The Impact Initiative has closed. This website has now been archived and will no longer be updated.
The Impact Initiative has closed. This website has now been archived and will no longer be updated.

Blog: Teaching, learning and disadvantage – from policy to practice

Aug 2016

Contributed by Meera Samson, CORD, India; and Pauline Rose, University of Cambridge, UK. The Indian government consultation is open until 15th September, 2016.

India’s new draft education policy raises the issue of “significantly lower learning outcomes” among children from historically disadvantaged and economically weaker sections of society and first generation learners, and the challenge that this represents to achieving the goal of “equity in learning” (p. 11). The policy attributes the unsatisfactory quality of school education to a number of factors including teachers not performing (“teacher absenteeism, gaps in teacher motivation, too little monitoring and supervision”, p. 8).

On 10th August 2016, Collaborative Research and Dissemination (CORD) hosted a consultation in Delhi on behalf of the Impact Initiative with the focus on ‘Teaching, Learning and Disadvantage’. The discussions were timely given the draft education policy is currently open for comment. (Submissions are invited by 15th September, 2016)

Participants at the consultation spoke of the polarised positions that often exist between those who blame teachers for everything that is wrong with India’s education system, to those who see the system as resulting in poor motivation of teachers, undermining their ability to perform effectively. Overall, participants warned against blaming individual teachers or students for the failures in learning.

An important point that emerged from the workshop was the need to address issues throughout the system if we are to make any change in the learning outcomes. In particular, have the implications for administrators and teachers been sufficiently considered given how their roles have changed in the last 30 years in terms of expectations from the government? These changes have occurred particularly in the context of the implementation of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan(SSA - Education for All) and the Right to Education Act. In relation to this, there is a need to identify how administrators and teachers can access the type of support that is required to enable them to meet the goals of providing quality education to a diverse student population.

As part of these changes, discussions highlighted the need for administrators and teachers to re-think what they mean by ‘success’ within education to ensure the system is inclusive. Research presented highlighted the importance of changing attitudes and beliefs of teachers towards children who are not learning, such as ones that assume that a child from a poor household or who has a disability is incapable of learning, reinforcing children’s low self-esteem and lack of confidence in their abilities. At the same time, a shift in the mindset of how teachers are perceived in society, and the prejudices they often face, is also needed.

Research in India funded as part of the ESRC-DFID Raising Learning Outcomes programme will help to contribute towards an evidence-based strategy of reform across these issues. These projects all come under the umbrella of the ESRC-DFID-funded Impact Initiative which aims to strengthen research uptake and impact across the projects, as we outlined in the opening presentation, which is available to download below.

In India, the projects include research that aims to provide a framework for understanding social exclusion from and within education systems; and a project evaluating issues of school governance for raising learning outcomes at scale. Other projects place the spotlight on specific disadvantaged groups such as one that aims to explore issues related to aspirations of students in remote rural settings, where education levels are often the lowest; and another that is addressing issues of multilingualism and multiliteracy.

Two projects pay particular attention to probably the most marginalized group within India’s education system: children with disabilities. One of these is promoting support specifically for children with hearing impairments. Our own Teaching Effectively All Children (TEACh) project seeks to understand the teaching and learning processes that will enable a step-change in learning, with a particular focus on intersecting disadvantage. As discussions at the consultation highlighted, children with disabilities (as all children) have multiple identities (associated with gender, wealth and caste, amongst others) which need to be better understood and supported if India is truly to achieve its ambitious plans set out in the draft education policy.

Event materials available to download

Keynote presentation

Teaching, learning and disadvantage [download .pptx, 730 Kb]


See some of the event #impactlessons and highlights captured in a storify from participants.


Photos from the event are available in the album: Teaching, Learning and Disadvantage.

The Impact Initiative blog posts are either from individual researchers or from major research programmes. Some of the blog posts are original source and are written by researchers and experts connected to the two research programmes jointly funded by ESRC and FCDO: the Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation Research and the Raising Learning Outcomes in Education Systems Research Programme. Other blog posts are imported from related websites and programmes. 

The views expressed in these blogs reflect the opinions of each individual and may not represent the Institute of Development Studies, the University of Cambridge, ESRC or FCDO.


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