Saturday, Sep 24, 2022

Using evidence will create strong foundations for the future of education in India

In June 2022, the Indian Government released its first national assessment of learning since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic (the National Achievement Survey), showing that student learning competencies in most states had dropped over the last two years.

Create strong foundations for the future of education in India

In June 2022, the Indian Government released its first national assessment of learning since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic (the National Achievement Survey), showing that student learning competencies in most states had dropped over the last two years. The average learning proficiency rate across all grades and subjects dropped from 48% in 2017 to 34% in 2021. This is a pattern that has been seen globally, and gives an idea of the effect school closures, and the broader impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic have had on the education of children around the world.

There is the concern that these impacts threaten to set back children’s potential for years to come. To help children catch up we need to focus on where each child is now. We need to assess their learning level then focus classroom instruction on closing the gaps between desired and actual student learning focusing on foundational subjects, using approaches that align instruction to learning needs, through a longer systemic approach.

UNICEF is a co-host of the Global Education Evidence Advisory Panel (GEEAP) alongside the World Bank, and the UK Government. The GEEAP consists of 13 expert panellists from across the Globe, three of whom are from India; 2019 Nobel Prize winner Professor Abhijit Banerjee, 2021 Yidan Prize winner Dr Rukmini Banerji and Professor Karthik Muralidharan, have all contributed to the panels understanding of how we strengthen global education systems.

Overall, the panel’s aim is to improve the use of evidence within education policy decisions around the world. The GEEAP recently released a report – Prioritizing Learning During COVID-19: The Most Effective Ways to Keep Children Learning During and Post-Pandemic – which provides recommendations of how to respond to education needs post Covid-19.

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In June, members of the GEEAP met with the Indian Ministerial delegation at the Education World Forum in London, an annual event, where ministers from around the world come together to share their challenges and successes. They discussed how the report recommendations could aid the recovery of the education system in India after the impact of the pandemic’s disruption to the normal school routine, including full and partial school closures for extended periods of time. Such disruptions have had a knock-on effect of the abilities of students.

Noted report recommendations include:

  • Adjusting instruction to support the learning needs of children and focus on important foundational skills. It is critical to assess students’ learning levels as schools reopen. Targeting instruction tailored to a child’s learning level has proven cost-effective and helped students to catch up.
  • Governments must ensure teachers have adequate support to help children learn. Interventions that provide teachers with carefully structured and simple pedagogical programs have been found to be cost-effective ways to increase literacy and numeracy.
  • Prioritizing keeping schools and preschools fully open. The large educational, economic, social, and mental health costs of school closures and the inadequacy of remote learning strategies as substitutes for in-person learning make it clear that school closures should be a last resort.
  • Prioritizing teachers for Covid-19 vaccination, and use masks where assessed as appropriate, and improve ventilation. The risk of transmission in schools can be sharply reduced when a combination of these mitigating actions is taken, but they should not be prerequisites for keeping schools open.

The expert panel also calls on governments to support parental engagement and leverage existing technology.

In India, a proactive approach has already been taken to evidence gathering around learning levels, this means there is knowledge about how best to respond to the impacts of Covid-19 and allows teachers to focus on adjusting instruction – to make sure their students are taught at the right level, helping them to recover their learning loss. This is one of the recommendations in the GEEAP report and we’ve been discussing this in detail with policy makers, researchers, and teachers in Delhi this July.

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The GEEAP recommendations already align with some of the aims detailed in India’s National Education Policy (NEP), which was drafted in July 2020. Both demonstrate how we can and should use research and evidence to develop effective education policy.

Both the NEP and GEEAP recommendations focus on what is required to transform learning levels in schools, particularly to achieve the literacy and numeracy skills every pupil needs to acquire as a foundation for further study. The India operations of the World Bank and UNICEF in the country mirror the GEEAP recommendations and have a strong focus on foundational learning. The GEEAP notes the importance of adjusting how we teach to make sure we are teaching at the level of the child. This advice was based on evidence taken from around the world, including India.

There are local examples of how this works, such as community women being hired to teach basic literacy and numeracy skills to children lagging in government schools, which highlights the importance of teaching assistants for improvements in learning and in targeted teaching approaches. This program increased average test scores of all children in treatment schools.

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Further evidence is expected to be released from GEEAP in the future. The panel and its co-hosts will continue to work with local policy makers to share their findings and support the update of evidence in education policy decisions.

First published on: 29-08-2022 at 12:37:33 pm
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