NISHTHA: A skewed understanding of how to build organizational capacity
A comment by our advisory board member Martin Haus - Disclaimer: This does not necessarily represent the stance of the Bihar Education Policy Center.
With big fanfares, the Government of India has announced its latest initiative to curb the learning crisis: NISHTHA – a teacher training program run in yet another mission-mode.
But NISHTHA is not like any other teacher training program before. It is, as the MHRD website put it, a mega-training programme that aims to “equip all the elementary stage teachers on learning outcomes, school based assessment, learner –centred pedagogy, new initiatives in education and addressing diverse needs of children through multiple pedagogies, etc.” All elementary state teachers means more than 40 lakh (4 million) teachers.
Not only that, the whole training exercise shall be finished by January 2020, that is in around 5 months. One can either call this highly ambitious or highly unrealistic, but given the track record and effectiveness of former teacher training efforts, its success is highly questionable.
What is NISHTHA aiming for? It aims to “orient state functionaries and school principlas [sic] on learning outcomes, national achievement survey, learner-centred pedagogy and new initiatives in school education so that they are able to monitor schools and extend support to schools for the implementation of new initiatives” and shall cover even more than teachers, i.e. “teachers, school principals, SMCs and state/district/block/cluster level functionaries”.
Academic support institutions in India, from the Cluster and Block to the District and State level have indeed been plagued by low capacity and high vacancies. Yet, building their capacity requires, apart from filling vacancies, a long-term plan and evolutionary approach, not yet another mission mode.
Organizations learn and develop over time. Short-cuts have had hardly any meaningful long-term impact in the past. The incentives for governments however, especially with the learning crisis now being widely acknowledged, are not in favor of getting involved in a long-term, messy process of capacity building and organizational development. As a result, one mission after the other is ordered from Delhi and State capitals, often disturbing the little functioning DIETs might have.
By being overly ambitious, these missions fail to serve their purpose. NISHTHA aims to tackle the need for shifting from rote learning to higher order thinking. While laudable, the mode it attempts to achieve this is unrealistic. And indeed, the entire document is suffering from a symptom just too common in Indian government documents: endless lists of everything possible one can think about. This is how the guidelines describe the areas of training covered:
The aim of this training is to motivate and equip teachers to encourage and foster critical thinking in students, handle diverse situations and act as first level counsellors. They will be oriented on and develop their skills on various aspects related to Learning Outcomes, Competency Based Learning and Testing, Learner-centered Pedagogy, School Safety and Security, Personal-social qualities, Inclusive Education, ICT in teaching-learning including Artificial Intelligence, Health and well-being including yoga, Initiatives in School Education including library, eco club, youth club, kitchen garden, School Leadership qualities, Environmental Concerns, Pre-school, Pre-vocational Education and School Based Assessment in a joyful learning manner.
Why do elementary school teachers need to be “oriented” towards “Artificial Intelligence” while students in large numbers cannot read and write? It is doubtful whether the authors of the document have a clear idea of the meaning of some of the buzzwords used in their own documents.
This is a prime case for what Andrews, Woolcock and Pritchett termed "premature load-bearing", that is to expect a given organization to perform too much too quick. One can think about a bridge that is ready to cover people over a river, but not motorbikes and certainly not cars. NISHTHA is a truck.
To reiterate: the attempt to train teachers and to build capacity among institutions for academic support is laudable. But this cannot be achieved by “mega”- and “super”-rhetoric, but a sober view at where we are and how we can improve. Ultimately, one needs to move beyond short-sighted missions towards fostering evolutionary organizational development of DIETs and other institutions. This requires political will, a long-term vision and the willingness to get into a messy capacity-building process. And it requires resources, both human and financial.
Otherwise, even noble attempts to improve education outcomes are bound to fail.