Aladdin is the rage once again. A whole new world, or so the song goes. If I had the benefit of a lamp that worked to bring a genie out and give me three wishes, what would I wish for the education system in India? To make this pragmatic, I focus on actions that impact outcomes consistently.
Early childhood education
Firstly, I would focus much more strongly on early childhood education. Eighty-five per cent of brain development happens before the age of six and this development needs to happen for every child in India. In doing so, we must ask whether we can go outside the box to bring in teachers who understand young children well and break the shackles of a single mandatory teaching qualification. Once we relax this, we may want to look at elderly as teachers for this category. This provides both employment and engagement, and a stronger integration into society for the elderly.
technology can make this great teacher available to 100 times the population at a small fraction of the cost. This is the true power of technology in education, and we will need government to step in to curate content from the best teachers across institutions and make it available in bite-sized chunks to potential students across the country. The mobile phone is ubiquitous and education can make technology its ally to reach the far corners of the land.
Focus on local languages
Secondly, children learn best in the language they grew up with. This implies a focus on local languages where early instruction is in the local language. Children can learn multiple languages earlier than adults, and we can integrate with English education in the higher grades. This implies a move towards localisation of content and medium of instruction in the early grades, with English entering the picture around the ninth grade. It is the way of Japan, Korea and Germany, and there is no rationale for context- and language-rich countries to follow the ways of a limited number of countries for whom English is the local language.
Peril of selection
Finally, India has a problem which I will call the peril of selection. The most reputed educational institutes have stringent and competitive admission tests. Hence the best students go to aspirational institutes, which also attract the best teachers. Conversely, it means that weaker students with a high need for quality education are often linked to weaker teachers.
No technology can fully mimic the magical experience of a great teacher in an interactive session with a small class. However, technology can make this great teacher available to 100 times the population at a small fraction of the cost. This is the true power of technology in education, and we will need government to step in to curate content from the best teachers across institutions and make it available in bite-sized chunks to potential students across the country. The mobile phone is ubiquitous and education can make technology its ally to reach the far corners of the land.
It is said that we love to learn, but hate to be taught. Teachers must move from being one-way transmitters of knowledge (Google does that far more flexibly) to being facilitators of a learning environment. We must move education away from the metaphor of the sequential factory, to the metaphor of the playground and the laboratory. This implies a huge investment in teacher training and compensation, and a concerted effort (including marketing of the profession) to make being a teacher a source of respect and aspiration in society.
For India to achieve its rightful position on the world education stage, we need this and more. No country ever become world-class by imitating current leaders. We must learn rigours of research from the West, but combine it with relevance by attacking problems and contexts that matter to us. We must learn efficiency from the West, but combine it with a deeper sense of effectiveness and being, that is at the heart of traditional Eastern wisdom. It begins with self-belief.
— The writer is Dean, SP Jain Institute of Management Research, Mumbai