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Reforming school regulation — here’s an action-oriented approach to improve student learning outcomes

An analysis of parliamentary questions related to school education revealed that, between 2019 and 2023, only about one-tenth of all questions dealt with the issue of student learning outcomes. This highlights a significant gap in our public discourse which often veers towards bemoaning socio-economic background factors instead of focusing on how to build a culture of improvement for all.

This remains true at the highest tiers of government, where discourse can meaningfully shape policy and subsequent action. Discussions in the Parliament often acknowledge the significance of socioeconomic factors such as economic status, parental occupation, and home environment in shaping educational outcomes. Members of Parliament have highlighted the need for policies and interventions aimed at providing equal educational opportunities for all children. Debates surrounding education-related Bills or policies often emphasise the importance of addressing socio-economic disparities.

Student Outcome-based Education 

Economic status, parental occupation, and home environment undoubtedly play important roles in determining a child’s educational trajectory. However, the primary focus must remain on improving children’s learning, by fostering an environment that nurtures intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, and holistic growth. 

With the current regime ushering in better and more efficient governance, the focus is slowly but surely shifting towards asking the right questions. For instance, the Central Government’s introduction of National Education Policy (NEP) in 2020 emerges as a beacon of hope. This policy has overhauled the archaic previous policy which had been in place for over three decades. It signals a paradigm shift, centering learning outcomes as the measure of quality of the education system.

Emphasising the importance of foundational literacy and numeracy, holistic development, and a multidisciplinary approach, the NEP acknowledges the need to break free from the shackles of rote memorisation and outdated examination-centric systems. By advocating for flexible learning paths, integrating vocational education, and promoting a culture of continuous evaluation, the policy paves the way for a dynamic educational landscape that caters to the diverse needs and aspirations of every learner.

To enable all citizens with access to high-quality schools, NEP mandates establishing a regulatory body to set quality standards for schools and enforce transparent public disclosure of all information, called the State School Standards Authority (SSSA). This regulator holds significant promise to shape the ecosystem into an outcome-focused one. By providing schools with a clear reflection of their performance and encouraging self-improvement efforts, SSSA can serve as a powerful agent of change.

Empowering Parents and Students

The SSSA architecture would also bring in comprehensive reforms in the role played by parents. Through transparent public disclosure, it would empower parents and students with information and enable them to make meaningful choices. Parent and community engagement has been found essential for a child’s learning progress, significantly reducing the child’s risk of dropping out.

However, in the absence of broad societal awareness about the correct metrics for parents to engage with schools on, these community engagements risk remaining dull and performative, lacking meaningful focus on learning outcomes, despite substantial investment of time and effort by all stakeholders involved. Correcting this information asymmetry will enable parents to fulfil their role as conscious consumers in the education sector and become agents of a culture of accountability for school quality.

Given the need for improvement in the quality and accessibility of information available to citizens, NEP recommends an approach that focuses on measuring, monitoring and disclosing learning outcomes of students, aggregated at the school level. Rather than resorting to punitive measures, such a regulatory framework can encourage schools to prioritise improvements in learning outcomes, and thus stimulate system-wide improvement in learning quality.

To develop this culture of informed decision-making and accountability, building reliable indicators of school quality will be key. Thus, for these reforms to be successful, schools must be assessed, accredited and compared based on transparent, standard indicators. In the absence of standard outcome-focused indicators, the current system relies on proxies, i.e., compliance norms for inputs such as physical infrastructure, teacher-student ratio, mid-day meals, uniforms, etc.

Right to Quality Education

SSSA will build upon NEP’s innovative vision by transparently disclosing and widely disseminating school performance information on a standardised, competitively neutral set of indicators, with a focus on children’s learning outcomes. This will drive wide-ranging improvements in the teaching-learning process across the entire ecosystem, championing the cause of ensuring not just the Right to Education, but the Right to Quality Education for every child.

When envisioning the governance structure that will implement this regulatory framework, NEP has highlighted that state education departments are over-burdened with the dual function of regulating the education sector as well as operating their own schools. Their regulatory role takes away focus from their role of delivering quality education at government schools. The establishment of an independent SSSA aims to alleviate this burden by creating a specialised entity focused solely on regulatory oversight, allowing the education department to concentrate on other critical areas such as service quality enhancement and innovation in government schools.

The introduction of the NEP marks a significant step towards the goal of improving student learning outcomes for all, signalling a shift towards outcome-focused education. Through measures promoting transparency, accountability and innovation, such as establishing the SSSA, NEP aims to empower parents and engage communities in a collective process of fostering accountability for quality education.

Now, it falls upon the states to seize this opportunity for transformation and embrace a paradigm shift towards prioritising learning outcomes in the education landscape. Through collaborative efforts and strategic initiatives, states can lay the foundation for a more equitable and effective education system that fosters the holistic development of every student.

—The author, Tuhin A Sinha, is National Spokesperson of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The views expressed are personal. 

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