How India needs to transform schools to meet the challenge of quality education

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Posted in Education

Aaditya Tiwari

CBSE board results were announced last week. The students who bravely faced the exams despite the threat of Covid-19 pandemic deserve appreciation and support. CBSE’s decision to not come up with a merit list is a welcome step and gives students a semblance of weathering the storm together. There were so many students scoring above 90 per cent. Some even managed a perfect hundred score that made scoring less than 90 a joke and point of ridicule. “Getting 90 per cent and above is so easy!”

Sarcasm has its way of saying things that can’t be said otherwise — exams are not evaluating the child’s real strength and schools are not providing life-skills to the children for the world we live in. While the students’ hard work needs to be celebrated, we cannot take our eyes away from the deteriorating standards of our school education and how ill-equipped they are in providing 21st-century skills.

Draft New Education Policy 2019 under the chairmanship of K Kasturirangan had pointed out that India could risk losing 10 crore or more of our students to illiteracy due to poor performance in foundational literacy and numeracy. This number will greatly increase as the number of students at risk of losing education due to the pandemic is still being assessed. Education of our children has suffered the most during the pandemic and exposed the huge gaps in access that divide the children economically and geographically. It has given educationists and policy experts a reason to step back and look afresh on the status of our education.

The Kasturirangan Report spoke of making India a ‘Knowledge Economy’. The fact that our country’s demographic dividend is fast depleting leaves us only over two decades to work on it. Truth is that the PM’s vision of Aatmanirbhar Bharat cannot be fully realised without a focus on improving the quality of education. This reality isn’t lost on our policymakers. Attempts are being made to make changes, but they are too few, too slow. Hence this crisis needs to be used as an opportunity to bring radical changes in the school structure and curriculum and free our students from the rat race of marks and ranking. After all the students are not just another brick in the wall.

In this context, two suggestions of the Kasturirangan Committee need special focus and implementation. These include shifting from the ’10+2′ format to ‘5+3+3+4’ model and introduction of ‘School Complex’.

The ’10+2′ model of schools that we currently see came about as a recommendation of the Education Commission (1966). It brought in the much-required uniformity in the school structure across the country. However, it has also introduced an inherent rigidity in learning which does not go well with 21st-century skills. This system institutionalised rote learning and equated marks with abilities. Kasturirangan Committee suggested that we move to a system more conducive for today’s age where the skill of ‘learning how to learn’ is the cornerstone of future jobs.

The model of ‘5+3+3+4’ gives time to a student to focus more on foundational skills of literacy and numeracy. The initial five years — till Grade 2 — shall involve activity-based learning and improve the cognitive skills of the child. Manjul Bhargava, member of the committee and a Fields Medal winner said in an interview, “The Indian education system at the moment does not give too much attention until Grade 1. But the fact is that 85 per cent of a child’s brain development happens before the age of six. One really has to stimulate children’s mind even before the age of six.”

School till Grade 5 will focus on the preparatory stage and introduction of core concepts. The structured curriculum will be introduced only in Grade 6, with building upon concepts until Grade 8. The last four years will involve abstract learning. Introducing concept like a gap year to this structure will give a student wholesome experience where they will be better prepared to choose a career.

Similarly, the Kasturirangan Committee talks of the concept of ‘School Complex’. The hard fact of schools in India is that we do not have enough schools preparing kids for higher education. There are only 1,12,637 intermediate or senior secondary schools out of the 15,22,346 schools in India. This is just seven per cent. The Committee suggested introducing a ‘school complex’ with a secondary school as the centre. Primary and upper primary schools shall be its branches — more like a hub-and-spoke model. This change in the conception of a school from a building to a complex will itself be path-breaking. Schools can no longer remain isolated structures with high walls that have no relationship with the society they are part of. The school complex will cause the sharing of crucial infrastructure related to sports and labs and bring in greater partnership with the society.

As the saying goes, extraordinary times require extraordinary measures. The challenge of quality education that India faces requires drastic measures. The decisions we take now will be responsible for where we are as a nation a decade later, and what happens to the future of our children. Losing 10 crore or more children to illiteracy is too big a risk for any nation and we cannot afford this to happen to our future generations. We cannot let them down.

Views are personal.

The article was first published on Daily O


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