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Posts Tagged ‘india education’

There is a teacher in everyone of us. It is useful to acknowledge that a whole lot of things are learnt without someone actually teaching us, and that perhaps someone is right now learning from us without our even knowing it. On the Internet, this is possible at a very large scale. We learn from other people’s review of the computers we buy or the places we visit. We learn to dress by looking at what others wear and talk as we hear others speak. We learn from reading a blog post or the fact that a guru likes a particular URL or that an expert just followed an innovative startup’s twitter handle.

So when practicing teachers and real experts, who really do all of this teaching and coaching professionally, start making their actions, their learning, their idiosyncrasies public, a whole lot of people will end up learning even if they are not in their class. Perhaps their class will also learn much more if they share the guru’s network, the guru’s learning trails across the World Wide Web.

As teachers, it is really about how we learn and how we share how and what we learn. It is not learning how to use technology (which is an important enabler, but not an end in itself), but how to embrace a culture of open-ness, sharing and a much heightened consciousness that we are professional performers of a learning process; that as teachers we are actually enacting the role of expert learners.

For that, we have to re-envision the way we learn. We are a product of much the same system that we subject our children to. We bind our students by its same constraints. We are steeped in the routines that we have perfected in years we have taught the same curriculum again, again and again. We cannot change ourselves by thinking in the same ways the system has taught us. We must re-envision our own futures, standing outside the systems of today.

Why it is so phenomenally important to re-learn how to learn in today’s networked environments? Its possible because, invariant to scale, the network has opened up hitherto unknown opportunities to teach and learn. Not that you can now learn something that was previously hidden from you, but that you can now learn and teach in ways that may be much more than the classroom we are so used to. In fact the classroom analogy does not even exist in the networked environment (the closest it gets is “clusters” or “swarms”) – the network is not a class.

Since networks are not classes, you cannot apply traditional teaching-learning techniques to it (or atleast not as-is). So an entire paradigm becomes near-obsolete when one thinks of networked learning. Which is not what the xMOOCs would have you to believe, but that is entirely their loss.

If you can think network, you can break away from the traditional mode. It is what we must do. Case in point. If there is no class, who are you teaching? Answer: You are teaching a cluster of nodes (students) bound to you in some manner (through your institution perhaps), but they are really part of many different networks as well. By connecting to those students and promoting transactions between them, helping them add new connections to their network, and leveraging their existing networks, you will build upon a fabric of learning, much like a weaver or an Atelier. You will help them break away from the monotone of traditional systems, help them celebrate chaos and let them build their capability to learn.

When you become that networked teacher, you will contribute to a scale of learning that will be unbelievable. What you will do within your own small networks, may become amplified or contribute to global knowledge about learning and teaching. Just the sheer scale of your teaching and learning, your networks, the types of interactions, will fast transcend the power of any certificate or degree the traditional system may have to offer.

The revolution is here. It is you. Seize the day.

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…and should education be not-for-profit?

The recent Right to Education Act being implemented from April 1,2010, is catching flak on a wide range of aspects. Advocates of the common school system, like Prof. Anil Sadgopal, want a school system that is defined as follows:

Common School System means the National System of Education that is founded on the principles of equality and social justice as enshrined in the Constitution and provides education of a comparable quality to all children in an equitable manner irrespective of their caste, creed, language, gender, economic or ethnic background, location or disability (physical or mental), and wherein all categories of schools – i.e. government, local body or private, both aided and unaided, or otherwise – will be obliged to (a) fulfill certain minimum infrastructural (including those relating to teachers and other staff), financial, curricular, pedagogic, linguistic and socio-cultural norms and (b) ensure free education to the children in a specified neighbourhood from an age group and/or up to a stage, as may be prescribed, while having adequate flexibility and academic freedom to explore, innovate and be creative and appropriately reflecting the geo-cultural and linguistic diversity of the country, within the broad policy guidelines and the National Curriculum Framework for School Education as approved by the Central Advisory Board of Education.

According to this article, the main objections to the RTE Act are:

  1. It will demolish the entire government school system except schools in certain elite categories (for example, kendriya vidyalayas, navodaya vidyalayas, the Eleventh Plan’s 6,000 model schools, and similar elite schools of states/UT governments).
  2. The Act will provide neither free education nor education of equitable quality. Rather, it will legitimise and maintain the multi-layered school system built through the World Bank’s District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) during the 1990s, and the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) in the current decade.
  3. The central agenda of the Act is clearly to privatise and commercialise the school system through neo-liberal schemes such as public private partnerships (PPPs), school vouchers, adoption of schools by corporate houses, religious bodies and NGOs.

There is a strong undercurrent from these arguments that emphasize the responsibility of the State as the fundamental provider of education and the role of private unaided schools (for-profit) is being refashioned. There is also a movement against privatization of higher education (by allowing foreign universities to set up shop in India), claiming that it would not only perpetuate iniquity but also result in a brain-drain with the best teachers moving to more lucrative positions in these new foreign universities, thus undermining the ability of state run institutions to be or become centres of excellence.

I am forced to ask: what solution or approach can we take to cover the educational needs of 200 mn school going students, 12.27 mn Higher education students, the 500 mn economically active population across 35 distinct states and union territories, 22 official languages (out of over 1500 mother tongues), 64.8% literacy, 70% rural population, 3.28 mn square kilometres (about 1/3rd the size of the USA) in size, 1.25 mn schools, 471 universities, nearly 22,000 colleges, 6.5 mn teachers, 1.2 mn new teacher vacancies, 0.7 mn untrained teachers and 0.5 mn para teachers in an economy worth USD 1.4 trillion? And yes, we are talking of conservatively 500 MILLION economically active (by ILO stats, nearly 600 mn) people today, poised to expand by another 100 mn people by 2020. The problems of governance and challenges of equity are obviously complicated by politics, law and order, the social system, skewed development indices etc.

Not only that, there is a huge drop out rate (68% students cite the need to work to supplement family income as the reason to drop out), leaving about 44 mn children out of school in the 11-14 age group. Out of the 134.38 mn students at the primary level, the retention rate is close to 75%, reducing the pool for those who would enrol in upper primary education to about a 100 mn. Statistics correlate by showing that only 53.35 mn were enrolled at the Upper Primary level. What is even more interesting is that 2008-09 enrolment in Higher Education was 12.37 mn which means that only about 23% of students enrolled in upper primary levels actually make it to college.

The economy of 1.17 bn people, sectorally, has 60% agricultural share, 17% industry and 23% services shares. Taking 500 mn as the economically active group, 300 mn people would be employed in agriculture, 85 mn in industry and 115 mn in services. The fastest growing sectors are mining and quarrying, manufacturing, electricity/gas & water, and, trade/hotels, transport/storage/communication/BFSI/Real Estate. India’s IT and ITeS sector contributes to 6% or USD 71 bn to the GDP.

The problem is systemic from what I can see. I have not been able to find a single consolidated report of a plan of action or any vision document to leverage the immense manpower that India has and will continue to have in the foreseeable future, to spur India’s growth (social and economic). The statistics are incomplete or non-existent – I could not even locate in which sectors the 500 mn people are distributed as a work force and how India plans to educate (and on what) and how it plans to empower them for equitable national growth. This is an appalling state of affairs.

In my opinion, the debate on whether education needs to be free or for-profit, is the probably the least of our problems. We have to go figure why about 25% of the 35 states and union territories in our country have less than 10% schools that HAVE electricity or overall why only 35% of our schools HAVE an electricity connection. We have to figure why the entire North Eastern region ranks the lowest in the educational development index published by NUEPA. We have to figure where we are going in terms of agricultural, industrial and services sector strategic growth plans, the backdrop of international developments in trade and technology, our mushrooming social sector, working conditions and so many other important and impactful considerations. We have to figure what each state or region brings into national growth from the skills dimension and how those skills can be brought into play by removing barriers in a focused manner.

No doubt it is a really challenging task and there are some really good minds out there with grassroots experience (that I do not currently have) facing real problems and solving them. I hope that at some point of time, we have enough power of self-organization to come together as a team and make a real impact!

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Education is the key to progress. It empowers the individual. It enables a nation.

It is the belief of our government that if we nurture our children and young people with the right education, India’s future as a strong and prosperous country is secure.

These words, part of the Indian Prime Minister’s address to the nation today, put into effect the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009.

The Act will provide for free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in a neighbourhood school till completion of elementary education. No child shall be liable to pay any kind of fee or charges or expenses which may prevent him or her from pursuing and completing the elementary education. This means no school fees or indirect costs such as uniforms or textbooks need to be borne by the child. The student teacher ratio is pegged at 30 to 1.

School management committees consisting of local administration, parents/guardians and teachers will be responsible (with 50% women and disadvantaged parents reserved participation) for monitoring the utilization of government funds and the operations of the school.

Sukanta Chaudhuri makes some interesting comments in a Telegraph article. And the Times Of India, a leading newspaper, cites the Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2010 and compares (under the not so subtle caption – “how others secured their future“) the duration of compulsory education implemented by countries worldwide.

According to the news item, the total requirement for implementation works out to a whopping USD 38 billion. India’s GDP (@market prices, estimated value) for 2009-10 stands at USD 1.4 trillion with a 7.2% rate of growth. More than a million new teachers need to be hired and trained while about 0.75 mn existing teachers need to get certified.

Basically, Indian education has a large problem. The largeness of the problem is shared by other areas such as healthcare in terms of sheer numbers and the infrastructure to manage these large numbers. But India has also an extremely large manpower advantage in the first half of this century, which if utilized well, can really boost its place in the global scenario.

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