By | Abhijit Bhaduri |Keynote speaker, Author and Columnist
Education is meant to society to raise citizens who can contribute socially, economically and politically to its visions and ideals. Hence the purpose and slant of education in a military state is different from its role in a democracy. Looking at education from a market-centric model tends to limit its impact to employability. The value of the certificate and mark sheet is much more than the value of learning.
As society keeps evolving, so must education. Education is out of sync today in most parts of the world because there have been significant shifts in socio-economic and political landscapes. The curriculum design, pedagogy and governance standards must be reimagined to address that need. When employers speak of low employability of graduates or engineers or MBAs they are expressing this sentiment. Employability is necessary but not a sufficient outcome of education.
Inspire – not just inform
When we focus on education for only employability we get a transactional view of education that does not inspire anyone. When teachers “teach to the test” they tend to prepare the students and focus on test taking strategies rather than building in them a love for knowledge. We get students who know how to “crack” the exam and get top notch marks but do not love learning. The parents of the students view the marks as proof of return on investment. That makes education a highly profitable venture, but fails to develop lifelong learners.
“Coaching classes” are proof of failure of education
Fly-by-night operators’ open schools and colleges that can only print degrees but cannot teach students to be curious. We have an oversupply of coaching classes. Cities like Kota in Rajasthan have built the equivalent of a parallel economy in education.
Parents encourage their children to join the 1.2 lakh aspirants to join the coaching classes in Kota. They keep the coaching factory going by releasing ads of successful students who swear that they would have never “cracked” the JEE or NEET exams had it not been for the coaching classes. There is no mention of the lakhs of students who did not make it despite joining the coaching classes. The pressure to succeed is so high that several aspirants commit suicide every year in Kota – unable to face themselves.
Even the ones who get through the exams do not develop a love for the profession. It is hard to excel and build expertise in a subject that we do not feel motivated to explore.
Emotions matter as much as content
It is important to answer: “What is the problem we are trying to solve?” The approach we adopt to fix education will be based on the answer to this question. When we say that great content and gamification helps learning, we are missing the cultural element of learning in India. We have valued learning when it comes from experts (gurus). In school we are discouraged from challenging experts (teachers) or experts.
This habit of wanting to be spoon-fed stays forever. Employees find it hard to learn things on their own. E-Learning courses often go unclicked by employees. What if employers were to pay the content provider (or the Learning Management System of their organization) for courses completed and assessed for understanding, instead of paying them for the number of employees who might be potential users.
Great learning experiences needs skilled teachers. They are able to contextualize the content and generate curiosity to explore the subject further. That is what creates a great learning experience. The skilled teachers go beyond the curriculum and create a desire to explore further. It is this exploration that gives helps a learner contextualize learning.
EdTech entrepreneurs point out that video games are engaging. They are often brutally tough to learn and yet people voluntarily spend hours trying to improve their scores. They have to be reminded that education is not an individual process. We have to reimagine the role of the stakeholders and the relationships between the teacher, the student, the parents.
Quality control of any franchise
McDonalds has more than 14,000 outlets in US that have to follow a strict adherence to quality standards that are universal. The food must taste the same regardless of the outlet the consumer goes to.
Today India has sixteen IITs and twenty IIMs. A look at the pattern of placements reveals that top employers follow a hierarchy when it comes to talent. Not every IITs and IIM is treated at par in the eyes of the employers. Our top institutes face a dearth of skilled professors.
Having a mix of academics and practitioners who are skilled in teaching motivates the students to go above and beyond. Generating wonder and curiosity motivates the students. It is a skill not every teacher has. Instructional design principles combined with creativity can make every lesson memorable. Gamification may make the learning experience fun and entertaining, but it needs to be accompanied with assessments to check learning – not just recall.
In school when children are given projects, they should be made to design it and do it in the school along with their classmates (to avoid parents doing the projects). It will also build skills of creativity, problem solving and collaboration – three key skills for the future.
The role of the government
The government should create an index to measure “Ease of Upskilling” (like ease of doing business) to measure how easy it is for someone to upgrade their skills and perspectives. Encourage teachers to publish creative ways in which they are teaching the subject. The power of an idea lies in its adoption by peers. Encourage peer-governance and endorsements among teachers. Finally, the government must build a strong framework of governance that prevents fly-by-night operators from duping students and parents who give up everything to spend money on coaching classes and unskilled teachers. Every teacher must get a license to teach that must be renewed every two years by undertaking a refresher course.
The role of society
They say that the brightest minds are drawn to professions that pay well and are celebrated. The Greeks celebrated their philosophers and the brightest minds wanted to be philosophers. India celebrated freedom fighters during the early days of independence. Government jobs, film stars and a job in an MNC have had their moments in the sun. We have recently started celebrating ideas and risk taking. That has seen the rise of entrepreneurs.
The simple way to ridicule or discount someone’s idea is to call it “academic” or theoretical. “It is too theoretical” is the most damning judgement of a speaker. Putting a man on the moon was a theoretical idea until Neil Armstrong made us all gasp by turning that idea to reality.
To be a lifelong learner, the learner needs to have the curiosity to pursue ideas and have the humility to admit that they do not know. Teachers plant ideas and dreams in our heads and hearts. It is time to celebrate them and continuously reskill them. That’s what will make being a teacher cool and aspirational. Terrific teachers build institutions.