Category Archives: News

News of Interest in the Education Domain

Major changes to SAT Exam: No obscure words, no negative marking, essay now optional

The New York Times has an interesting article on major changes to SAT, the famous exam that high school students in the US have to take before admissions to college.

The fundamental changes are these:

  • No negative marking: end the penalty for guessing wrong
  • Removing obscure vocabulary words: so get rid of “SAT words” (“depreciatory,” “membranous”), and instead focus on words commonly used in college courses, such as “synthesis” and “empirical.”
  • The essay (which has been mandatory since 2005) is now optional

Some more interesting developments. First, SAT prep is going online:

in the spring of 2016, the College Board, in partnership with Khan Academy, will offer free online practice problems and instructional videos showing how to solve them.

Why this change? One of the biggest points is standardized tests are under fire from critics. The arguments will be familiar to all educators in India, since that is a much bigger problem here:

The new SAT will not quell all criticism of standardized tests. Critics have long pointed out — and Mr. Coleman admits — that high school grades are a better predictor of college success than standardized test scores. More colleges have in recent years become “test optional,” allowing students to forgo the exams and submit their grades, transcripts and perhaps a graded paper.

and, they’re trying to reduce dependence of students on “coaching” classes:

“It is time for the College Board to say in a clearer voice that the culture and practice of costly test preparation that has arisen around admissions exams drives the perception of inequality and injustice in our country,” Mr. Coleman said Wednesday. “It may not be our fault, but it is our problem.”

But, that is easier said than done.

While test-preparation companies said the SAT was moving in the right direction, with more openness and more free online test preparation, the changes were unlikely to diminish the demand for their services. “People will always want an edge,” said Seppy Basili, a vice president of Kaplan Test Prep. “And test changes always spur demand.”

Standardized testing, coaching classes, cracking exams becoming a game, rather than a learning experience, are all serious problems facing us, and the solutions are not easy, but read the full article to get an idea of what is being tried in the US.

CBSE Board is micro-managing schools says @MeetaSengupta

One of the big problems facing the education system in India today is that the boards are micromanaging the schools, under the assumption that teachers will be bad, and school administrations will be focused on commerce rather than education – and while this might, in some cases, prevent bad schools from harming students, often it prevents good schools from doing good things.

For example, @MeetaSengupta has an interesting article titled “Integrated coaching in schools – efficiency or commerce?” where she points out that the CBSE board has recently issued circulars banning the integration of coaching for competitive exams, including IIT-JEE, in school classrooms.

Here are some points she raises:

It raises a few questions – First of course – why is a board of examinations talking about school timetabling? Is it not upto the school to set its own timetables? How and when did the right to decide what happens in a classroom get taken away? This has been a slow and steady attrition of school autonomy as has been seen in the admissions cases in Delhi.

A school and a teacher must have the right to decide what works best for the students they have taken responsibility for as long as they adhere to the standards set for them. Any micro management of classroom time gives the teacher community leeway to merely read out the textbook and do no more – indeed, they could claim that they have permission to do no more than that. It is also extremely insulting to a highly trained and experienced (many are excellent) cadre to distrust their commitment and engagement with their students.

And:

They do not ban coaching for IIT-JEE (nor should they) – the ban is merely on the efficient use of class time and student effort. Consequently (and does anyone ever think this through?!!!) the life of a student becomes one long haul from school to coaching class and then homework and revision while doing their daily tests and preparation for the coaching class. Any integration of learning that could have eased their lives is now barred. 

In such cases, there is usually a knee-jerk reaction that coaching classes are bad, but that’s not a realistic position to hold today:

In a perfect world I would whole heartedly support having a system that requires no preparation for examinations. I would even, in principle, support a ban on all exam preparation. Students either know their stuff or they don’t – and any test is a stepping stone to identifying gaps for further work, or for choice in moving towards an area of aptitude or away from one there is clearly no talent. Schools are supposed to prepare students for life, and tests in life rarely come with a timetable. 

We are nowhere near that utopia yet, so let us come back to real life.  

Read the full article for a detailed discussion.

Great English teachers improve students’ Math scores – Stanford Researchers

According to research by Stanford and Univ. of Virginia researchers having great English teachers results in significant long-term improvements in the Maths scores of students, for reasons that are not very clear yet.

This finding is the result of a long-term, large study:

The researchers, Benjamin Master, Susanna Loeb and James Wyckoff, looked at 700,000 students in New York City in third through eighth grade over the course of eight school years (from 2003-04 to 2011-12).

and this is the finding:

The researchers found that the students of good English language arts teachers had higher than expected math scores in subsequent years. And this long-term boost to math performance was nearly as large (three quarters) as the long-term benefits within the subject of English. Conversely, good math teachers had only minimal long-term effects on English performance. Their positive effects were more subject specific.

The main take-away message is that we shouldn’t simply focus on Maths and Science – language is important:

“Our findings reinforce the value of investments in student learning in ELA (English language arts), even if the immediate effects of teachers or other instructional interventions may appear modest in comparison to effects on short-term math achievement,” the authors wrote. The authors added  that their motivation for this study was a concern that many school districts are too narrowly focusing on rating teachers based on short-term test gains and they wanted to try to understand what kinds of teaching produce long-term learning benefits.

Why English teaching matters so much in other subjects is unclear.

Read the full article or the original paper.

e-Commerce company Snapdeal launches online education marketplace

iamwire has an interesting article pointing out that e-commerce startup Snapdeal has recently launched an education marketplace and expects to earn 20% of its revenues from this initiative in a few years.

Excerpts:

The company has currently partnered with around 20 merchants including meritnation.com, Practice guru and edukart.com. Also, the team expects to have 150 merchants on board in another two months. The marketplace would initially offer courses ranging from kindergarten to Class XII along with management and engineering courses.

This is going to be an increasingly important market in India:

“Online education market is expected to become USD 3-4 billion strong over the next few years in India. Services commerce, which does not involve physical distribution of goods, offers better profit margins, making it a highly viable business for internet companies to scale up.” said Kunal Bahl, Co-founder Snapdeal to ET.

Read the full article

The Promise of Bio-Tech remains Unfulfilled

LiveMint has recently published an article by Gouri Agtey Athale titled Pune newsletter | The promise of biotech remains unfulfilled, which argues that although Bio-Technology was touted as the next big thing in India, and was expected to produce another transformation similar to the information technology wave that swept the country, but this has not really happened.

The article extensively quotes InnoVidya member [Sohan Modak][http://in.linkedin.com/pub/sohan-modak/1/805/450], who was one of the pioneers of Biotech in the country, and initiated the first biotech course at Pune University.

What went wrong? The article quotes Sohan Modak thus:

“That’s what happened—biotech became an interesting proposition and universities wanted to do their own courses. Private universities, run or backed largely by politicians which had been running MBA courses till then, got into the act seeing the market opportunity. They offered a two-year course with training of some kind leading to a degree. There was no quality control either on the students taken in or on the faculty. Now the country has over-produced biotech students who have not learned technology, not been taught much, and there are no jobs”

Opportunities still exist, though.

Opportunities in biotech exist in the agriculture and floriculture sectors, covering so-called exotic vegetables such as coloured bell peppers, mushrooms, or cut flowers for the overseas market. As one grower explained, the cost of production of one coloured bell pepper is Rs.0.50, which retails at Rs.5-10. And the cost of production falls as the farm gets bigger.

There are more interesting points made in the article, including the promise shown by the creation of high-quality science education institutes like IISER in Pune. You can read the full article here

The Crisis in Higher Education

Nicolas Carr has an interesting article on massively online open courses (or MOOCs), which are attracting hundreds of thousands of students, millions of dollars in funding, and accolades from college administrators. He wonders whether this is a fad or the very overhaul higher education needs?

These “massive open online courses,” or MOOCs, are earning praise for bringing outstanding college teaching to multitudes of students who otherwise wouldn’t have access to it, including those in remote places and those in the middle of their careers. The online classes are also being promoted as a way to bolster the quality and productivity of teaching in general-for students on campus as well as off. Former U.S. secretary of education William Bennett has written that he senses “an Athens-like renaissance” in the making. Stanford president John Hennessy told the New Yorker he sees “a tsunami coming.”

Lant Pritchett: India’s Battle to Educate the Country

(Cross posted from “Shrikant’s Blog”)

I bumped into Lant Pritchett’s interaction with Indian Express this week. Lant is the Faculty co-chair of the Master’s in Public Administration / International Development Program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He discusses various issues with the Indian education system. His insight and observations are astute, profound and the heuristic for what needs to be fixed.  We can fix if there is a will to fix it. Some of his observations are ->

We churn out millions with zero skills

The same system also produces 100,000 students a year in the global top 10%

We have an over ambitious curriculum, more equipped to teach the elite rather than the masses

To educate all of India we need scale down the learning and focus on learning

RTE is one of the most ill-conceived programs, instead of focussing on learning we have just enshrined additional legislation

India does not have any semi-skilled labour, people with basic lieracy, basic numeracy but no advanced skills

Any systems that gives control of hiring and allocation of teachers to parents produces much better results

SSA is popular because it allows politicians to hire more teachers with government air-cover and promote political patronage.

This interaction basically highlights the various issues with India’s primary education system. We pay education cess, the whole country is contributing, but the model is wrong. The structure, the incentives, the process of teaching and learning need to change, if we have to educate India that will contribute to convert the demographic dividend into a long term assets. However most indicators are pointing the other way.