Wednesday, December 25, 2013

What is the purpose of today's Indian schools ?

Despite Korean students ranking first in reading and maths, and third in science, in the 2009 PISA survey, South Korea’s ex-minister for education Byong Man Ahn made this comment on South Korea's system of education

“While Korea's students excel at learning, they believe its purpose lies not in self-development based on personal interest or motivation, but in entrance into a highly ranked university. Students have no time to ponder the fundamental question of “What do I need to learn, and why?” They simply need to prepare for the test by learning the most-effective methods for digesting tremendous quantities of material and committing more to memory than others do.”

When I read this, i thought that the South Korean Minister is speaking of Indian schools. Our schools are also, I think, preparing students to get into better Engineering or Medical colleges through digesting huge material in the coaching classes ( not schools) and then getting it out in the engineering or medical entrance tests. Although accounting stream and vocational courses like ITI are encouraged indirectly through the focus on basic skills of numeracy, other streams of arts, design, or literature ( literacy oriented) are not even encouraged indirectly. But even in the basic education skills of numeracy and literacy, India ranked below average in the PISA 2009 ranking of countries, so I am not sure if we are doing that well in the basic education of numeracy and literacy.

And if you look at our education system, the purpose of school system is very confusing. If you see the number of ITI insitutes in India , one wonders if the schools are meant to provide a set of skilled employees for the industrial labor market  to the growing industry? If you see the scampering of students in IIT's and engineering colleges, one wonders if the schools are meant to provide top level students in science so that national economic competitiveness is improved ? Or, if you see the growing number of alternate schools in India, one wonders if the schools are meant to develop the ‘whole’ child – emotionally, intellectually, creatively? Or if you see the Governments attempt to make education compulsory, are the schools meant to just help the students get the basic skills of numeracy ( numbers) and literacy ( language speaking, reading and writing)?

Because, if we get our objective right, we can at least find the best possible route. All the above objectives are not either/or. They can coexist. But the objectives should be clearly articulated. Because it then helps to focus on making the system more effective. For instance, if want to develop more ITI students for the industry, we can 'spruce up the ITI curriculum, get more industry participation, add curriculum of entrepreneurship for trades like plumbers and electricians . If you agree on a destination, you can at least find the best possible use of limited resources.

Instead, what we’re left with is a public discourse permanently afflicted by the curse of binary, oppositional arguments. The either/or positioning (selective vs. comprehensive school systems; instruction-led teaching vs inquiry-led; head vs hand; academic vs vocational; knowledge vs skills) is further aggravated by constant political interference, resulting in a series of pendulum swings with every change of administration. That diffuses the already limited resources and we are left with nothing in hand.  No real progress can be made in such a situation.

No comments:

Post a Comment