Learning Goals: Outlining an Agenda for the New Government
Good quality education is a key determinant of a country’s future economic growth and development. And a key determinant of good quality education is starting early so that the foundational learning skills of basic literacy and numeracy are acquired by all children by class 3 and all students are equally set up for success in later years.
Hence, I would strongly urge the new government to make the improvement in the quality of learning in primary schools (both public and private) of India as one of their biggest priorities for education reform. In the first few weeks, the incoming government should consider forming a Foundational Learning Task Force under the chairmanship of Minister, MHRD (Ministry of Human Resource Development) to study the current status and recommend improvements.
This task force should anchor the foundational learning reform agenda for the country. The first thing they will need to focus on is to develop a more nuanced understanding of why previous efforts in improving foundational learning failed, and what are the essential elements that must be present in any solution which is aimed at supporting schools and teachers in delivering high quality instructions to students.
Secondly, it will be important to conduct timely assessment of reading and math skills in early classes so that reliable, comparable and comprehensive data on learning outcomes in early grades is made available.
Thirdly, it is crucial to have clear and measurable targets and set expectations for everyone in the system – from the decision makers, to teachers, school administrators, bureaucrats and organizations working in education on achieving foundational learning.
Lastly, we need to launch a foundational learning reform agenda that will establish what policies and programs will actually move the needle. The pathway for improving school outcomes is not as clear-cut as the strategy for improving school access. Solving foundational learning is a complex issue and no one-size-fits-all approach should be proposed. Instead, the government should get states to contextualize and launch their reform agenda for foundational learning with clear success indicators. This should be accompanied by flexible funding to states and willingness to provide technical support to states and districts.
It is also imperative that the new government aims to build systems and processes with clear guidelines and protocols, to know how they would support schools or to know which districts and even states are falling behind and why. There are a few precious examples from other developing countries such as Brazil, Vietnam and Peru to get inspirations and ideas on how to achieve this within shorter timeframes.
Separately, for India to leapfrog on improving learning outcomes, technology can play a big role. The new government should explore measures on how EdTech can be made more accessible by focusing on diverse income groups and specially economically disadvantaged groups. For this, the government should create a holistic five-year vision for EdTech in India to inform national EdTech implementation in schools and bring in the necessary governance and institutional structures which would enable smooth adoption of EdTech.