This is the first in a three-part series in collaboration with Leadership For Equity (LFE) highlighting the challenges and needs, administrative and technological, of the officers in Maharashtra’s Education Department, who play a crucial role in building the education system of the state.
Rajesh is a block-education officer working in one of the districts of Maharashtra. He has been assigned additional charge of another block too since there are pending unfilled vacancies. At present, Rajesh and his team are working on implementing Maharashtra’s Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN) Mission and meeting the desired goals by the end of the current academic year, 2022-23. His team comprises 3 Extension Officers and 5 Kendra Pramukhs [Cluster heads] who collectively impact about 125 government schools, 600 teachers, and over 25,000 students—making them responsible for all the academic and administrative work pertaining to the schools in their blocks.
Most of Rajesh’s colleagues in the education department have held the same role for nearly 8-10 years. While they understand the importance of the FLN mission for schools and students, the successful completion of this state program depends on various factors.
Transforming Maharashtra’s Education System are ‘Lone Warriors’
Over the years, the workload has increased and the nature of programs that need to be delivered have increasingly become outcome driven. The team now needs to invest a lot of effort on decimating and aggregating information, and obtain important data from the field. It is not just this. Rajesh is also overburdened with other tasks—books distribution, Right to Education (RTE) compliances, infrastructure audits, and liaising with local leaders and politicians. His team struggles to use technology and almost always requires his direction and assistance. “Doing all of this, with constant pressure from the top to deliver outcomes, makes me feel like a lone warrior,” exclaims Rajesh.
Typically, the education department ecosystem consists of three layers: the top policy-making cadre, the middle management and the frontline service providers (teachers). The middle management position lies between the deputy secretaries operating at the top level, and school headmasters at the ground level. These officers are responsible for successfully implementing policies and constitutional or statutory provisions known as Government Resolutions (GRs). A detailed documentation of the hierarchy of officers to teachers has been published earlier on The Bastion by Sumana Acharya, Research Associate at Leadership for Equity. Read the article here.
Like Rajesh, several field officers from Maharashtra’s Education Department have a similar story to tell. Most of the available literature and research focus on gaps in the education system, lack of support to teachers, or on the inefficiencies in policies. However, on field, it is the officers who play an important role in supporting school teachers and in implementing education policies that require equal, if not more, opportunities for professional development.
Beneath the Tip of the Iceberg are Systemic Problems
More than 800 local and state government bodies across India face challenges with institutional and human resources to deliver quality education at scale.
115 million children are undertaking education in government-run schools in India. A large portion of these children come from underprivileged families who are unable to achieve the basic levels of foundational learning. However, what we see is only the tip of the iceberg. If we peek underneath the surface the problem is more systemic.
To understand this problem in-depth, Pune-based Leadership For Equity (LFE) in partnership with CISCO India Cash Grant Program conducted a detailed needs analysis study of the officers in Maharashtra’s Education Department. LFE’s collaboration with the Continuous Professional Development (CPD) department of Maharashtra State Council of Educational Research and Training (MSCERT), which leads capacity-building initiatives of officers across the state, identified the needs and the challenges of the field officers through the study. The main objective of the need analysis exercise was identifying the challenges that officers at all levels in administrative and academic domains face in their daily operations and what are their training needs.
Conducted in 2019-20, the study included 987+ responses to an online survey link, shadowing 25+ officers for a day, and facilitating interviews and focus group discussions with officers across 36 districts. The officers were chosen from across cadres of Education Officer, Block Education Officer, Extension officer, Kendra Pramukhs’ (cluster heads), DIET lecturer, SCERT HOD representatives and Vishyasahayaks. While the research analysed trends across the globe, the study focused on the officers’ prevalent and required responsibilities, challenges, and support areas.
Understanding the environmental enablers and disablers for these officers to carry out their duties effectively is important in assessing the required reforms. Some of the enablers that help the stakeholders learn and grow continuously is a wider timeline to consume learning resources at their own pace before any in-person training, global practices contextualised to their surroundings, and a peer-group that acts as a support system to grow together.
Administrative officers are the key link to enabling access to quality education. While interventions at teacher or student level are critical, capacity building of such officers is pivotal to the entire country’s efforts, hitherto underappreciated. We are very glad to have LFE see this dimension.
Managing Director & Chief Policy Officer, CISCO
Areas for Officers’ Development
The top four need areas identified for officers were team management, documentation and knowledge management, impact evaluation of programs, and personal development through managing self and time.
Through the study and interviews with the officers, it is evident that support structures that cover the needs could be a combination of formal training methodology. Additionally, there could be a component of self-led learning to build a sense of ownership and ensure continuity of the learning process chosen by officers themselves.
At present, only a few organisations and programs are focused on understanding the needs and challenges of the field officers and providing them with opportunities for further growth. Lack of support and development structures for officers widen gaps in the implementation of any program in the classrooms and has an impact on learning outcomes of children. “Lack of access to quality education is one of the prime reasons for the inequalities in the society,” says Harish Krishnan. Designing professional development programs in collaboration with government-state-leaderships, and organisations such as LFE is efficacious in leveraging technology in making effective online blended capacity-building programs.
In Part 2 of this series, we explore the innovative technological solutions which have been implemented with more than 600 officers across Maharashtra.
Featured image: Officers from Zilla Parishad participating in a group discussion; Courtesy Leadership for Equity