIONAL SECURITY

Details of State wise Implementation Plans & Processes of the new National Education Policy (NEP) is the overwhelming public response to what the Centre has put out there as a vision document for this country as ‘The NEP 2020’. There are educators who are sceptical about its ‘mass’ appeal, and are worried that the vision and execution gap will take years to bridge, and then there are those that want to simply look at the document and capitalise on its potential – the optimists you may call them. Fact is that there are many positives no matter which side you take, and much has been discussed already and next bit is crucial as States work out their respective machinery in terms of fund allocations, capabilities be it IT or infrastructure, teacher education and yes their own interpretation of the language policy and regulatory guidelines to be issued. In all of this, I do believe we need to carefully consider how the changes are brought in time-tables (at least K-12) to make it more about experiential learning with its core subject focus, life skills and sports integration, or assessments that are built in for success for every child, or for that matter how diagnostic evaluations pan out, hopefully inviting detailed discussions with educators that have been instrumental in creating success stories for children, equally represented by the private and public experience and importantly ringing in changes in bite sized portions and not sweeping changes without the strength to course correct. We need to think through this extensively and also align K-12 with higher education, as early childhood education has finally been recognised as a significant contributor to the future of this country. It links finally?

The macro vision that does not isolate but wants to be more ‘connected’ is something that helps us emerge as a consolidated system of schooling education and for me the 5 (Nursery to Grade 2) plus 3 (Primary Years Grades 3 to 5) plus 3 (Middle Years Grades 6 to 8) plus 4 (High School Years Grades 9 to 12) total of 15 years is definitely more ‘structured’ with the inclusion of early years (the first 3 that were ‘distanced’ now part of a consolidated structure with the earlier 10 plus 2 (Grades 1 to 10 plus Grades 11 & 12) will now have Nursery, Jnr Kg and Snr Kg part of its umbrella. The structure has been working globally and there’s merit in it. At this stage, it needs to be understood if entry points in schools will now change, with pre-schools taking on higher grades. Would some schools start at Grades 3 and conclude Year 12) shifting their focus? Let’s wait and watch what happens. The point of this structure is not to disrupt, it is more to do with what we should have always been thinking – age appropriate. So for the time being, it would leave the discussion points about entry and exit depending on a school’s internal capabilities.

The science behind this structure is also crucial – assigning age appropriate developmental milestones and a seamless transition to the ‘next’ level. Research suggests this break -up may be more relevant now than ever as never in the history of our lives have we experienced schools being shut down world over for such prolonged periods of time as part of a health concern and this means their world as children, as resilient as they may be, and quite frankly they are, has changed and the only speculation ahead one can speak with certainty is that how many years it will take to finally normalise and stabilise. This simply means for some children the next 15 years may be spent in ‘recovery’ (their entire schooling journey!!!) and therefore the approach to their learning must focus primarily on their emotional well being and this may just be achieved with this structure?

Question is that would we as educators liked to have to seen more of this mentioned as a vision document? – I think so. It is a known fact that unless it is a top down approach, most policies fail to deliver the kind of impact that we would like to see. And remember this is not the private sector discussion alone with this vision document (they have been speaking about socio emotional learning forever especially progressive schools), this document is largely to bring the government schools under some sort of ‘benchmark’ that can be monitored, and yes increase enrolments. No one is complaining about this, and a healthier competitive market, with a level playing field allows drives better result. Fact. Checked!

Well coming back to the focus of well being and mental health that is the focus on my article. For me, this structure will work if we think of it from an emotionally secure child who moves from one phase to another and being mentored and nurtured through each of these phases. Someone asked me on a webinar, what my opinion was about different age groups – which was the most crucial or difficult and that really brings up the most significant part – every age group matters, has to be handled by specialised experts, and also being mindful of their ‘maturity’ and ‘developmental’ growth spurts – emotionally. Our communication as adults – educators and parents will have to be mindful of then our expectations of these children and how each age group brings in its own set of challenges and opportunities. And yes learning outcomes may have to be altered to think about this.

Unless the focus is driven on well being and mental health, I worry that this document will become yet another ‘evaluation/assessment’ document and while it focuses on learning as a marked difference from the past, and onus lies with the teachers, are the teachers going to receive the kind of necessary training to equip themselves to manage the emotional needs of students? Would they have to take on mandatory courses, have field experience to learn what to do it, how to do?

At every stage, every age, children will be vulnerable, will need guidance on handling their emotions, and mentoring about consequences for some of their choices. This cannot just be a subject in a class that is taught, this has to be the vision of the school, to emotionally secure the child so India does not becoming yet another staggering statistic on the world map for the most number of students taking drastic steps because someone did not bother with them.

Would I have like to see more of this in the document? Ofcourse yes, but like a fellow educator beautifully pointed out in yet another webinar on Saturday, ‘what’s stopping leaders to implement what they think is important. A vision document is a guide, but the choice lies with you to implement and create for the sake of the children’.

After-all, as educators, the promise was to groom children and that is a huge power we have. And with that comes great responsibility. And the additional responsibility will be about nurturing parents with this new orientation. As adults, the equity partnership lies with the parents as well as teachers and this is when we do return to a physical world as well. This partnership is not about ‘lock-down’ times alone, it is going to be more about unlock down times. It has to be about nurturing well balanced children. It is about our future, and all this effort must therefore be well directed and involve specialists and experts to create the path ahead.

Wellness, wellbeing cannot be side-lined, needs to be a school vision. Suggestion is not to wait for governments to decide this, but you as educators to make the real difference by investing time and effort and building capabilities.

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NEP’s ACE: Sports Integration in schools

NEP’s ACE: Sports Integration in schools

‘Holistic’ education has been the NEP’s central idea and as educators who have been advocating this, and supporting this execution in schools for many years, it is most reassuring that this vision extends not just to progressive schools but now ‘every’ child will hopefully be at the receiving end of this implementation. Much needed, this focus makes this policy so exciting as a vision document. ‘Holistic’ focuses on different co-curricular activities such as music, dance, theatre arts, create arts & sports as part of a child’s learning journey in school, giving it as much importance as the curricular subjects.

As many have been discussing, the outcome of this vision will really be State directed and eventually organised by schools, which is where it will be put to the real test and it must therefore be every educator’s mission to make it happen for the sake of the future of this nation. Sports, the main focus of this blog has many merits, and creates opportunities for many in different ways that previously have not be capitalised on.

Implementation in schools will need to be carefully structured with age appropriate activities for the 5+3+3+4 structure, exposure to a variety of sports both indoor and outdoors, and led and delivered by experts who are qualified & experienced to lead these programs. There must be a Scope & Sequence for each co-curricular program especially sports, and students assessed and evaluated basis of ability and effort but also motivated to ‘experience’ a variety without an ‘achievement’ focus. The policy speaks of this aligning to the Fit India movement, and emphasis on the process and not just the outcome, making this part of a lifestyle and culture. I do love this part!

Sports in itself is all encompassing, learning not technical skills alone but also important life skills. The policy speaks of pedagogical practices to help in developing skills such as collaboration, self-initiative, self-direction, self-discipline, teamwork, responsibility, citizenship, etc. This is critical, and this extends to other areas of learning and making it a habit – work ethics that are important for successful execution of any task.

Integration of sports has far reaching effects – higher concentration in curricular subjects, confidence and ownership will definitely add an advantage to a student’s learning story if implemented with a lot of thought. It needs more discussion and research, schools will have to identify their strength area and build infrastructure or upgrade to make available to a variety of sports so that children can leverage the skills of some in other sports.

A country obsessed with ‘specialisation’ now needs to make way for a narrative that allows children to simply play. And parents who ask me why their children keep switching activities at Grade 3 instead of focusing on ‘one’ specific sport, please understand this – they cannot for their need to experience different sports at different times more of time, and decide what their strength areas or interest areas lie and cannot happen before the age of 10 to 12. So focus on exposure and not outcomes.

This is where schools will need to be mindful of planning and implementing the vision and whom they hire or outsource this important aspect of sports integration.

Children need opportunities to play, and schools must think of every child – their interests and utilising infra well, create opportunities for children to be inspired to ‘play’. This is an era of customisation and personalisation, and one size will not fit all. Gender bias for sports needs to become a thing of the past, and if schools have to nurture talent for India to compete on the world stage, we will need the children to be exposed to the best in class training and mentoring routines.

As States gear up to bring in changes, and schools are working out their plans for the immediate post pandemic school opening (if and when!) and also planning ahead for next year’s plans, this policy has refreshing ideas for everyone to come together and improvise. I will say this openly that progressive schools have been on the same narrative for some time, but this policy makes it every child’s right to quality education that is holistic. For me, that’s a great starting point.

Let’s start executing with some passion ….

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NEP’s focus on Teacher Education

NEP’s focus on Teacher Education

The National Education Policy (NEP) has dedicated a fair amount of importance to the role of teachers when envisioning how the future of this great nation will be defined, and positioning India as an education super power in the years to come. Detailed paragraphs about Teacher Education, Recruitment & Continuous Development was a highlight for me in the policy. For those of us who have been passionately and transparently speaking about this during conferences, it is indeed heartening to note that the policy admits the quality gaps that exist which eventually leads to the inability to deliver on learning outcomes. I do understand global models were researched extensively to identify salient features that have worked and the proposition to implement these ‘time tested’ ideas will directly impact how the children learn in India – well that’s the vision anyway.

Let’s pause here. Research is great when it brings in an international or fresh perspective. It’s what we will do to customise and ‘localise’ it is the key. Given our demographics, we need to be mindful of minimum requirements and ‘blanket’ protocols proposed by States, and also the focus should be on ‘conversions’. Conversions are nothing but creating employment opportunities for those who are pursing bachelor’s degrees in other disciplines and inspiring them to move to education. This is the real transformation I would like to see. Kind of like what Teach for America was modelled on! It must be about attracting the best in class talent to teach, to ‘upgrade’ what exists in terms of performance. I am not for a moment suggesting those pursuing teacher education are not passionate or talented. But it would be interesting to research the profile of those enrolling. There will be some hard truths to be accepted, and when we do that we will realise, the root cause problems will not go away unless we address them. I strongly believe that we need to make education an attractive proposition (it has briefly been touched upon in the policy document), as glamorous as architecture, medicine, law, banking, finance and FMCJ. It must also be noted that private sector continues to lead trends with employment because of better systems and career progression path, but there are serious concerns about the ‘content’ taught in these degree programs and therefore ‘who’ schools are required to hire into their schools, given State mandates. There is a definite need for teachers with subject matter expertise and language efficiency, and both these perhaps are not at the point we would hope them to be at.

This is a reality, and many decades later we are still discussing it, having made very little course correction. Perhaps now is the time?

So back to the policy propositions -there are variation models proposed for these professional qualifications from short term to 1, 2, 4 year BED Courses recognising that there is a need to customise and focus on modern teaching-learning, and real life experience as part of the journey. Get that, but what will be interesting is who shapes the content that is ‘modern’. Who defines what should be part of the curriculum at higher education? Onus on national and private colleges? Are they ready to ring in the changes?

With the NEP, I also see the emergence of many committees to decentralise decision making (?!) and therefore if there has to be a committee constituted for learning outcomes which is proposed in the Higher Education governance regulatory body with its 4 verticals, I hope senior educators from K-12 can contribute to shape content at the University level especially for teacher education. They know what functional levels work in their schools, and they must therefore have a say in framing guidelines to teach.

As far as recruitment is concerned, we have got to professionalise this process as it is in the private sector with a focus on overall personality, attitude, subject matter expertise, work experience, exposure and ‘fit’. Private sector practices must be brought in for they work. This is a critical component as the fit to an organisation is an important starting point.

Professional development is a much disputed and debated topic, and I hope regulatory bodies focused on this, emphasise accredited and qualified trainers delivering this mandate for schools. Schools, as advised in the policy must be empowered to do it need based and not some compulsory mandates that has simply no purpose (50 hours must be meaningfully spent and impact an improvement). This piece is critical as continuous professional development separates the good from the ordinary and this cannot be mandated, it must be basis of audit and evaluations that schools decide which internal or external source can cater to their needs.

Teacher evaluations are a welcome sign as well, but once again a committee being commissioned to create these ‘parameters’ needS to be from the current industry, those practicing and working directly with teachers and I often find that Quality Control is never empathetic to the needs of the time, and detached from the teaching learning practices causes challenges for what is audited is usually not reflective of the effort put in. Also complexity of the models proposed previously works for extensive research but from a problem solving space, I urge decision makers to make it frequent but simple and positioned to effect qualitative improvements not basis of salary increments.

As educators have been sharing, the NEP uplifts the spirit and gives everyone the hope and direction that ideas that are futuristic will help shape young minds and ensure that they are employable and can compete with the best in class when they graduate. Yet, it comes down to the regulations and how States will adapt and implement. Who defines and regularises the content at universities, what type of internships models are put in place and the entire duration of implementation. Well, there is clear intent, there now must be substantial work done to ‘operationalise’ being mindful of our demographics.

It will boil down to the micro!

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