The World Bank’s recent World Development Report 2018 addresses some of the immediate challenges of quality education, but doesn’t address root issues of poor quality education, such as discrimination and underfunding. It does raise some valuable questions and offers answers that are relevant to India as we are in the midst of drafting the New Education Policy. The report identifies four solutions to break the cycle of poor learning:
- Ensuring children come to school prepared to learn. Malnutrition in infancy leads to poor development foundations; children arrive in school, but are unable to fully benefit from it.
- Closer working relationships between the education, Woman and Child Development Ministries, implementation of Early Childhood Education Policy and a stronger emphasis on quality of children in the early grades is critical.
- Teachers must have the skills and motivation to teach effectively. While the report concludes that educational systems perform best when their teachers are respected, prepared, selected based on merit and supported in their work, it remains ambivalent in its approach to teachers. India's education policies have not treated teachers as professionals. If 80%-plus teachers consistently fail eligibility tests, or fail to respect the educational rights of children from excluded communities, the approach, curriculum and functioning of teacher training must be overhauled. Onsite academic support systems must be strengthened to mentor, and not just monitor, teachers.
- Ensuring inputs reach classrooms. In India, significant resources are needed to ensure all schools meet RTE Act standards for school facilities, but funding gaps are not responsible for distributional bottlenecks that cause several months' delay in availability of textbooks.
- Management and governance must be strengthened in schools that serve the poorest. Greater efforts are needed to strengthen School Management Committees, to create space for meaningful participation of children and adolescent girls' collectives and strengthen mechanisms for grievance redress.
- Systemic problems require systematic solutions that address both technical and political challenges. Quality and learning are harder to see or assess than student enrollment or teacher hiring, making it particularly difficult to focus attention. The rollout of the new policy should include a process of building common consensus among all players, including civil society, to ensure collective ownership and action.
- The report recommends assessing learning, acting on evidence and aligning all actors towards it as the roadmap to improving quality. However, its faith in learning data as a universal starting point for policy transformation is misplaced. Experience in India shows that regular citizen-led learning assessments such as ASER have not yielded automatic action to end the learning crisis.
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