Need of Developing Local-Level Information System (LIS) to Monitor Factors of School Effectiveness

ARUN C . MEHTA
Fellow
National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA)
17-B, Sri Aurobindo Marg, New Delhi -110016 (INDIA)

(Mail to:[email protected])

Introduction

The quantity of information and data collected and processed for the planning and management of educational activities has been constantly on the increase. India has a fairly developed educational information system. States and UTs which have a mixed of small and large educational systems have certain common limitations. Inadequate machinery, shortage of qualified and trained staff, lack of coordination between data collecting agencies and deficiencies in analysis and tabulation are some of the common limitations. Despite all these limitations, the existing information system generates voluminous data but hardly any information is feedback to lower and the lowest level. The lowest level at which data aggregation takes place is block and the Block Education Officer is the key person engaged in the collection of educational data but is rarely involved in the planning and implementation of educational programmes. In most of the cases, the staff identified at this level for data collection is neither adequate nor qualified and properly trained. All which resulted into non-utilisation of data. Moreover, the data collected is generally quantitative in nature and practically no information is collected which is qualitative in nature. Whatever information is being disseminated is aggregate in nature that resulted into loss of vital information that can otherwise be used to monitor the functioning of schools.

At the time of the adoption of the constitution in 1950, the focus of the planning activities were on provision of schooling facilities which later shifted to universal enrolment and retention. It is only in the recent past that attention is now being paid to quality of education and factors that contributes to school effectiveness. The existing set of data is not adequate to monitor the functioning of schools. The information that is being disseminated is generally outdated and is not uniform in terms of coverage. Though NCERT through its all-India educational survey collects information on school infrastructure but disseminates only aggregate data, which is of limited use. Therefore, a lot more information on functioning of schools is required to collect on regular basis, which leads us to think of a Local-level Information System (LIS) with focus on indicators of school effectiveness. The LIS, if developed will help to monitor school functioning and provide a support system to managers working at different levels.

The Present Article

In the present article, first initiatives taken by the government to improve quality of education is presented. This is followed by a detailed review of literature on quality of education and indicators of school effectiveness. Thereafter, factors that influence quality and school effectiveness are identified which is followed by a brief description on examination results as an instrument of school improvement and role of different actors in monitoring school functioning. In the last part, need of Local-level Information System (LIS) is discussed which highlights major issues and concerns in developing a LIS.

Concern for Quality of Education

The Government has initiated a number of programmes to improve the quality of school functioning. The National Policy on Education (1986) and its Revised Policy Formulations (1992) had taken enough care to improve the quality of school functioning, which will enable all children to achieve essential levels of learning. Through different schemes, minimum facilities are ensured in schools, which if implemented, are bound to improve the quality of school functioning. The scope of centrally sponsored Operation Blackboard scheme has been recently enlarged to provide three reasonably large rooms that are usable in all weather and at least three teachers to work in every school. The NPE also envisaged that all children be given access to education of a comparable standard. The Minimum Level of Learning (MLL) lays down learning outcomes in the form of competencies or levels of learning for each stage of elementary education. The strategy also prescribes the adoption of measures that will ensure achievement of these levels by children both in the formal schools as well as Non-formal Education (NFE) centers. The MLL scheme envisages periodical and systematic programme of performance analysis to ensure improvement in the quality of education.

Role of community is important for managing quality of school functioning. The NPE envisaged Village Education Committees (VEC) which would be responsible for administration of the programmes in the field of education at the village level. The main responsibility of VEC is to initiate micro level planning and school mapping exercises in the village through systematic house to house survey and periodic discussions with the parents. NPE also envisaged school complexes so that institutions exchange resources, personnel, materials and teaching aids on a sharing basis. A few successful experiments have been made but in most of the states, the programme is yet to emerge as a comprehensive and systematically administered one. However, in the more recent past, through the District Primary Education Programme (DPEP), a number of steps have been initiated, so as to ensure improvement in quality of education. The programme is under implementation in about 150 districts of 14 states.

The quality of Education and School Effectiveness: Research Evidences

A number of research studies conducted in developing countries categorised problems relating to quality of primary education in three categories, namely, inputs, facilitating inputs and will to act -and identified a number of factors under each of these three categories. Fuller (1986, reported in IIEP, 1995) also reviewed 26 multivariate studies with focus on input factors. It has been observed that qualification of teachers having influence on learner’s achievement is major factor amongst the input factors. Further it has been found in as many as 22 studies that higher is the years of college or in teacher training institution, more is the learners achievements. Text Books having significant effect on learners achievement is found in 16 studies as compared to 15 studies having effect on library size and activities. Mid-day meal type programmes have been found a positive relationship with achievement in as many as 5 studies. Apart from the factors presented above, a large number of other factors also influence learners achievement but are not as established as presented above (McMahon, 1993).

In India, a number of studies have been conducted in the recent past which shows low level of achievement among primary school children. These studies, broadly identifies three sets of factors which influence learners achievement, namely, school, family and individual characteristics. School facilities and equipments are found to be positively correlated with learners achievement. Teacher’s quality is also found to be one of the significant factors influencing learner’s achievement. On the other hand, parental education and occupation, the social class and family environment are found to have a significant effect on learners achievement. Psychological variables such as, adjustment, anxiety, self-concept, intelligence, achievement and motivation are the individual characteristics which are found to affect learners achievement significantly. In some of the earlier studies, it was found that educational level of parents is very important factor affecting the level of achievement of learners which means children of illiterate parents perform very poor. Some of the other variables found significant influence on learners achievement are income, social background, facilities at home and parent-child relationship. It has also been found that students from private locality perform better and performance of students from private schools is better than that of schools under other management. These private schools are mostly an urban phenomenon and most of them have English as the medium of instruction.

As a part of Inter-Regional Research Project on the Improvement of Basic Education Services, International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP, Paris) conducted a number of studies, which also includes study, conducted in the state of Madhya Pradesh. The recently study by Govinda and Varghese (1991) shows that school facilities are important only up to a level of minimum facilities and beyond which other factors, especially school process factors, are most important. This study has become the basis of a number of other studies conducted recently under the aegis of DPEP programme. It has also been established that trained teacher is more effective in schools with poor facilities than in schools with all facilities. School management and classroom practices are found to be very important.

The latest study on ‘School Quality and Student Learning’ conducted by Varghese (1994) in one of the educationally advanced states, namely, Kerala establishes that type of management does not seem to be an influencing factor in learners achievement. However, it is internal management of the school, irrespective of the type of management the school has, is very important in influencing learner achievement. The study further shows that the level of school infrastructure and variations in the availability of teaching learning material seem not to be closely associated with levels of learning. It has also been revealed that female teachers are more effective than their counterparts in Grade I but the same is not true for higher grades. Qualifications of teachers have also found to be positively correlated with learner’s achievement so as the frequency of homework and class work in all grades. Sex of learner does not found to be important in predicting achievement but caste is found closely associated with learners achievement. One of the significant findings is improvement in learners achievement with improvement in education of parents. Similarly students from households where parents are in regular employment show a higher level of learners achievement. Children from households which have electricity connection show a higher performance than others. Similarly, achievement scores have been found to be positively associated with help for homework at home. Possession of textbooks is found to be positively influence on mean scores so as with reading of books other than textbooks.

The frequency of PTA meetings are also found to be an indicator of school functioning. Similarly, classroom supervision by the head master positively influences the levels of learner achievement. Keeping in view the status of education in general and facilities in schools in particular in Kerala, these findings cannot be generalised at the national level. The other base line studies show different factors influencing learners achievement but the very low learner’s achievement is common feature in all of these studies.

Factors that Influence Quality and School Functioning

All the research studies mentioned above reveal that there is no single factor, which alone explain variation in the quality of education in terms of learners achievements. Further, it is noticed that different factors influence quality in different schools. However, it has been noticed that in general, process variables are more important than the input variables (Can-on, 1995). So far as the quality of good school is concerned, it has directly linked to behavior of a teacher who should be in focus in policies related to quality of education. The quality of education cannot be improved upon unless the delivery system that takes place in schools itself is improved or the system level changes if any, are reflected in the classroom interactions.

On the basis of research studies, IIEP has identified a set of nine factors that may affect functioning of a school (Chau, 1995 & IIEP, 1995). Similarly, OECD (1989) also identified a set of characteristics of effective schools. The first factor identified is characteristics of the location that includes factors relating to local environment in which they operate. Such factors are: (a) geographical context (b) demographic situation (c) economic situation (d) living conditions (e) social and cultural characteristics and (f) educational situation. The next factor that was identified is the relations with school administration which has either a positive or negative impact on functioning of a school. School inspectors can play an important role in solving problems of a school teacher/head master or the inspector extends full support to the teacher, so that teaching can be improved. It is not only that a school inspector helps a teacher in improving teaching but he/she can also look into the training needs of a teacher, which also play a positive role in improving school functioning.

An effective parent-teacher interaction is essential for smooth functioning of a school and there should not be communication gap between the school and the parents. Even parents can be involved in school management but direct interventions in classroom is not recommended. Parents can extend a helping hand to school in one or many ways for which teachers participation in community activities is essential. Once that is established, community may extend full support to the school. The next factor which significantly contributes to better school functioning is the climate within the school and the school management, for which the school Head Master/Head Teacher is the key person to play a leading role. Therefore, training of school Head Master should be taken seriously and the programmes so developed should cater the need of head masters so that they discharge their duties effectively and efficiently.If the teachers posted in a school are qualified, experienced and trained and are adequate in number that would definitely improve the teaching quality which is found to be one of the important factor for better functioning of a school. Under the categories relating to material conditions for teaching, factors, such as, school infrastructure, class teaching equipment’s, pupils supplies and teachers instructional material plays an important role in effectively functioning of a school. In Indian conditions, a school (in rural areas) having fulfilled all the four factors has yet to be seen.

Amongst the school infrastructure variables, building of a school and its physical appearance gives the first impression of the school and type of activities that are taking place in it. After the school infrastructure, next comes the class teaching equipment’s which includes a chair and table for teacher and other basic equipments, such as, blackboard, charts, maps and trunk.. Once the teaching equipments are identified, the next set of items relates to conditions provided to pupils which includes a sufficient space to sit either with the provision of a mat or a bench.In whatever form the training needs of teachers are identified and programmes developed, all efforts to improve quality will be meaningless unless the basic facilities mentioned above are provided to teachers and pupils. Even though a school has a building and required material conditions that would not itself guarantee that the teaching learning process will be effective, as it also depends upon the composition of class in terms of number of pupils (class-size), its boys and girls distribution and distribution according to their social class and income and educational level of parents. Similarly, the process may also be affected by the general health and living conditions of pupils which may be better in the urban areas than in rural areas where better facilities are available. Even in rural areas due to a large number of known reasons, pupils do not attend schools regularly which severely affect learning process.

Above all, the most important factor which influence school effectiveness is the teaching process that a school has adopted and the actual classroom transactions. An information system, which gives information on how, a teacher teaches in a class? Whether he/she gives homework? and whether pupils participate in classroom activities is yet to be seen but is very important, so far as the quality of education is concerned. Use of charts, map, blackboard, giving examples, demonstration, home work and regular tests are some attributes of an effective teaching process. A good teaching process should be reflected in the learner’s attainment in mastery of reading, writing, arithmetic and problem solving. These are termed as learning tools that are essential to acquire and apply other knowledge and skills and even play an important role in the formation of attitudes and values (IIEP, 1995). Apart from developing skills, a child should also acquire knowledge about environment, health and nutrition but information about the same is not an easy task to collect. However, pupils aptitude in reading, writing and numeracy can be obtained by employing achievement tests developed for the purpose. Therefore, while developing an information system with focus on school effectiveness, the considerations presented above should be given due importance, so that the system provides an opportunity to administrators to take correctives measures at an appropriate time.

Examination Results as an Instrument of School Improvement

By and large no detention policy is being followed up to the primary level, which means all children are promoted to the next higher grade irrespective of their level of achievement. However, there is a provision of examination at the primary level but that is not generally considered whether a child is promoted to the next higher grade or not. But at the end of the primary cycle, examinations are compulsory and promotion of children to the next cycle is based on their performance in the examination. In fact, the examination results are disseminated only for the secondary and other higher levels. At the primary level, there is no systematic method of collection and dissemination of the examination results and hence there is no feedback system. However, the Head Master/Head Teacher may be the only functionary who may be using the examination results. In addition, the results are sent to the functionaries for monitoring purposes at the block and district level but the available data do not show any evidence to that effect. Also, there is no evidence that information on the examination results is used for improving quality of the teaching-learning process.

Role of Different Actors in Monitoring School Functioning

At different level, different functionaries are responsible for monitoring school functioning, which is evident from the existing administrative structures in different states. Head Master is generally responsible for monitoring the school functioning but still a large number of schools have no Head Master. It is Head Teacher who has to manage the school functioning but he/she has no specific powers (Mehta, 1995). In a single teacher school with multiple grades, a teacher hardly gets any time to think about the quality of education. The Block Education Officer and District Education Officer are the functionaries who are mainly responsible for monitoring school functioning but they hardly visit any school regularly which is mainly due to a large number of schools under their jurisdiction. For example, in one of the educationally backward states, namely, Rajasthan, on an average a supervisor visited only seven schools in academic year (NIEPA, 1995). The supervision is generally routine in nature and is more or less inspection of school records and there is no feedback system. The school development committees are generally not active in most of the villages. However, research evidences are available which shows active participation of PTAs in the functioning of schools. The concept of mother PTAs are also gradually coming up in a state like Kerala. Teacher’s absenteeism is the major problem, which can be checked through community involvement in functioning of schools. In this regard, VECs and PTA can play a significant role to check both teachers and pupils absenteeism and hence more powers need to be given to them. But most of the states have not yet established VEC under the act as suggested by the CABE Committee on Decentralised Management of Education and Panchayati Raj Acts (1993). The Committee envisaged an important role for the Panchayat in exercising supervision over early childhood care and education, non-formal education, primary education and adult education in its jurisdiction. It recommended that a Panchayat Standing Committee on Education or the VEC as sub-committee of Panchayat may be constituted at this level with not less than seven and not more than fifteen members representing the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, backward classes and minorities along with representatives of PTA, Anganwadi worker and the community members interested in education. The existing VECs that are constituted under the Government Order are not equipped with powers as envisaged by the CABE Committee.

Need of a Local Level Information System

So far as the macro level planning is concerned the existing information system disseminates enough data to undertake planning exercises at the state and national level. Whether it is the question of needs of school supplies or determining needs for opening new schools, the same can be managed within the available data. But hardly any information relating to school functioning is available on regular basis at the block level. More specifically information on factors that influence the quality of education in general and school effectiveness in particular is not available from the existing sources. Whatever information is passed on to higher levels is aggregate in nature, hence question of using it for monitoring the functioning of school dose not arise. Since, the existing information system and also those of computerised MIS currently under implementation do not provide institution-wise information, they are of limited use to the extent of generating aggregate data. Therefore, the scope of MIS needs to be expanded, so that indicators of quality of education can be generated and on-line information be made available not only to head master and teachers but also to those who are responsible for monitoring quality of education.

The Issues

There are many issues, which should be considered while building local-level information system for monitoring the school functioning. Recently, Govinda (1995) identified these issues along with sources of information. In the context of existing information system, the building of a database is termed as a technical exercise, which is handled, by a group of professionals who are trained in such types of activities. The role of the school and its teachers is limited to the extent that they just supply the filled-in performa to the next higher authority contrary to which the local level information system centre around school and its programmes that lead towards improving the quality of education. Therefore, the first important task is to identify the need of different actors including the administrators, as all those who are interested in the development of primary education and functioning of schools will use the information base. The administrators cannot develop this type of information base alone but it has to be a collaborative exercise in which participation of all those concerned should be ensured. The requisite information will have to be collected both from the persons inside and outside the school. Keeping in view the information needs at the local level which vary from place to place, the information system that is being developed cannot base upon a set of pre-determined indicators. However, there may be some common variables in different databases at local level, which are both quantitative and qualitative in nature. Needless to mention that the existing information system activities cannot continue in isolation. Therefore, the present annual collection of statistics should also form part of the new tools that are developed for the local level information system. The indicators that are developed for monitoring quality of school functioning should however, match the requirements at the local level.

Once the local level needs are identified and indicators are developed, the next important task is to develop tools to collect data, which need understanding of a local area for which the information base is being developed. The reports that will be generated through the database is based upon the type of input tools which needs to be developed carefully. The other important issues that should be decided is collection of data from school and the local level on continuing basis. It is not that the database so developed is one time affair but for proper monitoring of the school functioning, the same is needed on regular basis. Rather day-to-day updating would have to be ensured so that corrective actions are both suggested and monitored. Computers can play an important role in continuous updating of the school database. Initially, it may not be an easy task but with the active co-operation of all concerned, it can be achieved especially when every one is associated with the school and its functioning. The variables on which continuous information is required should be decided before the actual operations are started but the system so developed should be flexible enough to adopt any change in the requirements.

The most important aspect of any information system is dissemination without which the basic objective will not be realised. As the performa will be developed in consultation with the different personnel interested in school functioning, the dissemination plan should also be developed in their consultation so that data is easily accessible to all those concerned. For acquaintance with the system better it would be to involve different activists in development of database right from the beginning. The data feeding is one such activity that should involve school and other local functionaries. Abnormalities in data, if any, would be automatically taken care by the person who makes entry as he/she is acquainted well with the system. A large variety of computer software’s are now available through which multi-user system that ensures easy access to database can be developed. Transparency in school functioning is one of the important factors, which can be provided, if the information system so developed is a multi-user system. Initially, such type of activities can be started in a few selected schools on an experimental basis but in a phased manner, its scope can be expanded. For collecting information, structured questionnaires need to be developed which should be tested before the same is finally adopted. According to need, different areas or even different institutions can have different performa but there should be some core list of variables common to each and every institution. For factual information, questionnaire is an appropriate tool to develop but for opinions, structured interviews are generally conducted. For measuring achievement of learners, standard tests should be developed under the guidance of a professional who is an expert in such type of activities. Govinda (1995) identified different steps for preparing instruments for data collection which includes (i) specification of the information to be collected (ii) formulating the questions (iii) formatting the instrument (iv) pre-testing the instrument and (v) finalisation of the instrument. In LIS framework, information from all quarters should be collected which may include headmaster, teacher, learners, parents/community members, school management committee, local level administrators, school records, members of VEC and Non-Government Organisations for which a variety of questionnaires need to be developed. Needless to mention that the list of sources presented above is a suggestive one and more sources can be identified and added.

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