What ails our education?
By Ananya S Guha
The education system has been discussed enough but it needs to be talked about more. If we talk about growth of a developing country, education becomes a key factor in this. But let us look at what education should do. Should it lead to employment? Should it be geared towards employment creation? Perhaps, the answer is yes to both. But what will a person do with a simple graduate degree? Where is the job? Or is the demand for a ‘good’ salary the factor?
First of all, education has to have a sustainable factor, at any point of time. Secondly, it should be considered both pre work and post work. The latter is related to the work situation and education, which means essentially that there is no end to it. However, our quintessential image of education is that of the school, the college, and the university. The rush is towards the ‘best’ and the cut-off marks hover towards almost hundred. This is not only ridiculous, but also puts pressure on the system and the family.
Education in India has always been associated with those who can afford it in terms of money and privilege. There are only effete attempts to have it for the working class or the underprivileged. Those coming from very poor background send their children to public schools as their children are not ‘intelligent’ enough to qualify for the so-called better schools.
The demons are the student-teacher ratio and the abject failure of a system to be student-centric. Can any authority have the guts to think of classrooms without a teacher? Say, leave the child to learn and discover on their own?
Radical reforms are not on the minds of our policymakers. Learner centric education will be a radical shift from rote and note. Now with the World Wide Web (WWW), digital repositories can be automatically generated even in rural areas. By initially cut and paste learning, the child and the adult alike will learn to appreciate and discover. This process is the fount of education and the teacher can be only a mediator.
Alternate models of education have to be seriously worked out and developed unflaggingly. Home-based education, internet learning, and distance education are the key factors here. In this manner, a more flexible and rounded system will emerge. The rapid proliferation of the new media can be easily adapted to the system formally.
That brings us to affordability. This is relative but this also adds to family pressure. Cost effective distance education courses are easily available both at the school and higher education level in India. But education is hierarchic. Only traditional schools and colleges are sacrosanct.
We have to consciously build this second tier of education. The quality will emerge from those who try and sustenance will be maintained, if people demand it.
The truth is that the system is self-imposed. It creates its own demand and supply. We are not prepared to listen to what the learners demand. It is this demand factor which is the cornerstone of education. If there is no mutuality and reciprocity between demand and supply, the system itself will flounder.
Now what is it that affects the system? One is the lack of imagination; an inability to put more verve whether in the text or in teaching. The other is the practical application of knowledge. Information translated into practice and delight is knowledge: the relevance to life what one studies.
Flexibility should be inherent in an educational system. By flexibility I mean shunning all fear, the fear of ‘failing’, for example. This can only be done by creating a permissible frame of time. Why should schooling be only for ten years? It could well be for thirteen years. Progressively, new time frames can be worked out.
Another important aspect will be subversion of degrees. Why cannot certification or diplomas be part of the higher educational system? We have seen what obsession for a mere degree has led to. Unemployment? Let us not even talk of underemployment.
Home-based education, work-related education, child and adult education are contiguous realities in education. They do make education holistic, compatible, and relevant to social and economic situations.
Doling out statistics will do little to anatomise what plagues it. In a country like India, it is the worst form of oppression, suffering, and poverty that plagues it. It is casteist and grossly hierarchical.
In this context, the challenges of distance and open education should be taken up but not in a self-upbraiding manner. It is always considered to be a second alternative to education in India. But its silent work over decades is either ignored or sidelined. Its concept of education with virtues to target poorer sections of society, working adults wanting to alternate between work and study, its cost effectiveness are aspects that go unnoticed still today. That is because education has a caste, an upper one and only those who qualify supposedly intelligent tests are admitted, or those who can pay to the private universities. The practitioners of open and distance learning understand high motivational levels of their students. Its use of the radio, television, and the computer as prompts for learning is also not understood, if not pooh poohed. The fact is that around 20% of students in the Higher Education sector are students of Distance Education in India. The numbers are increasing as the demand for study, right from the undergraduate to the professional and working person, is on the rise. State Open Universities in the country are silently working a revolution towards this, by offering courses in local languages. It is high time teachers in universities get off from their pedestals and look at the realities of education today. The child who sells tea is not going to school. The young man or woman who has passed only 10 plus two is compelled to work, in a surrounding which may only bring depression. In the meantime, private universities are ruling the roost, but they too cater to a moneyed class. High Court judgements on capitation fees were ignored. If you get education only because you can pay, then education becomes a business industry. But industrial operations of distance education lead to division of labour and cost effectiveness.
We must now break barriers in education, by dismantling its four cornered walls, and take it to ‘open’ spaces. That is its inherent right.
Ananya S Guha is Regional Director, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), Shillong.
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