Education plays an important role in the development and advancement of any country. And when it comes to the world’s largest democracy, the statement is even more true. The state and quality of education have been evolving right from the times students were taught under the trees to now when they have knowledge at their fingertips in high-tech classrooms, and outside them.
With India celebrating 71 years of Independence this year, we talk to a few educationists and seek their views on what they feel about our education system.
“The quality of education is defined by its rigour, relevance, practicality and being futuristic. At the same time, it should also have the ability to impart value and be interdisciplinary in nature,” says Dr Dishan Kamdar, Vice Chancellor, Flame University. He adds that while the quality of education is extremely important, it should not be restricted to meeting very high levels of specialisation without paying attention to other vital facets like problem solving, ethics, creativity and empathy.
THE KNOWLEDGE GIVERS
Kamdar believes that one of the reasons why the quality of our teaching is not as desired is because we have not integrated research into our teaching, into our culture at universities. “Most of the faculty at universities in India teach classes and that’s all. There is little attention paid towards research and very little interface with the industry. Unless and until the focus is shifted towards research and faculty’s active engagement with the industry, we will not be able to create a practical pedagogy.”
Another important cause for our education not being relevant and current, says Kamdar, is the traditional rote learning methodology, resulting in too many mediocre universities and schools with very few truly excellent in every field. Given the intense level of specialisation in every field, students are not exposed to a broad-based curriculum early on. Hence the education system produces managers and leaders who are unable to think beyond their domain. They can’t innovate, they find it difficult to manage adversity, they find it challenging working with different cultures, people, across borders, etc, he observes.
According to Prof Anita Patankar, Director, Symbiosis School of Liberal Arts, “Multi-diversity requires a population which is aware of its diversity and accepting of it. There is a critical need to raise cultural awareness and cultural sensitivity today more than ever. We condemn racism globally but practise it often, in some form or the other, ourselves,” Patankar says, adding that education is extremely important for a country where intolerance is becoming rampant in all aspects of life.
As for the education crisis in India currently, Patankar says, “We suffer from a scary dearth of qualified, motivated and trained teachers with a passion for teaching-learning-research-community engagement.” She says that in terms of equitable education, there is a huge difference in not only the rural and urban centres of education, but also in institutions within these two locales. “This difference varies from infrastructure and quality of teachers/learning resources, to diversity of thought/opinions, language and medium of instruction, etc,” she points out.
THE TEXTS, THE PROCESSES
Textbooks imparting education has been deeply rooted in our education system. To some extent, a more conventional textbook focus gives an understanding to the teachers and students of the knowledge that is expected to be gained at each level and is hence necessary. “Not everyone in India has the facilities that are available in many Tier 1 and 2 cities. However, what is necessary and important is to use that theoretical knowledge as base and then look at pedagogical improvements,” Patankar says. This would lead to a better application of knowledge resulting in sustainable changes to the lives we lead and the communities we live in.
India has been a country where the education sector is divided because of various state, Central and international boards. Education has become abstract all over the country, Patankar says, adding that a single centralised system would enable ease of admission and administration, and make people believe that there’s parity in the curriculum. However, this alone cannot ensure parity unless the other parameters like infrastructure and facilities, quality of teachers and administrative staff, etc are also taken into account, she adds.
Sulakshana Sen, senior faculty at Symbiosis School of Liberal Arts, says that even though the Indian education system may have flaws in it, Indian students have always performed well whenever they have gone abroad at whatever level. “So obviously, somewhere, we are doing something right!,” she says. The challenge, she adds, is to ensure that whatever we are doing right, those practices are shared across India, across all educational institutions whether private or government. To ensure that, modern and innovative practical and research applications are necessary.
There is one problem that has resurfaced in the last one or two decades — distortion of historical facts and figures in textbooks. Sen says, “History reflects that this has been the practice of most societies, no matter where in the world and in what period.” She adds that the agenda is always to focus on what the polity seeks to reinforce as being important.
She points out that even the same event is taught through different perspectives, for example, the way Pearl Harbor and the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima are looked at in the USA and Japan.