The Need for Quality Education: Preparing our Children for a Better Future

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Education plays an important role in the development of a person and the entire nation. There is still much to be desired where the quality of education in India is concerned. A major population of our students are devoid of the required infrastructure and facilities that would aid in them receiving even the most basic standard of education. It is also important to emphasise that the government is doing its part to educate every child as they deserve as part of their basic rights. Meet Dr Reeta Sonawat, Director, Early Childhood Education, Ampersand Group. She is an internationally-acclaimed, national award-winning educator, especially renowned as one of the world’s top experts in the field of Early Childhood Care Education (ECCE) and a contributor to the National Education Policy 2020. CSR Mandate spoke with her to find out more about the ground reality of Indian Education, goals achieved and way forward.

Are our rural and government schools being given the proper kind of education to prepare children for the future?

It’s a misnomer that all government schools lag behind public schools in providing quality education. The fact is, many government schools in urban cities have done fairly well in providing quality education to students. However, both government and private schools in rural areas have mostly failed in ensuring the highest standards of education delivery due to various factors.

Lack of the right environment and support system

Students in rural areas are mostly first-generation learners and they lack the right environment in their community and also in their school to support proper education. The biggest difference between schools in urban and rural areas is the quality of teachers. Both State and Central governments follow a stringent recruitment process for teachers with minimum qualification and training criteria. Hence, government schools have more trained teachers compared to private schools in rural areas but lack infrastructure facilities similar to urban schools. However, from my experience, I can say that teachers in rural areas, both in private and government schools, lack the qualities of regularity, punctuality, and professionalism, mostly because a large number of teachers in rural schools are women who have more demanding family commitments and minimal support system in their homes.

Are we flexible enough to teach them vocational education from the early stages of education?

No focus on skill-based learning 

The education delivered in Indian schools is still extremely structured and process-oriented. Our schools are yet not flexible about extending vocational education, particularly from lower grades.

At present, only CBSE schools allow students to opt for certain vocational courses as optional papers. The Board offers nine vocational courses for students of Grades VI-VIII, 18 courses for students of Grade IX-X, and 26 courses for students of Grades XI-XII. However, in reality, the vocational option differs from school to school depending upon their geographical location, availability of infrastructure, and trained teachers.  Most rural schools are not able to provide the requisite infrastructure and instructor support for vocational education.

Especially in lower classes, there is still no flexibility offered by any education Board for skill-based learning and only a structured curriculum is followed. Moreover, the entire policy focus for education so far was more on imparting knowledge and less on skill development, hence vocational training was never viewed as integral to school education.

It is, therefore, very encouraging that the new National Education Policy (NEP) introduces this much-needed flexibility and change in perspective towards vocational education by bringing it into the mainstream of the schooling systems. The NEP proposes to include at least 50 per cent of the students from Class VI onwards in vocational education.

Are students allowed to use their reasoning power and thinking capability as they should or is it just rote learning?

Rote learning the norm still

The education system that we have inherited from the British focuses on creating yes-men and workers instead of leaders and independent thinkers. Hence, the teaching methodology followed in most schools even now is a linear process and not attuned to promoting reasoning and independent thinking.

Schools have been offering a certain set of subjects, without allowing the flexibility to students to opt for vocational courses in lieu of some of these subjects. Learning and understanding concepts of these many subjects often become a daunting challenge for younger children, especially those belonging to the rural and tribal background. They struggle to learn and comprehend the textbook language used in classrooms, which is vastly different from the tongue they speak at home.  Hence, children continue to learn by rote and even pass their exams by rote, without getting any deep understanding of the subject matter. This practice of rote learning debilitates their ability to think, reason, and apply the learning in their daily lives.

Are we too dependent on AI and technology that children have found it easy to just google and search for solutions online without using books and references anymore?

Lack of technology-aided learning

Most schools and students in rural areas and government schools are still in a transition phase when it comes to the adoption of computers and new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI).  While a few government schools in smaller towns and cities do have computers and offer a certain level of exposure to students but technology-backed learning isn’t still integral to their classroom teaching. There is a lack of trained and skilled teachers as well, which restrains the adoption of technology-backed learning delivery.  This is in stark contrast with urban public and private schools which are providing significant stress on technology-aided education.

Moreover, students who get access to computers or mobile phones only learn to consume technology without benefitting from it. They are curious to explore but the use of gadgets and apps is restricted to only project-related work and not used for becoming a better learner. This trend is seen in both urban and rural children.

The habit of reading books is also on the wane among all children irrespective of their backgrounds. Hence, students specifically in rural and government schools, depend entirely on their teachers to handhold them.

How do we prepare our children for the future when we are just spoon-feeding them? 

Need for continuous hand-holding

With the emergence of new technologies and the advent of Industry 4.0, there would be a need for different skillsets and knowledge for every individual joining the 21st-century workforce. Hence, children of the present generation need to learn their basic concepts well. To achieve this goal, teachers will need to spoon-feed and hand-hold them now to build a strong learning base for the future. This is especially needed for children from underprivileged and rural backgrounds and in government schools, who are mostly first-generation learners, and hence, do not get much support from their families or communities. Unless we change the methodology of teaching in every school and remarkably improve the teaching standards, hand-holding is the only way to ensure children continue to learn.

Why is there so much disparity between government schools and private schools in terms of education when RTE is for every child?

Language the biggest differentiator

The absence of effective and two-way communication between the teachers and students is the biggest disparity between rural and urban schools. The difference in language in which the teachers teach in their class and students communicate in their homes becomes a barrier in effective learning and communication.

Further, urban private schools have an edge over infrastructure, which allows them to offer a vast range of co-curricular activities. Though often public schools have larger open spaces and playgrounds, they fall short on the upkeep of the space and the necessary equipment to support sports and other co-curricular activities.

Another serious difference between private and government schools is in the quality of teachers. Private school teachers are under constant pressure from parents and the school management to perform and ensure the highest standards of education delivery. Though teachers of government schools, too, are expected to work harder to hand-hold their students who often are first-generation learners, however, with no such challenges of performance like the private school teachers, they often become lax in their commitment, dedication, and professionalism. This hampers the quality of education in government schools, especially in rural areas where parents completely depend on the school to take care of their children’s education.

There is also a vast difference between private and government schools in the kind of additional exposure students get to ensure their holistic development. In government schools, the only additional exposure is the health and hygiene awareness programmes organised mostly by non-government organisations (NGOs). These children are not exposed to the developments happening in many other areas such as in sports, music, and culture, which urban students get. 

Isn’t Universal Access to Education what we should focus on?

Universalisation of education has been given a priority by the government. The Right to Education Act (RTE Act) ensures that every child everywhere has access to education. However, along with the universalisation of education, it is also necessary to ensure every child attends school. Currently, we do not have a penalisation framework to ensure schooling for children is made compulsory for parents. Universal access to education can be achieved only if both schools and parents work together. Hence, remedial policies are needed to ensure parents in rural areas compulsory send their children to schools.

How can companies and organisations raise the quality of education in the underserved regions (where the majority of the Indian population resides)? Unless and until every citizen in India has equal access to education, it is pointless talking about the country being progressive. The literacy rate in rural, semi-urban areas needs to increase.

Include management of government schools under CSR

According to Niti Aayog, over 15 lakh schools, having more than 25 crore children and 89 lakh teachers constitute the school education ecosystem of India. This indicates adequate access to school education in the country, but the real concern is the quality of school education and the availability of trained teachers.

Entrusting the public sector with the management, assessments, curriculum, and teachers’ training of government schools, particularly in rural areas, as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) mandate can be a workable solution for addressing this challenge. However, the government must ensure that private companies which are roped in have an established track record and experience in the management of schools and also enter these projects with a minimum five-year commitment.

CSR budget should also be used for funding research and documentation of best practices followed in different private and public schools that have excelled in providing holistic education. This can help in determining the roadmap for improving the quality of education in our government schools.

Further, as the NEP suggests, actions need to be undertaken on a ‘mission mode’ for achieving fundamental numeracy and literacy. Achieving this goal would also require involving the community and society in a mission mode.