Category Archives: Education

The future of online tests…

Can someone give me a more really meaningful and engaging test?

 

I hope so… All of us have written tests. Starting from school days and then when we wanted college / university admissions and then when we wanted a job. Life in itself is another test. Which one do we enjoy? Well frankly, none of them. There is one other test though that many enjoy, and especially kids. Guess what? We dont even call it a test but we love it. GAMES… 🙂

Games are tests. Really powerful tests. Angry birds tests so many of our skills, knowledge, ability to strategise, plan, find the right angle, our understanding of height and distance, rigid body mechanics and even fracture mechanics when you need a few hits to break something and more to break others and that too at the right place. It must be testing more now but I am not following it anymore…

I used to love playing Wolfenstein 3D when I was in high school. That was a challenging game. Memory was crucial to play that game. We had to get through buildings which were a maze. 9 levels in each building and I remember playing 5 such sequences. Planning was also key. We had to know where we could get food, where medicines, where wealth etc and be able to plan how we get there and beyond. Digging out carefully hidden treasures, health and food were nice to do…. 🙂

 

Now, do any of these have any relevance to the way we do tests for professional purposes i.e. like selecting candidates for admission to college / university or for a job? Not much yet. Guess the puzzle solving requirements of Microsoft and their quizzing is one. I remember solving one puzzle of theirs when I was in college. Well. I didnt attend their interview coz I was a mechanical engineering student but then it took 2 days to solve it. Thats an interesting test to take.

So, what would companies and universities do, say 5 years down the line to choose candidates? Guess they will all move away from two things.

  • Relying on checking knowledge of component competencies alone
  • Paper based tests

 

Let me explain. Let me take a case close to my area of specialisation. Mechanical engineering and being more precise, computer aided engineering. When we want to hire someone who can be good at structural analysis of a particular aerospace system for example, we have multiple choices. We could either ask him/her to show us how he/she would do it. The trouble there though is the length of time we would take to get to a conclusion in this mode. We would all love to have somebody to spend a few days or may be more on a task before we can judge. Thats simply not available. So, we then list out all component knowledge that a person would require to execute this task, list out tools that one should be adept at handling and list out the systems / components one would have to handle. Then, we quiz them on those

  1. Knowledge (of engineering concepts in this case)
  2. Tools
  3. Domain

It is not very easy to do all of these in limited time. So, we also rely on records of their experience.

If this were for admission to a university, component 1 (knowledge) would dominate or probably be the only one. Are we happy with the result? Not always. We then end up seeing that this person may have an issue with say ‘decision making’ or ‘planning’ or simply ‘lack of focus’ on the job. Then, we add psychometric assessments to the set of tests we do.

While there are obviously many many more ways that people implement such tests and probably add rigour of multiple tests or interviews, the point is that it all costs time and effort and we would all love to use more meaningful and interesting ways to test candidates. Can we test multiple factors in lesser time? Factors like

  1. Knowledge of subject
  2. Problem solving ability
  3. Communication skills
  4. Planning ability
  5. Perseverence, will to succeed etc
  6. Willingness to learn
  7. Ability to cooperate

I could add a few more that actually matter when it comes to whether someone can succeed in a job or in a university course.

All this leads me to think whether we could devise games that can test many of these aspects, if not all in shorter time and with more precision. By precision, I mean the correlation between a positive output from the test and success of that candidate.

Now to the second point; of online tests. A game is of course an online test; whether played in a smart phone or on a desktop computer. Offline games could also be good but there are serious limitations in regard to resource to conduct such games. It is already seen that many organisations have started moving to online tests rather than use the paper based Optical mark reader (OMR) sheet system. Many more and I believe almost everyone will eventually move out to online tests for the below few reasons

  • The relief from limitations of geography
  • Transparency
  • Speed of publishing results
  • Cost
  • Lastly but very imporantly, ability to test much more…

The objective type questions which still dominate the scene would have to give way for newer methods of testing. Interactive tools including games are going to be essential to test much more than component knowledge and skills.

Lastly, the learning from the games is not to be discounted. While testing might be a primary purpose, the same can be used in a learning mode too. Militaries have certainly been at the forefront of exploring methods to assess skills including psychological skills but for the civilian world, we need alternates that help quickly and more meaningfully deliver tests and get better outputs while delivering a great experience to the candidate too… I believe that online games; interactive with the system and probably even interactive across a group of candidates could find a place in tests conducted sometime down the timeline….

Will write more as I learn. Please do leave your comments. Thnx.

Jai Hind !!! (This is my regular ending…)

 

Indian Education policy: Is the centre going the right way

Education is a concurrent subject under our constitution. Has the central government forgotten this????

It does seem so. The central government seems to be in a hurry to make changes over changes in the education system and in this process seems to forget that we are more of a federal democracy and that education is not a central subject.

I very much welcome their move of bringing in the Right to Education Act, 2010 (RTE) and the current proposal that the right be extended upto 10th standard than just the 8th standard as of now.The announcement of the Prime Minister on Independence day to reconstitute the Education Commission to reformulate the Education Policy (the last being that of 1986) is also a very welcome move. We obviously need a relook at our education system. While many good recommendations of the previous commissions themselves (including the common schooling system) remain untouched, it would still help to have a relook. Things have changed a lot since then. Kerala has an IT@schools policy and recently Tamil Nadu has announced ICT@schools as a focus area. More and more changes will be seen in the near future for certain and a direction in the form of an Education Policy, 2012 would be most helpful.

Having said that, I see a few disturbing trends. We heard last week about the proposal from IITs to have one single common entrance exam for engineering across the country. While the RTE is fine, it still has not taken off very well in most states. There are still cases pending in the Supreme Court about it’s interpretations. The bureaucracy is still trying to figure out how much budget is really required if all provisions of the RTE are to be implemented in it’s spirit. State commissions for protection of rights of the child (SCPCRs) still do not exist in most states, which are supposed to be the body which are to check the progress of implementation of the Act. There is I guess a lot of confusion too regarding what the RTE says about curriculum. It does seem to say that the State bodies (like DSERT) would formulate it. Does that mean though that there can be only one curriculum within the state? It does not talk about it’s relationship with CBSE, ICSE etc. Moreover, it does not seem to give liberty for a school to evolve it’s own curriculum. Why is the status like this?????

I believe that the centre is going in the wrong direction. The way to go is to de-centralise and not to centralise. There seems to be a craze of bringing in a ‘common standard’ as if that is the best. Please….. Certainly not. Anyone can tell that averaging out a set of data does not give you the highest value. It brings up the value of those which are below the average but also brings down those which are above it. We do not want to just settle for ‘mediocrity’ in our education system. We want to ‘excel’. Right? So, the solution is not to set a ‘common standard’ but a ‘common minimum standard’.

I have gone through the NCERT books. They are really good. I wish all the state curriculum come upto that standard at least. The emphasis on social science, on economics etc even at 10th standard is really good. Before one learns ‘natural sciences’, I believe that one should learn the ‘social sciences’. We are to first co-exist with others well, get ourselves to a fairly good ‘standard of living’ and only then do we get the freedom to think about ‘natural sciences’ in their true spirit. So, the NCERT books can really set a good ‘common minimum standard’ but if we say that no one should do better than that, that would be absolutely counter productive.

The vast majority of our Indian children today do not get quality education. This is a well known fact. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) prepared by the ASER Centre (http://www.asercentre.org/) clearly illustrates how even 5th standard students in most cases have a learning level of just about what a 2nd standard student should have. Hence, lifting all those children to a standard of learning as given by the NCERT books would be a great move. That certainly should be our focus. Given that fact, this certainly should not stop those wanting to innovate and get better than that. Each school can be allowed to follow their own curriculum, provided it meets the minimum standards that the state sets. That is the right way to go. What does that mean? Absolute de-centralisation. This is when we will achieve ‘excellence’ in some pockets. Never will we achieve ‘excellence’ throughout the system. That cannot happen. Only a few will go to the top (although the upper limits will continue to keep rising) but even that is possible only when downward pulling forces cease to exist. Talking in a mechanical engineer’s terminology, the education system should act like a ‘one-way spring’. It should pull up those who are below but not pull down those who are above. I hope that by now, I am making enough sense. The RTE should impose the need to use a good curriculum but not say that the curriculum proposed by the state body should be the only one to be followed. Similar arguments can be made on other counts like infrastructure etc.

If we need de-centralisation, then we clearly note that it is not the central government which should be the biggest player but the Panchayats. I recently read about a village in Karnataka which has become very famous for providing teachers to many parts of the state. Apparently, there the ‘teaching profession’ is highly respected. Every family aspires to have teachers in it. This certainly is a community effort and by no means a government effort. The government can only be a service provider which ensures minimum delivery. Taking a system to heights depends on the people. Without a strong will at the Panchayat level, ensuring good quality education to all our children would remain a dream. It is thus essential to put the responsibility with the Panchayats. It need not be only on implementing the curriculum given by the state but probably also on altering it for the better. We do know that each locality has it’s own specifics in India. Within a single state also, we have so much diversity. While one grows more rice in the south of karnataka, the north of karntaka grows more of ragi, bajra etc. Language varies within a state too. If the local community want a little more stress on such things in their schools, then why not? A little flexibility can exist and in my view should exist. That is when, one feels that education is relevant to the local community.

No one likes to be dictated to. In a democracy, there is no room for dictation from the top. This is probably the reason most states are still very slow in implementing the provisions of the RTE. Probably, if states had evolved their own legislations based on a ‘common minimum draft’ given by the centre and on the basis of Sec 21A and Sec 45 of our Constitution, we would have seen a better result. I hope that the Education Policy, 2012 takes that route.

This is also what I feel about the single common entrance test for engineering across the country. Makes no sense to me. While I agree that writing multiple written tests, one each for each state and each deemed university is not the right way, I have my reservations about a single common test. I will not outright reject it as a possibility today but think more about it. After all, the GRE is a single common entrance test which is accepted by all universities across the US … So, may be… I still doubt it would work though…

To conclude, I think we should set minimum standards but not single absolute standards. I have heard of children having been raised without ever being sent to school and yet doing great. Learning happens in a multitude of ways and to say that our current schooling system or even a better one to be formulated by the state would be the best is to only fool ourselves and condemn ourselves to ‘Institutionalised Mediocrity’ and stay far below ‘excellence’. May we realise this and head towards ‘excellence’ while assuring at least a minimum level for all.

Jai Hind !!!

Spreading better education to rural areas: a need today…

 

“India’s population is growing and is set to grow more … and stabilise at 170 crores by 2070. Are we ready to deal with this?”

The above is a report I read recently in the Newspaper. The stabilisation date which was earlier predicted as 2048 has today become 2070.  Imagine the needs and the advantages of this….. Lets take the advantages first. It is called a ‘demographic advantage’. Even today, India has 55% of it’s population below 25 years age. The population between 18 years and 40 years age which is the most productive age group is also huge. It means that we have a great platform to work and to develop further and be a “Truly developed Nation”. I am not talking about GDP growth. That too will happen but we need to improve heavily on the “Human Development Index” first. That means that we should have low infant mortality and maternal mortality rates, high survival rate , better nutrition level for children, good education, good employment opportunities etc so that even our most disadvantaged population can have a more ‘dignified life’. Becoming a global power house will happen later.. but our first goal should be to improve our human development index….

Take other nations… US has a relatively aging population… China too has an aging population (due to their one child policy which has been there since 1979).. 20 years down the line India will have probably one-third of the world’s working population…. Can we not beat the world with that????

So….. We realise what an opportunity we have in our hand.. But….. Are we ready to grab it???? The current situation does not seem too encouraging… You might have read my other blog “Are government schools dying?”… We as a nation are today spending very little on children…. Just about 3.6% of GDP goes to school education…. Not enough effort being made to reduce infant mortality… Not enough to reduce malnutrition in children… Significant amount of child labour….How are we going to have a “really productive population” in 20 years????? I wont paint a totally gloomy picture… There has been significant positive steps taken towards better child health, nutrition, education etc…. the pace though is very slow….

Azim Premji’s investment in rural education today is a great step…. He is doing what the government should have been doing… 8800 crores is not a small amount… Huge.. My ‘Salute’ to him….

The children deserve it… Its not just that they are going to make us world leaders tomorrow.. Our children deserve it… It is their right… Do we not want to live in a society that is more happy on a whole? Just the sight of happy children is such an inspiration… We owe it to them…

Now, to the practical question of how we should go about this Mission? I dont have a ready-made answer… Of course not… But I am thinking what part I should play in the whole Mission… Out of the three main tasks listed below, I pick ‘education’. Simply because I am not qualified to look at the others…

1. Improve rural health, especially of women and educate them (to prevent infant mortality)

2. Improve nutrition and health of rural children (to allow stable and good growth and development)

3. Make education universal and bring in quality meaningful education

 

I am looking at the following ways.. (am not anywhere close to Azim premji 😉  ):

a. Spare some time to go and teach rural children personally

b. Prepare easy self-learning material (books, audio, video, animations etc) and spread them..

c. Some day, to start schools…. Hopefully soon…..

 

In an attempt to prepare some self-learning material, I prepared this one video.. please have a look. This is in english now.. I need to work on local language versions.. and see how to take it to the rural kids…

http://231906.myvideotalkstudio.com/streaming/pages

 

Would be happy to listen and share info on this ….

 

Jai Hind!!!