In Haryana, the people leading the education system knew they had a problem: teachers were completing their prescribed syllabus, but students were not understanding fundamental concepts. The teachers, parents, and students knew that they were not learning, but there were no assessments to show them the hard facts about their progress – or lack of it. Without access to this data, teachers couldn’t understand why the students were struggling, and without a high-level view of how multiple schools were performing, decision-makers at the block and state levels had no way to recognize patterns and act. Something had to change.

This is when the Haryana Government, which runs more than 15,000 schools, in the state decided to invest heavily in collecting high quality, competence-based data for all its students through regular standardized assessments. This data is now being made available to teachers and administrative staff so that they can tailor their interventions for better delivery of education at the classroom, block, and district levels.

There has been much excitement about data’s role in public policy and governance. As public policy objectives are often broad, multi-layered, and abstract, quality data can be a tool to break these down into quantifiable targets that can rally all stakeholders to achieve them. We have observed the ways in which improved collection, analysis, and use of data accelerated improvements in financial inclusion, skilling and employment generation in many developing counties. Four states in India now are seeing improved education outcomes by taking this approach and putting data to its best use: in decision making. Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and Rajasthan are breaking down the massive goal of “improving education for all children” into many smaller components with quantifiable targets.

Taken together, these states are implementing a systemic approach to education reform, one that relies heavily on high-quality data on performance of students, and moving past holding only teachers, students, and individual schools accountable, to a model where the entire system is geared towards improved student learning outcomes. In addition, these states have also leveraged data generated by their administrative departments to improve critical processes in education operations such as staffing, transfers, and school inspections.

In the last decade, many successive studies like the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) and the National Achievement Survey (NAS) showed that learning levels in the Indian public education system remain abysmally low, with a majority of students remaining significantly behind the learning levels expected at their grade. In response to this, many Indian states adopted various approaches to improving learning outcomes. So, what makes this systemic approach different?

Before systemic reforms, the interventions in most states centered around academics, such as improving classroom teaching, teacher training, and encouraging tech-enabled learning. While much needed, the impact of these initiatives was often limited to individual classrooms and schools because of the absence of a robust administrative system and tools to measure their results. The leadership in Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and Rajasthan learned early on that improved classroom interactions rely on multiple components of the government machinery working together – not just on individual schools making changes to the syllabus.

That takes us back to the school districts in Haryana state. To achieve its goal, Haryana came up with the “Saksham Taalika” framework, which maps specific competencies to each subject in each grade. The students sit for state-wide assessment tests regularly, and the data from these assessments are available for teachers so they can tailor their lessons to meet the individual needs of their students. Teachers can now see exactly what the appropriate competencies were for their students. At the same time, aggregate data is used by administrators at the block and district levels to monitor performance across the state. The data allows administrators to identify the patterns and systemic issues that might be hindering progress. This approach has already stated reaping results. According to the latest round of assessments, more than 80% of the students across the state have been found grade competent, which is a huge leap from 40% overall grade competence in 2014.

Similarly, in Himachal Pradesh, a “Samprapti Soochna” framework is providing key assessment data for teachers and government officials. To drive uptake and usage at the school level, the block officials in Himachal Pradesh have ensured that every school pastes the print-outs of charts of their school’s performance at a prominent place, and the school authorities use these insights for their internal planning meetings.

Leaders in Rajasthan have also built an enterprise solution called “Shaala Darpan” to collect real time data on all student, teacher, and school performance, and provide information on resource allocation and personnel. It currently houses data pertaining to 14,000 schools, 1.9 lakh teachers and 50 lakh students in the state. The state has been able to roll out a system of star ratings of schools based on this data, which builds a huge amount of positive motivation for the teachers and schools. This is complemented with a powerful school inspection system for the district officers.

Himachal Pradesh has also instituted an innovative way to combine offline monitoring with online data collection. The state uses the ‘Shiksha Saathi’ app, which helps block officers to capture pictures and their geo-location during school inspections. Monthly review meetings are held at the district and state level to resolve issues identified during those visits. The app has been downloaded by all of the officers, and on an average, around 70% of the issues have been identified and resolved at review meetings since their commencement in 2016.

In India, the smartphone is everywhere. Access to the internet is growing. People across the country are looking at technology’s role in expanding possibilities for our children. The systemic education reform work shows us that data-centric approaches to break down complex challenges can help us solve them at a granular level and can also help us scale broadly by implementing customised changes that are backed by smart, evidence-based interventions.

Views are personal.

The author is director at Michael & Susan Dell Foundation India.

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