Recently (Nov 6), I had the opportunity to convene a session at the FICCI Higher Education Summit 2012 titled Powering the Higher Education System through Information and Analytics. Please also see the pre-session page on this blog. A summary presentation is provided below.
I had a really interesting panel reflecting government and corporate interests with people like Pankaj Jalote (IIITD), H A Ranaganath (NAAC), Deepti Dutt (UIDAI) and Sudhanshu Bhushan (NUEPA) [government/education] and Milind Kamat (Ellucian), Trey Miller (RAND) and Ambrish Singh (shiksha.com), and there was huge load of audience participation.
My research for this session (co-instigated by Pawan Aggarwal at the Planning Commission and Shobha Mishra at FICCI) has been extremely rewarding. The two committee reports that I leveraged heavily were the Yash Aggarwal Report and the S Sathyam Committee Report (more recent) that summarize the progress since 1872 in how India has handled data regarding school, higher and vocational education.
The pattern that emerges is no longer surprising. A plethora of data collection & reporting initiatives working sometimes at cross-purposes, led by different government agencies and with no coordination, lack of effective leadership, incorrect/inconsistent/incomplete data coverage, no unifying taxonomies (no international alignment to standards like the UNESCO ISCED), lack of (!) analysts to analyze existing data, centre-state coordination challenges, insufficient attention paid on analytics and proposals that ask the government repeatedly to increase funding, staffing and level of centralization.
Most of all the lament that things are really broken, that previous committees have been either defunct or dysfunctional or completely ignored by planners. A similar pattern can be seen in reports that I have covered in my blog earlier (Teacher Education, Open Distance Learning).
The fact that educational data is a challenged notion in India, does not augur well for stakeholders who need transparency and accountability in the education system. The fact that, as a corollary, research on education analytics is prominently absent in the country (while the world seems beset by it), is curiously anachronistic.
It is also frightening because for us as a nation to rely on such data, ignore recent developments and plan the future of half a billion Indians is suicide. It behoves us to pay heed when people such as Sathyam remark (Sec 7.1/7.2 of the report) that they hope that their findings and recommendations will not fall by the wayside (and they indeed do).
Sudhanshu Bhushan of NUEPA, in a pre-conference discussion, stated correctly that these analytics need to be seen in the perspective of the political economy that they operate in. We agreed that it is not so much of a crisis of intellectual capacity, but that of effective leadership. On the other hand, H A Ranganath, was of the opinion that the change must come from within the system, at the level of the individual, rather than dependence on government initiative while Pankaj Jalote made the important point that data cannot be collected, it has to be provided.
Deepti Dutt, who with UIDAI, has experienced the pains of collecting and organizing unique identification data for what is now 0.2 bn Indians, had her experience to share on large-scale data management processes. Ambrish Singh brought in special insights into what students are looking for when they compare educational options. Milind Kamat talked about how to use information as a lever to promote institutional viability, effectiveness and quality. Trey Miller talked about performance measures in the context of practices worldwide.
Madan Padaki pointed out the need for the industry/employer as a major stakeholder that needs to be factored in. Another participant from Pearl Academy raised the bar by isolating the creative tension between the tyranny of data and the power of individual intuition.
I would hope that these discussions continue, in the interest of millions of Indians who live in the hope that there is some intelligence in the way we are operating today. I also hope they result in something, some day.