Well Written Article about TN Edu System and Policy:

Tamil Nadu has created a state where almost all people have college degrees and most have professional degrees.

Bharath Ram is a product leader in a top social media company and works on value optimisation via deep learning methods. He has studied in 14 different schools in both rural and urban parts of Tamil Nadu and in public schools in the US.

Tamil Nadu has one of the best public healthcare delivery systems in the country. It is a nonpareil welfare state whose public policy initiatives have set the benchmark for social justice and societal outcomes. It is a state whose gross enrolment ratio is twice the national average, and which has the highest number of medical colleges in the country. So how does Tamil Nadu react when a central government tries to dictate how it should run its education policy?

The former chief minister, J. Jayalalithaa, wrote in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2016 that “the students of Tamil Nadu are already covered by a fair and transparent admission policy laid down by the Government of Tamil Nadu.” She was so confident because, when it comes to public policy and education, Tamil Nadu has got its citizen covered.

Two strategies

Imagine you own an e-commerce website (such as amazon.com or flipkart.com) that allows people to visit the webpage, prospect products, add items to cart and eventually buy. Imagine this process as a funnel. The top of the funnel is people visiting the webpage. Mid-funnel is people prospecting products. At the bottom is people adding items to the cart.

There are two strategies through which your website can be marketed. First, the upper funnel strategy. Your digital marketing efforts drives as much of the population as possible to simply visit your webpage. It is prospected by many – while a smaller subset will go on to add items to cart and fewer will complete the purchase. Second, the bottom funnel strategy. Your digital marketing efforts target people who are more likely to “add to cart”. You only want them to visit your website. As a result, your site gets lower traffic while the number of people who convert (into a customer) is higher.

People pick from these two strategies based on their constraints and priorities. If you want to keep your server capacity cost low, you go bottom funnel. If you want brand awareness of your webpage to be high, you go upper funnel. However, the definition of success depends on what outcomes you want to drive. The upper-funnel strategy can define success as ‘number of people who know about my website’ divided by ‘total population’. This strategy focuses on more people being exposed to your website so that they make a habit of visiting it when the need arises. Bottom funnel defines success as ‘people who actually purchased’ divided by ‘people who visit my webpage’. So, there is no consistent definition of success, and it is dangerous to evaluate one strategy using the same metrics used by the other strategy.

Tamil Nadu has an upper funnel strategy for college education. It wants as much of the population to either (a) get exposed to college education or (b) pass college and get exposed to professional careers. It wants people to consider going to college a habit and graduating from it a part of their second nature. And it hopes that the virtuous cycle will lead to both direct and indirect positive effects in the long term. Here, the definition of success is more social: “What percentage of the population receives exposure to college education?”

To achieve this goal, Tamil Nadu optimises one of the biggest levers an independently functioning state in a federal structure has: examinations and their syllabi. The state holds that examinations do not get to dictate a student’s career prospects, so it does not measure success by asking the question ‘what fraction of the population can meet rigorous exam standards’, etc. In the same vein, it does not construct its syllabi to meet such standards. Instead, it uses these levers to improve the number of people who get exposed to college education without affecting the career prospects. That is why Tamil Nadu has a class 12 pass percent of 92%.

On the other hand, Karnataka has a class 12 pass percentage of 52%. The difference arises from the fact that Karnataka has been going with a bottom funnel optimisation. Its definition of quality is ‘people who get jobs’ divided by ‘people who get to college’. Therefore, the state is okay with a large chunk of its population not attending college or not holding a job. While this may be bad for Karnataka’s population, it is the state’s strategy.

Diminishing returns

In effect, Tamil Nadu does not subscribe to a very common Macaulayian fallacy – that there exists a strict linear relationship between examination rigour/performance and later career success. It ascribes to the view that the relationship is nonlinear and that strategic affirmative action could pay off as both short-term and long-term gains (see chart on left). Tamil Nadu is also placing a social justice bet that it can reduce the rigour of exams and syllabi to neutralise the effect of coaching centres without hurting candidates’ future prospects.

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