Indian education system has evolved drastically in the past few years. In the times of yore, Gurkul system of teaching was followed. The name comes from Sanskrit language, where ‘guru’ means teacher, and ‘kul’, means domain. It translates as “domain or family of the guru.” The students or ‘shishya’ lived near or with the guru in the same house. The gurus believed in the three-step process of imparting knowledge – Shravana, Manana and Niddhyaasana. Shravana meant listening to the words of wisdom which the teacher spoke. Manana meant interpreting the meaning of the lessons and Niddhyaasana meant the complete comprehension of knowledge. From Sanskrit to the Holy Scriptures, from Mathematics to Metaphysics, the guru taught everything a shishya wanted to learn until the guru was sure he had taught everything he could teach. The learning was closely linked to nature and life with rich knowledge and values.
However, the winds of change blew during the Colonial era. In the 1830s, Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay introduced the English language to India. The syllabus became limited to “modern” and specific subjects like science, mathematics, language, history, geography and civics, whereas, subjects like philosophy and metaphysics were considered unnecessary at school level. The mode of teaching became confined to classrooms, which broke the link with nature and also created a gap in the teacher-student relationship.
It was post freedom in 1947, that the Indian government, renowned educationists, social scientists and leaders, joined hands to make education Indiacentric. At present, India’s higher education system is the largest in the world, hosting more than 70 million students in less than two decades.
While we have gained freedom from British Raj, have we gained freedom from British curriculum?
Even today, most of the schools are following the curricula of 1918 with subjects like English, Math, Science, History and foreign languages. Is this how we plan on preparing the future generation to thrive in the changing landscape? There are debates about future of education, about embracing technology in the classroom, but there is almost no debate on changing what we are teaching in schools. A student that begins primary school today will graduate from university in the mid-2030s and their career will last through 2060 or beyond. But, with the subjects that are currently being taught, it is becoming a huge challenge to even get into a decent college after finishing school. Problemsolving, creative thinking, digital skills, and collaboration are in greater need every year yet they are not taught in our schools. Even when schools teach digital skills, they focus on how to use technology – how to create a document or a presentation – rather than how to create technology. In fact, some of the topics we teach today will no longer be essential in the 2030s: handwriting is increasingly obsolete, complex arithmetic is no longer done by hand, and the internet has replaced the need to memorise many basic facts.
Howard Gardner is an American developmental psychologist and his theory on different types of intelligence is prolific. Each one of us has one or more than one of these intelligences, such as naturalist (it is a human ability to discriminate among living things such as plants and animals, as well as sensitivity to other non-living things), logical/mathematical (good with numbers and validity), musical (understanding of sounds, pitch, rhythm and tone), existential (it is the sensitivity and capacity to tackle deep questions about human existence, such as the meaning of life, why are we here, purpose, etc), interpersonal skills (interacting well with others), body kinesthetic (understanding oneself), spatial (mental imagery, image manipulation, graphic and artistic skills, and an active imagination). Sailors, pilots, sculptors, painters and architects all exhibit spatial intelligence and linguistic skills (the ability to think in words and to use language to express and appreciate complex meanings). That is what schools are supposed to prepare students for, but they put into us certain types of intelligence on precedence by ignoring other types. Each one of us is gifted with one or more of these intelligences—our school education is supposed to help us realise our potential, which just does not happen; resulting in a gross waste of talent.
The syllabus of our education system needs to usher in an educational revolution and an evolution of teaching techniques. The study material being taught in educational institutions is just a very small part of the actual amount of matter contained under a topic. The curriculum and pedagogy has to give way to future needs and requirements. The lessons being taught today will get outdated in future. Even as you are reading this, someone has devised something new to the world in his/her interest of subject. That hasn’t come from the monotonous subjects being taught. It’s the updated curriculum – that has included technology and advanced programming in it, which has led to a new invention.
The hindrance to technology driven classrooms prevails and is incompletely exploited in the nation. Proper measures should be undertaken to increase awareness of the benefits in adding technology to the classroom and bring in a significant change in student’s perception of subjects. The usual brick and mortar concept has reached its peak and it is high time we welcome modern technology in classrooms to help bring in a new effective learning atmosphere and teaching methodology.
A change in teaching of STEM subjects is the need of the hour. One should put special focus on STEM subjects and develop innovative hands-on solutions in Maths, Science and Robotics for schools. Introduction of mobile labs and science centers by the government and the initiative to include parents in this change so that learning becomes a continuous, multigenerational process is a must.
Classroom lectures sometimes become too boring encouraging only a little student involvement or creativity. But, if the teacher brings practical and exciting analogies to teach the classroom becomes more interesting and lessons become easy to understand. Many can question that every subject does not need practical guidance and theoretical knowledge is the base of the subject, but the visual experience and practical guidance can help in avoiding the boredom. Many successful entrepreneurs have not got the theoretical knowledge because their success stands on the experience they have gained. This is the philosophy that needs to be imparted from the school days of the students. Some schools in the country focus on the extracurricular activities to develop the student capabilities in terms of problem solving, writing skills, verbal skills, communication enhancement, physical fitness and more. These activities should be made available to each student in the country irrespective of the state and region.
Here are a few more points we could work on:
Focus on skill-based education
Our education system is geared towards teaching and testing knowledge at every level as opposed to teaching skills. “Give a man a fish and you feed him one day, teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” If you teach a person a skill, you enable him for a lifetime. Knowledge is largely forgotten after the semester exam is over. Still, year after year Indian students focus on cramming information. The best crammers are rewarded by the system. This is one of the fundamental flaws of our education system.
Personalise education – one size does not fit all
Assembly line education prepares assembly line workers. However, the drift of economic world is away from assembly line production. Indian education system is built on the presumption that if something is good for one kid, it is good for all kids.
Some kids learn faster, some are comparatively slow. Some people are visual learners, others are auditory learners, and still some others learn faster from experience. If one massive monolithic education system has to provide education to everyone, then there is no option but to assume that one size fits all. If however, we can effectively decentralise education, and if the government did not obsessively control what would be the “syllabus” and what will be the method of instruction, there could be an explosion of new and innovative courses geared towards serving various niches of learners,
Take for example, the market for learning dance. There are very different dance forms that attract students with different tastes. More importantly, different teachers and institutes have developed different ways of teaching dancing. This could never happen if there was a central board of dancing education which enforced strict standards of what will be taught and how such things are to be taught.
Central regulation kills choice, and stifles innovation too. As far as education is concerned, availability of choices, de-regulation, profitability, entrepreneurship and emergence of niche courses are all inter-connected.
Implement massive technology infrastructure for education
India needs to embrace internet and technology if it has to teach all of its huge population, the majority of which is located in remote villages. Now that we have computers and internet, it makes sense to invest in technological infrastructure that will make access to knowledge easier than ever. Instead of focusing on outdated models of brick and mortar colleges and universities, we need to create educational delivery mechanisms that can actually take the wealth of human knowledge to the masses. The tools for this dissemination will be cheap smartphones, tablets and computers with high speed internet connection. While all these are becoming more possible than ever before, there is lot of innovation yet to take place in this space.
Redefine the purpose of the education system
Our education system is still a colonial education system geared towards generating babus and pen-pushers under the newly acquired skin of modernity. We may have the highest number of engineering graduates in the world, but that certainly has not translated into much technological innovation here. Rather, we are busy running the call centres of the rest of the world – that is where our engineering skills end.
The goal of our new education system should be to create entrepreneurs, innovators, artists, scientists, thinkers and writers who can establish the foundation of a knowledge based economy rather than the low-quality service provider nation that we are turning into.
Until today, an institute of higher education in India must be operating on a not-for profit basis. This is discouraging for entrepreneurs and innovators who could have worked in these spaces. On the other hand, many people are using education institutions to hide their black money, and often earning a hefty income from education business through clever structuring and therefore bypassing the rule with respect to not earning profit from recognized educational institutions. As a matter of fact, private equity companies have been investing in some education service provider companies which in turn provide services to not-for-profit educational institutions and earn enviable profits. Sometimes these institutes are so costly that they are outside the reach of most Indian students.
There is an urgent need for effective de-regulation of the Indian education sector so that there is infusion of sufficient capital and those who provide or create extraordinary educational products or services are adequately rewarded.
Take mediocrity out of the system
Our education system today encourages mediocrity – in students, in teachers, throughout the system. It is easy to survive as a mediocre student, or a mediocre teacher in an educational institution. No one shuts down a mediocre college or mediocre school. Hard work is always tough, the path to excellence is fraught with difficulties. Mediocrity is comfortable. Our education system will remain sub-par or mediocre until we make it clear that it is not okay to be mediocre. If we want excellence, mediocrity cannot be tolerated. Mediocrity has to be discarded as an option. Life of those who are mediocre must be made difficult so that excellence is attained.
Reforming school examination systems
There is a strong need to reform the examination system to focus on logical reasoning, problem-solving and Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS). In recent years, major changes in the CBSE examination system have been observed. The Class X Board examination has been made optional and a new grading system has been introduced which really works for the modern-day student. State Boards have also welcomed the measures and followed up with efforts to update their respective curricula and examination systems. These refinements not only improve the learning outcomes of the students, they also improve the quality of secondary education. Thus, new reforms are needed which can enhance innovation of the existing system.
Promotion of languages
We especially laud the suggestion of mother tongue-based education. Children should not be at a disadvantage just because of their cultural distance from English or Hindi. NCERT’s evaluation study found out that mother tongue-based education has shown increased attendance and retention in schools. It has also shown a positive impact on students’ achievement in language studies as well as mathematics. However, there should be basic English education for every student as this is a language which opens more doors.
Comprehensive Education – Ethics, Physical Education, Arts & Crafts, Life Skills
Anything less than a holistic, well-rounded education results in only half an education. Non-scholastic areas are as important as scholastic areas for the overall development of a child. This change in policy to provide special tools and toys to play with, and a well-maintained sports facility to play in, does wonders for the child. More importantly, what is growth without the appreciation of art and the ability to express ideas, emotions and thoughts freely? Inclusion of visual and performing arts in school life is as welcome as a breath of fresh air.
These are times of great transformation; a period when the technologies around us will alter all aspects of life. Education has a unique and unassailable opportunity in our society to prepare us for such a change. It is precisely our human ability to learn, to harness our minds and to apply creative thought to new problems that will allow us to adapt and overcome any future technology or transition, as it has so many times in the past. We cannot rely on an outdated syllabus that teaches subjects which are not required in the coming future. Our children deserve the best knowledge and techniques, for they have to be prepared to face the world.