‘Deliverables’ in the context of education

These days, a term that I am beginning to hear very often in the context of schools is 'deliverables'. Deliverable is a project management term. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it is something that must be completed or provided as part of a project.  It is therefore the output of a project --- something that has to be delivered to the client. In its true sense, the term is supposed to refer to both tangible and intangible outputs, but by and large, especially for ease of implementation, it connotes something that is observable, measurable and usually has a due date.

This term has become a part of the vocabulary of staff and management meetings in many schools today. Teachers in many schools have a list of deliverables to tick off. These range from different kinds of documentation that needs to be turned in or uploaded, exam and test scores that need to be achieved by students, reports on extra- curricular activities, and so on. Teachers are expected to turn in or report on their deliverables at specified times. Often, their competence is judged on how well the deliverable targets have been met.

While a strong management focus like this can be a very good way to bring in efficiency and accountability to teachers, there is also a danger in focusing too much on such documentable evidence of productivity, especially in teaching and learning.  I see several problems with this term in the context of education.

Firstly, it assumes the measurability of learning. The most common measurable way of education being ‘delivered’ is through marks. Seasoned educators know very well that marks are not really the only markers of a student’s achievement. When I see a student who had come into the class with poor reading skills but leaves at the end of two years being able to finish a book and talk about it, I know that student has achieved. When I as a teacher have been able to help a shy student confidently articulate their ideas in a room full of peers, I know that I have delivered. These, and numerous other ways, are a part of a good teacher’s everyday deliveries --- often neither the teacher nor the student is aware that a skill or an ability has passed hands till maybe much later, sometimes never. So how can one even gauge what a teacher has ‘delivered’? How much and what kind of capabilities have been imbibed in a class cannot always be accurately measured, nor can their deliverability be gauged right away. 

Secondly, the constant need for teachers to show evidence of their productivity through tangible means may take away from that very core of what teaching is all about. I have seen teachers spend all their free time helping students with their difficulties --- most of the time, these do not fall under ‘deliverables’ and hence go undocumented and unnoticed.  At the other end of the spectrum, I have also come across teachers very up to date in their documentation, often being praised by management for their ‘efficiency’. However, these same teachers have been seen turning away students who have come to them for help before crucial board exams saying they are busy with work (read recording deliverables). This, to me defeats the core purpose of what a good teacher is all about.

One of the key requirements of good teaching is for teachers to be well prepared for each class. For a conscientious teacher, a lot of time, effort and research goes into the planning of teaching sessions, most of which do not fall within management required ‘deliverables’. I have seen teachers who spend hours designing classes and conducting them in ways that amazing learning happens, so much so that ‘deliverable documentation’ ends up taking a back seat. Many a time, these teachers are pulled up for non-delivery, despite the fact that they have run outstanding classes. On the other hand I have read wonderfully written and ‘documented’ plans by teachers; however, the actual classroom has nothing of what has been written up.

A teacher needs to be prepared not only with what will be taught in the class, but also for with any contingencies that can come up.  A classroom is very different from a software developer’s desk or a factory floor. The products of a classroom are living breathing children with a mind of their own. The kind of competencies a good teacher requires is therefore often instinctual.  A good teacher often has students constantly milling around him or her, clearing doubts, asking advice or just opening up with their dreams and life plans. These informal mentoring and nurturing activities often do not fall into the purview of deliverables.  And they take a great deal of a dedicated teacher’s time. Therefore, too much emphasis on tangible, documentable evidence of deliverables by an education institution can go against the very purpose of what education is about.  It could and often has made teachers mechanical box tickers. An added reality in many schools is that many of the documentations are also designed to fit in smoothly with the management software the institution uses rather than actual needs of teaching and learning.

Documentation is important, but it should be so designed that it cannot take away from the unique complexities of a teacher’s job.  A teacher’s ‘efficiency’ should be gauged in the context of the classroom, in how a teacher’s practice enhances teaching and learning of each and every student in class. It should be evidenced in terms of how much mentoring a teacher does to students, how a student’s life has been positively enhanced by a teacher, how much time and mental energy a teacher spends in designing a special teaching methodology for a child who has not been able to grasp a concept. These, and many other challenges are a part and parcel of teacher’s everyday life. Unfortunately, they are not tangible, cannot be measured through ‘deliverables’.