HONING THE LEARNING CURVE
The second edition of the India Today School Summit brought together eminent educationists, who offered a look ahead at the country’s schooling system
Earlier this month, the Union budget announced nearly Rs 80,000 crore as outlay for the education sector for 2017-18, an impressive 9.9 percentage point jump from the previous financial year. What better time for an intense discussion on education, thought the india today Group as it organised the india today School Summit 2017 at ITC Maurya in New Delhi on February 11.
india today Group Editorial Director Raj Chengappa set the agenda in his welcome address, cautioning that all of India’s feats in education would come undone if the challenges of the future were ignored. “With close to 300 million people between the ages of 6 and 17, we have a huge schoolgoing population,” said Chengappa, adding that primary school enrolment in the country was 96 per cent and there were over 260 million students in secondary school. As the numbers stand, he said,
India’s achievements in the education sector were laudable, with advances in teaching technology, focus on training of teachers, funding and development of teaching methodologies and, most importantly, a paradigm shift in the form of far greater importance to the liberal arts instead of pushing students into the conventionally popular science and commerce streams.
The education system, though evolving, has hurdles to overcome. With the summit focused on these, Chengappa alluded to a few—the poor quality of education and its cascading effect, acute shortage of competent teachers and poor infrastructure, such as lack of clean toilets and drinking water. India’s expenditure on education is still no match with several economies. The World Bank data for 2012 puts it at 3.8 per cent of the country’s GDP; Brazil spent 5.9 per cent and South Africa 6.4 per cent.
A fitting follow-up to Chengappa’s holistic overview of the education system in India was an hour-long session by Union HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar. He highlighted both the progress and problems in the system, interspersing these with his own experiences in a municipal school. Javadekar looked back fondly at the time when deteriorating quality wasn’t the talking point about public schools. “All top position-holders in the country today have studied in zila parishads... But we lost out somewhere in the process of expansion,” he said, welcoming the success of states such as Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Telangana in stopping the exodus of students from public schools. To improve communication among teachers and students, Javadekar suggested that guidelines defining learning outcomes be brought under the purview of the Right to Education Act by March 2017 and all textbooks and learning indicators adopted by the states and Union territories be aligned with these outcomes.
In his keynote address, G. Viswanathan, founder and chancellor of VIT University, said: “There are 1.5 million schools in India—most of them are under the government; by 2020, close to 90 per cent students would enrol themselves in private schools.” Viswanathan linked quality of education to weeding out corruption and red tape, checking absenteeism among both students and teachers and bringing down the catastrophic dropout rate—close to 47 per cent—among students between classes 1 and 10.
The subsequent sessions discussed, among other things, the innovative use of technology to teach the prescribed syllabus as well as life skills. The session ‘Accelerating Innovation, Technology and Education’, featuring Gavin Dabreo, CEO of MindChampion Learning Systems, an NIIT subsidiary; Lisa Heydlauff, founder of Going to School trust; and Sashwati Banerjee, MD, Sesame Workshop India, was engaging. It elaborated the ideas already in action and the ones in pipeline. Scrappy News Service, a Heydlauff initiative where students focus on problems within their communities, interview people and run an entire news service from scratch, was an eye-opener. Touching upon the resistance faced from teachers when attempting to change the traditional teacher-student set-up with technology, Banerjee joked, “The first thing teachers say is ‘syllabus khatam
karwa do’ (Get the syllabus completed).” Meenakshi Gopinath, former principal of Lady Shri Ram College for Women, emphasised on a more dialogic approach to education. “We can fail; we can make mistakes as that is learning, too,” she said. “At the core, we need to break out of the monocultures and sclerosis of the mind in order to look at possibilities and not limits.”
The final session saw a round-up of the event’s discussions. Gopal Karunakaran, CEO, Shiv Nadar Foundation, put forth the importance of education, and therefore the india today School Summit, aptly. “Fundamentally, we are shaped by two things—nature and nurture,” he said. “Schools are often associated with nurturing. Students between the age of three and 18 spend over 60 per cent of their time in school. Therefore, schools are a deep source of nature too, in that they can help recognise the child’s inherent talent and provide opportunities to hone that. That’s what a great school will do.”
STRAIGHT TALK Union HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar addresses the summit in New Delhi