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Modi's big challenge: Refashioning India's education system
Updated:Jan 8, 2016
 
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By Amit Dasgupta
 
The emergence of a knowledge-driven society demonstrated that everything can and must change and that the process is a continuous search for better solutions. Indeed, new scientific discoveries and technological innovations have become an integral part of our everyday biography. Objects we had grown accustomed to have been replaced by newer and more efficient products. If anything is truly permanent, it is change itself.
 
Yet the vast majority of people continue to have a pathological anathema towards change. They harbour feelings of great mistrust because they perceive change as an explicit acknowledgement of failure. Consequently, they are steadfast in their refusal to accept that the failure to shift thinking would, most certainly, lead to their obsolescence.
 
 Research has substantively established an inter-linkage between countries that embrace innovation and thus, change, and economic prosperity. People in such countries think different. They are more adventurous, less risk averse and open to experimenting. Governments and the bureaucracy in emerging or developing economies, on the other hand, tend to suffer from an acute disavowal of all that challenges existing paradigms. New ways of seeing worry them. Consequently, our schools and colleges are unable to respond to the rapidly changing educational needs of a knowledge economy.
 
 This has serious consequences. First, it adversely impacts economic growth because the quality of education is the principal driver of the growth engine. And second because bad education does not lead to employability in a globally competitive environment. This is a profound and not imagined disaster that India credibly faces and will, most certainly, undermine India's aspirations as a global thinker.
 
 So, what is the role of education?
 
 To paraphrase Nietzsche, all human action needs to be based on what we wish to achieve. Education, similarly, must have an end-objective. For students, it is productive and sustained employability. For governments, this translates into contributing to the GDP. If education underachieves in this stated objective, it would be perceived as a failure, since more and more young people would become unemployable.
 
 What this requires is the radical shaking up of the education system. First, this would ensure that the dead wood and dried-up leaves fall off. Second, the system would be reformatted to achieve the 21st century objectives. In short, we need to usher in an educational revolution and not just an evolution of teaching techniques. Yesterday's curriculum and pedagogy has to give way to future needs and requirements. In effect this means shifting from an education system that was crafted during the industrial era to one that is in consonance with the present-day demands of an ever-changing environment. In other words, the very DNA of education - both at the school and university level - needs to be changed.
 
 For India, this is the need of the day. She is at the cusp of transformational change. Global perception of her attractiveness is remarkably upbeat. She has been invited to the high table. However, all these positive developments are directly related to whether India would deliver on promise and expectation. Is she, in other words, a safe bet? The attractiveness of the Indian workforce would be the key for corporate investors. This means that education would need to produce a world class workforce that is in consonance with the expectations of the corporate investor.
 
 This requires a fundamental overhaul in the way we perceive what education needs to deliver. First, the education environment cannot be divorced from the external landscape. The 'in-here' experience needs to be directly linked to the 'out-there' experience. Our schools and universities are not a comfort zone or an idyllic island resort but rather deeply rooted in the here-and-now. The outside world is complex, volatile and unpredictable. Students need to be taught to embrace uncertainty and not be intimidated by it. Indeed, the job they would end up doing has not yet been created.
 
 Did any of us realistically believe, when we were students, that a living could be made designing apps? Second, education needs to inculcate learning agility. In other words, education must craft persons who are open to new ideas, who are constantly learning new skills and willing to apply them but more importantly, learning from experience and failure. Third, we need to learn the importance of team work and focus. Teams are not a collection of silos but an integrated circuit with a clear objective. And finally, education administrators need to recognize that the teacher is simply a facilitator. Unless education is refashioned, we would embrace the 21st century with a 19th century mindset. The result would be failure.
 
 Restructuring the approach towards contemporary education, accordingly, needs to incorporate the following, among others:
 
 1.Learning about learning: The teaching community and education administrators need to recognize the need to shift from teaching to learning. This is the transition from the sage on the stage to a co-learner. Substantive evidence exists of teachers abandoning the chalk and talk methodology with dramatic results.
 
 2. Shifting the mind-set of education providers: The fundamental paradox is that teaching is provided by an older generation to a younger one leading to a credible likelihood of a mismatch and disconnect in thinking, understanding and communication. Education is all about connecting and thus, interpersonal relations. Students need to be able to relate to their teachers. If this is lacking, education would fail to meet the high societal expectations.
 
 3. Embrace the Internet: The Internet has made learning possible 24x7 without the teacher. Unfortunately, while the teaching community acknowledges the transformative impact of the Internet, the whole-hearted embrace is perfunctory. Consequently, educational institutions are unable to take full advantage of the incredible world the Internet opens up, which, for the most part, is entirely free.
 
 4. Redesigning Space: Design has assumed significance and rightly so. Studies have demonstrated how design impacts thinking. Various corporate offices are moving into open style functioning and a fluid utilization of space with funky designs that are immediately attractive. Schools and classrooms have, similarly, started changing. Indeed, even the term 'classroom' is being replaced with 'learning centres'. The consequent requirement is for the campus and the learning centres to become interactive, engaging and functional. They play a dramatic role in shifting pedagogy to a modern mindset.
 
 5. Globalization is Multiculturalism: A rapidly integrating world has substantially diluted geographical boundaries. The role of the educational institutions needs to recognize this dramatic new requirement and help open minds, so that we are sensitive and welcoming of other cultures.
 
 The future is hurtling towards us at an extraordinary pace. Unless education is refashioned by a visionary leadership, we face the dire consequence of being left out of the mainstream. This is one of the great challenges Prime Minister Narendra Modi faces.
 
 (Amit Dasgupta, a former Indian diplomat, heads the Mumbai campus of the SP Jain School of Global Management. He may be reached at amit.dasgupta@spjain.org)
 
 
 
 
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