In this episode, Marla Spivack speaks to Yamini Aiyar about her new book, ‘Rewriting the Grammar of the Education System: Delhi’s Education Reform (A Tale of Creative Resistance and Creative Disruption)’, which documents the introduction of education reforms in Delhi public schools. They discuss some of the challenges faced throughout this reform as well as lessons that emerged from documenting the reform experience. These include the importance of understanding that everyone is part of a larger system which is conditioning the behaviours and actions of people within it, and the necessity (and challenges) of building consensus for learning throughout systems.
Yamini Aiyar is a research collaborator on the RISE India and Political Economy teams and the President and Chief Executive of the Centre for Policy Research (CPR). Her research interests are in the field of social policy and development. In 2008, she founded the Accountability Initiative at CPR. Under her leadership, the Accountability Initiative has produced significant research in the areas of governance, state capacity and social policy. It pioneered a new approach to tracking public expenditures for social policy programs and is widely recognised for running the country’s largest expenditure-tracking survey in elementary education. Her own research on social accountability, elementary education, decentralisation, and administrative reforms has received both academic and popular recognition.
RISE is funded by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office; Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Programme is implemented through a partnership between Oxford Policy Management and the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford. The Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford supports the production of the RISE Podcast.
Producers: Joseph Bullough and Katie Cooper
Audio Engineer: James Morris
Hello and welcome to the RISE podcast series, where we aim to explore the stories behind education, research and practice as part of the multicountry Research on Improving Systems of Education endeavour funded by UK Aid, Australian Aid, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.Marla Spivack, Host:
Hello, and welcome to the RISE Podcast. I'm Marla Spivack, the research manager for the RISE Programme, and a research fellow at Building State Capability at the Centre for International Development at the Harvard Kennedy School. Today I'm speaking with Yamini Aiyar, the president and chief executive of the Centre for Policy Research in Delhi, and a researcher with the RISE India team and RISE political economy team. In this episode, we discuss Yamini's new book for RISE, 'Rewriting the Grammar of the Education System, Delhi's Education Reform: A Tale of Creative Resistance and Creative Disruption.' This book documents the introduction of a new package of education reforms in Delhi public schools, and what we can learn about how education systems evolved and improved from the challenges the reforms encountered, and the progress they were able to make. Some of my takeaways from our conversation were about the importance of empathy and understanding for those that we're working with, of understanding that everyone is embedded in a larger system that's conditioning their options for actions and to create change, and of the importance of building consensus throughout the system around the goals of reform efforts. Welcome Yamini. We are so delighted to have you on the RISE podcast today and really excited to speak about your new book. So thank you so much for being here to talk about this new work.Yamini Aiyar, Guest:
Thank you. Thank you, Marla. It's a pleasure to be here and really excited to have this conversation.Marla Spivack, Host:
So as you you might know, the tagline of our podcast is share your stories, not your standard deviations. And this new book that you've just put out really lends itself to that motto, because it tells such a rich story of these reforms in Delhi that took place that your team was able to sort of observe and document and learn from. So I wonder if you could start us off by sharing some of the highlights of that story.Yamini Aiyar, Guest:
Sure Marla, you know, we had the privilege of being able to document a set of reforms that were underway as they were unfolding, in a city in which we actually live. Now how many researchers get to make their own homes their field sites, and what was really interesting for us so, you know, the city of Delhi had been through a series of political upheavals in the years preceding the start of our study. One important one was Delhi was home for this big anti-corruption movement that took place between 2011 and 2012. In India, protests happened, you know, a stone's throw away from where we live. And the sort of coalition of civil society over time then morphed into a fledgling political party that gave itself the name Aam Aadmi Party. That's the party of the ordinary person, the ordinary man, ordinary woman, and then stood for election. And lo and behold, broke ground in the city. They won the election for the city state, which I think took place in early 2014. It then got, the party got caught as the country in a second big political upheaval because we had a big national election, which created a new political regime in the seat of power in Delhi. And then this fledgling political party that had one unexpectedly or didn't, they didn't fully win the election, but they got a very large number of seats, ousting old established political parties. And for a host of other complicated political reasons we had a reelection soon after in 2015. And here was this upstart political party that beat the BJP, the parties and the party that had just come to power in Delhi in their own city and came to power with a thumping majority so much although there was zero opposition. There were two opposition seats in the entire assembly, unheard of.Yamini Aiyar, Guest:
So we were all part of this moment, because we live here. And suddenly, we began to see various posters being put up all across the city, announcing new reforms on school education, very unusual for India. I've been observing education, studying education reforms in different parts of the country, things were happening, but I don't recall a single city in India where I saw, you know, the big advertising billboards telling me that there were some reforms going on in my city. And then I used to put on the radio on my way to work. And in the middle of, you know, Bollywood pop songs and peppy DJs suddenly I would hear the voice of the deputy chief minister, who had also been given the education portfolio as education minister, telling us things that were music to my ears at some level, because I've spent many years working closely with Pratham and ASER and had been part of this entire discourse on the challenge of learning outcomes in Indian schools. Like the, the negative consequences of the over ambitious curriculum that we had been engaging with Lant (Pritchett), and all of you on were things that were, well, part of our understanding on what the challenge with education was. But our big challenge was that none of our policymakers was willing to echo this understanding at all. And suddenly, the deputy chief minister of Delhi is on the radio saying, we've done a short survey and we recognise that a large number of students in standard six, can barely read a standard six textbook, forget a standard six textbook, they can barely read or write. And they've moved from class to class to class progressing, but is simply not learning and we need to do something about this. It really was dramatic in its moment, because this kind of language of framing of the challenge of Education had not been articulated that much. And here it was being articulated in our city.Yamini Aiyar, Guest:
And it just so happened that having got excited about this through a series of conversations, we were then, found ourselves in a conversation with the reformers, some reformers themselves. And they were really keen for us to document what was going on in schools, because they felt that you know, any kind of process of change is complex, it's chaotic, lots of things are happening. And having regular feedback to understand what's being responded to in schools would be important. So here were, a once in a lifetime opportunity to document in real time change that was going on.Yamini Aiyar, Guest:
What did we find? Of course, having worked on policy in India, I knew that grand ideas and big framings that come from the top, trickle down in very complex ways at the cutting edge where change is actually meant to happen. So we didn't walk in expecting things to be, you know, exactly as was in the imagination of the reformers. In fact, that was part of what we wanted to study, how do these changes get interpreted? Where are the disruptions? Where is the resistance? Where's the pushback, where's the acceptance and how this happens? But what we found was really quiet in its own way, silently dramatic, in the sense that if you were to look to see whether the transformation was taking place in classrooms, and you just looked at what was happening between the teachers and the students. You would walk away saying this is yet another one of those famous flailing state narratives of the Indian state, great ideas, and nothing's actually happening on the ground. But if you sat and listened to the teachers, and engage in conversation with the school actors, and if you sat and listened to what was happening in the trainings as the teachers were being prepared for this whole exercise, one started understanding that change was actually underway in its own subtle complexity.Yamini Aiyar, Guest:
One of the things that we found is that teachers who are in the Indian system in particular, and I think many systems across the world education systems across the globe, measure their understanding of the classroom from the framework of maximising past percentages, and ensuring therefore that they are teaching those parts of the classroom that are closest to curriculum readiness. So the ability of the child to pass the exam is an important measure. And completing the syllabus to make everybody exam ready is a critical element of the entire story. Now, when the reforms were implemented, essentially, teachers were given the flexibility to not be obsessed with curriculum, and instead focus on what children knew and got them as close to curriculum level expectation as possible. To begin with each other completely puzzled to me, that was an interesting, interesting insight, because I thought that once you remove the shackles, or at least once you created a perception that the shackles can be removed, that creativity would unfold. Of course, they didn't, because after all, they grew up in the system. So when they were told that there is no syllabus, or rather that there's flexibility around the syllabus, and they can teach differentially, that differential teaching was a framework. Teachers were puzzled.Yamini Aiyar, Guest:
And so were we, because we couldn't understand why the teachers were puzzled. But on digging deeper, we realised that that puzzle came from being embedded in a system that believed that this was what the classroom was supposed to do. It's what we call in our book, the classroom consensus. And by the way, parents were deeply embedded in that same consensus as well. And I'll come to that in a moment. And what was interesting over time is not that the consensus broke and a new consensus formed. It is that teachers themselves began to recognise the possibility of engaging with children in a way that actually allows them to move from wherever they are to where the curriculum wants without the shackles of exams. So teachers will talk about good children versus bad children. were unhappy about the idea of marking children as close to curriculum, distance from the curriculum. But all those conversations together created an environment where in the staff room, suddenly teachers were talking about what their children knew and didn't know, outside of just their ability to pass the exam on. Now, that's a massive shift in a system that has embedded in thinking in a certain way. Parents, like all of us, and I noticed after this, that I, too, was a victim of the same challenge that the parents I was observing were. So let me explain this with this story. At the early parts of our study, we were sitting in the headmaster's room on the day of a parent teacher meeting, the parent teacher meeting was also a very momentous part of this whole reform. Because, again, this was the first time that everyone from the top leadership of the political party to the school teacher had been mobilised into inviting parents to come for this parent teacher meeting. And given how much social distance there is in government schools, between parents and teachers, this actual act of a parent teacher meeting was very significant. And it coincided with a baseline survey that was done in schools to try and get a sense of what level children were at, in terms of basic reading, writing, arithmetic, and then attempt was being made along on the basis of that to reorganise children according to their learning levels, so that the teachers would be able to do this differential teaching, in some ways, that was the crux of part of the reform that we were keen to understand. And parents came barging into the headmaster's room, saying, "How could you do this? How could you test our children without telling us in advance, so the children couldn't prepare, and then of course, I won't score well, and then you're taking decisions on our child, this is completely against the rules of what a classroom should be." And, you know, it made me realise that we are as parents, we too, are very much part of that classroom consensus. Then I thought back to how excited I get when my primary school going daughter comes back from her school with two stars versus one star or zero star. And the stars do matter how I'm thinking about her education progress. So I'm part of the problem too.Yamini Aiyar, Guest:
So it was insightful to me to recognise how deeply embedded parents who are part of this consensus, and that's important because when we talk about participation in the education system, we're usually talking about it from the point of view of the system, not creating spaces for parental participation and direct accountability. And whilst that remains very crucial to what makes for effective, accountable functional education system, the framework of that consensus is actually part of it. Because if parents are going to ask for a certain kind of accountability, then of course, the system is going to be geared towards that. So that was the second key insight. And again, a recognition that continued engagement between parents and teachers in a framework that at least losing the shackles of curriculum, expectations, syllabus, completion parts, percentages, opens up the space for rewriting that consensus, rewriting the grammar of the classroom, which is why I titled the book that. The third really important insight for us through observing this whole change was how much systems are embedded in a particular vocabulary of their own. In the Indian system of bureaucracy, that vocabulary is articulated through an endless stream of circulars laced with bureaucracies and how messages are communicated from top leadership down to the school. And we had this database of a large number of circulars. And it is actually through the language of the circular the written word that reforms are understood and implemented and seen as sacrosanct. To that, written word is how accountability is understood in our bureaucratic system. And that system translates into the school and it shapes how reforms unfold. So unless we build reforms that actually try to reshape that language, and the way in which ideas translate in their everyday in us to those who are tasked with implementing it, we will always perhaps find ourselves caught in the chakra view, as they say, in India, or in the web of the challenge of the flailing state. So we learnt, we learned that reforms are not about immediate change. It's about the subtle disruptions that take place, and that's about seeding ideas, engaging with them and allowing them to unfold. And we learned that you have to understand the grammar of the system in which change is being brought in, in order to ensure that the values of the change are well understood. And I think studies on bureaucracy are frameworks of debating accountability, a framework for reforms, particularly deep technocratic reforms, sometimes forget these complexities in which reforms unfold.Marla Spivack, Host:
Wow, that was such a fascinating overview and touching on all of the key themes. I sort of have follow up questions almost on like each of those main points that you asked, maybe first to come to the thing you spoke about most recently, which to me was one of the fascinating and I imagine time consuming parts of the research that you did, which was understanding these circulars, this component of the language of the state. You know, this podcast is not meant to be very researchy and technical, but I think folks will be interested in just how did you do that component of the research. And maybe if you could talk a little bit more about what were some things that emerged about the way that the language of the state evolved, as you were tracking these circulars over the course of time as the reform unfolded?Yamini Aiyar, Guest:
What you, anyone who has ever encountered the Indian state will be familiar with this phrase of orders and circulars in any way or form. As researchers when we encounter the state, one of the big challenges is that you have to get a quote, unquote permission letter, especially if you're researching parts of the state, before the State opened up, and it's not that the permission letters are hard to get, but they come in the form of circular in the form of a file. And in fact, even the start of our study took a lot longer than we had hoped, simply because the file had to go from desk to desk before it finally saw the light of day and the final signature gave us the space to be able to actually undertake the study. So we were well aware of the centrality of paper in the context of the Indian bureaucracy and (?) a sociologist who study the Indian states are described it once a state that has a passion for paper. And this passion for paper has been deployed in India in really innovative ways. So I'm going to digress here for a second, but just to explain how central the idea of the paper is or the rules that files circulars are to the everyday functioning of the Indian bureaucracy. India is also been home to one of the world's most radical freedom of information movements where in fact, the whole framework of freedom of information was reframed as a right to information. And laws were passed as a consequence of long social movement where civil society mobilised to push for building a Right to Information Law. But one of the reasons why information was framed in India is a right is because everything that the state does is always located somewhere on paper. And this has a lot to do with our colonial history. And I talk a little bit about briefly touch upon that in the book, and anyone who's interested in knowing more, should definitely read anthropologist Matthew Hull's work, who sort of traced the colonial or Indian bureaucracies, obsession with paper back to our colonial history. But this paper is really powerful, because anything that's on paper becomes an embedded part of the state. It's a constitutive feature of the state. And the Right to Information essentially required you to put on paper, an application to access papers of the state. And it was through those papers that citizens were empowered to hold the state accountable. So papers have been very central to the functioning of the Indian state. And the circular sort of embodies that.Yamini Aiyar, Guest:
But what we were surprised by as we entered the schools, is how often the circular became part and parcel of the discussion with teachers. So nothing would move, I think, from our ability to enter the school gates, to the schools actioning, any of the actions that they were required to undertake on account of the reforms, without receiving the circular, and quite literally hours and hours would be spent by the school trying to interpret what the circulars were saying. I mean, there was one very amusing moment where one of the I think it was a teacher that we spoke to said, Well, you know, we've spent hours and hours trying to figure out whether the circular saying and we can't make up our minds. And we're not going to move until we don't know this, because, you know, we have to be true to whatever it is that the circular said. So we then realised that in order to understand the translation of the reform into what was happening in schools, we needed to get to the heart of the circular, luckily, because technology has digitised a lot of things. There is a database that we were able to access all the government from which we pull the circulars, and we actually had a remarkably large number of circulars that we found were issued in the period of reforms. So what we did do was that we categorised the circulars across different categories of information or actions that they were requiring of schools. And this included examination related activities, data collection related activities, a whole range of things that teachers were supposed to do, and then we narrowed them down to a set of circulars around the particular reforms that we were studying. And we went through a subset of them to identify words and phrases that we would hear that we found were coming up repeatedly. And then we did a search to get a sense of what the language of the circulars was all about. And one of the things that really struck us was how much the language is, after all, bureaucratic language and rule bound bureaucracies are essentially about issuing orders. These circulars are called orders in the grammar of the state as well. So they were used very much as carrot and sticks, ordering schools to do various things. And so you could get a good sense of, you know, the messages were around inspections, the messages were around the kind of penalties that would be imposed on schools. They were mostly around threats that you know, the language was very threatening, if you don't do x, then your school will be penalised, or the individual concerned will be penalised. So these are, these are circulars that are framed in a particular way. And as a consequence, schools and school teachers did take these very, very seriously. So one of the people we interviewed said, you know, schools are conditioned to work from circulars only. And so I literally spent all my day moving from circular to circular following the instructions in an unquestioning manner. What this does, it sort of deepens our culture of responsiveness to orders rather than engaging with the task at hand. And so coming back to the classroom, suddenly, when the various school teachers who've been embedded in a world where their daily work is guided by the tyranny of circulars, they're told that there's flexibility, that you are encouraged to do things your way that you can do, quote, unquote, differential teaching, they find themselves completely puzzled, because they've been working in a culture where performance is directly related to your ability to be responsive to whatever is clearly asked of you in that circular, and if you deviate from what the circular is ordering to, chances are that you may get into a little bit of trouble. So all in all, it sort of creates a culture of responsiveness to orders and a sort of passiveness to what you do, rather than a culture of being an active agent where the classroom is mine. And I have a task at hand or a goal to accomplish inside the classroom.Marla Spivack, Host:
Yeah, that's fascinating. And I just think that the the analysis you did to look at the circulars themselves to understand how a little bit of change, you know, might have happened over time is also really interesting component of the study, and, and sort of building on that, you know, the circulars are part of the mode of accountability for the system, right? They're a big way in which at RISE, we would talk about sort of delegation, or you know, how bureaucrats and then, you know, heads of school, and teachers of the frontline are supposed to know what they're meant to be doing. And so the circulars were sort of an insight into a piece of that. But I think there are a lot of other elements of accountability and how accountability works, that this reform sort of touched on or came up against. You were speaking about the role that parents also play and accountability. So I was just wondering, in what ways throughout the reform process, do you think that the mode of accountability stayed the same? And were there any changes that you were able to see, was it able to shift the needle or was the accountability that exists just sort of so entrenched that, you know, it wasn't able to shift as much over over the reform period.Yamini Aiyar, Guest:
So there are two things here, consistent messaging from the political leadership through the three year period that we track. So the top of the system spoke to this whole process from the perspective of motivation. I mean, there's a lot of attempt in the language that was deployed in the ways in which attempts were being made to present the teacher as a very central Actor at the heart of the education system. Fifth of September in India is celebrated as Teachers Day and various schools, governments, etc, celebrate the occasion. The Delhi government celebrated it by converting a small award ceremony into a very high profile thing and you drive around the city and see teachers faces on you know, bus stop billboards and so on, all around the attempt to generate accountability by trying to shift the account to you, to draw on Lant's (Pritchett) framing of account versus accounting of accountability in a system that is very entrenched in an accounting framework of accountability. Even the introduction of phrases like differential teaching, which is a big shift from classroom is about completing syllabus and maximising past percentages, were all an attempt to shift the metric of performance and the metric of accountability in a very entrenched system. But in an entrenched system, change does not happen overnight. And we found that those aspects of the system that the school engaged with the most, the circulars which define what the school is supposed to do, there is a mid level of administrator that the school encounters the most as a conduit actually between the school and a higher level of policymaking. And in some ways, the culture of the school itself, all collectively still cohere around an accountability. That was very much an accounting accountability, "Have you met a certain set of metrics?", and this left teachers somewhat confused. And I don't think that over the three year period that we followed schools, we saw this transform in any significant way. What we did see was that teachers became exposed to the possibilities of change in ways that shifted, not norms, but their own discussions and dialogues amongst themselves, I think is a starting point of shifting norms of accountability. In the middle of the first year of the introduction of this reforms, when teachers were deeply sceptical, and frankly a bit unhappy about what was going on, because they felt that this was yet another burden that teachers were going to have to carry on them. Suddenly, the chief minister and the Deputy Chief Minister announced a two month long reading campaign, that would end on the 14th of November, again, we just celebrated in India as Children's Day. And this was a campaign to ensure that all children in government schools, Hackney government schools in Delhi could quote unquote, read and they said that there was complete flexibility. So this was something that had to be done outside of the classroom, in the morning assembly, or during the lunch break, or after school, where teachers had the flexibility to, you know, identify students who needed extra remedial training, and some sort of teaching learning support was given to them through this period. But all of this was to happen outside of the classroom. Now, teachers was deeply sceptical about the possibility of this, they said that we understand that a child has come into the sixth grade and cannot read, possibly, sometimes even at basic grade three or grade four level. But we don't believe that in a half an hour class, anything can change. And yet, the minute they found themselves freed from the shackles of the classroom outside of it, they began engaging with children differently. And they themselves said that this was actually a very, very effective thing that happened. And they did feel that they were able to improve learning for children. So teachers became exposed to possibilities, teachers became exposed to also thinking about the students that they face that they confronted in class in terms of where they were relative to what the curriculum was expecting them to do, and recognising that they did require different kinds of input. And that is, to me, this foundation of a shift in the norms of accountability. Now, ultimately, the devil will lie in where we end up with a second phase of reforms, which hopefully will unfold at some point. But I'm having this conversation with you against the backdrop of nearly two years of full closure. So we'll probably be in a very different world, if or when I hope schools open in India. But I think a lot of the big questions of how embedded and deep these changes will be will rest on whether we are able to fundamentally shift the metric of measurement inside the classroom. And that has to do with the ability of shifting a little bit the assessment system. And there was an In fact, there continues to be a very deep discussion within the Delhi government about what that could look like. A lot of which has been disrupted thanks to COVID.Marla Spivack, Host:
That's such a great segue into the next question I wanted to ask, which was one thing we've been talking a lot about within the RISE team lately is about the importance of purpose in creating change in education systems, the need for alignment around a clear purpose. And I think to go back to the start of your story about this reform, that was something that was very clearly set out, a new political party comes in it has total control of government, it makes education a clear political priority, and has, you know, not just education in general, but Foundational Reading, specifically putting that as a main purpose. But that enough isn't a guarantee for a home run of success. There were many other obstacles, even ones who have purpose at the centre, many other obstacles present themselves to reform. So I'm just wondering if reflecting on the experience of what was achieved in this reform, and what still is yet to be achieved, and hopefully, we'll be if the system can get back into a more normal mode of operation and continue its progress. What are some of the scaffolds around purpose that you think are necessary for systems to create transformation, in addition to having that core? What's the scaffolding around it that can help make for a successful change?Yamini Aiyar, Guest:
So I think one of the things your question is making me think that maybe in some revision, this needs to be articulated a little bit more in our work as well. That defining purpose and then building consensus around that purpose are two slightly different things. I think we are better in doing the former and we don't give enough thought to the latter. And that's also been the challenge with Delhi too. So even though purpose was to move the system away from, as Deputy Chief Minister Manisha Shoda himself has said in various speeches, and I've quoted them in the book, I don't remember exactly the phrasing, but I think he sort of once described the classroom as being a victim to the textbook to the syllabus to the examination. So the articulation of the problem and recognition that the purpose of reform is to break this shackles that have locked the classroom in very clear. But in building consensus around the reforms, it all got very complicated and diluted on many occasions. I referenced this in one of the chapters as we described the unfolding of the reforms even when the big janati reform was announced, a big classroom reform was announced, it was pitched as a reform that was about ensuring that students will be better prepared for the class stand exam, which is the big sort of high stock of the big high stakes exam in our in the Indian schooling system. And in a way from a reformist point of view, that's necessary because you need to build consensus around the reform and the in the and because the classroom consensus is so closely linked to getting through that high stakes exam. That's the only way you will mobilise. The other really interesting moment for me through this period of study. And like I said, one of the sort of interesting things about living in your field site in some ways, I suddenly noticed that my colleagues and friends and peer group in Delhi began talking about the political party's reforms, when it hit the headlines that government schools had started performing better in these high stakes exams than private schools. Up until then, no one was really convinced about what was going on, mostly because in elite peer groups, private school, education is dominant. And while people saw the billboards, etc, that was often dismissed as just political noise rather than action, but it was the exam results shift. And by the way, those exam resuls shifts are shifts, in my opinion had very little to do with the reforms themselves. I think there were other factors at play there. But it was those examination results that suddenly brought about a deep legitimacy towards what the political party at the reforming actors were doing. And that's how the narrative really solidified of this is a political party that is committed to education reform and change from the real challenges. Government's also reflections of the context within which they are located and purpose gets defined in that interplay between state and society. Shifting that purpose means building a new consensus, and that is a consensus that has to be built both around the actors in the system, but also stakeholders, and most importantly, in education parents in the system. Do we have the ability to have this dialogue? And how do you have it in very unequal education systems, the Indian education system is deeply unequal, partly because you are dealing at one level with children say like mine, who are coming from fourth or fifth generation learners, where children were coming from first generation learners, and the nature of input, the kind of education they get, the kind of exposure they have, are all very different. So how do we build a societal conversation around purpose is a very critical question, which I think is at the heart of some of the challenges we are witnessing in our education systems.Marla Spivack, Host:
Yamini this discussion has been so interesting, and I wish that we had more time, but we're coming up on the end. And so I want to conclude with the question that we always end our podcast on and I'm wondering, what's one thing that you wish more people knew about the Indian education system or just about education systems in general?Yamini Aiyar, Guest:
Well, I think the one thing that we tend to forget is how much the teachers perception or understanding of what makes for a good classroom is shaped by the societal perception of what an education system should deliver. And I think that one of the challenges that a lot of the quote unquote, good teachers, as they say, you know, that there is and especially in the Indian education system, we know from all our work on accountability, teachers are for a large number permanent government, school teachers, they get a significantly high pay relative to private school teachers and I have done some work on this back in the and you know, even showing up is sometimes asking for too much from them. So there's no doubt that there's a very fundamental accountability challenge here. But teachers perception of what they are inside the classroom is actually at the heart even of some of these deeply egregious, unaccountable behaviours like not showing up, like teacher absenteeism. And to me, I came away feeling a lot more empathetic towards the dilemmas that teachers confront, than I was at the start of the study where I saw teachers as part of the problem of our system, which created perverse incentives where absenteeism was the norm and not teaching well was the norm. And I realised that not teaching well has a lot to do with the classroom consensus that has not been shaped by the individual teacher or the individual school, it has been shaped by all of us collectively. So what does it mean to move a system that is committed to maximising past percentages and rote learning towards recognising the importance of basic foundational learning? It's not an easy question to answer. It's perhaps a little bit easier when you're talking about things like learning, you know, basically word recognition, paragraph comprehension, basic foundational learning, it gets a little harder when you start saying, what are life skills? What is conceptual learning? What are life skills? And I think that in many ways, the Delhi government now is grappling with precisely these questions. Don't forget, I think your listeners may not know this, and we should have said it upfront. But these reforms took place in secondary schools, not in primary schools. So a lot of the challenge that the reformers are now grappling with is, you know, how do you create entrepreneurship? How do you give life skills? Can we experiment with an entrepreneurial curriculum with a happiness curriculum? Some of this is interesting. I mean, again, I had originally dismissed it. But as I spent more time in schools, I realised that it's also about saying, what is the kind of learning that you can give to students so that they have a better leg up in what is a very harsh and difficult world because most of the children that go to government schools come from very, very poor and difficult backgrounds. So more understanding of that, and thinking around how to build that societal consensus is important. I think networks like RISE are so crucial, because we're building in generating a large body of work that is actually engaging with this question.Marla Spivack, Host:
Yeah, absolutely. Three things I heard you mention that I think are so important. And the key takeaways I'm going to have from this conversation are needing to have more empathy and understanding for where the people that we're working with and learning from, or coming from the fact that we're all embedded in a system, right. And that's conditioning, what we're doing and what our options are and how we're thinking about our role, and how important and difficult it is to build any sort of societal consensus when you're dealing with really diverse, complicated communities, country's cities, about how crucial it is to making progress. So Yamini, I'm so glad that we were able to have this conversation. Thank you so much for your book, and for coming to talk with us about it today. And I hope everyone now we've piqued their interest and that folks will go and read the full book and learn even more about the story because it's really such an important one we're so lucky to have.Yamini Aiyar, Guest:
Thank you. Thank you, Marla, and thank you to the RISE team. This wouldn't have been possible without all of you and your constant encouragement and support made sure that we remembered to get this done. Really appreciate it and looking forward to more conversations with all of you on it.RISE Programme:
Thank you for listening to our podcast today. And if you liked it, be sure to check out our research at riseprogramme.org or follow us on social media at RISE Programme. You can find links to the research mentioned and other work shared under the description for this podcast episode. The RISE podcast is brought to you by the Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE Programme) through support from the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.