Nobody can deny that the education system in India needs a thorough overhaul and massive improvement. The rate of juvenile suicide in India is the highest in the world. And, this is largely among the children who go to school. Many of them are from well-to-do families, but some are from lower income groups, who struggle to educate their young, with the hope that education will lift them from their poverty-stricken condition. It cannot be said that education is the sole cause of youngsters committing suicide, having mental breakdowns and sinking into depressions, taking to drugs or to crime. But at the same time, it cannot be denied that the incessant pressure to get higher marks is a major contributory factor.
The pressure starts when the child is as young as one. Every parent wants the best for their child. Schools are all too few and good ones are even fewer. After school, comes the problem of admission in a good college. Then, a post graduate degree or admission into an IIM or IIT. Thousands of new schools, particularly in the public sector are needed to meet the need for proper education, for classes that would not be overcrowded, for curtailing the pressure on children and parents and teachers, and for checking the corruption in the sector that is directly proportional to the demand. Many more institutions for higher education are also needed. But most importantly, many more competent and sincere teachers are required for our education sector to flourish. The shortage of teachers compels schools to keep teachers who are far from satisfactory and also to overlook indiscipline and laxity and leads to lower accountability. The government is trying to attend to this by having periodical examinations for teachers. This is a very welcome step, but for the sake of our future, education must be made free of politics and corruption. Systems for measuring teachers’ performance need to be introduced through well-defined and comprehensive appraisal systems under the guidance of highly qualified and experienced school leaders and managers. It is essential to ensure that schools function through team leaders, senior coordinators and have a functional support mechanism for their newly qualified teachers. At present, the Indian education system runs on ’a wing and a prayer’, with no long term goals or realistic targets set for each and every child. Nobody knows how to deliver clear and measurable assessment procedures. 90% of a child’s development is through their social and emotional growth and that is largely ignored under the present educational system.
I have heard that Queen Mary’s School – one of Mumbai’s best schools, guarantee admission for any girl who was registered on the day she was born. This model can be replicated largely. Schools could work out schemes, where they would guarantee admission to any child who was registered within three days of birth along with a fee of Rs. 10, 000 or so at the age of four years. Such a scheme could bring in crores of rupees with which the schools could get soft bank loans. If schools were given tax exemptions for development, I am sure that the schools in India can be tripled in numbers and capacity within five years. For this to be feasible, we need to train teachers not only in theory but in classroom practices as well. A nationwide teacher training programme, designed by teachers themselves, needs to be incorporated. This programme should help trainee teachers to study child development and foundation principles of pedagogy and classroom management which are essential components in any teacher training course.
If companies and industries extend Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to education, they can allow their premises and experts to hold classes for teachers after office hours. They could also train educated retired people to teach their subject of expertise to people who would be willing to teach in the unorganized sector. Vocational training, spoken English, repair work, carpentry, etc. could be taught to the semi-educated, enabling them to enhance their income. This would reduce the number of the unemployed.
Every school can use their premises during holidays to conduct teacher training courses. Innumerable government accommodations and old, unoccupied houses of zamindars could be refurbished and used as village schools and training centres. This will also help to preserve heritage buildings. The many boarding schools in the hills that lie vacant in winter can easily be used for giving training to teachers. The hundreds of large ashrams that remain empty during the winter months in the Uttaranchal can also be put to similar use. The cost of adding amenities would be far less than the cost of new constructions. International funding would surely be forthcoming if the government popularises such schemes, because there is a global demand for competent people in every field. The paucity of teachers, doctors, nurses, skilled labour, entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers in every field, will ensure a demand for them and generation of demand would lead to job security as well as available of funds through FDI. Major colleges from other countries would be willing to partner with the colleges in India. The availability of well-trained teachers for the cities would force the more indolent to improve their output to retain their jobs. A substantial increase in the number of schools would drastically reduce the pressure on parents and children. The money paid at the time of registration would be far less than the impossibly high capitation fees paid at many colleges and the ‘donations’ paid along with admission fees to many ‘good’ schools. It would be a win-win situation for parents, schools and the country. Political interference in state schools must be removed and emphasis must be given on teaching so that the state educated school children can have a fair and equal access to the various board curriculum that their school adopts.
Of course, the problems of urban and rural schools, schools for the affluent where parents are educated and schools for slum children, where many of the students are first generation learners, are varied and need different kinds of support. However, the suggestions given are common to all educational institutions. With near universalisation of electrification of rural India, the scope for distance learning for adults has also increased. The government needs to tap into this opportunity.
An overloaded curriculum forces teachers to advise selective learning. Why set a syllabus that is impossible for an already overloaded teacher to cover, and leave a child with no time for recreation? Sports and proper exercise are vital for healthy growth. Marks or credit points should be given for these and also for extracurricular activities. Only then will students be encouraged to undertake mental, physical and spiritual growth.
Surya Namaskar is an exercise that can even be done indoors. The very name ‘Surya Namaskar’ indicates that we should be grateful to the sun because it gives us life, energy and vision. It is the easiest way for obtaining multiple
benefits and the right attitude towards the bounty of Nature that we abuse so disgracefully! Youngsters along with adults need to develop the virtue of gratitude for what we get from nature. One vital aspect in of education is goal setting. Short term goal setting is taught at schools, but there are very few, rare schools or colleges that teach a child to question the purpose of education, the meaning of success, or the ultimate goal of life. Value education is invariably dismissed as a subject of little importance. This needs to change.
Ask a child, ‘Why do you study?’
‘To get good marks.’
‘Why do you want good marks?’
‘To get into a good college.’
‘Why do you want to get into a good college?’
‘To get a good job.’
‘Why do you want a good job?’
‘So I can live well with my family.’
‘Why do you want to live well with you family’
‘Because then we can have every comfort and luxury and have fun.’
This is the limit of a teenager’s thinking. Sadly, it also seems to be the limit of most parents. No one seems to wonder how many of those who have attained worldly success are happy or at peace. Newspapers and magazines never give the real picture of the frustrated elderly, many of who have been in high positions and much pampered when they were in positions of power.
Every institution, whether it is an NGO or a commercial venture, wants integrity in their employees. Even when the employees are asked to do something unethical for the benefit of the company, they are expected to be honest with the company. And yet, the educational institutions give no importance to the development of qualities like integrity and loyalty. Companies do not evaluate such qualities during recruitment as they only want sharp people who will shoot up the profit graphs.
Can this be called ‘education’?
Loyalty, integrity, cooperation with colleagues, generosity of spirit can come only when they are developed since early childhood with the help of parents as well as teachers. This brings us back to the need for parents and teachers to be educated about values so that they can inculcate them in the minds of children during their formative years.
To achieve this, it is vital for the top companies to make high principles the criteria in their recruitment. Rewards for loyalty and integrity must become the norm; not flattery and sycophancy. When the demand for integrity brings financial rewards, the supply will grow. It will filter down to the educational institutions and to the adults, who will then guide their young. When companies offer higher pay packets to youngsters with integrity, the educational institutions will encourage these traits and parents will do the same. Youngsters will no longer need to stifle their aspirations. And, it is in our hands to do this. There is no need to wait for the government to do everything. Businessmen always have looked to future prosperity and found the means to prosper. What greater prosperity or felicity can there be, than to create a generation that has the right values and the ability to make dreams come true?