What the purpose of education? Is it being able to reproduce loads of unrelated or irrelevant data without a pause? Or is cramming information about every subject being offered without truly understanding its significance or relevance? Or is trying to make sense of the mechanisations of our world, our existence or even ourselves? Education for each of us means something different and that’s a given. But doesn’t its meaning need a change like everything else in these changing times? When our whole concept of living in a free society has been shaken to its very core, doesn’t education also need to change to adapt to the changes in the society?
“Too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve.” Roger Lewin
Schooling was pretty simple back in those days. Just go to school, learn whatever is being taught (no questions asked – parents certainly had no questions except the need to see the report cards), study everything from cover to cover and then finally fill in reams of answer sheets. That’s it, it was that simple. And now when I compare to what the kids are doing, I feel we had more exposure to the real world then than them today irrespective of the innumerable media sources available to them. They live in some make-believe digital bubble, cut off from the ground realities. And all the information is short-lived, in the sense that it is relevant only at that particular time or moment; if it’s needed later, then we go back to Google, not our memory. Every information is now available at the click of button.
Middle school and high school was not this stressful with tons to cram and living up to the unrealistic expectations of parents and teachers to get impossible percentages. What the present education system and curriculums are testing are the cramming capabilities of the child, not their intelligence or aptitude or capability. Is this fair, I ask you? They are not allowed to think by themselves, ask questions or even ponder over the problem. What we are creating are automatons, not thinking individuals who could contribute to the nation-building.
The current pandemic has forced the shift from the traditional forms of teaching to the digital medium. It’s like a tsunami within the educational system, especially in a country like India which has always believed and followed the guru-shishya system, or encouraged the teacher-student relationship, for ages. The guru is the knowledge-giver and the shishya the knowledge-seeker. It’s no longer true now. It’s not the quantum of knowledge that defines the teacher; the teachers are required to undergo courses to qualify to become teachers, learn new practices to equip themselves for the minor changes seeping in through the crevices of time.
Yet nothing prepared any of us for the changes that happened with the onset of the pandemic. The evolution of the online teaching format and its growth is both alarming and dynamic. Within a span of a few weeks, schools and colleges and other academic institutions have adopted the online teaching format with such fervour that it gives us a reason to pause and think about the direction it is headed and to what destination. With such changes it is absolutely necessary that the policy makers think beyond the conventional systems.
“The modern world belongs to the half-educated, a rather difficult class, because they do not realize how little they know.” William R. Inge
Once the lockdown was declared, all hell broke loose. There was a sense of uncertainty all around. Exams got postponed or cancelled. Academic sessions were brought to a sudden termination and students promoted to the next class (something unheard of and totally unacceptable to the Indian parents). But that was just the preview of the changes to come. Schools and academic institutes started preparing for the commencement of new sessions on the digital platform and not in the conventional classrooms. Teachers with years of experience were fumbling like newbies trying to grasp their new lifelines. Content had to be recreated to suit the new teaching methods. Educators had to acquaint and learn about the new platforms like Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Meeting and many such. Educational apps, inadequate and ill-prepared, were sprouting like mushrooms vying for the attention of the academic institutes. Schools were scurrying to procure the best educational apps they could for their students. Training sessions for teachers, training sessions for students, training sessions for trainers. Everyone was training – learning to survive in this new world of digital education. But did anyone for one moment think if it was applicable to all?
“Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another.”
In a country like India, though education was always sought, it has become just another tick in the long list needed for survival. While education evolved and grew in magnitude, it remained out of the reach of many in the rural and often ignored areas of the nation. Superstitions, caste politics, wilful deprivation, and many more such social reasons kept many away from benefitting from getting proper education. Even today more than 50% of the children in the rural area do not have access to education; nearly 73% of grade 8 students can’t even manage what’s being taught in grade 2. In this scenario, concentrated efforts needs to made to ensure that education is available to these children.
Online education can be a powerful tool in such circumstances for ensuring every remote corner can be reached. But the flip side of this medium is that the infrastructure needs to be in place for such methods to be effective. Are we really ready in India with this kind of infrastructure? Leave alone internet connectivity and computers, there are still areas which do not have access to basic facilities like electricity and water. It is a skewed development, a glaring deep chasm which needs focussed planning, foresight, intention and implementation.
“Do not train children to learning by force and harshness, but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.” Plato
If the platforms and mediums have changed and have been accepted, albeit with scepticism and reservations, then is it not time to also bring about changes in our curriculum? Have a relook at the content of the various subjects being taught in our schools, which don’t appear to have been reviewed for years or maybe even decades? Students are no longer dependent on the textbooks nor are they ready to sacrifice hours learning about things they know are not going to be of any use to them. The time-lag between what is being taught and what is required is growing by the second and it can’t be ignored anymore.
Curriculums need to change to suit the requirements of the students by making them more relevant and current. Include more subjects with hands on training or skill based, allow the students more flexibility to choose subjects instead of forcing each one to study every subject being offered in the bouquet. If we want our children to be better prepared for the future, then we need to teach them skills which will assist them in the future. Learning by mindless rote is certainly not the way forward.
“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”
When I look at the effort and time and resources being spent on acquiring new digital skills now, I feel it’s all going to be futile as soon as the regular classes commence. The teachers are not ready for the changes and neither are the schools since the curriculums don’t support such teaching platforms. We have to think long term. This pandemic may be just another phase in the history of this planet, which has suffered and survived worse, but for those of us in the education field it’s a wake-up call to this new reality. Online classes are here to stay. People have realised its potential and exploring ways to exploit its full potential. The antiquated and outdated education system needs to seriously consider making the best of the opportunity it has been offered to rejuvenate and make itself relevant.
I think we should seriously think about these –
“What we learn with pleasure we never forget.”
Let’s follow one or two boards in the country. CBSE, ICSE, and SSC each have their own curriculums. Add to this mix are the international boards like IGCSE and IB, which have their own curriculums. Let the international curriculums be. The Indian curriculums can be reworked to make one single curriculum which has the best elements of each of these. This curriculum could be suited to the Indian sensibilities and would be easily accessible to all students across the country. It would also provide them in future an even platform during the competitive exams. Lesser headaches for parents trying to find out which schools follow which curriculum every time they move from one place to another. I know what I’m saying – I am a fauji kid!
“You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives.” Clay P. Bedford
Two, why not overhaul the content of the subjects being taught? Presently the stress is on stuffing as much information as possible in every grade. It’s relevance and importance are not taken into consideration. This makes learning them compulsory for getting the marks, but it does nothing to incite the interest in the subject. This can adversely affect the attitude students develop towards studies, towards certain subjects. To undo this error, contents can be made more project or activity based, creating more opportunities for involvement and thinking. What better way to learn than doing a practical?
Three, encourage the use of the digital platform. I mean who doesn’t have a smart phone these days? Let these mediums be used to make sure students in the most remote areas have easy access to the academic curriculums. Smaller modules could be taught with more importance to learning and understanding than on producing textbook answers in the exams. the earnest young minds could be directed to educative, relevant material to supplement their lack of reference books and libraries or even qualified teachers.
Education will happen but what’s more important (and has caught our attention finally) is the lack of infrastructure. Schools may claim to be ‘modern’ but they are far from it. When the world is going digital and our lives are online, none of the educational boards support this format of teaching and learning. To reduce the pressure on the big cities and their ‘modern’ institutions, efforts must be made to improve the infrastructure in the rural areas and small towns. If education can be made available to these students, then it will surely improve our literacy rate, increase employability options, create awareness and basically have a future generation of educated and involved citizens. Why restrict education to just the children? Even adults could be taught skills to better their lives by learning new things. It would open a world of endless possibilities and opportunities. And isn’t this what we all want for our country – to be strong and self-reliant?
Finally, the teacher training needs to be revamped. Majority of the students have access to unlimited resources and know how to use these to their advantage. So, it’s important for the teachers to update their skill sets and be prepared to meet their students at the same level playing ground. Teacher training should, without fail, include learning about using the digital mediums and its use. This would also help them in imparting online teaching to students who do not have access to regular school.
“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”
There’s so much to do. It’s not the responsibility of the governments alone to provide everything. Instead of looking at what’s not there, we can put what we’ve and contribute towards creating an equal platform for all the students. Corporates can contribute as part of their CSR. Instead of opening colleges in every lane, churning out assemble-line students with no knowledge or skill, let the Trusts assist in setting up smaller, well equipped study centres. There’s no dearth of ideas or volunteers; all it lacks is intention. Here’s looking at the future and hoping that the new dawn brings with it new realisations. Our children are looking at us to guide them, so let’s do it well.