Education: Looking beyond the Books
India saw a turn in it’s democracy last year when the entire nation entrusted its faith on Narendra Modi, candidate of the Bhartiya Junta Party led National Democratic Alliance. This was not a vote against United Progressive Alliance or Congress, instead a vote for building a new India. The vote of 2014 general elections was for laying the foundation stone of a nation proud of it’s glorious ancient past and which is confident of India’s leading role in the comity of nations. A vote by young aspirational India who wanted to move ahead and beyond the shadow of a nation crippled by 1200 years of slavery. Shri Narendra Modi in his very first speech made a significant point that he is the first Prime Minister born after India got independence. By pointing this he was merely reflecting the hopes of a country with 65% young population.
A nation which aspires to be a global leader has to be well aware of its strengths and weaknesses. If India wants to regain its place as “Vishwa Guru”, we need to work today on our future. It is time we re-assess our education system and make concrete changes. And it all has to start from primary education, because it is in those class rooms that our future leaders are sitting.
India had a rich tradition of gurukul system to impart education. We had centres of excellence like the Taxila, Nalanda and Vikramshila universities where apart from religious studies there was practical education in Science, Medicine, Astronomy, Philosophy etc. Even during pre-British times India had a wide network of educational institutions as shown by Dharampal (1922–2006) in his work based on Adam’s report on Bihar and Bengal, Munro’s report on Madras and Leitner’s findings about Punjab. The education system which we primarily follow today was imposed by British government to ‘create a class who may be interpreters between the British and millions whom they govern.’ Even after independence stress was laid on higher education in the five year plans than fixing the problems of primary education. It would be wrong to say that we gained nothing from this approach, the huge soft power India enjoys by virtue of it’s IT industry and doctors spread across the world is remarkable. But we haven’t made significant strides in other fields. Not one of our universities is in top 100 global rankings. Only half of our graduates are employable according to industry reports. By ignoring the formative years of an individual we have created entire generations which have been schooled, have degrees and can speak english but whether they have an education, an ability to think, learn, unlearn and re-learn is doubtful.
In recent past there have been attempts to fix this problem by introducing programs like Sarva Shikhsha Abhiyan, Mid-day meal scheme, development of National Curriculum Framework-2005 and Continuous and Comprehensive Education and more recently the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act or Right to Education Act (RTE), 2009. These have only succeeded in bringing the child to school.Today enrollment is as high as 96%, but they have failed when it comes to imparting quality education and checking drop out after class 5. In India today, 4% of our children never start school. 58% don’t complete primary schools and 90% don’t complete school. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) published each year by Pratham shows the state of our education. If this section of our population isnt given the adequate skills and appropriate education, the boon of demographic dividend will in no time transform into a bane. It is now that we need to act and that too with urgency to transform our primary education system. It is in this regard that I suggest a few changes based on my two years of experience as a teacher.
Where are the questions! Where is the Joy!
India had a rich tradition of asking questions and seeking knowledge. Upanishads themselves translate to ‘sitting at the feet’ meaning learning by asking. Even in the Bhagwat Gita, Arjuna seeks knowledge by posing questions to Lord Krishna. But in our schools today students are discouraged to question. Even after banning corporal punishments, it is widely practised across schools and is used to instill fear among students. Apart from this, at a young and fragile age children are over burdened with books and home work, there is no time for social interaction, to go out and play games and to climb the trees! In this competition to succeed, to be the first in the race,schools and parents are thrusting their kids with excessive information.
I think it is time primary schooling focuses more on developing the thought process of the child rather than making them human robots. Books should be introduced only after a certain class. Till then entire education should be activity based where the child is encouraged to observe,question and enquire. Here we can take lead from Neel Bagh experiments of David Horsburgh, Eklavya Project at Hoshangabad and similar other schools working on Activity Based Learning. It is time Alternative Education bacame mainstream.
Bye Bye Exams.
Purpose of exams is to assess the child on their understanding of the subject. But most of the times they act as a deterrent, where the motivation is to not fail rather than understand and learn the subject. Exam results also create a division in the class and undermine the child’s innate talent. Children should be assessed only to show the improvement they have made over their previous performance and not to certify their abilities. While the CCE does answer a lot of queries regarding assessment and evalution, they remain more or less theoretical and are far from implementation in schools in spirit. Moreover with the ‘No Detention Policy’ after RTE came into effect, performance in formative assessments is merely symbolic. Instead at the end of the year there can be a detailed report by the class teacher about the child’s year long performance. This report can have both qualitative as well as quantitative points. For example, instead of giving marks in Maths, the teacher can mention “Knows double digit addition or Needs to imporve knowledge of Verbs!”.
Value education and Meditation in schools
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “Education should become the force for nation’s character building.” For this government must encourage schools to take up meditation classes as it helps develop child’s concentration and awareness. We need to keep alive the Indian tradition of spiritualism as it will provide a bedrock of calmness in times of material consumption.
Teacher Training Institutes
There is a Shloka in Sanskrit
अमन्त्रम् अक्षरं नास्ति नास्ति मूलमनौषधम् ।
अयोग्यः पुरुषो नास्ति योजकस्तत्र दुर्लभः ।।
(there is no sound that is not a mantra, no plant that is not medicinal | there is no person unworthy, what is lacking is an ‘enabler’ ||)
We need teachers who are also good enablers. If we really wish to improve our education we will have to invest greatly in our teachers. For that we need state of the art teacher training institutes in all the states and UT’s of India. The task of these should be two-pronged. One wing dedicated for training and regular assessment of practising teachers. And the other wing dedicated entirely for the purpose of research to develop appropriate curriculum and pedagogy for respective states and UT’s.
India can also use these institutes for exporting teachers across the world and they can act as a major soft power for us.
Engaging our society
Only 10% of the students who enroll in primary school end up joining college. They are a huge resource available to us whose talent can be utilized through schemes like National Service Scheme where a college is asked to adopt one nearby primary school.
Also we can engage retired and serving government officials, working professionals in our schools. This can be done by making schemes where such interested persons can take a sabbatical and teach in schools. This experience will be enriching for both society and school and nurture a sense of respect for Teacher’s job. This can atleast be started in central government run schools like Navodaya Vidyala and Central School.
Schools too should be active participants and pioneers in schemes like the Swach Bharat Abhiyan or Yoga Day. If you wish to engage entire society, engage its children.
Are we over- emphasizing the importance of English language!
We have in our education system laid excessive stress on English education. While I agree with the advantages of knowing the language in today’s world, we should not forget English is not the child’s first language. Research worldwide shows that the child should be initially taught in his or her own mother language. Even the Section 29(2)(f) of the RTE Act mentions this. Thrusting English upon the child, creates a disconnect between what the child speaks in his family and in school. Many a times this creates lack of confidence and fear to ask questions. Moreover English or any other language can always be added as a skill later.
Utilizing available infrastructure
Schools have huge infrastructure with them which goes largely unutilized after school hours and during holidays. School principals should be given the freedom so as to engage civil society and NGO’s which want to contribute for the purpose of education but are unable to do so due to lack of infrastructure availability. This should also include building and maintaining school buildings under the Public Private Partnership model.
India is a nation of diversities, a garland with multiple flowers. Today it is brimming with young energy and it is the responsibility of our governments to streamline this energy not only for India’s progress but global peace. Mahatma Gandhi in Buniyadi Siksha says, “ The ancient aphorism ‘Education is that which liberates’ (‘Sa Vidya Ya Vimuktaye’ from Mundakopanishad), is as true today as it was before. Education here does not mean mere spiritual knowledge, nor does liberation signify only spiritual liberation after death. Knowledge includes all training that is useful for the service of mankind and liberation means freedom from all manner of servitude even in the present life. Servitude is of two kinds: slavery to domination from outside and to one’s own artificial needs. The knowledge acquired in the pursuit of this ideal alone constitutes true study.”
Swami Vivekananda always said, “Give me 100 energetic young men and I shall transform India”, it is for creating such young energetic women and men that this government was voted to power. Primary Education is where the transformation should start.
(This article was published in the India Foundation Journal Issue 3,Vol II.)