Post-independence India adopted, and to some extent, adapted an educational system bequeathed by the British to meet its own need for engineers, doctors, civil servants — a whole array of professionals who would, in the Nehruvian vision, help India catch up with the “developed” world. While we have more than succeeded in achieving that goal, the requirements of the new global marketplace are constantly being redefined. If we are to keep abreast and compete, it is vital that our education system respond appropriately.
What are the specific changes we are looking at? First of all, education must be delinked from any ideology. An education system, so trapped, can never deliver the real goods. School education must also be delinked from the job market — at least in the very direct manner that it is today. The current ethos seems to be to use schools to prepare for a career, mainly in engineering and medicine. Unless this mindset changes, school education will remain a slave of the “tuition mafia”. Schools must provide a liberating experience, not a confining one. The child must be able to explore the wonderful world around, be it through poetry, math, music or history, or indeed all of them. She or he will then be equipped to make a choice of career, based on a real and deep understanding of the world.
This, in turn, will call for a serious revamping of curriculum to move away from the current content and test and teacher-driven model to one that enhances curiosity, creativity, and sharpens the ability to apply that knowledge to the real world.
We will have to invest heavily in teacher-training. Teaching should be an “aspirational” career and those making that choice must be professionally trained and handsomely remunerated. Perhaps there is some merit in the idea of creating an “elite corps” like the IAS with several top-class training academies all over the country. The private sector must be encouraged, but closely monitored. Today’s investors unfortunately view a school only through the profit-prism.
And if we are to fulfill our oft-declared ambition to be a global leader, we cannot afford to be steeped in the prejudices of caste, class, region and religion. To be politically, economically and civilisationally global, we will have to globalise our souls. School education is where this crusade begins. Teachers and parents together will have to be the crusaders.
Dishonesty and greed are great barriers to growth, and our education system will have to hammer home the fundamental truth that genuine wealth creation happens only when resources are equitably distributed. And for those who like to invoke religion for everything including greed, I can only quote my old professor, the late Randhir Singh, who often said, “I am constantly told that god helps those who help themselves. But every scripture I have read tells me that god is on the side of the helpless and the fallen!”
Along with honesty go many other attributes that make a country truly “evolved”. Simple things like observing civic niceties with regard to traffic rules, public property, environment, respecting diversity, empathy and gender sensitivity must become part of the DNA of school education and not just a boring lesson in a civics book.
The time has come, as the jargon goes, to make a “paradigm shift” in the way we view school education.
Yes, we do need our doctors, engineers and lawyers. But equally, if not more importantly, we need a society based on honesty, equity and justice. It is not enough to “make in India”. We must “make good people in India”.