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Is India ready to adopt international education standards to improve the learning environment in the country?

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’
 - Nelson Mandala

India’s journey in education, is one of mixed success. India boasts about 18 per cent of the world’s population; however, it is home to the largest population of illiterates, 287 million, amounting to 37% of the global total (Worldometers' RTS algorithm, United Nations Population Division). A legacy of large-scale illiteracy and lack of proper provision for education was India’s inheritance at Independence. At the first post-independence census of 1951, only 9 per cent of women and 27 per cent of men were literate ( The framers of the Indian Constitution attempted to remedy the situation by creating a provision therein of providing free and compulsory education to all children up to age 14 by 1960. However, the situation is dismal despite the encouraging progress in School enrolment. As per the latest Global Monitoring Report (GMR) released worldwide by the UNESCO on Education for All, over 6 million children in India are still out-of-School.

Moving on to the next decade of change and transformation, India will face daunting challenges in terms of scale and pace of providing quality education in the face of rapid internationalisation of education, competition for global talent and commodification of education. The current education system faces serious challenges in terms of quality, access and equity which need to be urgently addressed. Traditional approaches to meet this demand will not be sufficient. Economic growth, demographics and politics will be the driving force behind education. In ‘Uncertain Glory — India and its Contradictions’, Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen begin their chapter on education with a quote from Rabindranath Tagore: “The imposing tower of misery which today rests on the heart of India has its sole foundation in the absence of education.”
While India takes pride in its ever-improving literacy levels, educationally, it is a dismal under-performer, too embarrassed to even participate in the OECD’s (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ) program for International academic assessment tests. With enormous growth in its middle class from the current 50 million to 500 million by 2057, a huge number of first generation learners will continue to demand access to better education.

International educational agencies are now recognising the potential of education. Computational Technology (CT) is being introduced to children as early as in kindergarten and primary School. Finland, which leads on traditional education benchmarks, is reinventing itself by integrating CT across existing subjects. India cannot afford to fall behind other countries in developing students’ thinking and problem-solving skills which are explicitly taught in the international curriculum during classroom learning. More so, when rapid increases in automation and productivity are replacing execution-oriented jobs.

The qualities common to all Business Moguls like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and other high-powered entrepreneurs are that of persistence, ingenuity and grit. However one of the more surprising traits is the philosophy that kids ought to be raised tech-free. Sherry Turkle, an MIT psychologist and author of numerous books including "Alone Together" and "Reclaiming Conversation," says this about the negative social effects of technology, "When people are very sophisticated, they know what not to do,”. Those at technology’s leading edge know fully well how dangerous such products can be. This anti-tech philosophy believes in focussing on building a child's emotional, social, and intellectual wellbeing. A movement called CS Unplugged includes several activities and lessons on how to teach computational concepts and ways of thinking, without any technology and get the students to understand fundamental concepts in an intuitive way.  It has been proven without doubt that good learning can still happen with minimal use of technology and can, at the same time, be affordable. Many believe that international education is very expensive; however contrary to this popular misconception, Schools can deliver a well-designed curriculum even in low resource environments. Much of the core of such courses do not even require computers. Teacher Training and Motivation are key factors for the success.

VIS (Vijaybhoomi Interntional School), at Raigarh, Karjat, Maharastra is one such International curriculum-based School which provides value for money. It is a School with a difference and is as affordable as it can get. Idyllic in its natural setting, VIS is environmentally responsible, providing enough time and space to children for emotional and social literacy. The traditional African philosophy, UBUNTU is one of its core philosophies which manifests itself in the form of love for one and all. It propagates that there is a common bond between  us all and it is through this bond, through our interaction with our fellow human beings, we discover our own human qualities.

India has begun to recognise the importance of equipping the country’s future generation with skill-based education. With a vision to ‘Cultivate One Million Children in India as Neoteric Innovators’, the central government’s policy think-tank, NITI Aayog, has recently launched Atal Tinkering Laboratories (ATLs) in Schools across India.
Curricula like that of CS Pathshala have created an open-source curriculum for grades 1 to 8. Andhra Pradesh has been experimenting with the Google Code to Learn course in over 300 of its residential and tribal Schools.  Under the guidance of its education minister, Vinod Tawde, the Maharashtra International Education Board (MIEB), is attempting to provide 100 Schools in Maharashtra and other states with a curriculum like that offered by the International Baccalaureate (IB) and Cambridge International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE).  India is ready for an amalgamation of the best practices available across the worlds at a cost affordable by the common man. However, the overall scale of these programs is still a mere drop in the ocean compared to the 1.2 million Schools in the country.  

If we are to truly get quality education into every School in India, educators will need to convince state and central governments to adopt the international educational philosophy as a core of the curriculum. Blind adoption of Finland’s no detention policy, without adequate and appropriate deliberations and preparations at micro level, then calling off the comprehensive continuous evaluation (CCE) pattern of education in a hurry, has dealt a body blow to the School Education System. The key to overcome the disaster now lies in adopting an experimental approach that encourages many more prototypes to emerge and then linking them together by a structured evaluation framework which can build evidence for what works, keeping the cultural ethos and physical diversity of India in mind and subsequently adapting the curriculum to multiple contexts. To ensure success of campaigns such as “Make in India”, we will need more creators and entrepreneurs in India. Hence, serious investment reform to develop our human capital is required. By cultivating strong School leadership, committing to ongoing professional development, and exploring innovative models, Singapore has become one of the top-scoring countries on the PISA (The Program for International Student Assessment). Sanjay Padode, of the IFIM, Bengaluru fame and Jaspal Sidhu director of the SGS-SIS (Singapore global Schools- Singapore International Schools) network of International Schools bring the amalgamation of International curriculum to VIS at affordable rates.  The approach to education at VIS lays an unprecedented emphasis on developing critical 21st century skills with practical work experience and thus, building every child’s personal profile.  The School advocates the skills needed for the 21st century through the PACE initiative, where P-Perseverance, A – Analytical Thinking, C- Communication and Collaboration, E – Entrepreneurship come together and seek to help the children learn about themselves. This involves learning self-respect and self-esteem. VIS has shifted from high stakes, one-size-fits-all testing to meaningful, real-time assessment.  The School is a treat for the 21st century learners.

“Change at the scale we will see in the next ten years in education in India is unprecedented in human history” says, Prof Pankaj Chandra, Director IIM, Bangalore. Our social evolution is probably the most rapidly changing dimension of our lives now. The obscenity of education is that three months after you pass out of School, what you learnt starts becoming redundant, in terms of concepts covered. Content is available at a finger touch, may be in the days to come student in the next generation Schools may have helmets of assorted colors, each specifying a subject. If one does not have the skill of analysing and connecting the dots and applying to solve problems with the feeling for humanity he/she will be redundant. Our children must adapt with changing times. Learning the 21st Skills is the way forward. It is time for the Indian education system to revamp itself and move away from rote learning. Effort is being made yet the pace must be hastened.

International Education duly amalgamated with India’s rich tradition and cultural ethos provided at affordable costs must, therefore, be the catalyst for the change desired. India is thus truly ready for the International Curriculum, but on its own terms and conditions.

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