Tuesday, May 23, 2017

National Open Grid for Student Performance


There is always an intense discussion about the support academic infrastructure to regular schooling. A few years back, I happened to meet the then CBSE Chairman for a brief moment. At Beyond Teaching, we had just begun offering preparatory courses for CTET. I wanted his views and ideas about this initiative so that we could make a better product offering. I didn't expect him to get involved with the effort, but what I didn't expect was his antagonism towards a coaching/ tutoring company. And the attitude is reflected in any governmental effort or setup. Right from the Ministry of Education to the school, nobody wants to even acknowledge the existence of the support function.

It is ironical that parents of school going children are of the exact opposite view. An Assocham report in 2015 estimated the coaching and tuition industry's annual turnover at Rs. 1 lakh crore (about $2 bn) with an annual growth rate of 35%! This is even bigger than the 2016 allocation on entire education sector at about Rs. 70,000 crore.

Are we not behaving like the proverbial ostrich by choosing to ignore the importance of this critical contribution of the support system of education? Even if we do at all levels of government bodies, this cannot be wished away. The reality is that almost every parent sends (or wants to send) the child to a tutor or coaching centre. This is in spite of having an understated respect for the school and the teacher in it. The parent, however, also knows that it is near impossible for a school teacher to cater to each child within the class. The tutor, on the other hand, is engaged for this sole reason. One can easily see the difference in a child's behaviour in a school classroom and a tutor's classroom or in a coaching class. I believe this difference is due to the objective of the setup. In a school, a student is not particularly bound with a single objective of excelling in academics, while in a tuition class, there is no diversion from the core objective.

This points to the essential need to acknowledge the contribution by the secondary source of knowledge dissemination. More importantly, we need a mechanism that will help bring the two teachers together- a school teacher and a tuition teacher. We need to redefine this relationship as a teacher and a support-teacher, who work in tandem to achieve the perfect result. The school teacher focuses on the class and yet is able to check an individual student's progress. The tuition teacher, on the other hand, is able to fill the gaps in learning by acting on the school teacher's precise observations.

To help achieve this objective, we need to capture the data on student performance and make it available to all those who are interested and can positively contribute to the progress of the student. Of course, unlike a completely "open" repository, this access can be controlled by the student and/or the parent. Here, then, is the scenario:

A classroom teacher uses a simple web or mobile interface to record a student's performance in a test. Several tools can be designed to administer self-designed tests that can capture understanding and application. Once captured, the data adds to a structured timeline of competency-based assessment portal. This portal can be accessed by the student and parent free of cost, or with a minimal charge.

In the after-school tuition class, the tutor also has access to the same portal and can see where the student is lacking in the skills. The analytics engine crunching the portal data will give topics-to-cover list in an easy manner. The tutor can begin working on the skills and help the student in mastering the skill.

Next day, when the classroom teacher realizes that the child has learnt the skills, he/she can customize the learning plan better and together with the tutor, he/she has helped the child bring up to the class level.

This will help reduce the pattern of falling-behind in our school children. Falling behind in basic skills is a prime reason for students dropping out of school at the middle-school level. An Open Grid will provide the much-needed support to plug this hole.

From my interactions with the teaching community at Beyond Teaching, I can safely confirm that at least 15-20% of the teaching community is interested in providing free support to needy children to help them bridge their skill gaps. However, we need to provide them with a concrete and customized roadmap using analytics on top of the performance data so that their help can be precise and result-oriented. Another big factor in making their services available is to enable an easy and affordable online tutoring mechanism that can be accessed on mobile or PC.

Indian parents lay a lot of emphasis on education for their children and will be ready to pay for quality services and this Grid will help realize their dream of getting the exact help for their children.

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