Stop giving a political colour to education

By Patricia Mukhim

Politicians have this proclivity to turn every issue into a political omelette. It’s not surprising therefore to hear the Shillong MP, Vincent Pala rubbishing the latest Performance Grading Index (PGI) Report released recently by the Union Ministry of Education. The Report puts Meghalaya at the bottom of the heap. And Pala’s contention based on his limited understanding of the issue is that BJP wants to give the missionary schools of Meghalaya a bad name as they have produced women and men of sterling qualities. But Pala misses the point because he has evidently not gone through the broad framework of the PGI school grading system. The PGI is structured in two main categories – (1) Outcomes (2) Governance & Management and both these categories comprise 70 indicators with a total weightage of 1000.
The PGI is built into the rationale that ensuring an efficient, inclusive and equitable school education system depends entirely on constant monitoring of interconnected parameters comprising inputs, outputs and outcomes to enable a quick response system for course correction. In our time we will recall that Inspectors of School would regularly visit and ask surprise questions or spellings. This kept educational institutions on their toes. Such inspections are a rarity today. So it’s just as well that there is a central monitoring system on how schools are performing because many of them including the once famous missionary schools today provide education that leaves much to be desired.
The PGI assesses states’ performance in school education based on data drawn from several sources, including the Unified District Information System for Education Plus, National Achievement Survey, and Mid-Day Meal. States are scored on a total of 1,000 points across 70 parameters, which are grouped under five broad categories: access (eg. enrolment ratio, transition rate and retention rate); governance and management; infrastructure; equity (difference in performance between scheduled caste students and general category students) and learning outcomes (average score in mathematics, science, languages and social science). These are mostly self-reported by the States but vetted by the Centre, with National Achievement Survey data also being incorporated. On some parameters, such as uneven learning outcomes between students from deprived communities and others, how the States/UTs try to bridge the gap also earns them better scores.
States are graded and not ranked to discourage one-upmanship, “thereby casting a stigma of underperformance on the latter.” The Government says the objective is to help the states prioritise areas for intervention in school education. The Education Ministry released the first PGI in 2019 for the reference year 2017. The Centre’s effort with the PGI scoring system is to nudge all States by using a hall of fame approach.
The PGI exercise envisages that the annual index would propel States and Union Territories to undertake multi-pronged interventions that will bring about the much-desired optimal education outcomes. The PGI also helps States/UTs to pinpoint the gaps and prioritise areas for intervention to bring about a robust school education system at every level.
The Congress MP was quick to blame the BJP Government and its attempts to downgrade the so-called missionary schools. Is the MP suggesting that all the children of school-going age in Meghalaya should be attending privately run missionary schools? If so what about Government schools? Should these be folded up because they are the ones that add to the negative reportage?
It’s important to understand that the PGI is a tool to provide insights on the status of school education in States and UTs including the key drivers that enhance their performance and show up critical areas for improvement. The tools have been designed by Department of School Education and Literacy (DoSEL) with the sole intent of bringing about a transformational change in school education.For many years PRATHAM an NGO had been doing a similar kind of survey and publishing its reports called ASER . The ASER reports are shocking because a child of Class V could not spell words or do addition and subtraction that a child of Class I could. PRATHAM is a private agency and cannot incentivise schools that are doing well. DoSEL is able to do that.
Parents send their children to school not just for academic credentials but with the hope that schools would build their character and the principles of good citizenship and life skills. I believe these are the major learning outcomes. Sadly learning outcomes are normally measured by the annual exams but we all know that examinations hardly capture the holistic human development and the ethical and moral values of an individual. Hence the PGI focuses on comprehensive learning outcomes. However, measuring learning outcomes is the most challenging domain because it measures an individual’s mind and attitudes. The other domains that PGI looks at to enhance learning outcomes is by providing infrastructural facilities and setting up mechanisms to check attendance all of which take much time and patience.
The PGI exercise that started in 2018 and came up with its first report in 2019. It provides a reliable, timely and participative information system coupled with a robust and efficient data analytics framework which is key to successful implementation of any Government programme. The School Education & Literacy framework when combined with the principles of the Right to Education, the National Education Policy 2020 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Government Schemes like Mid-Day Meal (MDM) and similar such schemes by the States would deliver the desired result if they are monitored effectively.
On some parameters, such as uneven learning outcomes between students from deprived communities and others, how the States/UTs try to bridge the gap also earns them better scores. A performance-based grant would provide the required incentive to the States and UTs to ensure their continuous and focused attention to this sector, which is crucial for overall growth and development of the country.
This is a completely transparent grading system for each parameter and sub-topic which are available on the public domain. States can also learn from each other since best practices are shared online. Educationists have called this a laudable initiative but it can work only if governments and Opposition parties don’t pull apart and see value in strong and open school education, and work to strengthen access, equity and infrastructure by proper budgeting of fees and funds for universalisation of education.
The PGI model is adapted from Southeast Asia to carry out major reforms in school education in the later decades of the last century. India’s school system is beset with poor access for many and equally poor infrastructure. The pandemic has also brought out the inequities between rural and urban students; between those with access to digital technology and those that don’t thereby undermining the claim that online education is happening during the pandemic.
Indeed, COVID-19 has cast a dark shadow over the education system and we must brace ourselves for a major drop-out of students from the rural areas ands from poor families. This is where the PGI scores can help states to access methods of intervention to stem this attrition.
The data that PGI has mined and the analysis of this data shows that school governance processes are the weakest link in some States. It will take a total transformation in the school governance system for the Right to Education to actually take shape. Some schools couldn’t be bothered to offer remedial teaching to students that lag behind through no fault of theirs. Hopefully PGI will keep track of such remiss and compel institutions to be more conscious about affording access to those most likely to drop out of the system.

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