Karnataka pioneers key educational reform

Karnataka pioneers key educational reform

A path-breaking exercise is underway in the state now, with the Department of State Educational Research and Training (DSERT) taking the lead in forging a state level team of about 85 Resource Persons – with 60 of them drawn from within the government school system and the balance from the Azim Premji Foundation. It is initiating a rigorous and iterative module development effort spanning nearly four months, while coming up with a new range of 28 modules that would be used to develop the capacities of 50,000 elementary school teachers. This will cover 4 modules each in 7 subjects – through 1904 Master Resource Persons (56 per district @ 2 per module, for 34 districts) for 10 days during the academic year 2017-18.

Refreshing departure from the past

The process adopted by the school education department has been a refreshing departure from the existing practice. A few important ones are mentioned here:

(a) In developing the modules across seven subjects: 2 languages - Kannada, Hindi (English would be taken up separately) - and 3 core subjects - science, mathematics, social science, apart from Nali-Kali and Education Perspectives (the last area is being introduced for the first time for in-service training), attempt has been to make them relevant to the curriculum and focused on classroom context and experiences of teachers.

(b) These modules have been tightly woven in nature of subject, content, pedagogy and assessment and are conceived around relevant themes. For instance, in science, 'Understanding Matter' is being explored while two of the four themes chosen in Kannada this year are 'Nature of Language' and 'Language and Society'

(c) The module development exercise was carried out intensely in a series of residential workshops, with respective subject teams simultaneously converging together at least twice a month, each time for about a week. The DSERT ensured that the state resource persons identified were largely able to commit time consistently for the 3-4-month period spanning across November to March, though it was the peak academic period. Provision was even made to pilot all the modules in real time workshop mode for select teachers from across the state to obtain critical feedback and strengthen the modules.

(d) Though there were several glitches in posting replacement teachers in place of the module developers, especially for the crucial S.S.L.C examinations, those who made it managed the time effectively and worked intensely for 12-14 hours every day - reading, understanding, trans-creating, contextualizing the material and bringing in relevant classroom examples, while preparing the modules in peer groups and transacting it in the pilot workshops – all in Kannada. The module developers thus have been able to largely grasp the essence of the modules and able to bring out qualitatively richer modules.

(e) Instead of sticking to the 'one size – fits all' training approach, this time, the attempt has been to make menu of options available to teachers to choose from, in regard to selection of modules for their professional development. Accordingly, starting this year, teachers are being given a prior option to select modules of their choice – this year, it will be any two modules from among 28 modules on offer - in an informed manner, based on a one page summary of each module. This is a significant first step towards restoring voluntarism and teacher agency, albeit in a small measure.

(f) Considering that the teachers' professional development happens over a long period of time spread across 4-5 years, the idea is to make available more than 150 modules across subjects ranging between 1-5 days. The 28 modules being delivered this year is thus only a starting point and the rest are planned to be spread across subsequent years as part of continuing development effort.

(g) A state level structure has been evolved to visualise, plan, operationalise and monitor the process of long-term efforts of teachers' development. A core team has been created which has come up with a curriculum framework and has visualised the needs of teachers, upon which courses and modules would get developed in an evolutionary manner in the next few years.

(h) A detailed communication plan has been evolved to convey these fundamental changes to all stakeholders – teachers, cluster, block and district level functionaries through written and visual media.

(i) A Teacher Training Management system is also being put in place to track and monitor this complex state-wide effort over time.

(j) Throughout the process, a strong commitment and support has been demonstrated from the administration, with the Additional Chief Secretary of the Primary & Secondary Education department personally leading from the front in closely reviewing the progress and guiding the effort along with his leadership team.

Challenges and Possible Solutions

Despite the above positive narrative, several logical questions on the long-term sustenance of this initiative are bound to crop up. I have analysed some of them here.

(i) Continuity of support from the top – There are no disagreements on the issue that any long-term initiative involving systemic changes do require ownership and continuity of support from the senior level officers of the department. Unlike many other government led reforms, sustained changes in education is a much more complex and dynamic process as it involves human agency and interplay of several forces that operate simultaneously. Involvement of people at all levels, overcoming bottlenecks on the way, and staying focused steadfastly on the goal primarily require that the change initiators continue in their positions for a longer duration of time. While no one who has an inkling of the functioning of the government machinery would demand the latter, in the present case, since fundamental change of approach has already been incorporated in the design element, it is hoped that there will be no backtracking from this change irrespective of any changed context.

(ii) Timing and venue of the workshops - It is ideal that the capacity-building workshops for teachers do take place in a residential facility especially during holidays. This not only avoids teachers being drawn away from children on school days but also ensures a conducive learning environment for teachers. Mechanisms to compensate the teachers for participating in training during holidays through systematic planning and aiding them with advance information would be of much help.

(iii) Budget Provisions – investing in high quality continuing education of teachers is a sine qua non for improving overall quality of education. Long-term investment in improving the training and residential facilities in DIETs and Block Resource Centres, enhancing per-person-per-day cost towards training material, boarding and travel expenses are very much essential. What is equally important is the timely release of budgets. Perhaps it is time the state government makes available increased budgets for such crucial efforts from its own funds. One can hope that with encouraging response coming forth to the offerings this year, there will be a stronger rationale and inverse demand for such higher fund allocation by the state government.

(iv) Ensuring non-dilution of cascade – DSERT did a remarkable job in selecting a dynamic set of state resource persons for module development. The whole resource team showed tremendous commitment, learnability and application in a rigorous process of reading, trans-creating and contextualizing by bringing in real time field experiences, and above all, making sure they internalised the content deeply before making it relevant to the teachers. They did all this with a genuine concern for the children, wanting to give them the best through the teachers. Going by my own experience of closely working with a few of them in the Education Perspectives group over the last few months, I am optimistic that there will be minimum dilution while carrying the process forward to the further stages of developing Master Resource Persons and conducting teacher development workshops, as the process is insulated with adequate quality.

(v) Follow up – For all of these efforts to sustain, instituting a systematic process of follow up and review at the block and district levels is important. Perhaps the existing academic structures from cluster to district levels – involving Cluster and Block Resource Persons, Education Coordinators, Subject Inspectors, Block Resource Centre Coordinators and DIET Faculty – need to be oriented for providing support to the teachers who have gone through the training. They should encourage teachers and provide spaces to explore and try out child friendly pedagogies in their classrooms.

(vi) Outcomes - Finally, for these changes to be truly successful they need to reflect in teacher's classroom practices and children's learning levels. This kind of change takes a long time. It is necessary to evolve appropriate assessment criteria to track changes in these areas and document the same.

Let us keep faith

A long-awaited reform initiative has been ushered in by the education department in Karnataka. It is important to be aware that such deep-rooted and elaborate change being attempted, that too with the available talent from within the department, must be given adequate time to succeed, with some leeway to learn from a few mistakes and make corrections. This has to be done considering that the current in-service professional development programmes have neither addressed specific needs of teachers nor have been able to provide an individual with the pedagogic understanding to become an effective teacher, despite being in operation for a couple of decades. There is a strong case to look at the latest attempt, even if not being supported, with a ray of hope! As Tagore says, "Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings while the dawn is still dark".


S V Manjunath currently heads Azim Premji Foundation - Karnataka as its State head. He made a mid – career shift more than seven years back, after spending more than two decades in the corporate sector. He had been a human resource professional, having worked in reputed public and private sector organizations like Bharat Electronics, Bosch and Himatsingka Seide, where he last held the position of Associate Vice President – Human Resources. Managing the Industrial Relations, playing a balancing role between the management and unions; aligning the goals of the workforce with the vision of the organization was his forte.

Manjunath has a Bachelor's degree in Arts and a Master's Degree in Social Work along with a post graduate diploma in Personnel Management & Industrial Relations.

The key focus of Manjunath's role at the State level is to bring about improvement in quality and equity of school education across the State, with an overarching purpose of significantly and sustainably improving the K-12 education system.

Manjunath has interests in literature, music and cricket. He has authored two books in Kannada, one a collection of essays on his experiences as a Human Resource Professional entitled 'Janasampada' and the second a photo feature called 'Sakha-Sakhi', a unique piece dedicated to his parents commemorating their 50 years' life journey.