Five things that can fix the ills of broken school system in India

Five things that can fix the ills of broken school system in India

Education should be a balance of quantity and quality. In India, while we have substantially achieved the former, fulfilling the latter is a tremendous challenge. Hari K Verma provides a few solutions to tackle the drawbacks.

As per the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2014 survey, 96.8 per cent of all Indian children between the age group of 6-14 years are now attending school. This detail points to the major problem that we have to now tackle – quality. 

What is the quality of education being imparted to these children—who will soon comprise the thinkers, innovators, leaders and makers of our country? What kinds of skills, competencies and abilities are these young minds picking up that will help them face the future?

The answers are quite depressing. Everywhere around, in government or private schools, whether the setting is urban or rural, whether it is a state board school or a so-called international school, the scene is quite familiar – teachers teaching from textbooks, children learning by rote, very little experiencing or experimentation and almost no out-of-the-box thinking.

The entire system – schools, teachers, parents egging on children – is caught in a constant hamster wheel of—good marks, good job and good life. This expectation was effective for the 19th century and parts of the 20th, but not any longer. The use of technology – smart boards, smart classes, ICT, robotics, electronics – is a relatively newer addition in the arsenal of teaching methods used in schools towards the same end. However, it is critical to recognise that technology by itself will lead us nowhere, and may often lead to more problems than it solves.

Here are 5 things we can do to fix learning in K-12 schools in our country:

  • Don’t use technology for technology’s sake: A boring lesson lectured using a colourful “smart” board is still a boring lesson. Instead, use ICT to encourage children to create content.  For example, have children perform research on the internet to find out more about the place or person or concept they’re learning about and present the findings to the class. The whole process will be engaging for the child, and the information learned will be retained for longer as well. As Confucius famously said, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” In contrast to the current practice of putting technology in the hands of teachers to teach students, it is time we gave the reins of technology devices, Internet and applications – in the hands of the children, so they can learn.
  • Move the classroom into the real world, or the real world into the classroom: Very little of what children learn in the classroom is related to real world problems, leading to generations of students who routinely ace board exams, but are unable to cope in jobs where their ability to apply their learning to real world problems is critical. It is vital to start making these connections early on, so that students recognise the societal, emotional and real-world implications of what they’re doing in the classroom. It bears reiterating – just teaching content has no value in the 21st century. Instead, we must challenge children to solve real-life problems, so they can learn whatever is needed to solve those problems and in the process, discover the science, math and art behind it.
  • Have the teacher step down from the dais: Children nowadays are exposed to a variety of media from a young age, and are disparaging of teachers still labouring to “teach” from ancient notes and outdated textbooks.  It is time teachers move out of the unnecessary “sage on the stage” role to become students’ “guide by the side”. Students should be encouraged to build their own universe of learning, aided by practical learning aids, guided research on the internet and teacher-led discussions. The teacher should step back to facilitate such learning, and become a co-learner herself in this new-age classroom.
  • Bridge the divide between education and industry: Industry body NASSCOM reports that only 25 per cent of all engineering graduates have employable skills. Talk to any employer today, and they complain of not finding employees with the right communication or critical thinking abilities. These and other skills such as creativity are 21st Century skills that our school system is unaware of, and is not equipped to teach. These are precisely the competencies that employers want, not a string of degrees. Schools must recognise that subject teaching and “extra–curricular” are not enough, that the methods of learning must incorporate these crucial skills.  Industry will thank them for it. These skills learnt in school will help students tremendously in their college education as well.
  • Recognise that the future is happening now – Futurist Alvin Toffler said that “the illiterate of the 21st Century will be not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” The 21st Century citizen will have an average of 11 jobs in his lifetime. The greatest service we can do to our children is to give them the capacity to absorb the shocks of change by making them lifelong learners. If we can build this into our school system – by empowering children with the required problem solving and analytical skills, and most importantly, by teaching them to learn 'how to learn', our job is done.

What I’ve listed are but components of a huge whole: small but necessary steps towards rebuilding the way our children learn. Organisations such as ours are working in this area, with schools across the spectrum – whether state board, CBSE, ICSE or IB schools – to complement subject learning in schools with programmes that impart the vital 21st Century Skills to students. We are engaged in dialogues with governments and educationists on ways to constructively re-tool our education system for the betterment of our country and citizens.

The future is here; the time to act is now.

The author is CEO, Creya Learning  & Research.

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