Saturday, February 4, 2012

Remodelling Education in India

I have written and thought a lot about the greatest problem plaguing India today, the great educational divide, the fact that we expose our children, our greatest resource, to inadequate, or worse no education. This list covers the crux of the issue:

  1. Our education system is designed to give students information, and that's it, we don't tell them what to do with it, or how it helps make the world a better place, this approach should change to giving them base information, a foundation, and then teaching them how to source more information and most importantly how to apply it. For example when the student is faced with Calculus, the first question he should ask is "Why should I learn it, and where does it apply?", rather than "What weight age does it carry, and how to solve this exercise?"
  2. The above point applies to those students who are already in school and whose parents consider it important enough to send their kids to school, however there we ignore a vast majority of the population, of parents who look at their kids as extra labor during harvest season. Here we can use the power of incentives to tweak the situation.
  3. The third major issue is teachers, the teachers who are currently in our system are born out of the same system, and will continue to institute what they think the system should be, which is sub-optimal.

 A new and exciting development in India is the UIDAI scheme, which aims to electronically link every citizen with a bank account and his/her biometric data, at the core of things, what we have is an inalienable and incorruptible way of linking every human with a bank account. The scheme has its limitations, which might be the result of bad implementations on the field, but in the end they have 110 million numbers issued (1 in 10 people in India, the number still shocks me). This is Ingredient 1.

Now we have huge invest-able fund in India, in the form of NSCs (National Saving Certificates) and the Public Provident Fund. If we look at humans as investments (I know that is a very heartless way of looking at things), an amazing investment opportunity is our children. Imagine a child's parents are given Rs. 300 per month the child attends school, and this amount is to be paid back by automatic contributions to the NSC fund and the PPF once the child earns. The education is of course free. Now, the gaping hole will be cheaters, parents who enroll fictitious children and send their real children just for attendance (as happens in the mid-day meal scheme). And of course the middle men, now this is where Ingredient 1 comes into play, we have an incorruptible way of dispensing funds to parents (straight to their bank accounts, which are accessed bio-metrically). To prevent the parents cheating, the child has to take weekly standard tests (else the funds will be cut off), and his\her performance will determine the increment\decrement in funds, as well as the teachers salary. So here the teacher has a strong motive to ensure his\her class performs well, and the parents have an incentive to keep their children learning.

The first problem is closely linked to the third, because the teachers teach the subjects a particular way, the way they were taught, we solve the third problem partially in the above paragraph, the standard tests, the tests will be designed along practical lines. For Example, when teaching the area of circles, we can have a word problem which involves tree rings, we can cover percentage growth as well as geometry in this case. These tests will be designed by psychologists (they can closely mirror the PISA tests). Another area they can be tested is their ability to source information, they can be asked a question on Organic Chemistry and given an internet enabled device and asked to search for the answers and formulate them from blocks of information. And since we linked the teacher's incentives with performance, automatically the teacher teaches to equip them with this information.


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