Academic Monitoring Systems: The missing piece in the education puzzle
Venkataraman Ganesh
January 14, 2020

The draft National Education Policy, when unveiled in its final form, will be setting ambitious targets for the Central and State Governments in ensuring quality school education for all. Starting from early childhood care and education, the draft policy had argued for reintegrating dropouts, ensuring merit-based promotion and salary structure for teachers, inducting educational technology, and integrating vocational education among others – all of which face formidable challenges in terms of political will and implementation.

This is something the draft NEP recognized, when it stated that “issues such as investment, reviews and mid-course corrections, communication, contextualisation, advocacy, etc…lead to challenges such as incoherence between policy and implementation, partial implementation, a fragmented and/or a programmatic and short-term approach, overlap and/or lack of synergy between programmes and activities designed to reach a common goal, inadequate or inappropriate distribution of resources, inadequate monitoring mechanisms, and so on”. Despite this, the draft NEP did not posit a strong review and monitoring mechanism. It limited itself to sharing “a few guiding principles and a broad road map of actions to be initiated” while leaving “the detailed planning” to appropriate bodies/authorities.

Given the challenges with implementing any policy well, it is imperative that considerable thought be given to designing continuous review and monitoring mechanisms. Mere “mid-term course corrections” which most implementation bodies resort to, will not suffice if the goal is to ensure access to quality education for all in a time-bound manner. It is towards this end that it would be worth learning from the experiences of states that have designed and implemented robust Academic Monitoring Systems.

An Academic Monitoring System, at its most basic, entails government officials conducting visits and inspections to schools in an attempt to ensure the delivery of quality education and allied processes like implementation of Mid-Day Meals. This is a system that exists, at least on paper, in all states: Block and District officials are expected to conduct regular visits and inspections to government schools. However, in practice these visits do not take place regularly, and when they do, they are not conducted in a structured manner that is meant to identify and resolve challenges specific to academic performance. Most visiting officers limit themselves to verifying teacher attendance and infrastructural concerns such as the presence of functioning toilets, cleanliness of school premises, etc. These, when coupled with the lack of standardized questionnaires and pen-paper mode of recording data, result in negligible visibility for block, district and state-level officials on the teaching-learning process in government schools. As a consequence, this prevents officials from taking data-backed decisions. It is to rectify this problem that some states, notably Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, have started moving towards an online Academic Monitoring System.

An online Academic Monitoring System leverages technology to solve for the problems that the existing review and monitoring system suffers from. Digitization of visits through a mobile application allows for data to be made available in real-time across a state in an online dashboard, and this in turn ensures that comprehensive, data-backed decisions can be taken when needed. The availability of a common visit proforma in the mobile application also allows for standardization and focus: visiting officers can identify what is deemed as a priority by the state leadership. This allows states to monitor the implementation of various programmes as well as the quality of teaching and learning, in real time.

Consider these examples. Himachal Pradesh has managed to improve the visit compliance of visiting officers – in fact, the mobile application has an in-built GPS feature that allows the state leadership to view whether the visiting officer actually visited the school and filled the visit proforma. In Haryana, the data collected through the online Academic Monitoring System has been used to drive review meetings at the block, district and state levels, and this has contributed towards 107/119 blocks being declared grade-level competent through an independent third-party assessment. These examples present just a sliver of the impact that an online Academic Monitoring System can have - exciting possibilities exist, especially in the realm of improved programme implementation and learning outcomes.

This is not to say that an online Academic Monitoring System is the silver bullet for all the problems ailing school education in India. However, what can be said confidently is that a well-designed online Academic Monitoring System can aid governments in streamlining implementation of programmes and improve learning outcomes. The experiences of states such as Haryana and Himachal with an online Academic Monitoring System have been extremely positive, and replicating the same framework in other states might be worthy of consideration.