During the past two decades, there have been nationwide initiatives to enhance student learning. Be it the Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) concept which focused on creating infrastructural capacities or the uptake of ABL (Activity Based Learning) model of learning by some states in India, and now the reform through National Education Policy to emphasize on foundational learning, socio-emotional learning and holistic development of a child.
While transformations at a large scale require considerable incubation time for the systems to understand, accept and execute these initiatives to reap benefits, the success of their prevalence depends on how the implementation has been institutionalized in its essence. This brings the focus on building capacities at various levels within the education system.
The National Education Policy (2020) focuses on the specific initiatives that the HRD Ministry is likely to take towards building capacities for e-education needs and also on building capacities to promote research in education.
The needs for capacity building have been recognized for a long time now. As per Potter & Brough (2004), ‘Capacity’ is the process by which individuals and organizations obtain, improve, and retain the skills, knowledge, tools, equipment, and other resources needed to do their jobs competently. It allows individuals and organizations to perform at a larger scale. In their work, Potter and Brough also describe this through the capacity development pyramid and various aspects involved. Broadly, when we speak of the development of the capacities, we focus on building systems to create individual capacities where the success of the system is through institutional presence and not an individual capacity. To simplify, it is about creating systems and creating behavioural transformations and mindset shifts, as explained in figure.1. This can be achieved by creating systems that can allow for institutions and individual development in the specific area. Some of these can often run in parallel as through a systemic approach to transformation while capacities of individuals are focused it also build institutionalisation of knowledge and helps in setting up processes.
Figure.1: Various stages of capacity building
With PISA on the horizons, there has been an increased focus on conducting assessments and establishing the understanding of how the teaching-learning process can be made better through modified classroom interaction, enhanced textbooks and using of resources that can help teacher focus on deeper learning over focusing on the exact content covered in the textbooks. Through various state and nation driven initiatives of Student Learning Achievement Surveys (SLAS) and National Achievement Survey (NAS), this is being demonstrated. However, as a nation, we are yet to achieve success in creating high-quality assessment systems that can use the assessment data to make informed decisions. There is a need here to solve for the huge gap in the existing capacities of assessment creators.
Some of the Large-Scale Assessment Projects implemented by Educational Initiatives in collaboration with various states educational systems have focused on creating assessment capacities- either as part of a bigger assessment plan or as a project in itself. Based on the knowledge generated through rigorous assessment and the understanding of student learning therefrom, with these projects we have been able to demonstrate that by developing capacities in creating assessments through systemic transformation, we would not only achieve better and more accurate data on student learning, we would also create a cadre of teachers who can understand the learning needs. When these individuals are organized and supported with systems and processes, bodies of institutions will be created which can start showing transformation in learning levels after an initial period of incubation.
As part of our Board Examinations Reforms project with Gujarat Government in 2012, we conducted a series of workshops for 10th and 12th grade teachers during which the teachers created multiple-choice questions that could assess student learning accurately. Using this affirmative experience, as part of our project with the state of Bihar in the year of 2014, we worked closely with the teachers of the state to help them understand the nuances of good assessments. These trained teachers then co-created the mid-line assessments along with EI experts where at least up to 25-40% items came from the items created by the teachers. It was fascinating to witness how these teachers saw the whole loop getting closed- from creation of assessments to seeing the performance of their state children. The by-product of creating capacities is also the buy-in. These teachers were not required to be convinced of the need for a good assessment.
In 2016, a similar initiative was carried out in collaboration with the state of Tamil Nadu. Here the approach was to bring a systemic change by creating personal and institutional capacity. Here, the core focus was to create a cadre of assessment experts and giving them a holistic, hands-on experience of the end-to-end assessment processes. 85+ teachers, identified through a screening process, were taken through a series of thematic workshops. These workshops ranged from the ability to appreciate good questions and creating them to creating a blueprint for a balanced test paper. These workshops also included the methods of sampling, analyses, reporting and then studying the patterns to generate insights that can influence the classroom interactions. The series of 9 workshops each of 3 days, done at a monthly interval also helped in creating SLAS papers through these. After the SLAS-2016 was conducted, the teams reconvened and reviewed the data. The joy on these teachers’ faces when they saw their understanding of misconception being highlighted through their students’ performance was quite reassuring.
While the inputs focused on creating individuals with assessment creation capacities, it was based on the systemic foundation envisaged by the state machinery to create a robust assessment culture. Figure.2 explains how this journey of building the capacity allowed us to complete the objective of assessments along with creating the capacities for the state. After successfully creating the question papers for the grades 3, 5 & 8 for Tamil, English, Mathematics & Science, the teams reconvened for data analyses and to understand the data behavior. Through the data on each question, these teachers could identify how their own questions could capture the learning gaps in children. These teachers identified 5 misconceptions on the basis of data for each grade- subject combination. These misconceptions were not only understood and analyzed, but through a two-day teacher resource creation workshops, the teachers put together some classroom activities to address these misconceptions.
While the project ended in 2017 April after these reports were created, these teachers continue to be in the State Resource Groups and are leading textbook reforms and assessment creation for the state along with their roles as teachers/ educators. This is a powerful linkage between assessment capacities and the influence it can have on state organized workshops, textbook reviews and reforms. These educators, thus contributed in different ways to strengthen the state capacities. One of the participants from these workshops also shared how her thinking about assignments got transformed. The institutional capacities created then allowed for more interactions, training more teachers on basic needs of assessments and pioneering of the Assessment Unit that continued to create assessments for the subsequent SLAS and for other assessments in the state.
Figure: 2: TN-SLAS 2016: The learning journey of teachers to make better assessments
Through the wider experience of creating capacities across various states and other organizations in the area of assessments, we have identified that having intermittent short-term goals to achieve can enhance and reinforce the capacities. When the assessment understanding is paired with an immediate goal of conducting assessments, it facilitates the institutionalization of these capacities. Both in our Bihar and Tamil Nadu state projects, the capacity building was linked with assessment creation by the teachers. These assessments were administered immediately, data was generated and the teachers were reconvened to understand the question performance. With the advent and wider acceptance of technology in the recent times, capacity creation can be achieved for masses through providing byte-size content through tech-based medium. During our Tamil Nadu project, we continued to interact with teachers through WhatsApp groups and Google groups to allow reinforcement through sharing and co-creating between the two workshops.
The most important factor, however, is to institutionalize these capacities where the other two aspects- not just the capacity of an individual, but the systemic capacities can be built. (fig.1). Creating an Assessment Unit governed by, managed by and supported by teachers and supported by the assessment experts can create institutionalized capacities to allow continuous improvement in the quality of assessments, data analysis and dissemination of assessment insights. When this is done rigorously for a few years, at a regular frequencies and the insights are utilized to improvise various educational policies, the transformation can become evident through the shift in student learning levels.