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Do We Lack The Imagination To Fix The Education System For Our Children?

14/11/2016 4:11 PM IST | Updated 14/11/2016 4:14 PM IST
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Anindito Mukherjee / Reuters

As a society, we commemorate certain special days that we recognize as significant in some way for our society. Children's Day is observed on 14 November, and it's about time that we reflect upon what it symbolically stands for.

One of the central questions for the overall social and economic wellbeing of a nation is how capable it is to prepare its human potential. In India, this question remains unaddressed so far. The reason for this indifference is not because we don't know the importance of education—it is because of the way we perceive the process to work towards it. As noted physicist and philosopher David Bohm famously observed, "The way we direct our attention, shapes our perception of what we call reality."

While education operates within a deep complex of social values, politics, economics, beliefs, culture and aspirations, our approach has been largely linear and reactive by nature.

A certain pattern is perceptible in the kinds of efforts that have been made by various governments to improve the promise of quality education. While education operates within a deep complex of social values, politics, economics, beliefs, culture and aspirations, our approach has been largely linear and reactive by nature.

Let's take the issue of development of children in early age groups—a matter which has been perennially bogged down by differences between the Ministry of Woman and Child Development and the Ministry of Human Resource Development. The notification of a regulatory body for Early Childhood Education (ECE) was done in 2012 under the National Policy Framework on Early Childhood Education, but several years on, there is nothing fruitful on the ground. Pre-schools have become a source of earning easy money from gullible parents in many urban setups, with programmes falling short on appropriate design and quality staff taking charge of the complex work of providing suitable stimulation to young children.

Through Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), the efforts at increasing access to education were laudable. However, the thinking on how one teacher can cater to a small group of 40 students in a classroom, across age groups, and with varied subject demands was left to future worry. Add to this, the number of schools without adequate number of teachers have burgeoned resulting in contemplation of idea of consolidation of schools.

Similarly, the entire institutional mechanism for equipping teachers has not been strengthened, although curriculum reform happened in 2005 through the seminal efforts of the National Curriculum Framework. That effort is still awaiting teachers sensitized to teach as per its values, while the new government has started raising the need for a new curriculum.

In the absence of a strong well-functioning regulatory oversight, dysfunctional teacher training institutes have mushroomed all over. When the number of unskilled teachers reached alarming levels, a safety valve known as the Teacher Eligibility Test (TET) was swung into action. After much effort, based on the recommendations of Justice Verma Commission, the programme of teacher preparation was designed for a duration of at least two years, but it seems that even this decision is posing challenges as there has been no attendant change in course design to meet the demands of a two-year program. The pattern that is evident in these efforts is our inability to move all the necessary levers to drive change.

Our fragmented view towards issues gets translated into programme designs which are at best patchworks of good intentions.

An ideal model of education entails understanding the child in the existing context of the limitations and strengths of his or her background and then to take him/her through a process that is pillared on strong institutional mechanisms for teacher preparation as well as suitable facilities in the school, curriculum, pedagogy and assessment. The education system needs to be designed so that it facilitates the inculcation of capacities and values that society is in need of, and that this is all well-guarded through able regulatory structures.

Our pattern of attempts to improve the education of children is representative of the way we perceive the world around us. Our fragmented view towards issues gets translated into programme designs which are at best patchworks of good intentions.

Fact is, all processes are embedded in the context of other processes and departments. They don't work in isolation. Thus, public administration needs to be cognizant of how various educational processes are hampering or enabling the success of realizing the goal of quality teaching.

Our children are in dire need of an improvement in their learning experience and it is a failure of our imagination that is causing the lag in reaching this goal. Sporadic efforts which are not taken up cohesively with a view towards understanding the system with all its complexities and needs for intervention, are doing serious damage to children and complicating the problem of education.

It's high time that we let go of our compartmentalized worldview and embraced complexity with all its uncomfortable character. We must brace ourselves to revisit the way we perceive the world around us. Let's pause and remember the famous lines by W B Yeats:

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

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