The education challenge

The education challenge
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First Published: Mon, Dec 12 2011. 01 15 AM IST

Updated: Wed, Dec 14 2011. 07 26 PM IST
India’s aspiration to become a global knowledge hub largely depends on a quality school system, or the lack of it. A year-long study of both scholastic and non-scholastic activities by Wipro Applying Thoughts in Schools and Educational Initiatives undertaken in major Indian cities reveals that the quality of education has fallen significantly—something best described by 14th century English poet Geoffrey Chaucer, “That if gold rust, what shall iron do?” In other words, if the country’s top schools are unable to deliver on quality, one can only expect worse for the rest of the country.
Education at the crossroads?
The stakeholders concerned believe that education in India is at the crossroads—while change is slowly being embedded, a large section of schools run by the government need to pull up their socks. Contrary to perception, they strongly feel that rote learning is not bad as long as it comes with understanding, as less dependence on memory will give way to artificial intelligence, which may hamper innovation in the long run. However, looking at the current Indian context, the demand of the economy and growing global competition, both principals and educationists have the same view—there is an expectation-reality mismatch.
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Unfortunately, the education that we are providing is content heavy... There is no harm in learning by heart. Rote learning has today saved us, when our children go to other countries. We blame our education, but the same education system has produced the best minds now working in the best universities and companies of the world.
Shyama Chona, Educationist and former principal of Delhi Public School, RK Puram, Delhi.
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I will not say that the quality is going down. Pedagogy is changing, understanding is now better... The quality is going up because of the introduction of high-order thinking skills (HOTs). Some students are doing much better as they are able to handle HOTs. Changes are being incorporated, but that’s around 20%...the rest is based on rote learning that is still the base of 12th board exam.
Madhulika Sen, Principal, Tagore International School, Delhi
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There is a rigour in Indian schools, which is really good… What is lacking is creativity and lateral thinking, the ability to infer, and that’s what the Indian education system need to look at and make students stronger. It’s a collective responsibility—parents, teachers and universities.
Abha Sehgal, Principal, Sanskriti School, Delhi
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While a lot of progress has been made in improving access to schools, the quality of educational outcomes is suspect. India has over 200 million school-going children; many leave school without a grasp of core concepts, lacking in the skills to communicate effectively and, hence, missing out on opportunities to succeed in work and in life. Our six million practising teachers are often blamed for this outcome, but they are rarely supported with the tools, training and support that are needed for quality classroom practice. We can’t blindly say that the quality has gone down…but putting things into perspective, there is a mismatch of reality and expectations for sure.
Anustup Nayak, Partner, idiscoveri Education Pvt Ltd
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The moment you allow students to express themselves freely, interaction improves. Both schools and family members need to understand this. I believe a teacher’s ability to explain a subject is key to the improved learning environment in schools.
Emaad Muzafeer, Class 9, Manav Rachna International School,Gurgaon
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Learning should be practical-oriented and we would like to learn more by doing. Generally, books are text heavy, and this should be replaced by books that have more flow charts, diagrams and pictures, and less text. Often understanding takes the back seat in the rush to complete a lesson within the stipulated period.
Aarushi Khan, Class 9, Dev Samaj Modern School, Delhi
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We feel more interested in learning a subject if the teacher involves us in the process. More the involvement of students, better the learning and understanding. If the content is heavy, then students get busy in finishing it rather than getting involved in it always.
Simran Agarwal, Class 8, Tagore International School, Delhi
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Overall Findings Student Outcomes
Learning levels in 2011 were significantly lower at the primary level than what was observed in 2006 in the same schools tested on the same questions.
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Comparison with international students
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English Class 4
Performance in common questions
Students in India’s “top” schools performed lower than the international average on questions in studies such as the Trends in International Maths and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Progress in Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) at the class 4 level, while they are on par at the class 8 level. The improvement in the class 8 level is due to students doing well on procedural questions, QES found.
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Performance of students and schools in different cities
Composite performance index of cities
A comparison of overall school and student performance in India’s top cities reveals that Kolkata and Delhi are doing much better than Bangalore, Mumbai and Chennai. While educationists draw solace from the top two cities’ performance, the overwhelming acceptance of national boards such as the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and the Council of Indian School Certificate Examination (CISCE) could be the reason behind the outcome.
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Performance of different boards | Composite performance index
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Rote learning
Both teachers and pupils believe that rote learning is still the backbone of the school system in India. Both the QES study and Mint’s interaction with students reveal a lack of understanding of what’s being taught in class.
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The gender story
True to perception, QES found that girls are still not oriented towards science and mathematics at the school level. Perhaps,that could be attributed to the current trend of a majority of students in pure science and engineering being male. For example, in the Indian Institutes of Technology, more than 75% students are boys. Besides, the study, as well as independent interaction, found that students need to be sensitized to sociocultural issues and fellow students, and schools need to inculcate an interest in co-curricular activities.
Performance of boys v/s girls
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Acceptance of Diversity
Which of the following statements would you agree with the most?
A. Religious differences matter more than any other aspect
B. There are preconceived beliefs about people of different religions
C. Human values are more important than religious affiliation
D. Religion needs to be defended with violence, if necessary
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The political party leader of your state says the following things about people from another state:
• They are taking away the jobs that rightfully belong to the people of your state.
• They are influenced by Western culture and will spoil the traditions of your state.
What is your response?
A. Openness to diversity
B. Resistance towards immigrants, a perception that their inclusion will be at the cost of people already in the state
C. Immigrants can be included, but only if they conform
D. Low tolerance to diversity, a perception that it results in communal disagreements
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Sensitivity towards physically challenged
Maya is a new girl in school. She uses a wheelchair to get around. The other students are curious about Maya.
What do you feel they will think about Maya?
A. Differently-abled people can fully participate in everyday life
B. Differently-abled people can be “burdensome”
C. Differently-abled people also lack proper mental abilities
D. Differently-abled people are always unhappy
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Parents’ concerns
Interactions with parents from several cities echoed a general concern—schools need to be less commercial and more focused on giving practicaloriented knowledge to students so that they become complete individuals. There was an honest confession, too—parents impose a lot of their wishes on students. The fragmentation of joint families and working parents are counterproductive to a child’s growth as a well-rounded individual, they explained. Parents also feel that schools need to create an atmosphere where students can play real outdoor games and not video games.
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The course burden is so much that students don’t find time to do anything. Children can’t finish their homework unless parents are involved. This is leading to poor understanding, and teachers know this. Even schools are advising parents to send their wards to attend tuition classes for clearing concepts.
Vijay Verma, Parent, Delhi
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Schools should invite outside experts to take classes as this will give them knowledge beyond books. Interaction with the outside world is largely lacking in students and that’s why they get inclined towards TV, Internet, computer. Parents, too, need to sensitize their children.
Anjali Berry, Parent, Gurgaon
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I think the problem lies with the syllabus-oriented study in schools, which relegates out-of-the-box thinking to the background. There is too much focus on multiple-choice questions, leading to rote learning…core human values are also being scuttled.
Savita Singh, Parent and professor at the University of Delhi
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Schooling has become a business.They are not concerned about teaching students with understanding. That’s why students are taking private tuitions. Students are overloaded with tasks and parental expectations. Co-curricular activities are very less, that’s why they are turning insensitive.
Rajiv Kansra, Parent, Ambala
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Co-scholastic activities
Co-scholastic activities such as sports, art, dance and dramatics are still regular features in school activities. The study shows that over 40% of schools still have a skewed attitude towards sports and only 29% held debates between students.
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Burden of unlearning
Science: Question from class 4 level
Students seem to harbour a number of misconceptions in different subjects. As they move to higher classes, although overall performance improves, the students continue to hold on to the same misconceptions.
Graphics by Uttam Sharma, Ahmed Raza Khan/Mint
Data Source
Wipro Applying Thought in Schools is a social initiative of Wipro’s working on school education reform. Educational Initiatives (EI) is one of South Asia’s leading educational research organization that works for improving student learning in schools.
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First Published: Mon, Dec 12 2011. 01 15 AM IST