Pedagogies become obsolete when they continue to focus on ‘what’ they teach rather than ‘how’. Indian education has suffered for decades on this score because the purpose of education has never envisaged fostering curiosity and creativity as being critical to education but in knowing facts and information. We teach our kids to memorize but never to understand.

Reforming education requires deciding what education is for. I believe that critiquing the way we teach is dependent entirely on knowing ‘why we teach’. A time has come when this ‘why’ itself needs to be questioned and reinvented. In other words, what we need is not doing the ‘why’ better but in finding an entirely different ‘why’. This is because the old why is no longer relevant. Consequently, the very purpose of education needs to be rethought. Only then would education reform be revolutionized.

To achieve this, we need to start with the teachers. The shift in mindset that they need to adjust to is that modern technology has provided students and indeed, everyone with exceptional information at the touch of a button. Rather than feel upset with this development, which is unfortunately the case at present with most teachers, they need to learn how they might recraft their pedagogy from information dissemination to learning and processing of information.

If we fail to do this, we would continue to harbour irrelevant teachers and consequently, an archaic education system.

This imperative shift in pedagogy needs to recognize that today’s market place requires from its employees creative and critical thinking and in making complex decisions. Indeed, even classrooms have started changing. I am not speaking only of the introduction of smart boards but the way modern classrooms are currently designed. Mobile and adjustable tables and seats have replaced the earlier fixed seats where students sat in a row and the teacher was the sage on the stage. Today’s classrooms are geared towards teamwork and collaborative approach that is aimed at understanding problems before solving them. Students discuss with each other and the teacher acts as the facilitator.

This requires that education responds to dynamic needs because it is a service that is offered to society. It needs to constantly evolve if it is to provide what changing societies require. Yet, for decades, while India has dramatically changed, our education system has remained more or less static. Efforts have been made to tinker with what already exists rather than envisage how it is changed in its entirety. What we need, in other words, is a revolution in education and not just reform.

One of India’s grand challenges is education. As our population grows, the aspiration for a better life would extend from urban to rural India. Indeed, it may well be argued that to empower India, education is the key. Without education, populations would continue to be subjugated and impoverished. Rural India would continue to live under a feudal scourge where the horrific nexus of local politicians, gangsters and the bureaucracy continues as contemporary reality. Rapid urbanization would see a migration of unskilled labour into cities and huge infrastructural demand would see their employment perpetuating substandard construction. Business and industry would never be 21st century because their workforce would be the 19th century.

We are on the cusp of facing disaster unless we revolutionize our education system. This needs to be a national imperative.

[The author is a former Indian diplomat and is currently the India country director of the University of New South Wales, Sydney]