Education: Reforms are need of the hour

This is the second article of a two-part series on Education Priorities for Andhra Pradesh
To achieve its full potential, it is crucial that India enacts education reforms to enhance human capital. Government policies have so far lifted school enrolment and retention rates.

 While more children are staying in school for longer, Pratham reports show challenges with learning outcomes: in 2005, 49 percent of Grade 5 students could do division; by 2016, it was 26 percent. Only half of children in Grade 5 can read a Grade 2 textbook.
Dr. Rajesh Chakrabarti and Kushal Sagar Prakash of Sunay Policy Advisory have examined the efficiency of various education policies. First, they look at two interventions consistent with the Right to Education Act: in-service teacher training, and reducing pupil-teacher ratios.
The researchers find that even lengthy, in-depth tertiary courses and pre-service training of teachers have been found to have zero to modest effects on student learning outcomes, so it seems very unlikely that in-service training, which only occurs for a few days each year, would achieve any more.
Training costs just Rs. 372 per student annually – but the researchers conclude the policy is unlikely to generate benefits in student outcomes that are worth more to society than the cost.
Likewise, a simple analysis finds that halving the pupil-teacher ratio in Andhra Pradesh is expensive compared to other approaches, costing Rs. 13,455 per student, generating benefits to learning outcomes that, in an optimistic scenario, are worth five-times the costs. The researchers also examine ideas that are not yet official government policy but have been tested across India, including in Andhra Pradesh.
The first of these is providing performance-based incentives to teachers: effectively, paying teachers more when learning outcomes improve the most. A trial in Andhra Pradesh cost Rs. 552 per student per year, and resulted in better student test scores, with no evidence of any adverse consequences.
Test-score gains are linked to higher productivity in adulthood, and the researchers calculate the net effect as a 7.3 percent boost to students’ wages. These concrete benefits to society are worth 15-times more than the costs of the intervention.
Next, the study examines ‘teaching at the right level’, which does away with grade-level curriculum and involves organising children into groups based on their current learning levels.
Pioneered by Pratham in India, it is deployed in two ways. The first approach involves running intensive camps, usually 80-100 hours long, with trained Pratham staff and community volunteers.
The second approach involves partnership with the government to embed the intervention at scale across one or more districts. Teaching at the right level can be done either outside or within existing school time.
Depending on which approach is used, the intervention generates lifelong benefits to students’ incomes worth at least 21-times the costs, and up to 44 times the costs in the right conditions.
Finally, the authors examine computer-assisted learning, which uses technology to help students learn at their own level. Mind-spark is one such personalised technology intervention, implemented in a rigorously measured program over five months in three low-income schools in Delhi.
Adapting this program for fifty schools, and including infrastructure, hardware, staffing and software development, would cost about Rs. 1333 per student over five months.
Several studies into Mindspark have shown improvements in student test-scores, and have revealed that there may be large returns to further innovation and research on effective ways of integrating technology-aided instruction into classrooms.
After five months of access to the program, one robust study showed students scoring 14% higher in mathematics and 9% higher in Hindi relative to the students who didn’t have access to Mindspark.
Plenty of research shows how much future wages are influenced by higher test scores. With these results, the researchers find that on average each student will make Rs.83,328 more over their life-time. Spending just Rs. 1,333 per student to achieve such an impressive result means every rupee spent would generate bene-fits to society worth Rs. 62.
It is policies like these that India must embrace, to fully reap its demographic dividend. Getting children into classrooms is no longer enough. Investment in low-cost, high-impact education that will make students more productive is vital.

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