A pseudo education reform

The Times of India feature, “In the balance: Future of schools & students” (June 6, 2016) reports about planned education reforms by the Kerala government.

Kerala education minister C Ravindranath said, “No school will be closed down for want of students.” The minister also said, “We are planning to create a comprehensive master plan to revitalize every school.” The minister’s statements are illogical at best. First step for starting a reform process is defining the issues/ problems that need to be resolved. At present there seems to be a consensus that education needs reform, without identifying:

  1. Why there is need for reforms?
  2. What need to be reformed?

Without identifying these, embarking on a reform is more for giving an impression that something is being done, without actually fixing the root causes.

What is the purpose of “a comprehensive master plan to revitalize every school” (especially, for those schools without any students?) Also, the proposed “revitalization master plan” is unlikely to be effective or useful, since preconceived decisions have been made already. It seems the scope of the master plan exercise is limited to justify the intended decisions.

Your report sums up the current situation: “Net result is that children flock to English medium private schools, leaving govt/ aided schools in the lurch. Such schools, that are a liability, become uneconomical.” [2, 3]

The current situation is due to lack of objective standards for education. Apparently, as the report says, the yardstick used to measure schools is: “A school is termed uneconomic if it has less than 25 students in one class and its total student strength is below 100.” The report also points out that there were 5,437 “uneconomic schools in 2015-16.”

Without a functioning economy, Kerala government has a difficult time assessing the effectiveness of its biggest industry: education. In a normal economy, one could measure the effectiveness of a school by collecting the employment statistics of its past students, such as occupations, income levels, etc. Since such objective measures are not feasible, Kerala government has defined a phantom measure: “uneconomic schools.” No wonder, the quality of Kerala education is pathetic.

According to the feature, “the question of saving teaching jobs crop up and closure of schools are opposed, with children from poor families used as pawns to avert closure. For most parents, if not all, the closure of a government or aided school is a crisis faced by the teachers attached to that school.” It seems the hidden problem being solved is loss of teaching jobs, and not quality of education.

Even with all these activities, there is lack of discussion about a proven method for improving quality of education. According to Matthew M. Chingos and Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst of the Brookings Institution, a reliable way to enhance quality of education is to improve student-teacher ratio: “it appears that very large class-size reductions, on the order of magnitude of 7-10 fewer students per class, can have significant long-term effects on student achievement and other meaningful outcomes. These effects seem to be largest when introduced in the earliest grades, and for students from less advantaged family backgrounds.” [2, 3, 4]

Education minister also said, according to the report, “Give me two years and ‘protected’ teachers will be scientifically deployed.” One simple solution, apparently not being considered, is improving student-teacher ratio, which automatically enhances student learning. (The ‘protected’ teachers is a curious concept.)

Based on available information, the planned “comprehensive master plan” for education reform is far from any real education reforms, but a justification for already determined actions. Here are two recommendations to really improve quality of education in Kerala:

  1. Improve student-teacher ratio, and
  2. Develop and implement a genuine education reform plan, without predetermined outcomes.

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