Monday, May 27, 2024

EDUCATION SYSTEM:Where do we go from here?

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When we look closely at the evolution of the modern education system in India, one aspect that comes under intense scrutiny is whether it has been serving students in the right manner.

Serving students properly is the raison d’être of any education system. The besetting sin of the present education system is its predominantly exam-centric approach with hardly any scope to prepare students for the outside world. All told, the stress is on a bread-winning education, leaving aside essential components that help build a strong personality. The Pioneer’s AMARTYA SMARAN gives you the lowdown on whether the nation is headed in the right direction, given the thrust of the New Education Policy.

In September 2015, at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit in New York, India was among the Member States that formally adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The agenda contains 17 goals, including a new global education goal (SDG 4). In terms of the specifics of SDG 4, India still has a long way to go.

According to the 75th round household survey by the National Sample Survey Organisation, the number of out-of-school children in the age group of 6 to 17 years is around 3.22 crore.

The latest National Education Policy has revamped the old pedagogical and curricula structure with a new 5+3+3+4 model. The model has been compartmentalized into foundational, preparatory, middle, and secondary education.

Highest priority is to be given to early childhood care and education, foundational literacy and numeracy; while curtailing dropout rates and ensuring universal access to education.The larger goal is to make all children school-ready and promote overall learning experience for them.

This, of course, presupposes that the government will take measures to raise the bar and flush old policies out forever. Only then, the larger goal of creating a smarter India, in which citizens strive for growth and development, can be achieved.

As per the 2011 census, around 76.34 crore Indians are considered to be literate, with the overall literacy rate being 72.9%.  As per data presented by the National Statistical Office, as of 2021, Indian enjoys an average literacy rate of 77.70%. The National Family Health Survey-5 (2019-2021) shows 84.4% male literacy rate and 71.5% female literary rate in India.

Well, the literary rate can be far removed from the ground reality. What matters is how well someone is able to navigate through life by applying knowledge gained at various stages and through various sources.

The Pioneer recently carried a story on brain drain in which several experts shared their opinions largely blaming the present education system. Is our education system as bad as painted by them and other opinion makers? Or, are people covering up their individual flaws to conveniently blame the education system? Why is emotional education not given its due even in top-rated institutions? Addressing these and related questions, The Pioneer spoke to players in the education sector.

Rakesh, a professor based in Hyderabad, points to some of the things that he thinks are problematic in the country’s education system: “It is now overwhelmingly privatized, and for-profit. It is focused on a handful of good state and private universities. Primary and secondary education has been ignored. Quality is abysmal at these levels and this can be seen in the poor reading, writing, speaking, and mathematical skills of most Indian children. Education is based on rote learning in India. Very little emphasis is given to providing kids with practical exposure. They have little freedom also as parents are fixated on ‘prestigious’ courses – B Tech, MBBS, MBA et al. The situation improved slightly after Indians got exposed to the West, and realised opportunities in science and technology, nursing, media, and animation existed.

However, for the great majority — opportunities are still limited. Private education is too expensive. Government sector jobs are disappearing, while the private sector is unable to absorb a large number of youngsters. So, there is very high probability of a demographic bottleneck in the future.The Government is reluctant to employ even top-notch youngsters as doctors or faculty. Many of them have invested heavily in educational loans. How will they recover that investment?”
He continues: “Another problem in India is people’s obsession with competitive exams. It is actually not good and it only reflects the limited opportunities available to youngsters.

Westerners do not have such competition, but their academic standards are much higher, and their intellectual output is much better. Rather than rejecting a lot of kids through exams, they allow kids to pursue what they are interested in. And, they try to make the teaching system good for all disciplines, be it archaeology or engineering. It is not like in India, where most funds for education go to IITs, or in sports to cricket.

They don’t put all their eggs in one basket, so to say. Indian kids will become emotionally strong only when Indian society and parents stop straitjacketing them: forcing them to do certain kinds of courses, interacting with certain kinds of people, and living in a certain way. Let them decide what is good for them, and what is not, instead of depending on perceptions of their extended family or housing society to some jobs as ‘good’ and some as ‘bad’.The education system can only help kids cope with the emotional problems they face due to social pressure or conservative values. But they stem from homes; not schools or colleges. Faculty should definitely be trained to help kids. But what about a society that refuses to change, and keeps pressurizing youngsters?”  

Lalitha Naidu, principal at the Ambitus World School, shares her thoughts and suggests some of the things that can be done in order to improve the education system in the country. “The Indian education system was one of the best before the introduction of the British education system. Being one of the earliest to have introduced specialisation, it was a hub of learning, having people from all over the world come to India to access one-of-its-kind universities. However, over a period of time, things changed and at present the education system is in a state of confusion. We need to transcend the borders of a book-based one to a more practical-oriented approach.

Progressively our country is moving from colonial-type education, which was aimed at creating subservient babus, to transformation of the system so as to create more leaders. In the domains of learning, we educate more for cognitive, a little in psychomotor, but our affective domain remains largely at bay. It is definitely imperative that students are taught to manage self, their fellow beings, and the environment.

Some schools are like oasis in the desert and they equip students with emotional intelligence. But it needs to be made a part and parcel of our education system. The National Education Policy 2020 has articulated this. However, it will be some time before it sees the light of the day.”

She added, “Our system of entrance tests to get into premier colleges are to be blamed so far as higher education is concerned. The preparation and coaching for this have taken away the essence of education in our system. Our parents and students feel the so-called Narayanas, Chaitanyas, FIITJEEs and Byjus can get them into the premier institutions. And this has robbed our students of their childhood, the joy of learning, and turned them into robots sitting on hard benches for hours together to learn and re relearn the same over and over again.

The gullible parents and students fall into this trap. We must focus on making learning hands-on and practical-oriented, let our education system move from mere knowledge and understanding paradigms to application, analytical, evaluation and creation base, more career awareness programs to open to the students a plethora of opportunities, aspects of emotional quotient should be brought in, and the adversity quotient should be brought in where children learn to face the world and the situations they encounter in a brave manner.”

Teachers have played a vital role in shaping us into who we are today. The lessons they teach us about life and otherwise remain with us for a long time. The faith we have in them is incomparable. Behind every great person, there is always a great teacher. Not everyone can call themselves teachers as the responsibility is far greater than one can imagine.

Rajitha Anil Kumar, Head Mistress of Secunderabad Public School, who has been in the education field for over 25 years, touches on aspects like re-designing the teaching approach, why is it so important to make education affordable, and the issue with examinations. “Indian education system is not poor as compared to that of other countries. But we are not producing as many scholars as we should in terms of the population due to limited resources in our country.

That is why we are bound to say that the Indian education system is not up to the mark. It is because of the lack of interest in the implementation of a proper system. The method of teaching needs a relook. Teachers should encourage logical thinking and creativity in students. There has to be a practical approach to educating the students. The syllabus should be updated with the latest inventions and technologies.”

“It is important that quality education must be affordable to all sections of society because every child has the right to education. For this, the condition of government colleges and institutions should be raised to a reasonable level. Also, the government should take steps to extend the number of primary schools in order that people of each village can get education easily. Education loans should be made available easily. Exams should be conducted in a way that a student’s understanding of the subject can be assessed. Not just the syllabus and pedagogy, but also the attitude must change towards marks; the system needs to be changed. Our attitude towards marks and grades needs to be changed,” Rajitha emphasises.

The headmistress goes on to say: “The modern education system has been supported by one formula: “cheap, required and customary education to all”. Even people are able to decide by their conscience, what means of education is going to be best suited to them. Still, many people are ignoramuses regarding words and literacy. Hence, it is essential to provide education to all, as other nations are so much ahead within the field of education. It is all in the hands of the government as to what should be the exact type of system in which education for all is secured. India is a progressive country and the present scenario of Indian education can be improved a lot.”

No one needs to teach us how to handle happiness and success because we are so good at it. If you think about it, no one teaches us how to handle rejection. By nature, we are not good at embracing our failures. Naturally, we were always taught how to look up to someone who is successful in life.

Society has set certain benchmarks as to what success looks like. Our inner peace is always at stake so long as we fall prey to the unreasonable image created by the markets we live in. Schools do play an important role in the overall development of the child. Teaching the right mechanisms to help the child tackle some of the most basic, yet important emotions in life would be of great use. Don’t you think so?

Going further, we interviewed Neha Mathur, who is currently the Education Program Head at Youngistaan Foundation. Here is her take on why emotional education should be a part and parcel of educational institutions. “What we call SEL- social-emotional learning has to start young. You don’t have to start when you’re a teenager. What we call executive functioning skills, right? If I’m feeling angry, am I able to recognize that this may be not a positive but a negative emotion? Why am I feeling this? Are there some healthy ways to deal with that? If you’re having these conversations with children of grade one through storytelling; there is amazing children’s literature. We must utilise children’s literature to talk about emotions and how to deal with emotions. Whether its anxiety, jealousy, or anger, we need to start young and we need to be aware of children’s developmental continuum. Adults need to be aware of what behaviors are appropriate at a particular age so that they don’t unnecessarily humiliate children and then, of course, children also should be given those skills so they can learn these competencies, which is going be helpful as they grow up.”

Chipping in on emotional education, Anusha, a young teacher from the city, says: “Teaching things like love, sex, mental health, anxiety, and fear are considered to be a crime. People act like we teachers are doing something wrong in doing so. We need to stop thinking in this way and we should start teaching all these things in our institutions. Emotional education must be made compulsory in all educational institutions.”

The upshot is that a school in its deepest sense is supposed to help a child learn complex academic theories and at the same time expose pupils to a holistic experience of life. However, over time, most of the schools around us have shifted their focus to competition, instead of nurturing values that govern the overall well-being and growth of the child. The fear of failing and losing to someone, the unnecessary burden of competition which creates unrealistic expectations from a young age, and the idea of impressing society with degrees and certificates create intractable problems.We live in a world where we are constantly being judged by what we do for a living and how much we make per month. Our self-esteem for all the wrong reasons is within the realm of insecurity.The problem with this framework is that we are deliberately focusing on how to complicate our lives further and spiral down into the rabbit hole. 

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