23 December 2009

Quality Accreditation in Schools

I happened to read a newspaper report “Quality Council of India introduces accreditation standard for schools” in THE HINDU dated 22 December 2009.  I gather that one school in Chennai has gained accreditation of the QCI and many others schools would follow.

It is good that some agency has come forward to monitor and evaluate quality standards in our schools.  But then, how effective is this going to be?  Is it just one more fancy idea that is going to catch up with increasing number of schools in an increasingly market oriented consumer society?  Are we talking about quality without adequately analysing the many issues involved in school education?

Although there have been many education commissions which have given guidelines to improve quality of education imparted in our schools here in India, nothing significant seems to have taken place in this direction.

I think that the most important ingradient of any quality oriented school system is an appropriate curriculum, which is by and large reflected in teaching resources used in classrooms.  These resources are developed by textbook publishers and multimedia companies, based on recommendations and draft syllabi that come from syllabus boards. I don’t think that the status quo will really improve unless radical changes are brought in at syllabus development and textbook (and digital media) production levels even though schools may be interested to join the quality bandwagon just because it is a new concept.  Most schools in India function on illusory concepts of what quality in education really means.  However there a few Government schools and NGO run schools that seem to function very effectively without any `elitist' aspirations. I had the pleasure of working in PREPARE (Green Valley Schools), an NGO that works from Chennai, with quailty objectives.  Although exceptionally effective systems do function, these are just a drop in the ocean.

[Just before writing this post, I tried to read the school quality standards as identified by the QCI by accessing http://www.qcin.org/, their official website. But to my disappointment, I could not get to the details of their “National Accreditation Board for Education and Training” in spite of using a clicking option provided in their homepage. I experienced same result when I tried to click their “Feedback” option at the right hand top corner of the website. I tried to access other websites, to confirm whether my computer system and Internet connection were okay and confirmed that they were okay. It took nearly 10 minutes to navigate to other pages of the QCI website before accessing the NABET].

03 December 2009

When can a Curriculum tick?

What do we need to implement quality curriculum in a given school situation? This article attempts to answer the question to some extent. 

As a mentor, I used to present math lesson problems as follows to teachers and ask them to let me know the method which  they would use to solve them:

  1. Two pens cost Rs 27 each and two pencils, Rs 13 each. How will you find the total cost?
  2. There are 38 oranges in one basket and 42 in the other. How will you find the difference?

Most often, participants' response would be as follows:

  1. I will add Rs 27 and Rs 13 and get Rs 40 by using the conventional method (using place value)
  2. I will subtract 38 from 42 and get 4.
Very rarely would teachers come up with `of the box' responses as follows:

  1. I will add Rs 20 and Rs 10 which leads to Rs 30. Then I will add Rs 7 and Rs 3 which leads to Rs 10. Therefore the total  is Rs 30 + Rs 10 = Rs 40.
  2. I would keep removing one orange from each basket simultaneously. This will eventually lead to one basket empty and the other,  with 4 oranges. Therefore the difference is 4 oranges.
Sometimes, when we take any cylindrical or cuboidal pill or capsule, it gets stuck at the throat. What I do in such situations is to keep the pill or capsule on my tongue in such a way that its longer axis is parallel to tongue's axis. When we drink water or  any other appropriate liquid by keeping the material in this position, chances of its blocking the throat or food pipe is largely reduced.

I think our K-12 curriculum fails to teach such scientific methods of doing things.

In India, we have witnessed phenomenal changes in school education in the past 40 years. Syllabus boards raised the number of lesson concepts to be taught at each class level. Textbook publishers followed suit, as this was an opportunity to increase the number of pages in their textbooks. Authors welcomed the move as this paved way for more income.

One of the first steps to achieve quality curriculum would be to reduce quantity. Our textbooks should be written in such a manner that will help children integrate lesson concepts, wherever applicable, in their day-to-day experiences.  In 1956, in the United States, physicists from the MIT and high school physics teachers teamed in to develop Physical Science Study Committee (PSSC) Physics Curriculum, one of the best curriculums ever developed in the history of physics education, for use at the Grades 9-12 level. The first PSSC PHYSICS Textbook came out in 1960 followed by several editions including those published by the National Council of Educational Research and Training in New Delhi. Films, teachers’ guides and paperback support materials accompanied the textbook. In the ‘60s, science teachers in our government schools were also trained to use the PSSC Curriculum in Summer Science Workshops. In an interview published in the Chennai based newspaper "THE HINDU" dated 26 November 2009, Nobel Laureate Dr Ramakrishnan mentioned that he studied PSSC Physics Curriculum material during his Pre-science Course.

I had the pleasure of using PSSC Physics Textbook as a reference material during my student days and teaching it later, in different countries. This was one of the best textbooks to have used very simple and cost effective laboratory equipment (which could be designed by teachers themselves) to teach concepts such as refraction of light. I remember how my Grade 12 students enjoyed learning “Alpha Particle Scattering” when I used a model from the textbook, in a remote village in Ethiopia in 1982. The textbook contained excellent multiflash photographs like the one below, to explain difficult concepts such as wave motion.

The lesson concepts in the textbook gave due consideration to students’ day-to-day experiences. Our textbooks should be written in such a manner that will help children integrate lesson concepts, wherever applicable, in their day-to-day experiences.  Instead of copying illustrations and examples blindly, our textbook authors shoud do extensive research into best classroom practices, analyze them, apply in theiro own classrooms and then write textbooks.  In other words, textbook writers should have had excellent experience as teachers themselves before writing textbooks as indicated in my letter to the editor of a local newspaper.   

A few decades back, when technology crept into the school system, a math teaching software package known as LOGO was introduced in North American Schools. This package didn’t last long because it overlooked basic principles of child psychology. While children enjoyed using the mouse to learn math on a virtual screen, it was never like how they enjoyed doing `real' math using `real' paper and pencil. But still our schools continued to use the package. I think that computer assisted classroom processes should support activity based ones instead of replacing them.

If we aim for effective curriculum, we should invite all practising teachers to express problems and recommend changes based on their classroom experience. The process should include several workshops in which relevant activities are carried out by teachers as well as pupils.

When developing any effective syllabus, important dimensions such as available resources, contextually relevant education research evidences and best practices should be considered. In terms of priority, educational resources and child friendliness should top the list of essential requirements. Once the revised syllabus is approved, it should be circulated to all schools for implementation. The syllabus should then be finetuned according to the outcomes and then finalized. Textbooks and other teaching learning materials should be produced accordingly. This should be followed by stringent quality assurance methods to monitor the quality of textbooks and other teaching learning materials including digital ones. Such a curriculum can tick.

  1. http://libraries.mit.edu/archives/exhibits/pssc/
  2. ‘I absolutely believe that scientists should be paid more than they are currently’, an interview published in THE HINDU dated 26 November 2009, p15cf.

About Me

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Chennai, Tamilnadu, India
I am a retired K-12 Education Management Professional. I have worked at different levels in K-12 school systems, textbook publishing, elearning and Education NGOs. I have held memberships in The Association for Science Education (UK), American Association of Physics Teachers and The Malaysian Institute of Physics. I hold a 1st class B Sc Degree in Physics followed by B Ed [English and Physical Science] and M A [Childcare and Education] degrees. My published works include 59 articles in teacher development magazines in India and the US and a book entitled `Creative Classrooms and Child Friendly Schools' (listed in Amazon). This book is almost an anecdotal account of my professional experience in six countries (including Cambodia where I worked as Technical Adviser to the Ministry of Education, Youth And Sports). I served as mentor in the Certificate of Teaching Mastery Program offered by Teachers Without Borders.