MEASURABLE LEARNING OUTCOMES
Spirit of Sections 24(1) and 29(2) of RTE Act
*Shailendra Kumar Sharma
“I did not know that some children in my class could not identify numbers beyond one thousand or do a simple 3 digit by 1 digit division. I always thought that these children are not interested in studies and are just trouble makers. Therefore, I chose to focus only on those who showed interest and could follow what I teach”.
“Did it not occur to you to find out what they know and whether they are ready for the topic you are going to teach?” I asked, during the course of my conversation with a government school teacher of Std 8 in Delhi
“Never felt the need because we do Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation and all the evaluations confirmed what I already knew that these children are not at grade appropriate level”.
“These children are in Std 8 now, did no one down the line, including you, ever try to help them with basics?” I continued.
“Not sure, perhaps teachers in earlier grades took the easy way out by promoting them to the next grade thanks to no-detention policy. However, we teachers have to complete the curriculum also. Where do we have the time to focus on these children as well?”
“But then, what is the purpose of CCE? Is it not supposed to help you in understanding the learning needs of every child in your class so that you can design your classroom activities accordingly? I persisted.
“No, the CCE data is the requirement of the system. We collect and send it to them. Besides, we have to complete the curriculum also in time.”
“And that too is the requirement of the system!!” I commented with all puns intended. “So are the children for the system or system for the children?” I questioned.
In reply, he just smiled.
15 days later, the same teacher had a different story to tell. This time he initiated the conversation.
“After getting to know their level, I realised it was a good idea to do number games and word problem involving simple subtraction. They felt they could do it. These children who never took initiative actually started coming upto the board and solve sums. Now they are attempting more complex sums.”
I did not ask any further questions.
He however continued, “You know, now I understand. The strategy that we apply when a vehicle is stuck- put it in reverse gear, create some space between the wheel and the point where it gets stuck, push the accelerator and the vehicle is back on track. This works in learning as well”. He goes on, “I could do this because the system gave me the space to try a bit of reverse gear and you gave me a tool to find out where the vehicle is stuck”.
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In order to locate the above discussion in the context of the Right to Education Act, we need to look at Sections 24(1) and 29(2) closely. Particularly the three sub-sections of Section 24(1) which deal with duties of teachers and a sub-section of Section 29(2) which lays down the curriculum and evaluation procedure by the academic authority. While two of these sub-sections have the potential to place child-specific assessment and its ongoing communication at the centre of children’s learning, the other two can push it to the periphery of the learning process.
The provisions of the RTE Act at the core of this discussion are:
Section 24(1) (d): a teacher......... shall “assess the learning ability of each child and accordingly supplement additional instructions, if any, as required.”
Section 24(1) (e): a teacher......shall “hold regular meetings with parents and guardians and apprise them about the regularity in attendance, ability to learn, progress made in learning and any other relevant information about the child”.
And those provisions which pull the teaching-learning process in a different direction and effectively limit the scope of the previous two sub-sections are:
Section 24(1) (c): A teacher.......shall “complete entire curriculum within the specified time.”
Section 29(2) (h): this is the function of the academic authority. It says, “the academic authority while laying down the curriculum and evaluation procedure shall take into consideration.....comprehensive and continuous evaluation of child’s understanding of knowledge and his ability to apply the same”.
Section 24(1) is the obligatory function of the teacher and there is a penalty prescribed in Section 24(2) in the event of default. Therefore, going alphabetically, the teacher, first of all is expected to complete the entire curriculum in time. Non-completion of the curriculum can be ascertained very clearly and would invite punishment, as prescribed in the law. Hence, the first goal of the teacher is to complete the curriculum. Next, assess the learning ability of children using the tool prescribed by the academic authority, in pursuance of its role under section 29(2)(h), which is Comprehensive and Continuous Evaluation (CCE).
There are at least three potential challenges here: first, whether the tool actually measures the learning gap of the child (or where she gets stuck); second, is it simple to administer and third, can the findings be easily understood by the teachers, so that they can – in turn – communicate the same to parents/guardians, who should know their child’s learning levels and if they have made any progress, since the previous feedback. However, Aide Memoire of the 21st Joint
Review Mission (JRM) in February 2015 notes, “CCE is proving very difficult to establish and the results that emerge may well be too unreliable to be of much value.” It adds further, “Much of the effort and energy is understandably going into the process of establishing SLAS (State Learning Achievement Survey) and CCE across states. These are both massive undertakings, requiring high levels of technical expertise and administrative skill to do it well. There is as yet insufficient emphasis on what the assessments are actually showing. The purpose is not simply to measure learning outcomes, it is to improve them and this depends on what happens after the results are available. Results were generally available at the State level, but the extent to which these were known, understood and used at lower levels remains weak”.
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The need for effective measurement of learning levels, however, remains and is recognised by the JRM. Before concluding, it underscores the importance of learning assessment and its communication to some key stakeholders and says, “It is however vital that every child in India, and her or his parents/guardians, receives a periodic and reliable indication of what she/he can do in relation to what is expected. This is fundamental to RTE. How to do this simply and reliably is the key issue.”
New attempts have been made to state the learning indicators for measuring outcomes, as a supportive tool in the hand of teachers. National Council for Education Research and Training (NCERT) published “Learning Indicators and Learning Outcomes at the Elementary Stage” in 2014. The preamble of this document strikes just the right note. It says, “The learning indicators would help teachers to understand the learning levels of children in her class individually as well as collectively. In the absence of learning indicators it will be difficult for a teacher or for a system to move further for improving the learning levels. This precisely is the background for developing well defined learning indicators to ultimately meet the curricular expectations”. It contains class - wise learning indicators and stage-wise curricular expectations up to the elementary stage in different subjects. However, grade-wise learning indicators do not offer much value to the teachers as they are aligned with the current grade wise curricular expectations. It is built upon the assumption that children would have the background knowledge of the content being transacted. However, the inaccuracy of this assumption has been shown by empirical studies which suggest that such is not the case.
A longitudinal study, “Inside Primary Schools- A study of teaching and learning in rural India” by ASER Centre points towards a serious disconnect between assumptions and realities of the classroom. One of the major assumptions is in the very “Level” of the textbooks and what the child is expected to know to be able to understand the textbook. This study found that “most children remained at least two grades below the level of proficiency assumed by their textbooks.” Given this situation, conducting an assessment based on grade specific curriculum, would not help the teacher understand the extent of the gap between the current and expected competency. Further, the teacher would always feel compelled, in accordance with the requirement of Section 24(1) (c), to complete the curriculum in time despite the fact that most children of his class do not possess even the basic competency to deal with the content at hand. The focus of the classroom, therefore, shifts from learning by the child, to the completion of the curriculum by the teacher.
Another study, “The Negative Consequences of Overambitious Curricula in Developing Countries (2012)” by Lant Pritchett and Amanda Beatty, indicates that the curriculum goal in many developing countries, including India, is much higher than the learning level of children, resulting in flat learning trajectory. The study, using simulation, affirms that “if children do not acquire reading and writing skills early, then textually based teaching in higher grades is pointless. If children don’t acquire simple arithmetic concepts—like place and common denominator—then more sophisticated operations like adding fractions is impossible. If children don’t acquire basic reasoning skills—like filling in a word to complete a meaningful sentence--then asking for creativity or critical analysis later is impossible. This is how it can be that children enter—and leave—third grade without being able to read or to do addition: the curriculum has moved on.” The researchers of the study conclude “that an overambitious curriculum causes more and more students to get left behind early and stay behind forever”. The findings from these studies points out to the fact that there is a huge gap between the curricular expectations and the current level of children. So, when such an over-ambitious curriculum gets coupled with a legal requirement of completion within a given time-frame, child specific learning assessment and instruction becomes secondary.
Besides, “the report of the Yash Pal Committee, Learning without Burden (1993) had pointed out that the burden was from bombarding children with information that they could not understand at that age, resulting from an erroneous notion of ‘knowledge’. National Curriculum Framework (NCF)-2005 and the NCERT syllabi based on it have made an attempt to redress this problem to a certain extent, but the tendency persists and takes different forms.
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In several states, syllabus revision at the primary stage has not been particularly radical, and a lot of age-inappropriate material continues to be taught during the primary classes. The fear that deletion of complex concepts in the early classes will result in ‘dilution’ of standards has prevented many States from taking necessary measures”. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan framework for implementation (2011), is based on Rights of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009. Therefore, grade appropriate indicators may not be able to effectively tell the teachers where the child gets stuck in the learning process; as a result, the possibility of additional instructions – as envisaged in section 24(1) (d) following the assessment – would remain a non-starter. This was the issue with the Std 8 teacher (in the conversation above) who knew that some children in his class were not at grade appropriate level. However, this information was not useful for him because he did not know the level at which to start with them or whether the system allowed him enough scope to step back from the prescribed curriculum, and engage with the student at their actual learning level. Thus, he carried on his journey towards curriculum completion even if some children were unable to be part of that journey.
To further elaborate the inextricable relationship between assessment and action, within the framework of learning, the example of Pratham may be considered here. Also as an organisation that conceptualised the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) and having played some role in emphasising the importance of Assessment and Learning Outcomes as a measure of quality education, it would not be out of place to share its quest for “simplicity” and “reliability” along with “relevance” and “scale” that the JRM pointed out as fundamental to RTE.
Prior to the launch of ASER in 2005, Pratham already had strong linkages with communities and schools for almost a decade; by the year 2005, Pratham’s presence had spread across 14 states in India. Having worked with hundreds of thousands of parents- many of them not very keen to send their children to schools in the first instance- and also having worked alongside the government school teachers to integrate newly enrolled children in the classroom setting, Pratham already had a first-hand experience of the challenges involved. It was a unique situation for all- children, parents, teachers and school administrators – wherein, on one hand, the teachers and administrators had to grapple with scale and diversity, while on the other hand, parents and children- particularly the first generation school comers - were faced with a big cultural shift. Keeping everybody motivated - particularly the teachers and children – was important and one of the ways it could be done was for them to see and appreciate the immediate learning outcome of their own efforts. A simple loop was created, starting with a small and tangible learning goal, designing a quick assessment tool to see what kind of support was required by different children in attaining that goal, followed by some activities to support the learning and post test to track progress. Thus, assessment “by the teachers, for the teachers and parents” became the guiding principle of Pratham’s programme, and the primary objective of the data generated through these assessments was for self-understanding, followed by action and onwards communication of the learning progress to all other stakeholders.
Having been through the rigor of many such cycles of assessment and action based on it, Pratham was able to design ASER in 2005 and administer it with ease. Hence, when the first ASER reported that 39.7 % children of Std 5 cannot read a simple story which a child in Std 2 is expected to read, the message was not merely of bad news, but of a need for action, that something needed to be done to help this child. In the classroom, this is precisely what the first part of section 24(1) (d) of RTE would expect the teacher to know about her children and the second part would be her “additional instructions” to help this child learn to read. Further, the requirements of section 24(1) (e) could be met if the teacher uses this piece of information to communicate with the parents about the current level of their child, what she intends to do with it and the ongoing progress of that effort. This communication can go a long way in getting parents to be partners in the learning process of their children and build their faith in the system, in that it really cares for their child.
However, given the scale of ‘left behind’ children in every class (more than 50% children in Std 5 itself not being able to read a story fluently as per ASER 2014), using rough calculations based on Census 2011 data, there are about 25 million children estimated in each single grade in India. '
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Translated into actual numbers and using estimates from ASER data, calculations suggest that about 50 million children in Std 3 to 5 alone would need immediate and urgent help if they are to have a real chance to complete elementary school meaningfully. Thus, the “additional instructions” that the teachers would require, might come in conflict with their statutory responsibility of completing the curriculum in time as per Section 24(1) (c). It is here that the other teachers also, like the one in the conversation above, would require support and assurance from the system, to be able to take a few steps back in order to get those children out of their current situation. Thus, the limitation that section 24(1)(c) applies can be overcome with the creative application of Section 29(2)(h) by the academic authority which has been vested the power not just to create the framework of evaluation but also the design of the overall
curriculum within the ambit of Section 29)(2)(a)-(g). While the law rightly aspires to have a curriculum that would lead to “all round development of the child” or “development of physical and mental abilities of the child to the fullest extent”, it also expects the learning to be under “child centric” environment. If the curriculum becomes a limiting factor for the teachers and the pedagogy turns to being curriculum centric instead of child centric then that is clearly against the spirit of RTE Act. Hence, a child centred curriculum along with simple assessment tools should be used to create a dynamic, feedback loop that can be used by the teachers to assess the child’s level and support the child accordingly.
Section 30(2) of the RTE Act says that every child completing his elementary education shall be awarded a certificate in such form and in such manner, as may be prescribed. Before concluding my conversation with the Std 8 teacher of the school in Delhi, I asked for his opinion on whether the certificate should merely state that the bearer has completed 8 years of schooling or something more. He thought for a while and said.
“Yes, something more but not sure what”.
I said, how about this, “I hereby certify, based on evidence, that the bearer of this certificate possesses the foundational skills and is on the path of lifelong learning”.
He nodded with a smile, and confidence.
Annual status of Education Report (ASER) 2005 and 2014, ASER Centre.
Bhattacharjea, S., Wadhwa, W., & Banerji, R. (2011). Inside Primary Schools: A study of teaching and learning in rural India. ASER Centre.
Learning Indicators and Learning Outcomes at the Elementary Stage (2014), National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT).
Pritchett L and Beatty A (2012), “The Negative Consequences of Overambitious Curricula in Developing Countries”. Centre for Global Development, Working Paper 293
Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), Twenty First Joint Review Mission, 2nd- 12th February, 2015, Aide Memoire.
Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Framework for implementation (2011), Based on Rights of children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009. Ministry of Human Resource Development.
The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009. The Gazette of India
*Shailendra Kumar Sharma is Head of Operations at Pratham. He joined Pratham in 2002 after doing Master’s in Social Work from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. Subsequently, he went on to study Law from Delhi University.
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