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

India Today - - INTERVIEW - By As­mita Bak­shi

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.”

RAJWANT RAWAT

STRAIGHT TALK Union HRD Min­is­ter Prakash Javadekar ad­dresses the sum­mit in New Delhi

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