Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Quality Education, is all we need!


In almost all countries, Teachers' Day is celebrated on different days and months and in India, the birthday of the second president of India Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan on September 5 is celebrated as Teachers' Day. Dr Radhakrishnan was also a teachers besides being a philosopher and a devout follower of his faith. Much has been said in the past and, where speeches have been made by all and sundry to express deep appreciation of the yeoman service rendered to society by teachers.
Generally, teachers are described as those who teach students the three R's- reading, 'riting (writing) and 'rithmetic (arithmetic). A few centuries later, teaching has come to mean more than telling and teaching about the three R's. If earlier, teaching was restricted to making students literate, a few centuries later, it emphasised on problem solving and personality development etc. Today, teaching has become a very different profession unlike what it was some forty to fifty years ago.

In the past forty to fifty years back, teachers ruled with the stick. Students had to obey every rule-from dress codes to behaviour to doing homework etc. Today teachers mix freely with their students and don't apply the rule but instead do their best to inspire students to do the expected. Many institutions do not insist that students wear uniforms and so dress codes have become a thing of the past.

These external matters do count in some institutions but what has become critical in many contemporary societies, is the rapid evolution in the quality and ability of teachers in dealing with multiple and complex problems. What has changed today- learning is no longer the domain of class room teachers. As students have access to any information possible, there certainly is no need to "spoon-feed" the knowledge or teach "one-size fits all" content. Earlier, the internet turned the whole world into a global village.

It was believed then, that internet has brought a far reaching revolution. The world has changed so much because of the digital revolution during the past few decades. Well, that was not to be and today, the world has again undergone another huge transformation after the digital revolution ushered in SMS, Facebook, Twitter, Chats etc to a totally new and dynamic era. Perhaps the most profound impact of the technological transformation that have taken place, is that the focus today is not in being literate (reading, writing and arithmetic).

Today the focus is to be computer literate without which, no one can hope to be a player in any field. The internet has all the information with graphics and videos that stimulate learning and making the learning highly interactive and educative. A teacher who is not digital literate stands to be outdated in today's fast changing paradigms. This can also mean, that the idea of teachers is no longer confined to those who are employed in institutions.

It is all about the power of harnessing the technology and any teacher who is digitally illiterate will be left behind.

India, Whether to invest in quality education
Deputy prime minister of Singapore Tharman Shanmugaratnam recently delivered a stimulating speech on India's growth prospects and what is holding the country back. He was unequivocal in stating that "schools are the biggest crisis in India". He went to say, "schools are the biggest gap between India and its East Asian neighbours; funds are not the only requirement to improve it; it has to be about organisation and culture." The deputy PM is the first world leader to hit the nail on the head by pointing out that societal transformation is even more important than economic reform. He even said, that India must invest in quality education to become an economic superpower.

Confirming with his views is Unesco's Global Education Monitoring report, which says that India is expected to achieve universal primary education by 2050, secondary education in 2060 and upper secondary education in 2085.
Our neighbours in East Asia have invested in social capital and moved up the economic ladder. South Korea, China, Thailand and India had similar GDP per capita a few decades ago. South Korea has already become a developed country, China is on its way, Thailand is stuck in the "middle income trap" and India is still an underdeveloped country. Economic progress has been directly correlated with investments in delivering quality education. The top performing countries on the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) - Shanghai (China), Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan - are also the most developed in Asia. We can learn from their reform initiatives.

Teacher recruitment: The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers. The experience of top school systems across East Asia suggests that two things matter most: One, getting the right people to become teachers, and, two, developing them into effective instructors. Teaching is made aspirational by increasing the entry barrier into the profession. India should insist that students take a teacher college entrance test in order to quality for DEd. and BEd. programmes. Our states have to transform their ineffective recruitment processes and select candidates based on their academic achievement, communication skills and motivation and preparedness for teaching.

Every day there is construction. Every day there is destruction. Every day we see India the progressive and positive. Every day we see India the narrow and negative. Every day we move up. Every day we go down. Every day the future looks bright. Every day the future looks dark. Every day we see new hope. Every day we feel helpless. Every day we have dreams. Every day we have nightmares.
Contradictions abound. We cannot say confidently whether our country is in progressive or regressive mode. Chaos is more pronounced in our educational system. Like a double-edged weapon it seems to be producing catalysts for construction and agents of destruction at once.
I feel a chill as I wonder if a glorious nation aspiring to lead the new age would end up being pushed into the Dark Ages.

We have the largest student population in the world, with over 315 million youngsters in schools. Within a few years of joining primary classes, 10 million drop out because of poverty or to join family work or for other reasons. They do little that is meaningful or get employment, and thus run the risk of becoming agents of destruction.

A close at the state of education can be shockingly revealing. There are just about 20 per cent who possibly get the blessings of quality education. This means there are about 80 per cent who are still far away from the real values of education. These two sets of people grow up and evolve so differently that while some finally become catalysts of construction, many emerge as agents of destructions, thus force the country to march one step forward and four steps backward at the same time. That puts a big question mark on our ability to reach the cherished destination on time. We all know a little about this pitiable reality, but surely we are not giving it a serious thought.

On the one hand, there is the well-developed English medium, privately managed public school system of education and on the other is the under nourished government-school system of education. The differences start at the primary level, and over time become drastic.
Public schools start with good infrastructure, quality teachers, power-packed teaching methodologies and of course high costs. All modern, scientific and psychologically tested formulas are applied here to spot the best in any child and to get the very best out of him or her.
Experimental processes of play-based and experience-based learning, and skill-based empowerment formulas are explored to ensure a child's wholesome and rhythmic growth backed by a very supportive environment. The child evolves through stages of growth and a coherent superstructure of growth of personality and knowledge is built. By the time a 2-year-old child grows to six, he or she knows unimaginable things.
By the time the child reaches the middle stage of school, he or she already has a well-developed core personality with a distinct outlook, knowledge attributes and an attitude that would go a long way to build a value citizen. This is the set of people who choose their higher education and career paths carefully. These are the people who contribute value as the finest of engineers, doctors, planners, scientists, lawyers, judges, IT wizards, NASA or ISRO researchers or business men and entrepreneurs, people who help build their life as well as the nation in a constructive way.
Now let's come to the education that our 80 percent get. They are mostly from the rural areas and from the low income and working classes of urban areas, people who find it a strain to just be able to send their children to nearby sarkari schools where primary education comes free or with just a small fee.
These are the schools packed with the children of lesser gods, many of whom go to schools more to eat, thanks to the mid-day free meal, than to study. There is more hunger for food than for knowledge and unfortunately the kids here get less of both by quality as well as quantity. If the food called midday meal comes adulterated, at times many fall sick too.
The education they are fed is also of low quality and of far less value. Majority of our primary schools in rural areas start class with either no black board or no books or no teachers. Some reports say there are over 100,000 single-teacher schools in our country where the teacher has to play the roles of a cook, a nurse, a clerk, a peon and of course a teacher.
The majority of teachers don't have the required training to deliver quality education. Many of them even do side business for extra earning and hardly care for students' learning. The whole system is so mired with recklessness that there is hardly any meaningful supervision or accountability. One thing I can bet is that a majority of children getting education in rural areas up to secondary level may not be able to tell who the vice President of India or Governor of the State where they are studying is.

In February 2015 Maharashtra held its annual evaluation tests for teachers of government-run schools who teach from class one to eight (known through a survey). Out of 245,800 primary teachers just one per cent passed. Of 142,858 who took the test at the upper primary level, less than five per cent passed. The irony is that we feel good about universal primary education having been achieved with 99 per cent of children from 6-14 years in school. But hardly anyone thinks about how bad these schools are or what will happen to a cast number of our children. Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand, UP, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh are states where the scenario is even bleaker than in Maharashtra.

A television journalist in his annual Independence Day programme asked rural people what they would have said in an I-Day speech if they were the Prime Minister. I wish I had been asked that question. My answer would be that first we must generate more money and keep aside largest possible budget for education. Ensure collection of maximum taxes from the untapped and known sources. Employ honest and efficient officers and ethical practices to collect taxes in a friendly and functional way. If the Income Tax and Excise departments do this job with dedication and honesty, I would put the first year's collection target at Rs 5 lac crore above the previous year.
Second, we must ensure quality education-supportive infrastructure all over the country - schools with space for gardens, recreation facilities, libraries, common room and other amenities. Thirdly to make the school futuristic in thought and direction, and quality minded about everything, I would invite the best graduates of IIT, IIM and other great institute to join as principals of government schools of 100 villages, of course with a salary that befits their real market worth.
I would encourage these principals to start Super 30, Super 50 or Super 100- type coaching institutions in rural areas with active participation of responsible corporates to nurture the best talents. Driven on and inspired by creative ethical values, they will contribute vastly towards the real making of this country.
Fourthly I would go for a teacher-friendly and teaching-supportive policy where every teacher would have to display a certain standard of teaching excellence. The fact is that many of our teachers are ill equipped to impart quality education; they should be made lifelong students to learn the best to teach even better. Making the policy teacher-friendly, I would offer opportunities to all teachers to keep learning while earning. Every teacher would be required to pass a test every five years to qualify for increment and promotion.
School rationalisation: India's public education system is fragmented with 1.1 million schools catering to 150 million students. It is challenging to drive system-wide reform in this context. China had a similar problem and has shrunk its number of public schools from 650,000 to 375,000 while improving learning outcomes through larger rural schools. Rajasthan has launched a similar initiative to build larger model schools and other states should look to do the same.

India has to act with a sense of urgency after coming second last on Pisa 2009. Vietnam has the same per capita income as India and with focused reforms now ranks on par with Germany in Pisa 2012. If we harbour any aspiration of being an economic superpower, we should learn from East Asia and implement transformational reforms.
Why does not our visionary PM invite the best of people and seek expert suggestions on how best to equip our education system so as to build a value nation that meets a billion aspirations? We have reached such a dangerous situation that even a little delay could be so catastrophic.
This yawning gap between sections of our society must come to end. Quality Education for all should be the mission of our Democracy.

‘This post is a part of Tangy Tuesday, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by Blogadda.’

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