Education is meant to raise citizens who can contribute socially, economically and politically to society’s visions and ideals. Hence the purpose and slant of education in a military state are different from that in a democracy. Looking at education from a market-centric model tends to limit its impact to employability. There, the certificate and mark-sheet are valued much more than learning per se.
As society keeps evolving, so must education. Education is out of sync today in most parts of the world because there have been significant shifts in socio-economic and political landscapes. The curriculum design, pedagogy and governance standards must be reimagined to address that need. It is this sentiment that gets expressed when employers speak of low employability of graduates or engineers or MBAs. Employability is necessary but not a sufficient outcome of education.
Inspire, not just inform
When we focus on education for only employability, we get a transactional view of education that does not inspire anyone. When teachers “teach to the test”, they tend to prepare the students and focus on exam-taking strategies rather than building in them a love for knowledge. We get students who know how to “crack” the exam and get top-notch marks, but do not love learning. The parents of the students view the marks as proof of return on investment. That makes education a highly profitable venture, but fails to develop lifelong learners.
Coaching classes: Proof of failure of education
Open schools and colleges that fly-by-night operators run can only print degrees. They cannot teach students to be curious. We have an oversupply of coaching classes. A city like Kota in Rajasthan has, for instance, built the equivalent of a parallel economy in education.
Parents encourage their children to join the 1.2 lakh aspirants enrolling at the 40-odd coaching classes in Kota every year. They keep the coaching factory going by releasing advertisements of successful students who swear that they would have never “cracked” the JEE or NEET exams had it not been for the coaching classes. There is no mention of the lakhs of students who did not make it despite joining the coaching classes. The pressure to succeed is so high that several aspirants commit suicide every year in an otherwise-obscure Kota, unable to face themselves.
Even the ones who get through the exams do not develop a love for the profession. It is hard to excel and build expertise in a subject that we do not feel motivated to explore.
Emotions matter as much as content
It is important to answer: “What is the problem we are trying to solve?” The approach we adopt to fix education will be based on the answer to this question. When we say that great content and gamification help learning, we are missing the cultural element of learning in India. We have valued learning when it comes from experts (gurus). In school, we are discouraged from challenging experts (or teachers).
This habit of wanting to be spoon-fed stays forever. Employees find it hard to learn things on their own. E-Learning courses often go unclicked by employees. What if employers were to pay the content provider (or the learning management system of their organisation) for courses completed and assessed for understanding, instead of paying them for the number of employees who might be potential users.
Great learning experiences need skilled teachers. Only they can contextualise the content and generate curiosity to explore the subject further. That is what creates a great learning experience. The skilled teachers go beyond the curriculum and create a desire to explore further. It is this exploration that enables a learner to contextualise learning.
EdTech entrepreneurs point out that video games are engaging. They are often tough to learn and yet people voluntarily spend hours trying to improve their scores. They have to be reminded that education is not an individual process. We’ve to re-imagine the role of the stakeholders and the relationships among the teacher, the student, the parents.
Quality control of any franchise
McDonalds has more than 14,000 outlets in the US—and each of them has to follow a strict adherence to quality standards that are universal. The food must taste the same regardless of the outlet the consumer goes to eat.
Today, India has 16 IITs and 20 IIMs. A look at the pattern of placements reveals that top employers follow a hierarchy when it comes to talent. Not every IIT and IIM is treated at par in the eyes of the employers. Our top institutes face a dearth of skilled professors.
Having a mix of academics and practitioners who are skilled in teaching motivates the students to go above and beyond the routine grind. Generating wonder and curiosity motivates the learners. It is a skill not every teacher has. Instructional design principles combined with creativity can make every lesson memorable. Gamification may make the learning experience fun and entertaining, but it needs to be accompanied with assessments to check learning—not just recall.
In school when children are given projects, they should be made to design and do them in the school along with their classmates (to avoid parents doing the projects on their behalf at home). It will also build three key skills: of creativity, problem solving and collaboration.
The role of the government
The government should create an index to measure ‘ease of upskilling’ (like ‘ease of doing business’) to gauge how easy it is for someone to upgrade their skills and perspectives. The system must encourage teachers to publish creative ways in which they are teaching the subject. The power of an idea lies in its adoption by peers. Peer governance and endorsements among teachers must be encouraged. Finally, the government must build a strong framework of governance that prevents fly-by-night operators from duping students and parents, who give up everything to spend money on coaching classes and unskilled teachers. Every teacher must get a licence to teach that must be renewed every two years by undertaking a refresher course.
The role of society
They say that the brightest minds are drawn to professions that pay well and are celebrated. The Greeks celebrated their philosophers, and the brightest minds wanted to be philosophers. India celebrated freedom fighters during the early post-independence years. Government jobs, film stars and a job in an MNC have had their moments in the sun. We have recently started celebrating ideas and risk-taking. That has seen the rise of entrepreneurs.
The simple way to ridicule or discount someone’s idea is to call it “academic” or theoretical. “It is too theoretical” is the most damning judgement of an earnest speaker. Putting a man on the moon was a theoretical idea half a century ago until Neil Armstrong made us all gasp by turning that idea to reality.
To be a lifelong learner, the learner needs to have the curiosity to pursue ideas and have the humility to admit ignorance about things one doesn’t know. Teachers plant ideas and dreams in our heads and hearts. It is time to celebrate them and continuously re-skill them. That’s what will make being a teacher cool and aspirational. Terrific teachers build institutions.
Overall, to recalibrate education, we have to go back to why we need education. The what and how will, naturally, follow.
Abhijit Bhaduri is an author, columnist and a talent development expert. With over 650,000 followers on LinkedIn, he is
a top influencer on social media.