Most articles on international education start out with a well-worn two-part lede: first, developing countries are facing a “learning crisis;” second, there is a mountain of evidence demonstrating the long-term effects of education on everything from personal (and country-level) incomes to health. Yet, in their analysis of the philanthropic potential of international education interventions, GiveWell states that “there are a limited number of experimental studies providing direct evidence that education interventions improve the outcomes that we consider most important, such as earnings, health, and rates of marriage and fertility among teenage girls” and concludes that “the existing evidence for positive effects on earnings is too thin to draw general conclusions.
Educationists and economists agree that teachers are extremely important. Studies from around the world show that there is huge variance in teacher effectiveness (Hanushek and Rivkin 2006). (Unfortunately, that same research shows that there are few observable differences between effective and ineffective teachers which means that improving the teacher workforce is not just a matter of screening for the right candidates.) Educationists seem to interpret this evidence to mean that we should spend more time conducting (and improving) teacher training.
For as long as high stakes exams have existed, people have hated them. The system of imperial examinations used to select the mandarins of ancient Chinese dynasties (and the first high-stakes exams) is credited with building an empire. It was also nearly universally hated in their specifics which, critics claimed, caused rote learning, teaching to the test, and severe anxiety (Kellaghan and Greaney 2020). Given the near universal hate of high-stakes exams, it’s no surprise that people don’t like the Indian boards.
I’ve spent the past year or so reading a lot of research on education in India. There is obviously a lot of amazing research out there, but there are also a lot of areas where there is far less evidence than I originally expected. For example, there seems to be a long-held consensus that the Indian curriculum is overloaded. For example, the PROBE (1998) reports states that “children are burdened by an overloaded curriculum,” economists like Lant Pritchett (2015) talk about the problem of “over-ambitious curricula” and the official Yashpal report addresses “the problem of curriculum load” (MHRD 1993).
There’s a really bad dad joke about European technical standards which goes something like “We love standards; that’s why we create so many of them.” (I told you it was bad.) I feel like that is the way that ed assessments in India are heading. Ideally, there would be a single trusted national sample assessment which provided accurate data on how well states and districts are doing compared to each other and over time.