When it comes to reforms in education sector, be it at school level or higher education level, we make several critical analyses on deficiencies; make tall claims on bringing out the change and finally, we make very less move for introducing and implementing the reforms. There is one major problem. When somebody points deficiencies, or comes out with clear solutions, we immediately start defending the system rather than looking at them with an open mind. We also take pleasure on a public platform to expose the other person’s knowledge and his or her way of expression, just to score a very insignificant point, rather than going in to the spirit behind the argument.
Three recent news items make me derive the above conclusions. The first one is connected to the comments, almost a year ago, by N R Narayana Murthy on declining standards of IIT entrants, which subsequently are reflected in the output of the graduates because of ‘IIT entrance examination training shops’. Immediately several articles appeared by former IITians and also professors in IITs making case for how good a job IITs were doing, claiming that they still attract best of the best students. Murhty was trying to highlight the excessive attachment of the students and also parents on preparing for the IIT entrance examinations at the cost of neglecting 12th standard education. Well, there could be an argument that “IIT entrance examination training shops” exist because of so much competition for just a few institutions of excellence. But the point is that the very process of entrance examination and the time and effort put in by the students to prepare for the examination makes students weak in fundamentals in various core subjects. Many IIT professors, in private, do agree that those who come from ‘training shops’ find it difficult to cope with rigour of teaching because the students had just focused their minds on ‘doing well in the examination’ rather than enhancing the learning in fundamentals. The need therefore, is to revisit the entrance examination process so as to test the real understanding of students in subjects that are the part of 12th standard. We must also realise that not all students prepare for IIT admissions. There are a large number of students, who are looking for quality education at higher secondary level. Hence, the CBSE/state boards also need to reemphasise on the process of learning in classrooms.
The new policy focuses on changing the fabric of curriculum, which would emphasise on learning blended with experiences. It is only through such approaches that students would start going back to classrooms in the 12th standard.
The other news talks about Aakash, meaning ‘sky’ in Hindi, billed as the world’s least-expensive tablet, that went through a series of improvements since its launch the year before last. The next edition of the low-cost Aakash-3 tablet will have a SIM card slot, a faster processor, higher memory capacity and will be able to function on both the android operating system and Linux. Professor Deepak Pathak, who heads the group, is confident that the 3rd version of Aakash would be very strong both in machine and uses performance. But IIT Bombay, which is spearheading the effort, would like to ensure that improved offerings don’t result in a higher price for the tablet. Time would prove whether one can still retain the previous price of the tablet and I do not imagine that it is a very impossible proposition. There has been an unwarranted cry over the use of Chinese components. Well, the fact is China does deliver hardware at a very competitive price, that’s why most of the models in mobile or tablets produced by world’s leading companies depend on Chinese products. What is important is that we need to quickly concentrate on using tablets as an effective tool in education.
This brings me to the third news that appeared in many regional newspapers on the absence of motivational involvement of teaching community in use of technology in classrooms. In spite of enormous efforts to bring in cost effective technology, creating national knowledge network and working on affordable-last-leg connectivity to the final users, teachers appear to be least interested in the blended learning approach. The creation of content — the true backbone of technology driven blended F2F and on line education revolution — is still outside the purview of majority of the teachers. Sadly, even the young generation of teachers, in the age group of the 30s, are not coming on the forefront to take up this challenging task. They still follow chalk and board approach. There are many private technology companies working in the business of education and are coming out with several types and versions of content; right from kindergarten to secondary to higher education. Many IITs and few organisations like CEC of UGC are working in this domain as well. However, all these efforts are done independently and, as expected, there is enormous overlap of efforts.
The news items mentioned above clearly exposes the weaknesses in our education system. We need a national policy that squarely addresses these macro and micro level blockades, analyses them objectively and comes out with an operational approach that can be implemented across India. Education is a concurrent subject, but as regards shaping its future, there should not be diversification of issues. We also need to bring fresh minds to address these aspects; leaders from the next generation who understand the global and local scenarios. Probably, this would bring in a change that the youth is looking for.
(The writer is former chairman of UGC, former vice-chancellor of
University of Pune and founder director of NAAC)