You cannot fix someone’s cardiac fitness by recommending a hair transplant. That’s what this artifice amounts to. To address our problems in education, both school and higher education, there are just two ways ahead and both are needed. For cardiac fitness you have to eat right and exercise, there is no other way out. Similarly for our problems of quality and equity in education, the government has to invest more money and improve its performance.
In the meanwhile, we can certainly change examinations to reflect real learning. Given the social function of exams, it is one area where industry and general population can play a clear role and don’t. Instead we look at the marks of our children and feel happy or sad, and also look at the marks of potential employees for hiring. We mouth a homily once in a while, but go back to the comfortable, simplifying tyranny of “marks” in our real lives.
The third-generation children are fearless, articulate, independent, rational (capable of a high degree of analysis on “what is right and wrong” for them), impatient, non-hierarchical, and have wider methods of accessing knowledge. Therefore, what is likely to work with them is not position, age, seniority, power and experience, but strategies that promote equality, democracy, placing before them hard data for them to analyse and infer, and where required, allowing them to take charge of their own learning.
We need multiple responses to address teacher motivation. The recognition of its importance, in policy and practice, could be a start. This will need translation to structural reforms, effective engagement of local communities in schools and leaders in our education system becoming more sensitive. As with many other things, this is not a matter which requires higher budgets, but requires administrative and political will, which is in even shorter supply than money.
Between the drunk and the good teacher is the average teacher. She teaches, because that’s her job. Accepting of her milieu, and of the difficult nature of her work, she neither demonstrates a spark, nor shirks what she thinks she has to do. The large majority of our teachers are the average teacher.
We need continuing and massive systemic improvements in education, but we must not underestimate the importance and power of individuals taking initiative and changing things, within the space they have. I feel that we too often and too easily pass on everything to the “system”, abdicating our responsibility in making change happen.
One, at a real, practical level the ability of the user to “shop around” for alternative providers is very limited, because the rhythm of schooling makes location an almost insurmountable constraint. Two, the school is responsible in very deep ways, for the present and future life of the child, and by the collective future of its students, it also influences society. In this situation of asymmetry, to do an honest job of its professional obligation, the schools’ cost structures become such that the fee required to make it sustainable (forget profitable), is not available. It’s not available primarily because it’s simply unaffordable by a very large majority in the country.
There is an even more complex issue, for which we may have no solution, but the consciousness of which can perhaps be useful. In some domains “scaling” is not possible—at least in the way it is understood in industrial settings. These are arenas, where locality and specificity is everything. This is driven by the basic truth that these levels involve individual human issues, which by definition are individualized, needing individual attention. Healthcare and education are two of the most important such areas.
This eclectic, seemingly eccentric curriculum was just one facet of the deliberate design of Neel Bagh. The methodology, the culture, the physical environment and the community were all integrated to build a place where education happened as it should. The students would learn together in groups, but at their individual pace. The teacher would only facilitate the setting up of suitable learning situations. The focus would be on problem solving and concept formation. The students would engage in real-world activities, in reading, in discussion and in critical thinking. Almost all students were first generation school goers.