Editorial: Improving the Long-term Prosperity and Productivity of India Through Improvement in Learning Outcomes in Schools

In this special issue released on the occasion of University Day of NMIMS (Deemed to be) University, we present six insightful manuscripts by scholars resident at NMIMS.

Shri Vile Parle Kelavani Mandal, with the help of a donation from Narsee Monjee Educational Trust, established a Management institute of the Mumbai University in 1981.  Based on its recognized excellence, University Grants Commission granted Deemed-to-be-University status to the Institute in early 2000s. The University now offers comprehensive education (undergraduate, graduate, executive and doctoral education) across a variety of disciplines including Architecture, Business, Commerce, Economics, Education, Engineering, Pharmacy, Science, and Technology.

This special issue features research contributions and insights from the distinguished scholars at this University. Please review them and connect with these and other scholars at NMIMS University.

Here, in this editorial, we present reflections of improving prosperity, productivity and social mobility of India through improving learning outcomes in schools.

Background to School Education

The evidence[1] is compelling and pervasive that improved learning outcomes in schools increases prosperity and productivity by orders of magnitude. Such better education enhances social mobility and productivity of individuals, equality of opportunity, and prosperity of the individuals and society by orders of magnitude.

The goal of India’s public policy must be to improve the learning outcomes of students in schools through enhancement of self-guided and motivated education and training of teachers.

The purpose must be to reach out to the less privileged and removed segments of the society in India. By all reports, the number of teachers in large parts of India is awfully low; a large proportion of these teachers are un-credentialed. We can address these challenges only through an open and scalable model (a point that many educators repeatedly insist) – and that is precisely what we do here.

Better quality education can be delivered only by competent teachers whose knowledge set is contemporary. This is even more urgent in India where access to information is limited and teachers, the chief mentors and resource persons, are the authorities of information and knowledge.

[1] Including studies by Raj Chetty, John Friedman, Jeffrey Hammer, Karthik Muralidhar, Jonah Rockoff, Amartya Sen, Venkatesh Sundararaman, and others.  It is now an empirical generalization – sound generalization – that good quality school teachers matter, and matter very substantially, even in developed societies like the US, but the importance of qualified school teachers is even more acute and accentuated for a society such as India.

Viable Approach/Program for India

We have consulted with many distinguished public servants: policy and political leaders, business leaders, educationists, civic leaders, and philanthropists. Of course, we have reviewed the research and field work in this domain. We have also carefully reviewed the two recent Tata Trust initiatives in school education:  Hindi portal by Khan Academy and Connected Learning (with TISS and MIT). Based on careful and detailed research, four inputs and facts stand out.

  1. Re-education and training of teachers is absolutely critical. While estimates vary, there are over 6 million school teachers in India educating over 200 million students. All over the world, but particularly in India where the authority of teachers is enhanced by directives and traditions, teachers are perhaps the most important link in learning. This becomes even more compelling in disadvantaged and disenfranchised neighborhoods which should be our focus if we want to improve the productivity and prosperity of India.
  2. Re-education of teachers through mandates is not a productive approach. Re-education through self-learning and self-guidance would be the best approach, particularly given the large heterogeneity in the knowledge-level of teachers.
  3. To have a realistic impact, the platform/program must be accessible and open.
  4. The program must be completely indigenous (e.g., organization, platform and presentation) though content in such domains such as Math and Science is evidently universal.

Exemplar Initiatives: Recent Tata Trust Initiatives in School Education

Teachers’ Education and Training is not only synergistic with, but is also necessary for amplification and success of two other recent School Education initiatives by Tata Trust: investment in Khan Academy to design a Hindi portal for the learners; and Connected Learning Initiative by TISS and MIT.

Students/learners are more likely to use the Khan Academy material if his/her teacher at least is familiar with that source and even uses it in teaching. Without such engagement, Khan Academy usage may be limited to urban and privileged areas and students.

Similarly, the training of over 4,000 teachers by Connected Learning initiative will be amplified by this proposal, which is scalable. Ultimately, we want to reach out to 6 million teachers – the more of them are educated and trained, the more enriching will be the learning experience for the students. 

Concluding Remarks

The objective must be to design an on-line portal for teachers. This will be open and universally accessible. This on-line program/platform will be the learning and training source for teachers. While this will be open-source, it will require login and individual identification. This portal will compose of various on-line learning sources for school curriculum.