Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Changing the way India learns to unlock the human potential

Dr. Devendra Kothari
Population and Development Analyst
Forum for Population Action

The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled
Plutarch, a Greek thinker and essayist

Education is both a process and an outcome; it is the process of acquiring information, knowledge and skills; but it is also the ability to demonstrate the possession of such information, knowledge and skills so as to qualify to be referred to as educated individual or human capital. Therefore, within the term “education” is embedded the concept of productivity.[1]

There is a general belief that education leads to efficient work which in turn leads to social and economic development. There are roughly 450 million people in India that make up our work force. Of these, 90 percent have not completed school or higher education. Why? Because, of the 630,000 villages in India, over 500,000 don’t have schools that can provide education above Class VII.

Without a doubt, labour productivity is linked to education. Let us consider what is happening at the education front especially at the school education.  

India does well to keep ninety seven per cent of children between 6 and 14 years of age enrolled in schools and most of them are attending the school on a regular basis,  but the problem is now of quality, not quantity. More than half our school students are being classified as functionally uneducated and unskilled or simply half educated. NGO Pratham’s 10th Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2014, based on the survey in 577 districts and 16,497 villages covering 3,41,070 households and about 5,69,229 children in the age group 3-16 ,  noted that overall situation with basic reading and arithmetic continue to be extremely disheartening in India. According to ASER 2014 that: “Half of all children in Std V have not yet learned basic skills that they should have learned by Std II”; and “Close to half of all children will finish eight years of schooling but still not have learned basic skills in arithmetic”. [2]

As a result, the current pool of India’s labour force has very low employability mainly due to low productivity resulting from the poor quality of education.  If the labour productivity is low, then employers do not hire workers. And that is happening in India. India graduates more than five million graduates every year. Engineers comprise a small (but significant) part of it at around six hundred thousand, whereas the rest take up a variety of three or four year bachelor degree programs. The National Employability Report 2013   reveals that a significant proportion of graduates, nearly 47 per cent were found not employable in any sector, given their poor English language and cognitive/analytical skills. The report also indicates that only 17.4 per cent of technical graduates (engineers) in the country are ready to be employed. What this also means is that the rest, that is, 82.6 per cent, engineering graduates are unemployable. Again, their lack of English language knowledge and cognitive skills were identified as the major obstacles to their suitability in the job market. [3]

As such, various states have been complaining of a significant decline in learning outcomes. So they have been making RTE provision as a scapegoat and asking the Centre to revoke the provisions like no-fail policy. But such exam-obsessed approaches won’t improve learning outcomes.

There are many problems faced by India’s education system, as noted in my paper: “Education in India needs intensive care, not a quick fix”.[4]  The paper argues that the real solution lies in improving assessment and accountability systems, which largely translates into improving teacher recruitment and training.

From more than 90 per cent of aspirants failing the central Teacher’s Eligibility Test year after year to teacher absenteeism touching as high as 40 per cent in the poorest states to the prevalence of English teachers who just can’ not speak English, all around there are signs that teacher recruitment and training are in terrible shape in India. TOT Editorial rightly noted that “rather than obsessing over exams for students let’s focus on setting standards for teachers, having a system that rewards the good ones, and equipping teachers with modern pedagogical tools to teach critical thinking rather than rote lessons." [5] Only two things will truly de-stress students: good teachers and better opportunities after they graduate.

The similar views were expressed by The Economist, most trusted news magazine.  In its recent paper entitled: “How to make a good teacher”, the paper argued that forget smart uniforms and small classes to raise the standard of school teaching.  “The secret to stellar grades and thriving students is teachers”. The paper further emphasises that what matters in schools are teachers? Fortunately, teaching can be taught. [6] In sum, the idea of improving the average teacher could revolutionize the entire profession. If this is to change, teachers need to learn how to impart knowledge and prepare young minds to receive and retain it. And in the education reforms, this should be our priority.


The T.S.R. Subramanian committee, entrusted with preparing a new education policy for India submitted the report to the Government of India in May, 2016 suggesting measures that the country must take to improve the sector that caters to over 300 million students in the country. Among various measures to make good teachers, the report recommends that Teacher Entrance Tests (TET) should be made compulsory for recruitment of all teachers. The Centre and states should jointly lay down norms and standards for TET. [7] 

In addition to rational curricula and pedagogy as well as teachers’ training and teir selecti, we must explore how unconventional methods of teaching and learning could be used in improving the quality of education.  Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen in their book - The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business - sketch a future dominated by technology.[8] With vivid examples and brilliant analyses, they show how the internet and other communication technologies will empower individuals and transform the way nations and businesses operate. The authors  believe that “the most important pillar behind innovation and opportunity – education- will be tremendous positive change in the coming decades as rising connectivity reshape traditional routines and offer new paths for learning” (Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen,2013,21). According to the writers that in 2012, when the MIT Media Lab tested this digital technology in Ethiopia by distributing preloaded tablets to primary-age kids without accompanying teachers, the results were extraordinary: within months the kids were reciting the entire alphabet and writing complete sentences in English.

India's government-run schools are terrible, and education faces a drastic shortage of teachers across the board. If digital technology were deployed into education, the villages or remote areas with no access to schools suddenly become accessible. India has a satellite in orbit as well, which is meant to be used exclusively for education. Any institution can use it to impart education to children in remote areas.

For children in countries like India, the digital technology promises new access to educational tools, although clearly not as in developed world. And we must explore the implications of the burgeoning digital technology to improve the quality of education in India, because “physical class rooms will remain dilapidated; teachers will continue to take paychecks and not show up for class; and books and supply will be scare. But what’s  new in  this equation  - connectivity- promises that kids with access to mobile devices  and internet will be able to experience school physically and virtually, even if the latter is informal and on their own time”( Eric and Jared, 2013 22).

Father, there is urgent need to allocate mote funds to the education sector. The new education policy recommends that the outlay on education should be raised to at least 6 per cent of GDP without further loss of time. 

In sum, poor governance at school level and muddleheaded policies in higher education has hurt young people. To foster an environment of job creation, it is critical to produce employable Indians. This should be India’s motto. If India is to meet the more ambitious development goals in a challenging external environment, the post-2016 agenda needs to focus on ensuring a structural transformation of education system. That will enable labour to shift towards higher value-added sectors and more knowledge-intensive activities, thereby improving labour productivity relative to other developing countries. In other words, the government must focus on quality education, infrastructure rather than attempting to introduce controversial issues in the education system.




[1] Biao Idowu. 2010. Education, work and productivity in developing countries. Educational Research, Vol. 1(11) pp. 548-555.

[2] Refer Pratham’s 10th Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), 2014

[3] For details, see: The National Employability Report Graduates 2013 at: http://www.aspiringminds.in/docs/national_employability_study_IT_aspiringminds.pdf. Also see: The National Employability Report (NER) for Engineers by Aspiring Minds at: http://www.aspiringminds.com/research-articles/exploring-national-employability-report-engineers-2014-part-i .

[4] Kothari, Devendra. 2016. Education in India needs intensive care, not a quick fix, RAEA Policy Paper No. 6, PP. 1-18.

[6] Refer article: How to make a good teacher: What matters in schools are teachers? Fortunately, teaching can be taught, The Economist, June 11th, 2016.


[7] GoI. 2016. Some Inputs for Draft National Education Policy 2016, Ministry of Human Resource Development Government of India.

[8] Refer: Eric Schmidt  and Jared Cohen. 2013. The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business, Kindle Edition

 

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