The CCE is Dead, Long Live the CCE

No mistake here, the CCE was a regime. And it was implemented as such, a diktat coming from above, and the confused masses had to comply. The ones above had heard of a good thing and wanted to bring them to their people, and so they did. Circulars were issued, and then, nothing. Because, you see, to bring something to a people, it is not enough to know what it is, it needs you to shape and show how to as well. So too in this story, the tragedy of this excellent CCE. A reformer that was misunderstood, and today has been declared gone.

The saddest part here is that the while the implementation was flawed, it is the concept that will take the blame. The fall is not of an evaluation system, the failure is specifically of the CCE ‘scheme’ that was designed here. Comprehensive, continuous evaluation, and its record keeping is a standard part of every good teacher’s job all over the world. This is basically formative assessment, and if you don’t do formative assessments, how can any teacher know what is really happening to learning inside a classroom? They know they are teaching, but is learning happening? Do they need to teach a concept again? Do they need to try harder? Do they need to engage in a different teaching style? How does a teacher know any of this without formative assessments? The moot question is: Do they want to do better? To work harder?

If we only rely on summative assessments then we will have no opportunities for self improvement. This reminds me of the classic dialogue from Yes Prime Minister when they jokingly spoke of the standard foreign policy response to a country in need. The fourth and the last stage was, “We could have helped, but it is too late now”. That was a comic dialogue, but this is reality and the country’s future. If we only look at summative assessments, it is too late to help the students, and it is too late for teachers to develop their agile teaching capacities.

Even as the testing seemed to be based on student work, it was actually teachers who were being asked to find data to support their claim that their teaching was having an impact on learning. They were given charge of assessing themselves in the CCE system. This was as much autonomy as any one could imagine. Schools were even allowed to create their own tracking systems. But were not enabled to do so. Things don’t happen just because you tell someone. Things happen when you enable it with capacities and resources.

Teachers down the line who were only used to following linear copy-paste rote learning based assessments were now asked to think. More, create a model out of ‘fuzzy’ and ‘soft’ things that they had never learnt to articulate. I remember asking a school head once, “How do you know if learning is actually happening in the classrooms as you walk past?” His response said it all. He said, “The teachers are there, the class is running, so I know it is ok.” But it is not okay at all. He did not have the vocabulary and the ability to articulate the process of learning converting to learning outcomes even if he had the knowledge and skills to deliver it every day, every year. Building this vocabulary and ability to articulate was an essential ask before asking teachers to design and report on it. They did not know how, and the ‘scheme’ had nothing that helped them build their capacities. It was not a fair ask, it was not practicable as designed. It was designed with an impossible chasm to leap with neither rope, nor ladder, nor bridge. Why would anyone want to make the leap?

Teacher autonomy has to come with teacher support. You cannot say, I give you autonomy and hold you accountable. It is like throwing a person into the deep end of a pool. Sure, some will learn how to swim, but many will be left traumatised, some will sink and others somehow flounder till they are rescued. The ‘scheme’ as designed was such a pool. And now it has been closed, emptied – and we do not have enough teachers who have learnt to swim on their own. We never gave them the tools to learn to swim, never sent them trainers and we expected them to become proficient overnight. This does not happen without support. Now, of course, we can happily say – teacher autonomy was tried but it failed. No, teacher autonomy did not fail, your ability to build an autonomous system certainly is brought into question.

I am reminded of a rhyme we learnt at school that went,

For want of a nail, the horse was lost,
For want of a horse, the rider was lost
For want of the rider, the battle was lost
All for the want of a horseshoe nail

The CCE system is the battle that was lost today, all because of a simple gap. For the sake of a horseshoe nail – for the sake of simply building assessment capacity – the battle was lost. And this was the battle for learning outcomes.

I could paraphrase this to:

For want of feedback, course correction was lost,
For want of course correction, teacher quality was lost
For want of teacher quality, learning outcomes were lost
And all for the want of a feedback loop.

Why was CCE so unpopular?

Because the CCE is about improving teacher standards. And that takes real work. From teachers, from administrators and even from those who built this ship.

When an interim assessment is done, what happens? If the class underperforms, it is feedback to the teacher to change their ways and improve. Mid cycle. Have you ever asked an Indian teacher to ‘change’ their ‘method’? They don’t know how to! CCE was going to ask teachers to actually teach for improving learning outcomes, to do better and to catch them out when things were actually not going well for the learning of that new batch. Who wanted to do the extra work? Many teachers, for years, got away with doing no work on ongoing assessment and feedback loops.

The CCE was dangerous – it meant the the power balance in the class would shift away from the teachers doing their own thing without being questioned on pedagogy and process. Whatever they knew as ‘good teaching’ could be questioned by their ‘stakeholders/parent/school leader/new database’. Here they could be held accountable while there was time to change and improve and time to actually work harder with their students? Who wants a system that gives you a chance to work harder – only the students, right? Only the consumer wants a better dish, not the everyday invisible cook.

We are now asking teachers to actually do the half of their job that they have happily ducked for so long. It has been so long that most teachers in India of this – the third post independence generation – don’t even realise that this is part of what they are supposed to do. Naturally, they see it as an unnecessary burden. No one told them that collecting and responding to feedback is their core job. Their job is not to be a text book spewing machine. If that is what they think of it, they might as well give it to a ‘protocol droid’. The robots are coming, only we call it edutech now. Teachers always have to do more than mere rote – repetition – method. They have to be in a process of continuous self improvement supported by evidence.

Sounds hard? It is. Welcome to the real world.
Teaching is not a cushy pastime for part time workers. It is not a millennial gig, it is not a housewife discovering herself – or whatever the latest cliche. It is a serious profession that takes work. Those of you teachers who have devoted attention and care to your profession know this is true. Those who have never taken their work seriously may outrage now.

More importantly, the good teachers were willing but not able to get a hook on to the CCE system, as designed. The well intentioned ones did not know how to, the lazy ones (every profession has some!) did not want to and the vast majority were lost, waiting. They did not know how to create an assessment system for their own ongoing performance – and who would really want to invest in that, let’s be pragmatic. This was an implementation plan designed to fail. Teachers were given the freedom to devise their own trackers, but again, this was not something they had ever been asked to demonstrate.. Combine it with received ‘templates’ and it naturally resulted in a clunky ‘worksheet’ that was a huge burden to all teachers who had to laboriously – and often needlessly fill it. Imagine using a car designed by a novice street mechanic with no training vs. a car designed by the engineers trained by say, Mercedes and BMW. Which one would you like to have? The jugaad never sustains, whether it is a car, or a formative assessment reporting system. Have good assessment design and then let us talk about how effortless it is to be a better driver. They were never given a chance to be better drivers or engineers, they were stuck with jugaad for CCE

CCE is not a special ‘scheme’ or ‘regulation’. It is the everyday job of a teacher. All good teachers and good schools have always performed well because they have engaged in the hard work of watching over their students and course-corrected mid way when they saw some of them flounder. This is why we send our students to school, to receive proper attention and course correction – and the course correction invariably requires more work from the teachers.

In ordinary times, we would not have asked for all teachers and schools to show what they do everyday, but in times when we desperately need to improve learning outcomes in the country, one needs a way to track and understand what is going on. To figure out which teachers are working with the feedback they receive to help students along, and which ones need more. It is not wrong to ask people to assess themselves and prove that with evidence. What matters is ‘how’ it is done. It is totally wrong to under-invest in building teacher capacity to create a light touch course correction system that works for them. This investment in teacher capacity was essential – and needed to be a part of the plan, the design of the program.
To create good implementation, you need good implementation design. The designing light touch admin is not rocket science. It was not just poor implementation, as we have been calling out for the longest time, but poor implementation design that caused the chaos.

In any case, the CCE is gone. If it means that it is the end of administrative creep, it is good news, and I am glad. But If it means that we lose the very idea of mid cycle feedback loops that make teachers work harder and improve their teaching practice, then the loss will go to learning outcomes. And that is worse than sad. The next stage after the death of the CCE is to start work on building self assessment capacities in teachers. That was the first requirement, in any case. If the death of the CCE can start a time when feedback and assessment skills improve, then one can celebrate and say, the CCE is dead, Long live the CCE.

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