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A mood of unsurprised disappointment amongst media commentators accompanied Friday’s release of India’s Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2012 on school registrations and standards in rural India. The Deccan Herald announced the report with the headline ‘RTE unable to stem learning rot amongst tots’, referring to the 2010-dated Right to Education (RTE) Act which, says the Hindustan Times, ‘has improved the facilities and brought more kids to the school but has failed to make them teach right’.

The report’s release coincided with an initial scoping discussion between myself and Tim Seal, Technical Director of the Open University’s TESS-India project, which will be developing OER for use by teacher-educators in seven of the most challenging states across India. One of my OER Research Hub roles is to evaluate the impact of OER within TESS-India. ASER 2012 has led me to reconsider the hypotheses we should be exploring when researching the project and to reflect on the need to consider both immediate and longer-term outcomes.

ASER 2012 is based on research conducted by the Indian NGO Pratham. It confirms that the RTE Act has led to improvement in school facilities such as toilets, drinking water, classroom availability, libraries, playgrounds and provision for disabled children. Staying with the positive conclusions, the report also indicates that the trend of over 96% enrollment in school amongst children aged 6 to 14 has continued since 2009, with 96.5% of children in this age group in school in 2012. However, it suggests that this is accompanied by ‘an alarming degeneration’ (ASER 2012, p. 1) in the quality of learning, evidenced in reading and mathematics standards.  For example, the proportion of Class III children (8 to 9 year-olds) who could not read a text intended for Class I (6 to 7 year-olds) increased from 54.4% in 2010, to 59.7% in 2011, and to 61.3% in 2012. Furthermore, in 2010, 29.1% of Class V children (10 to 11 year-olds) were unable to do simple two-digit subtractions. The figure increased to 39% in 2011 and to 46.5% in 2012.

ASER 2012 suggests that this ‘national crisis in learning’ (p. 2) is in part due to an RTE Act-led ‘relaxation of classroom teaching’ whereby ‘all exams and assessments are scrapped’ and children are promoted automatically to the next class level. The report recommends that ‘teaching-learning of basic foundational skills should be the main agenda for primary education in India’ (p. 2) and that teachers should be given more freedom to adapt their teaching to suit learners’ needs, without having to seek authorisation for such changes.

So where do OER come in?  TESS-India aims to use OER both in training new teachers, to meet a shortfall estimated at 1.33 million, and in improving the practice of existing teachers. The need for the latter is inescapable: Earlier this month, The Times of India reported that over 99% of Bachelor of Education (BEd) graduates failed to pass the Central Teacher Eligibility Test (CTET) which, under the RTE Act is mandatory for becoming a teacher for classes I to VIII in any central government school. Deeming the situation ‘appalling’ the Business Standard expressed alarm that ‘quite a high percentage of the BEd graduates who applied for the test are already elementary school teachers with a two-year Diploma in Teacher Education (DEd) from District Institutes of Education and Training (DIET) or their equivalent’. Additionally, the 2012 ‘Teacher Needs Analysis’ study conducted by the Karnataka Knowledge Commission and the Azim Premji Foundation, covering 24,368 primary and high school teachers across the state of Karnataka, showed that 60% of elementary level teachers and 15% of high school level teachers do not have a college degree.

TESS-India, building on the success of its sister project TESSA, aims to use OER in reducing pressure on teacher education institutions, enabling them to deliver quality teacher training, at scale and speed, to both teachers in training and teachers in the classroom.  The project will work in partnership with Indian States and the TESS-India partner education institutions to create the first and biggest network of freely available, high quality, teacher education resources in India, co-written by UK and Indian academic experts and available both in print and online.

Our initial plans within the OER Research Hub were that the TESS-India project would provide evidence relevant to our hypotheses C (‘open education models lead to more equitable access to education, serving a broader base of learners than traditional education’) and E (‘use of OER leads to critical reflection by educators, with evidence of improvement in their practice’). Exploring these hypotheses in relation to TESS-India remains pertinent and it should be fairly straightforward to identify any rise in the number of trained teachers due to the use of OER together with the impact on school attendance. Similarly, hypothesis C would be relevant to researching any increase in school attendance by girls aged 11 to 14, who are often the hardest to keep in school. (ASER 2012 notes, for example, that ’in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, the proportion of out of school girls (age 11-14) has increased from 8.9% and 9.7% respectively in 2011 to more than 11% in 2012′.)

However, widening access to education is not the same as improving learning for those children already within the system and I’m realising that when researching the impact of OER through TESS-India we need to keep an eye on longer-term outcomes such as improved practice by existing teachers (hypothesis E) and consequently improved standards of learning in schools (the broad focus of OER Research Hub key hypothesis B – ‘use of OER leads to improvement in student performance and satisfaction’).

Later this month OER Research Hub Co-Investigator Martin Weller, Program Manager Patrina Law and I will be meeting with TESS-India Project Director Steve Hutchinson and Technical Director Tim Seal to further explore the shape and direction of our collaboration. In future posts I’ll be reporting on the progress of our research with TESS-India and on attitudes towards and work with OER in India more generally. If you’re interested in gaining an overview of current attitudes towards and use of OER in India, this report by Dr. V. Bharathi Harishankar at the University of Madras is a good place to start and the Twitter feeds for The British Council, India, Teach For India, Pratham, India Education and TESS-India are great for updates.

Photo Credit: Eric.Parker via Compfight cc

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