If we survey the Indian Education Landscape, there is a lot that we have, to be proud of. There are high schools that compete with the best in the world. There are institutions of excellence in Engineering and Management that are sought after by students from all over the world. But in a country where a vast majority, as much as 70% of education, still owned, run and administered by the state, there is a growing view that a lot more needs to be done.
In this article, rather than focusing on facts and figures, I want to shed some light on the ideological and philosophical aspects of how education is treated and delivered in this country. In my view, it is the very ethos of education that will benefit tremendously from a tectonic shift. The more tangible aspects of areas of education that need overhaul are obvious – infrastructure, research funding, pay scales for educators and so on. However, there is a deeper strain, a mindset that has been passed on for generations, that requires revisiting. And that is what I wish to focus on.
DISCOVERY RATHER THAN INSTRUCTION
By and large, across our schools, we have practised a simple way of teaching, which has been through textbook-heavy instruction and rote-learning. Generations of Indian school students have committed their textbooks to memory and spewed this information on to copious pages of examination answer sheets. What is this really testing? Is it a true measure and indication of a student’s intellect, knowledge-base, understanding, or skills? Or is it purely an assessment of a pupil’s mugging-up capacity? The counter to this allegation might come from several schools that are now adopting international boards and curricula. But what percentage of the school-population do these handfuls of schools make up?
It is negligible. Besides, even at these schools where an IB board or a Cambridge board is now being offered, Indian students aren’t able to maximize the freewheeling ethos of this brand of education, because instinctively, Indian students aren’t accustomed to a discovery and opinion-seeking based way of studying and learning.
What is required is a systemic shift. From the very outset, educators, schools, systems, homes, and parents, need to make a concerted effort to espouse a kind of learning environment where children are made to ‘experience’ rather than mug-up concepts. This ‘experiential’ learning can only take place if kids are exposed to the right stimuli, to resources outside of the classroom. To tap into the natural curiosity of a child is what is the need of the hour.
Unfortunately, a lot of this innate inquisitiveness is thwarted the minute a student is asked to cram-up chapter upon chapter of, for instance, a history book. It is criminally boring because it isn’t a history that the child identifies with or finds the least bit engaging, because it has not been contextualized. We will do well to make learning more ‘accidental’ through incorporating tools such as dramatization (of lessons), artistic expressions of concepts, field trips where kids can get involved with knowledge at a personal level, making them equal stakeholders in the learning process.
EDUCATORS RATHER THAN TEACHERS
What is the difference between these two terms, Educator and Teacher? In my view, the latter is an Instructor while the former is an Enabler. A teacher tends to fall into the trap of course-completion pressure and hence suffers the risk of not engaging the students. An Educator, on the other hand, will prompt, instigate, inspire, nudge, nothing more. It really is a difference in approach rather than a strict difference in the definition of the two types of people. Of course, what dampens any teacher’s efforts at being engaging is overwhelming courses, which is connected inextricably to exam and marks pressure.
This marks-based judgement of knowledge and aptitude for a diverse set of millions of students being the single measure is crippling the very idea and fun of learning. Simply put, we need to overhaul our testing systems and move away from the single dreaded common exam that becomes this insurmountable monster and move towards a more regular, inventive way of testing which actually calls for a more opinion-based outlook.
The moment we can do this, we will automatically alleviate the pressure teachers are under and free them to conduct and plan lessons that are more fun, informal, interactive, and discovery-led. And although I said that I would not talk about infrastructural issues in this article, I’d be remiss not to mention that in India, at least at the school level, many teachers aren’t teaching because they want to but rather because they need to. This automatically means that they enthusiasm with which they approach these ‘income-supplementing’ jobs is step-motherly. If we can significantly raise pay scales of teachers, I have no doubt that the quality of educators, even the drive of the current teachers, will witness a dramatic change for the better.
REAL WORLD RELEVANCE
My last ideological notion I’d like to put forth has to do with an education that has little to do with any real world application. It is almost as education exists in its own little bubble. Students seldom understand or appreciate why they are being taught what they are being taught. That is not to say that there is no merit in gaining knowledge about things unrelated to one’s job or vocation later in life. Of course not. Having said that, there must be some real-world relevance and contextualization of what is being taught.
Perhaps because of this, students also have little awareness of the myriad options they have for higher education, and subsequent career streams. Our institutions have little by way of exposure to the world of work, to careers, to counselling, to any kind of orientation of job choices or entrepreneurial development.
This is a phenomenon most evident in higher education. Across colleges and universities abroad, especially in the US, college departments devote immense time, effort, resources, funding to grants that incubate projects that are looking for solutions to real-world issues and problems. This philosophy of an institution of higher learning being the bedrock of globally relevant problem-solving is sorely lacking in India. I’d like to clarify here, it isn’t absent by any means. There are any number of great examples of labs and departments of Indian colleges and universities that have in the past, and continue to in the present, develop disruptive, relevant solutions. But it is too few, too far between. And I feel that this lack stems from a lack of vision, will and ethos. Which is why, rather than go on about funding per say, my piece speaks to the desperate need in attitude shift.
It is sad that we are churning out followers and not innovators by the droves. And anyone with a modicum of insights, foresight, and intellectual fortitude, at some point, goes abroad. In order for India to produce innovators and leaders, and for us to retain our talent, we have to make a paradigm shift in our thinking and approach to education. Only then will we have something significant to offer to the world and reclaim our glorious past of being at the very forefront of innovation and discovery.
The author holds workshops on creative writing and personality development at various schools.