Global research in learning demonstrates that children or adults learn best when encouraged to be part of the learning process and not reduced to being passive listeners.
The dominant form of instruction in the education system across India is instructor-led and didactic, using lectures primarily as a method of instruction. The student is expected to listen and take notes. The teacher plays an active role and the student plays a passive role. This is a hierarchical construct.
In addition, in schools and colleges, different subjects are taught for 40 minutes a day. The child in a class may study English for 40 minutes in the first period, then Math, followed by Social Studies, Hindi, etc. After a one-hour lunch recess, other subjects – Civics, Biology, Physics, and so on -- are taught in four more periods.At the end of the school day, the students are given some homework to answer by recalling what they were taught. This is a routine exercise to internalise the content.
Kindly reflect on how much a child can internalise and retain after being taught eight subjects on the trot in 40-minute periods in a day.
The lack of learning in schools has allowed private coaching classes to evolve as unavoidable after-schools to re-teach the same subjects but one by one. The difference between a normal school and a coaching class is significant. In the coaching class, only one subject is taken up at a time for maybe 2-3 hours. They offer students several practice sessions and also give them videos and pen drives to take home and listen to and learn.
Every year, lakhs of students walk through them, fueling the industry’s annual revenues to upwards of Rs 24,000 crore -- the estimate in 2015 by a government-appointed committee. The annual growth in the field of coaching is in the double digits as aspirations outpace seats.
In another dimension, contrast this with children from poor and marginalized backgrounds. They can rarely access either a good institution or finances to enroll in coaching classes. Even if such children surmount these problems, they are unsure of getting a reasonably productive education.
Professor Jude Henriques of Tata Institute of Social Science did a comparative study of children from municipal schools and children from affluent families going to elite schools in Mumbai. His research demonstrated that the poor students of the municipal schools had equal or more IQ and were as sincere and committed to studies as any other child of a rich family. However, he found that 70% of poor children dropped out after class 10.
In 2001, as the Director of Times Foundation, I embarked on a Teach India Campaign to provide remedial education to the children of municipal schools in Maharashtra.The then President, A P J Abdul Kalam, flagged off the campaign. We empanelled 5 lakh barefoot teachers to teach students on the streets, in their homes, almost anywhere, using a creative methodology. More than 70% of the students did well and got first-class marks.
The National Education Policy 2020 addresses the concerns I have raised very succinctly. The NEP 2020 says, “Education thus, must move towards less content, and more towards learning about how to think critically and solve problems, how to be creative and multidisciplinary, and how to innovate, adapt, and absorb new material in novel and changing fields”.
Addressing pedagogy, the policy says it must “evolve to make education more experiential, holistic, integrated, inquiry-driven, discovery-oriented, learner-centered, discussion-based, flexible, and, of course, enjoyable”. It must do everything to empower teachers and help them to do their job as effectively as possible. The policy recognizes that the teacher must be at the “centre of the fundamental reforms in the education system”.
The policy underlines that “education must build character and enable learners to be ethical, rational, compassionate, and caring, while at the same time preparing them for gainful, fulfilling employment”.
Students must be introduced to values like “quality, equity and integrity” right from elementary education levels, going up the ladder to higher education. This can be achieved, as the policy says, by bridging “the gap between the current state of learning outcomes and what is required” by undertaking reforms. The new education policy “must provide to all students, irrespective of their place of residence and economic or social status, a quality education system, with particular focus on historically marginalised, disadvantaged, and under-represented groups”.
The real issues the NEP 2020 has recognised are:
One is pedagogy of instruction. Teachers will need to use more experiential learning techniques than just giving lectures. They must use Film, Role Plays, Demonstration, and Simulation to improve the internalization of learning and make it more enjoyable. This means teachers need to be re-trained and the B.Ed syllabus needs to change. The days of simply professing professors or lecturing lecturers have gone.
Education must build character and competence and offer students values, make them compassionate, caring, loving and not just competitive. Gurudev Rabindra Nath Tagore did such an experiment in Shanti Niketan which has become the Vishwa Bharati University and Jiddu Krishnamurthy tried a somewhat different experiment in Rishi Valley School.
Underprivileged children must get access to education in their village and the spending on education in the budget should increase. A poor child, in today’s system, can hardly succeed if she/he has little access to quality education or private tuition. This is unequal education.
If the above is done, some improvement will happen.
Founder Sri Ramakrishna International Institute of Management