2018 will be a historic year for Indian education policy. The Kasturirangan Committee will release the New Education Policy, outlining the principles, policies and, perhaps, specific programmes and pilots that will guide education delivery in the country. This year will also usher in a new era of evidence-based education policy discussions and debates, based on systematic annual assessments. The latter, to my mind, can permanently change the nature of the discourse on education policy in the country. It will reduce the influence of anecdotes and ideologies and compel people to confront the reality on the ground.
Beginning in 2018, we will have systemic data on learning levels at the national and state level gathered by governments and non-government organisations and will be able to overlay these with the more robust data on inputs and resources. A much-improved National Achievement Survey (NAS) was conducted in November of 2017 and the results will be out in early 2018. However, from now on, instead of being a sporadic assessment, it will be a regular annual assessment. From this year, NAS will collect data at the district-level and not at the state level, with over 35,000 schools and 30 lakh students. The limitation is that NAS assesses only government school students.
This will complement the NGO Pratham’s ASER, a household-based survey that includes rural private and government school students. The 2017 ASER report has assessed students in the age group of 14-18 and gives a picture of post-primary education. Put together, NAS and ASER can give us insights on learning levels of students; a comprehensive (if slightly incomplete) reading on the health of our national school education system.
The recently amended RTE Rules require each state to formulate grade-level learning outcomes and ensure that they are achieved. States have adopted some variation of the NCERT-suggested learning standards and several states have already started their own assessments. Delhi’s Chunauti scheme, in fact, is a trailblazer, starting assessments in 2014 with upper-primary classes and now extending it to primary classes to ensure basic reading and math competencies.
To understand the dynamics of learning outcomes with resource inputs, we will now have a more rigorous DISE data that includes details of school infrastructure, students and teachers across all types of schools in the country. Specific rounds of NSSO survey provide detailed data on education expenditures by households — school fees and the cost of transport, books, uniforms as well as private tuition.
The Aadhaar linkage with students and teachers are giving us more accurate data on student enrolment as well as school staff. Kerala and Haryana have found several lakh “ghost” students and recently the MHRD found about 80,000 “ghost” teachers. The government is also working on improving the quality and depth of education budget data. In 2018, we will have far more accurate and more nuanced understanding of the various resources devoted to education by all levels of governments.
However, for this goldmine of input and outcome data to have a meaningful impact, all of this data (public and private) must be available in the public domain in formats that are amenable to analysis by state and non-state actors. This is an opportunity for the prime minister and the MHRD minister to fulfil the government’s commitment to open data. An open data platform for education will help open ideological blindfolds and bring convergence on some of the most critical debates in our education policy.
Most of the input data — DISE, NSSO— are fully in the public domain and many independent researchers have been able to analyse them. In contrast, almost all the outcome data — NAS, ASER and learning assessments by states — are not fully in public domain. Only “processed data,” comprising final results on the chosen parameters are made public. We have to accept the conclusions the surveying organisations draw from the data; there is little scope for independent and in-depth analysis. This is a great disservice to the cause of education in our nation.
The government and public pressure must open up all the educational attainment data. Learning assessment surveys are either paid for by citizen taxpayers or collected by citizen volunteers. The MHRD, Pratham and states like Delhi should lead the way and open up all the data to full access and analysis.