Friday, November 11, 2011

Schools of Tomorrow

When you are invited to a panel discussion on the 'Schools of Tomorrow' you stop by and scratch your head. What do we expect and envision for the schools of tomorrow? Education is an area where most people express tremendous dissatisfaction and at school level even more so. The problems are many - lack of good teachers, lack of proper methodologies, skewed curriculum, marks oriented approach, imbalanced growth and a rampant commercialisation of the system. Commercialisation or not, public schools or private schools, the issue is that the balance has not been found yet. As in most things in India, where the purpose the exercise is always sidelined, the student is not the centre of the education system. In fact everybody else is. If we take the focus back to the student many of these issues may be solved.

What do we look for in the schools of tomorrow? We look at them to have developed a robust education system which imparts education to the students in the best way possible so we have students with sound character, good self-esteem and thorough conceptual knowledge of whatever they have undertaken to study. Unless all three aspects are in balance, the student will not be able to express himself or herself. The onus to do this lies with the schools of tomorrow.

In the present scenario, marks rule the roost. Marks are one way of obtaining feedback. They may not always be able to measure creative thought, new thought. they are certainly no measure of character and self-esteem, ability to lead, to show responsibility, of good values, integrity and honesty. Marks must be relegated to their rightful place as they do not measure any of the qualities that one would like to see developing in the student - character, self esteem and conceptual knowledge. In fact marks as the sole indicator kill creativity, stunt and enquiring mind and diminishes risk taking. In effect, we will develop a clerk mentality of no risk, no creative approach.

One need not change the existing framework radically to build the schools of tomorrow I feel. One only needs to bring an element of action into the students life so they can corelate theory with practical life, in a simulated way if need be.

1) To build conceptually strong fundamentals among all students is the most basic thing one looks for in the schools of tomorrow. What we lack is skill, application of theory, creative approaches to problems and this must be inculcated by getting a good mix of practice into theory i.e. learn concept, apply and assimilate. It is essential to make changes to the mode of instruction so that every child gets both space and time to imbibe and discuss the concepts clearly and not just the few who always put up their hand. Children must be encouraged to compete with themselves, at their time and space, and not against one another. For eg. showing the bright student as an example of greatness thus relegating the rest to the dark.

2) To build self esteem is to allow the student develop the confidence that he or she can handle life with whatever one is equipped with. It is about having the student discover some sense of purpose of what he or she brings with innately to develop and contribute to the best for the individual and the society. The schools of tomorrow must certainly allow students to express themselves in every way, in as many ways as they can. In the present scenario they are not allowed to express which leads to a gradual killing of their spirit. As they grow older they lose all their self esteem and very few put up their hands to ask, to try, to participate in life.

3) To build character is to allow the student enough space to distinguish between right and wrong, to build values such as honesty, integrity and compassion to all - something that is easily built by exposing the children to group activities and sports and games. It must form an essential part of every curriculum because sports and games and other such activities form a microcosm of life and can teach the student far more about team work, hard work, focus, goal setting, leadership, integrity, honesty and compassion through experience than any teacher can in the classroom using the most sophisticated equipment. Nothing teaches better than experience and thus action should be the by word for our education. The movie 'Golconda High School' made on my novel 'The Men Within' dwells on the importance of games and sports on character building. To me what sustains me today are the lessons I learnt on the sports fields, which gave me the strength really to choose writing as a career, something which I feel I can best contribute through. As a Civil engineer and MBA I might not have explored the thought that I did through my cricket and writing.

We hope that the schools of tomorrow reach out to every single student who sets foot on campus through various means, technologies and methodologies and ensure that they benefit from various methods of instruction, modes of instruction. We hope that these schools provide the space, the time and the tools to grow - if nothing else, the space. As we all know, space is an important factor of growth. The other factor is where the student is located in terms of receiving the instruction - like plants that are further away from the sunlight are stunted as opposed to plants that are basking in it - students also wither and wilt if they do not get an equal opportunity in the classroom.

To me our life is our quest to express ourselves fully. And an education system that allows me to find ways to express myself is what I look for in the schools of tomorrow. In today's scenario expression is curtailed and at the end of education, the student is dumbfounded, silenced, unable to take risks and completely unable to express himself having passed through years and years of naysayers, snubbed creativity and risk averse systems. A classic case of this is the movie 'Stanley ka dabba' which shows how the child's creativity is not recognised and snubbed. At the end of the education the student should be able to fully express himself, to have some purpose, to feel empowered to change the world, to have scientific tools that can be applied for the betterment of society and mankind. And it is this quest for expression, for full expression, that takes the man through towards his potential.

To do this the schools of tomorrow need not do much. All they need to do is to support, to merely allow the inherent curiosity and intelligence to flower. They do not need to get in the way. All the student needs to feel is supported and he or she will soon find the way to express themselves best.


Rajendra said...

Linked with this, there is also a need to rethink higher education admission processes. Ideally, a wide band of scores in 12th and a free-wheeling set of aptitude tests/interviews or some process should replace the eminently coaching-friendly things of today.

Harimohan said...

Yes, totally agree. Also I feel that there should be some exercise done to make the students get some direction, some purpose about how to go about using their talents and aptitudes best.