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Need to provide freedom to teachers, principals of government schools to experiment and innovate

Life&More August 27, 2018
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Saurabh Tankha

In the race to admit more and more children in privately run, English-medium schools and orient them to a world of cut-throat competition and grades-based performance, the quality of education is suffering. Children, teachers and, of course, educational institutions themselves are constantly struggling to survive in such an atmosphere. However, while most schools play to the gallery, there are some that have attempted to swim against the current. They aim for the overall development of their students and try to establish a healthy learning environment.

Not Just Grades (Penguin Portfolio, Rs 599), written by Rajeev Sharma, a faculty member at the Ravi J Matthai Centre for Educational Innovation at Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, and released recently is about schools that have proved it is possible to weave positive personal development together with academic excellence. Innovative and full of creative ideas, these schools have a made in difference in imparting education in the absence of extensive resources or capital.

An interview with the man who has developed and participated in management development programmes related to colleges and other institutions of higher education apart from coordinating and participating in consulting assignments sponsored by the Swedish International Development Organisation, the Department for International Development of the United Kingdom government and the National Literacy Mission of the Government of India.

Not Just Grades is an extensive study of how the education system in the country works. You have included only 10 schools from around India which have unique and visionary initiatives working. Are there many others which exist and have not been able to make it or do we expect a sequel soon?
Please note that the book is about secondary schools and does not cover the whole education system. Also, it is not a comprehensive coverage of schools in the country which educate children in a different manner. It has included only 10 schools which we came across. There would be several other schools doing excellent work; I have no doubt about it. However what needs to noted is that it is feasible to educate children in a manner which is conducive to development of happy and responsible adults. If these schools can do it, then others can also consider and try doing it.

In your opinion, do such extraordinary works like your book, Not Just Grades, reach the right set of people who matter and are either decision-makers or policy-makers? And if it does, do they really get to reading each and every line of your extensive research so that they can implement it and improve the system?
In the current time with so many information channels available, the reach of a book would be quite extensive. Whether policy-makers or decision-makers read it, it is for them to answer. However, a researcher would like to study existing practices and make the findings available with a hope that it will be read by all those who are concerned about education of our children.

On what criteria did you select the schools which educate students differently?
Several criteria were considered for selecting the schools. The attempt was to include schools that:
a.      provide holistic education by providing children autonomy and freedom in learning and to the extent possible, provide teachers a choice to design creative ways of teaching
b.     make provisions to admit and educate children of all communities, particularly those that are underserved
c.      maintain a cost of education that enables a large number of children to access them
d.     provide autonomy to teachers and connect with the parents and community and
e.      have been in existence for more than ten years or more, demonstrating thereby that it is feasible to run schools like these.

How can we change the psyche of parents so that they do not expect an out-of-the-world result always from their ward?
Change is very difficult for anyone. Parents are the first teachers and wish the best for their children, but the question is: ‘What is the best?’ There is no singular answer. Each child is different and so his or her aptitude and aspirations need to be understood. The most important thing is to have conversation with children, with fellow parents and teachers. Schools can be an effective facilitator in this. Together, we all can find the answer. The key is understanding, exploring, discussing and deciding what is best for the child, without   imposing one’s ideas.

Is there a way where parents can look forward to sending their child to a government school which as of now seems to be a strict ‘no, no’ and limited to a select strata of society?
Wherever government schools are perceived to be doing well, enrolment of children increases. One such school is included in the book. There may be many more in the country and having more government schools which educate well is a must for our country. It is important that teachers, principals and school leaders of government schools are provided support and freedom to experiment and innovate.

How can we raise the standard of the schools in the rural belt and get them at par with the ones in urban India?
I am not sure about the parity aspect between rural and urban schools, but it is important to provide education to children in rural India which makes them aware of modern development, http://lifeandmore.in/life-more/need-to-provide-…ent-and-innovate/
and options for decent livelihoods and helps them become a valuable member of their communities. The education has to be relevant to the needs of those who are studying and should not be governed by ‘someone else’s agenda’.

As you have been an educationist, what according to you ails the Indian education system and is the government doing enough to ensure the education standards go up?
The government is doing a lot, there is no doubt about it. However, we need to discuss, debate and implement strategies that are right for children. Do we have institutions that can guide us to find the right answers? To me, this is a very big agenda and needs far more attention.  

Will, according to you, the concepts like e-pathshala, Rashtriya Avishkar Abhiyan, School GIS, National Teacher Platform and others, help in improving the levels of education in the country?
Several of these proposals have just been announced or are under consideration. We need to examine what is our need and what these new initiatives intend to do. Most importantly policy-makers, educational administrators, researchers and educators need to have a constant dialogue.

There was a news report that CBSE is all set for a makeover in the questions’ format for classes X and XII and that it shall be testing students on their analytical ability and reduce the scope of rote learning. Your comments on the same.
Taking steps to reduce
and encourage critical thinking and creativity is very important. However, it needs to backed by child centred pedagogy, creative text books and supportive teaching-learning environment in schools. Examination and evaluation are only one aspect of education and often they become so important that learning becomes secondary.

In comparison to other nations, where does our education system stand?
This is a very big question. Education is part of the larger agenda of nation-building and considering the complexity of our country, it may not be simple to compare. What is important is that we define our goals and work accordingly.

Where do you see our education system heading to in the near future?
I would not like to make a prediction. I would like to state that we need to decide what kind of future we would like and then work towards that.

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