Before getting into the details, it is important to understand the fundamentals and the basics behind the factors that need to be considered when designing a foundation for a new education system. All in all, several factors influence the decision, some of them include dynamic curriculum, an emotional bond between teachers, learners, and the school, and experienced teachers.
Education systems are under stress even in educationally developed societies. This is inevitable, as by its very nature, education is a dynamic process and, hence, it must keep pace with changing expectations of the society and emerging aspirations of the young. In India, as in most nations that suffered under foreign yoke for centuries, education received new impetus in the last five decades, more prominently after the World Conference on Education, held in Jomtien, Thailand, in March 1990, that resolved to universalise elementary education in the next 10 years with extensive global collaboration.
India can rightly boast of its achievement in widening access to education to the remotest, far-flung, hilly, tribal areas. It required extensive efforts, plans and programmes to reach an estimated enrolment percentage of over 96, in spite of a population increase of more than three times. India now has around 1.5 million schools and over 230 million children enrolled in these schools. This is not a mean achievement for a country that began after independence in extremely tough conditions, with a literacy rate of less than 20 per cent, and huge paucity of resources, both in men and material.
While the expansion of access meant opening of more and more schools, at a pretty fast pace, there was a serious dearth of trained teachers, and even States’ capacity to provide infrastructure support at the optimal level. Things, however, did move. One of the biggest and most tangible achievements was attitudinal transformation: Every community, social and cultural group, now realises the importance and value of education; is keen to give ‘good quality education’ to their children; and this includes both boys and girls.
Young people may today find it strange to comprehend that to prepare people to send their daughters to school was a daunting task during the first four decades after independence. They may also find it strange that before the National Policy on Education, 1968, it was officially accepted that girls were not fit to study science and mathematics, and were generally encouraged to offer such choices as spinning and weaving, home science or social science subjects only. It was possible only because of the presence of visionary educationists under the leadership of Prof DS Kothari that the National Commission on Education (1964-66) recommended compulsory teaching of science and mathematics to both boys and girls till they complete 10 years of schooling.
This can be one of the historic examples of dynamism needed in education, its policies and implementation. The shape of schools, laboratories and also the intent and process of education and teaching have undergone significant changes. From the Tat-Patti stage, India is rapidly transitioning to smart classrooms.
Dynamic systems, however, never permit lethargy or systemic slumber to relax/enjoy and gloat over achievements. Every issue resolved and every problem tackled generates new challenges. Indian education is no exception and one could list a plethora of issues and concerns that demand urgent remediation. It is because of such imperatives in educational advancements that the educational curriculum at every stage is consistently reviewed and revised. It requires regular execution of surveys, studies and researches to point out what needs to be changed, discarded and deleted; and added and augmented.
Normally, a five-year cycle is considered necessary to bring about curricular reforms in school education. Text books are revised after the curriculum renewal and formulation of syllabi for each area. Certain alert systems do realise that the pace of change is so fast that a five-year cycle may be a bit too prolonged and, hence, provisions for frontline curricula are also incorporated in broader guidelines, and made available to schools and teachers. This provision takes care of urgent requirements and students are not deprived of being made familiar with new developments.
In India, with over 50 school boards authorised to prepare their own curricula, syllabi and textbooks, the task becomes complex when it comes to national-level competitions. Students from different boards must come with equality of learning attainments. This requirement led to the creation of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), which is mandated to prepare a school curricula in consultation with State agencies; prepare textbooks; and leave it to the State Governments to adopt these as such, or prepare their own books with local elements of curricula included wherever necessary.
NCERT books should normally not be accepted for every subject. Take the example of environmental education. Books must be different in Tripura and Thiruvananthapuram, but the NCERT textbook can offer guidance in maintaining the level and standard. At this stage, even curriculum developers and textbook writers require regular in-service orientations on how things are being analysed and included in an era characterised by the advent of information and communication technology (ICT).
Textbook is no longer the only source available to the student. While it is universally acknowledged that in spite of all that is now available to the learner, courtesy ICT, Internet and ever-improving gadgets, the criticality of teacher-taught relationship shall always be necessary to bring in the human element in the growing up of the learner. This is also the time for every teacher to realise that life-long learning must be put to practice to remain relevant in the profession. Only such teachers can impress upon the child the real import of ‘life-long learning’.
In the Indian tradition of the knowledge quest, yavadjeevait adhiyate viprah was propounded much earlier. Teachers of today and tomorrow would do well if they recall the wisdom of Socrates: “I cannot teach anybody, I can only make them think.” Sri Aurobindo had said it in very simple but meaningful terms: “Nothing can be taught” and that “mind must be consulted in its own growth.” Once these simple-looking elements are properly internalised by the teacher, it would not be tough for him to visualise his changed role.
Only with such a vision, an alert teacher would be in a position to give wings to the nurturance of creativity and curiosity that are the nature’s gifts to every child. It is no longer implicit on him to transact everything in the classroom, he could support the learner to reach other sources of knowledge, and in the process, learn how to sift information and extract knowledge and skills out of it. In the process, the teacher is educating him in ‘learning to learn’ a skill that has to be a necessary acquisition during the process of schooling.
As the learner moves upwards on the learning curve, the need arises for flexible and individualised curriculum. It helps self-learning, self-actualisation and helps optimise their potential. Motivation and inspiration for all this must come from committed and performing teachers. Essentially, a teacher must be prepared to comprehend the imperatives of assisting the learner in the development of total personality and comprehensive abilities to enable him to contribute creatively in socio-economic, cultural, political and technological sectors. This would be feasible only when teacher preparation institutions realise their transformed role to help student-teachers acquire the skills of developing, what is now known as ‘multiple intelligence’.
At every stage, the role of the teacher educator and teacher remains. Changes in education, though envisioned and incorporated at various levels of expertise, must include teacher participation and his inputs. A teacher’s role is no longer limited to that of a mere transactor of textual material within the classrooms. He/she encourages the learner to ask questions, acts as an appreciator, guide, counselor, moulder, instructor and much more. In fact, he/she is the first icon after parents, he/she is an exemplar. Only such teachers shall succeed in the future who realise the criticality of their persona in the life of the learners.
What could be more critical to a community than the availability of a functional school nearby? Textbooks, teachers, Internet and other aspects come only afterwards. It is indeed intriguing that teacher preparation and recruitment leaves much to be desired. The situation has deteriorated gradually and has reached rather disturbing proportions. Several State Governments are now ‘merging’ thousands of schools situated mostly in far-flung, rural, tribal and hilly areas with nearby schools to make them viable. When a school has an enrolment of less than 10 or 20, its continuation may not be considered viable in the routine economic consideration but should that be the only criterion? How demoralising and demotivating it would be for the community and children whose school is shifted to another place?
Traditionally, India has successfully experimented with various models of schooling during initial years. Now that educated and literate persons are available in almost every habitation and village, models other than what is demanded in the RTE Act could also be tried to ensure that no child drops out of school because of merger and assimilation of ‘their’ school. Good education requires good teachers, dynamic curriculum and an emotional bond between teachers, learners and their school.
(The writer is the Indian Representative on the Executive Board of UNESCO)
Writer: JS Rajput
Courtesy: The Pioneer