Education System Failing to Inspire Children

by August 28, 2019 0 comments

The education system fails to inspire and encourage children to think creatively, reason systematically and release their potential to shape their own future

India’s education sector has expanded rapidly in the last decade but the quality of learning remains pathetic on account of unimaginative and misguided policies. In an increasingly knowledge-based global economy, quality education is more important than ever. The purpose of education has to be, to inspire and develop children to think creatively, reason systematically and release their potential to shape their own future. The call for higher investments in education has been made since Independence; yet even after more than seven decades, an independent India continues to grapple with the issues plaguing its education policy. The skewed priorities of the government in this vital sector manifest in low learning levels. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include a commitment to provide every child with access to free primary and secondary education by 2030. While we are on the right course, our obsession with universal coverage of education has compromised the quality of learning. It is time that India moves beyond a singular focus on enrolment numbers and grapples with the problem of poor quality of education.

More Indian children are in school today than before but the quality of public schools has sunk abysmally as Government schools have become the reserve of children at the very bottom of India’s social ladder. The present-day education reformers believe that market solutions and technology can remedy the situation. They blame the proponents of status quo of failing to leverage the benefits that technology has brought to other sectors such as health, travel, financial services and communications. Many of them advocate disruptive innovations, primarily through online learning. There is a strong belief that real breakthroughs can come only through the transformative power of technology or the invisible hand of the market. However, experience tells us that teachers are the key piece in the educational ecosystem. Without committed and devoted teachers, the other levers cannot work. 

However, findings suggest that this strategy has not lived up to its hype and with valid reason. We need to be wary of the idea that technology on its own can revolutionise education. Teachers are and always will remain the most important factor in a pupil’s success. Students need to believe that they have a stake in the future, a goal worth struggling for if they are going to make it in school. Education should combine just the right amount of physical adventure and intellectual stimulation. The most effective approaches are those that foster bonds of care between teachers and students. The process of teaching and learning is an intimate act that neither computers nor markets can replicate.

The usually parroted reasons for the poor standard of education are teacher absenteeism, poor student attendance, bad infrastructure, inadequate teacher preparation programmes and rote learning practices. The most common refrain is, “The ones who understand education are not empowered, while the ones empowered have no idea about education”. While these issues are valid, they do not fully explain the learning crisis apparent in our classrooms.

 India’s emphasis on rote learning and its rigid examination system do not encourage creative thinking. The rote teaching methodology has demonstrated shortcomings. Surveys indicate that students at the primary and secondary school level have regressed in mathematics, science and reading ability. Not only is the rote method detrimental, it has long-term implications as it has become an institutionalised practice.

Einstein was a sworn enemy of rote learning and he found sheer beauty and creative joy in science and equations. If we could convey that in the way we teach science and mathematics, maybe we could nurture an Einstein. What Einstein was able to do was to think visually. When he looked at Maxwell’s equations as a 16-year-old boy, he visualised what it would be like to ride alongside a light wave and try to catch up. He realised those equations described something wondrous in reality. Einstein believed in intuition and inspiration. Science has always been considered more about what you can see, experiment or prove with formulas and expressions. Imagination is only as limited as you want it to be. It is shaped by the books you read, the people you hang out with, your parents, society, culture and the places you travel. All these mould your perspective and view of life. The less you experience, the less you explore and the more likely you are to narrow your scope. 

A society that restricts imagination is unlikely to produce many geniuses – no matter how many educated people it has. And a society that doesn’t stimulate imagination when it comes to Science and Mathematics won’t either.  Formal teaching needs to be supplemented by in-school pull-out programmes, after-school tutoring and summer camps supervised by voluntary organisations, with emphasis on non-conventional innovative pedagogies. Much of the malaise in the realm of public education has less to do with salaries and more to do with lack of accountability and corruption in recruitments and transfers of teachers. The stark reality is that India is not getting even a modest return on its investment in the education sector.

India must reorient its education policy which is very result-oriented, system oriented, policy-oriented but not very child-oriented. It risks squandering the future of millions of children, as well as the entire country’s economic prospects. There has to be a direct teacher-development pipeline and evaluating systems for monitoring and upgrading teaching skills. There is a dearth of ideas for reforms to address fundamental flaws in the system.   

The fourth Industrial Revolution is going to be a major test for the education system focussed on reciting facts and performing formulaic calculations, precisely the areas where humans cannot compete with intelligent machines. With all of our technological developments, human ingenuity and creativity remain unmatched. We should capitalise on it and give our young people the opportunity to use their innate advantages as effectively as possible.

It is in this context that soft skills assume great significance. When taught well, these skills can enable students to adapt to change more easily, gain a greater understanding of the world around them and ultimately progress further in their chosen field. Technical, practical and more easily quantifiable knowledge and skills are important and may help a student secure a job, but soft skills will help them disrupt it, creating change for the better and achieving a wider impact in their career. Soft skills such as possessing insights into other points of view, being good at interpersonal relationships, critical thinking and problem solving, and being able to make connections across complex ideas are those fundamentally human, emotional and social skills which need to be nurtured and developed as the key to future success and prosperity.

Education needs more champions than health and environmental advocates because it is one rising tide that can lift all the boats. Since, education has more room for innovation than any other development sector; there is a unique opportunity for social entrepreneurs. We need to transform curriculum and teaching practices to focus less on rote learning or straightforward calculation and more on relevant skills, like communication, reasoning ability, problem-solving and critical and independent thinking.

We are under an illusion that our children are digital technology savvy, but more often their knowledge is only screen-deep. If young people are to be empowered citizens, they will need to understand how technology affects every aspect of our life. Greater tech literacy will be essential to ensure that the human implications of the ongoing fourth Industrial Revolution are positive.

(The writer is Member, NITI Aayog’s National Committee on Financial Literacy and Inclusion for Women)

Writer:  Moin Qazi

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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