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Portal Exclusive: How management lessons can change India’s public education system

Posted on Monday, March 4, 2019

Improving education and focussing on it as an area of investment is a must if India wants to become a superpower and sustain economic growth, writes Aditya Natraj

A strong education system creates the foundation for a country’s sustained economic growth and prosperity. Over the past two decades, post the introduction of the Right to Education Act (RTE) in 2009, the enrolment of primary students in public schools has risen steadily to 93%. However, quality education and student learning outcomes still remain a concern in these schools. 

India spends 2.7% of GDP, less than several other developing countries across the globe, on schools. As per the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) - a nationwide survey conducted by Pratham (an NGO) - 48.2% of the students in fifth grade have a reading capacity that is equivalent to that of a second grade student. As per the data released by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, less than half of primary school students graduate to higher secondary grades. 
The ‘Rote Learning Mechanisms’ adopted by teachers, result in stunted growth in the student’s reading and comprehension skills, as well as in his/her overall development skills. Also, the complex curriculum being followed provides lesser scope for practical and creative thinking. A majority of these schools lack basic facilities such as proper classrooms, desks, and even electricity, and run on an outdated system that is not in touch with the ground realities. Additionally, the faculty remains under-skilled as well as understaffed.
As a result, parents that can afford private education fees, are opting out of the public education system.  Nearly half of the urban children and a fifth of the rural children in the country attend private primary schools. From 2010-11 to 2015-16, enrolment in public schools fell by 13million while the number in private establishments rose by more than 17million.
For a democratic country like India, with such a diverse population, the implementation of a pan-India reform becomes a tough task owing to varied political, economic, and social situations. So, in order to completely revamp the primary educational system, it is important to build upon a plan that focusses on four key steps:
1. Set precise and simple goals
2. Identify key issues 
3. Design reforms that could work within the financial and manpower budgets of the government
4. To develop a realistic plan based on the insights within the system to adjust and adapt to
For example, a programme in Haryana, established in 2014, has successfully reversed the declining literacy in the state through regular assessment and a more relevant curriculum. Owing to the reforms, teachers across the schools in Haryana, have simple specialized materials and methods that help them deal with those students that have different learning levels in a single classroom. Student learning levels are assessed once a month and the data is shared with the principals and teachers. 
It is encouraging to note that collaborations between the government and several reform-led organisations, have helped uplift the primary education system in rural areas, in the recent past. One such example is that of the collaboration between NITI Aayog and Piramal Foundation for Education Leadership that aims to work closely with the district, state, and other key agencies to improve student learning outcomes, enrolment in public schools, and drive behavioural change across 25 of the 100 Aspirational districts identified by the Government of India based on their Human Development Index. 
The public schools need to step out of the traditional learning methods to build a more structured educational system that is in touch with the current ground realities. High-intensity ‘learning camps’ run by NGOs across rural areas, structure the curriculum to a level that is easier for the pupils to understand and help them establish the basics. 
Specially designed teacher and management assessment tools help analyse their needs and drawbacks, while allowing the management to create a plan for their overall development. By rewarding the faculty on the basis of student learning outcomes, teachers are encouraged to be more creative in their approach, in addition to providing individual attention to students. 
India’s transition into a global superpower remains one of the most anticipated world economic trends that relies on a well-educated and skilled workforce. It is imperative to improve education and focus on it as an area of investment if the country wants to reach the intended stage and sustain economic growth by harnessing its young workforce. 
(The author is Aditya Natraj, CEO, Piramal Foundation for Education Leadership) 



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