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June 04, 2019 Tuesday 12:58:39 PM IST


Cover Story

The fact that the Indian education system has to be overhauled has to go well beyond the armchair activism of educators, bureaucrats, think tanks, proletariat, et al, who have been debating this issue for decades. A whole new evolutionary approach is needed to seriously look into the very purpose of education itself.Moving away from rote theory and aligning it to business practicalities, with internships, apprenticeships and market research partnerships is the need of the hour, especially with technological changes accelerating at lightning speed. Widespread use of nanotechnology and robotics-aided 3D printing, the conventional assembly line factories employing many, will not exist. With infotech and biotech merging rapidly in an embedded Internet of Things era, where machines will learn, analyse, communicate, transact, transmit and control the environment among themselves with limited human intervention, more conventional jobs that we are preparing our young for, will vanish into thin air in the next decade.

The very socio-economic fabric of relative peace and quiet that we have built into our lives since the industrial revolution with gainful employment for a large section of the population, will be uprooted in ways we cannot predict. Job losses at a massive scale will further fuel the current resurgence of nationalism and protectionism that we are seeing, further exacerbating turbulence in the society. The optimistic assumption we had that the rising tide will lift all boats, is running out of steam. Apart from minor benefits derived from jobs such as the Uber driver, the Airbnb host, the e-commerce delivery person and the Data Analyst, the tide is actually lifting the yachts of the elite with access to ever more resources, who are producing more and more assets with less and less resources. Much of this increasing wealth is hidden away in offshore tax havens. That’s another matter, but it does affect funds available for education, akin to what artificial intelligence and machine learning will do in replacing jobs.

Learn, unlearn

Now that we have laid a foundation of reality to the developing scenario, all is not lost. There will always be a ray of hope in the emerging clouds, if we move from rote instruction and prepare our young to learn, unlearn and relearn constantly. The question is how do we do that? Change has to be drastic. Abolish the format of the desk facing the teacher and convert all that to a round table format. Guided, self-learning should be the new criteria. Find out information by oneself, discuss in groups, and have ideation sessions on various issues. Entrepreneurship should be a subject which could showcase innovative examples. It might ease the pressure on the job market by reducing the number of people waiting to be employed.

To further reinforce the learning process, the knowledge assimilated has to be presented to the class, teachers, school, businesses, government, NGOs, etc. This will also enable the youth to polish their desperately needed communication and presentation skills. Conduct debates on the knowledge gained, to see where it could fit into in real life. The important point to be stressed is, where do we apply what we have learned? The answer lies in forging a collaboration with industry and the services sector. There has to be a system of compulsory internships or apprenticeships from the high school stage, in fields of their interest which should be verified through psychometric tests.

Participatory learning

Once the ground rules of an active, participatory learning format are set in motion and an action plan formed to take it forward in association with the industry, the educator’s job assumes a new level. In fact, it can be described as part of the problem because we cannot stop at just enabling an efficient, capable group of youth who are devoid of social awareness and its attendant responsibilities. We have to get the young involved in finding out solutions to the socio-economic problems facing the world. Issues pertaining to poverty, water shortage, pollution, climate change,deforestation, garbage disposal, reduction of carcinogenic chemical usage,proliferation of lifestyle diseases, geriatric care, welfare of the disabled, illiteracy, gender inequality, public transportation, housing, rise of xenophobia and religious extremism, nuclear disarmament and so on. The elders have a moral responsibility to guide the young to channelise their immense energy and potential to change the world they are going to commonly inherit, where only the collective will be able to solve these pressing issues which if left unaddressed, can unbundle the world.

We have to get experts in variousfields, be it in the government or private sector and startups, to initiate brainstorming sessions in class on a weekly basis. This can be part of a vastly extended Corporate Social Responsibility initiative for which the citizens would have to approach the government. Get retirees from all walks of life including the armed forces to volunteer for these ideation sessions. It has to be a continuous process until various innovative solutions are presented to the right forums.

Be societal

Get the youth involved in programmes such as cleaning up the environment, caring for the lesser privileged, elderly, differently abled and destitute, teaching and mentoring poor children, conducting health and environment awareness drives in slums and rural areas, collecting unused articles of daily use from the affluent and distributing it to the needy and whatever is beneficial to the society in the long run. This will create a sense of participation as well as an appreciation for what they have and the feeling that their efforts can help create a better world. It will also make them aware of the dangers of conspicuous consumption and the beneficial effects of a more sharing, caring, less individualistic world. This will keep them productively engaged as well, with less time for social media usage and less prone to believe blindly in the words of hate-mongers.

When we are able to achieve such an inclusive education system,several problems confronting the world could be addressed.  It could help raise a generation capable of leading a less materialistic, wholesome, simplistic life, contributing to peace and prosperity. Building appreciation for the bounty of nature and a sense of shared destiny for mankind has to be integrated into our education system. Gandhiji said, “the world has enough for everyone’s needs, but not everyone’s greed.” It was Mother Teresa who said,“if each of us would only sweep our own doorstep, the whole world would be clean”.Let us internalise the changes we want to see in the world, through a fruitful, egalitarian education system, which would rest on the premise that no one can be taught, they can only learn and that systems and processes of imparting and imbibing knowledge will constantly change. If not, the future of mankind will be short-changed.

Thomas George

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