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How India can make overworked teachers adapt to newer policies to fix learning loss in kids

There are many ways to design incentives in the public education space in India that can change classroom culture and the learning outcomes of children.

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Much of the learning loss in children across Indian schools has been attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic, and rightly so. But the ASER Report 2018 had already revealed that 50 per cent of Grade 5 children could not read Grade 2 level text, largely because of their inability to recognise English letters. The pandemic has only exacerbated the learning loss, setting the progress made in education back by decades.

The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 tried to determine the causes for this consistent learning slide and zeroed in on the need for improving foundational literacy and numeracy across schools, strengthening pedagogical practices, and ensuring a better education delivery overall. At the crux of it would be highly driven education officials, principals, and teachers working with students and their parents to effect learning outcomes.

The policy hasn’t clarified the measures that would encourage participation from stakeholders in ensuring effective delivery of the proposed changes. The public sector in India is fabled to be a ‘safe’ job, an incentive in itself that doesn’t need further rewards. 

Unfortunately, that notion is incredibly limiting when it comes to nudging workers towards better performance or encouraging them to put in extra effort for a newer intervention. There is far too much work to be done and every official, principal, and teacher in the education space seems to be overworked. In such a scenario, it is imperative to think, why would under-acknowledged and overworked workers feel motivated to put in additional efforts to adapt to newer structures?


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Reward and recognition 

A viable solution can be seen in the following example. The Government of Madhya Pradesh under the CM Rise Programme is doing a stellar job followed by the smaller ecosystem of South Delhi Municipal Corporation under their Project Parivartan, with support from Peepul (an NGO in the education space in India), in introducing low-powered incentives in their education department. The reward mechanism isn’t too complex. It’s based on the teacher’s application of the training concepts they learned, in their classrooms.

Similarly, for principals and education officials, the way they are recognised is essentially based on the performance of their respective schools and clusters. There is nudging by the government that says emulating these practices will lead you to be featured on the government’s website. The recognition at that level certainly makes the stakeholders feel seen, heard, and valued in the larger ecosystem.

Incentives, rewards, and recognition can play a crucial role in ensuring the effective participation of stakeholders in the implementation of the policy. People tend to improve the quality of their work and perform consistently when they feel rewarded for their efforts. In the absence of any acknowledgment, there is no driving force to put the extra effort into a new initiative. In the education sector, for example, an overworked teacher may not feel motivated naturally to come to class and start differentiated teaching. Differentiated teaching requires them to make different lesson plans according to the learning levels of different students in their classroom. The teacher has a large student strength in their class and the burden of several administrative duties, which range from data entry to maintaining a kitchen garden. It doesn’t leave them with a lot of will to put in any extra effort in their workdays.

In some cases, when teachers put in the effort to cater to the children by employing best practices or coming up with innovative pedagogical tools, their efforts largely go unnoticed and are passed off as them doing their job. However, even continuing with the status quo is them doing their job. What will motivate them to move from a stable status quo to a newer model recommended by the government? The current on-ground support falls short of matching what the policy needs. There is a lot of work being done around curriculum redesigning and teacher training. However, very little has been done to ensure that the people implementing the new policy are motivated to work for it.


Also read:Indianising’ education isn’t about Macaulay or ‘saffronisation’. It’s ‘tadka’ vs ‘achar’


Designing incentives

Incentives for long have been contended to be an unnecessary vice that clouds workers’ inherent desire to do good work and diverts their attention from the purpose of the incentive to the incentive itself. It has been thought of as an unwarranted expense of the taxpayer’s money. This is true with the use of an extrinsic incentive in isolation, such as a reward to mark good behaviour and encourage the repetition of it, which may not necessarily be an efficient or holistic way of incorporating incentives. With just an extrinsic incentive in a classroom context, a teacher may carry out a task with dislike or resentment towards it, to just meet the criteria for the reward in store. In the short run, that might be feasible but in the long run, it will inevitably lead to burnout for the teacher when they keep working towards a goal without finding satisfaction in it.

Human beings are complex and greatly ruled by emotions and intrinsic motivations (doing something for the inherent satisfaction of it). Therefore, incentives have to be designed around taking into account both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations of the workers, in this case, it would be the teachers, principals, and education officials.

There are multitudes of ways to design incentives in the public education space in India that can show a remarkable change in classroom culture and the learning outcomes of children. If we notice carefully, just mere videos of children speaking about what they love about school brings a rush of positive emotions in strangers. Some charitable schools often share snippets of the school days with their donors, who then want to be a part of enabling it in some way because that reinforces a positive self-image. Imagine if videos of an exemplar school are shared in the ecosystem or a student-driven classroom is captured, the feeling of relatability would act as a base for connecting oneself with the impact shown in the video. The realisation that your input may have brought about a positive impact brings satisfaction to the work that one does. Eventually, this translates into intrinsic motivation as time goes by.

Mayuri Purkayastha is a Project Associate with Peepul and an alumna of Teach for India. She tweets @mayuri1296. Views are personal.

(Edited by Prashant)

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