Educating children for new India
The achievements of Indian youth in various fields are impressive and can vindicate perhaps the system of education. However, these achievers are so few in number that to use their example for justifying large scale inertia in educational reforms will not be appropriate. Few days back, there was pleasant news that Mahima Khanna, a young student from Kolkata topped the M.Phil class of economics at Cambridge and won the Stevenson Prize. Earlier, Amartya Sen, 1956 and Parthadas Gupta, 1967 had won this award. How should we interpret this news. Obviously, we should be happy. But, should we really be happy if in a country which has produced so many outstanding economists, a distinction like this is so scarce. Perhaps, our problem is, we get satisfied with too little too early. I remember when Kolkatans used to take pride in the neat and clean metro railway of only about 23 kms. There is no doubt that Bengal has produced some of the most outstanding intellectuals and literary stalwarts. In the 150th year Rabindranath Tagore, we should ask a question whether our achievements in the field of education justify the inertia in educational reforms.
Ever since the middle class exited the government schools, there has been a complete indifference towards the quality of education as well as infrastructure. The same public system is able to provide some of the finest central and navodaya schools which could easily outperform majority of private schools. When neither the politicians nor public servants patronize these schools, it becomes quite evident that state wants to produce second class citizens through third class facilities. The fact that many achievers still come out of these schools is a tribute to the spirit of hard work and dedication among committed teachers and students. How do we turn around these schools so that our children can get far better opportunities of learning and also contributing to the national development. It may be useful to note that the top institutions in the field of higher education, almost without exception, are public institutions [so much for clamour for privatization of some of these institutions]. If country can produce excellence in higher education, then why not in school education as well.
We need to make it obligatory for politicians and public servants to send their children to government schools. Immediately, a quality improvement will be discernible. The allocation of resources, improvement in infrastructure, design of new content, training of teachers and a lot more will follow. Till that happens, we should consider investing in creating open source high quality content for different subjects. Every student of IIT, IIM, AIIMS, IISER, NIT,etc., is encouraged to develop just one lesson in animation or other multimedia formats with possible multilingual translation of the subject which he/she enjoyed most during the student days, we would have achieved enormous breakthrough in creating high quality content. This content can then be podcast or made downloadable through blue tooth or other wifi technologies through every post office. In one day, all the content can be made accessible to all the 6.5 lacs villages through 1.45 lacs post offices.
Democratization of high quality content with free helpline of tutors can revolutionize the learning outcomes for our children within a couple of years. What are the possible barriers to such an idea? One – this idea did not come out of the government policy documents or Planning Commission and therefore cannot be worthy of attention. Second – the resources for creating platform where students can post the lessons and other students and faculty can edit the same, are not available. There is always a scarcity of resources for causes that concern the disadvantaged. Third – government may like to use the resources to give free food to the people who don’t deserve it, who may not even desire it and who are economically far above the poverty line. If populism could win the votes every time, then parties which distribute televisions, sarees and other freebies should never have lost elections. Indian electorate is becoming wiser. It appreciates quality and is willing to give a chance to authentic efforts to democratize access to knowledge and other learning opportunities. I hope wisdom will prevail and we will be able to make breakthrough so that we don’t rejoice only when some Indian students achieve extraordinary results globally once in a decade or two. Indian students have tremendous talent as evident from the recent IGNITE awards given by NIF and Honey Bee Network at the hands of Dr.Kalam. What we need is a more fair access to opportunities.
Anil K Gupta