Jose Puthenpurackel, SDB
According to the 2011 Census data, nearly 41% of India’s population is below the age of 40. At 315 million, India has the largest number of students in the world. But of these 50% of class 5 students can’t read and 65% can’t divide. Only around 10% of the students who enter class 1 complete their graduation and of these 80% are simply unemployable because they have neither knowledge nor skill to deal with the real life requirements of the job market. We are faced with an unprecedented situation.
Today we stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work and relate to one another. Its scale, scope, complexity and the transformation it will bring about will be unlike anything humankind has ever experienced before. The first industrial revolution used steam power to mechanize production. The second used electric power to mechanize production. The third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Now a fourth industrial revolution is building on the third-characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres and it is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management and governance. The possibilities of billions of people connected by mobile devices with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity and access to knowledge are unlimited. And these possibilities will be multiplied by emerging technology breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D printing, nano technology, Internet of Things*, autonomous vehicles, quantum computing and bio technology. These developments will profoundly alter the way we live, work and relate (K. Schwab, World Economic Forum). Artificial intelligence is already eliminating millions of jobs across the world and creating new ones. Robots will replace humans in carrying out the most complex jobs with even more accuracy. Cars of the future will be electric and mostly driverless. If Virtual Reality (VR) helped us view things three dimensionally, Augmented Reality (AR) takes a step forward with the computer generating a real world sensory input such as sound, video, graphics and GPS data.
All these developments are going to have an overwhelming influence on education, jobs and services. Are we preparing students in our schools and colleges to face these changes? Or are our educational institutions churning out students who have neither knowledge nor skill to navigate through the labyrinth of the challenges that lie ahead of them? It is a pity that the classrooms of 2017 where children sit in rows of benches and desks are just a copy and paste of places where in 1917 the British trained batches of Indians to be clerks for the British Empire. The British left India more than 70 years ago but our educational institutions have retained and perfected all the ingredients of the clerk making factories.
During an educational conference that I was part of, we were challenged to ask our students whether they enjoyed learning in their present classrooms. If we did ask our students the answer would have been a resounding ‘no’. Why can’t the majority of students relate to what’s going on in their classrooms? Because they find the classes boring and monotonous. Is it their fault or the inability of schools to adapt teaching-learning to suit the mental makeup of students of today? Why does India not have more inventors? How do the same Indians when they go to Europe or America become inventors? The answer lies in the fact that our schools don’t give children opportunities to think or be creative but turn them into parrots that just memorize information from textbooks often without understanding. As Sir Ken Robinson asks in the most popular TED talk, ‘Do schools kill creativity’? How often have I seen little children en route to school wandering off to nearby farms oblivious of the bell for assembly because they see a line of ants, or a worm, or an insect moving towards the farm? Children are curious to find out where these insects are going! What happens to their curiosity when they grow up? Do we kill their curiosity with our straight-jacketed curriculum and school rules?
21st century students need 21st century teaching methodologies. The students of today are all millennials or generation Y which means they are born after the year 2000 (the digital age), while the teaching methods in most schools and colleges of today are those of the assembly line production age. Students of today are digital natives while school leaders and teachers are often digital immigrants unable to comprehend the mind of the students. Do we need to cram our students’ brains with information that is often outdated, irrelevant and which serves no purpose in life? What is ‘knowing’ today? How has ‘knowing’ changed with students having access to knowledge 24 X 7? How do we make our children enjoy learning?
We need to junk our outmoded teaching methodologies and embrace technology wholeheartedly. Today’s children adopt technology the way duck takes to water. So why not harness it to their advantage? Today we need to ask not how much a student knows but how much the student and his/her phone together know. Today’s students don’t need teachers for knowledge (Google knows a lot more), but they need facilitators who can guide them to the correct sources of knowledge. What about our examination system where children are made to memorize information? What is the use of mugging up information when it can be accessed on a phone or a smart device in a matter of seconds? Why not allow open book examinations where children in groups discus answers to meaningful questions? By doing this they not only learn but also understand the all important survival strategies of team work and collaboration. Why not allow children to use the Internet during examination? The purpose of a curriculum is to help one reach from point A to point B. There may be a thousand ways of getting from point A – B so why stick to a curriculum that often restricts?
Some of the ideas mentioned above may disrupt our understanding of the curriculum, teaching and assessment but is there another way to give hope to the future of our children? Some of us might think that the educational crisis that our country is facing today is a problem of the village schools – far from it. It would be interesting to ask the junior school students of our city schools about subjects they like most – the answer in all probability will be computer and physical education. Why not English, history, science and mathematics? Not because they don’t like these subjects but because of the boring ways they are taught in. Studies tell us that the average attention span of a child (5 year old) is around 2-5 minutes. If this be so, isn’t it absurd to torture them with boring lectures for 6 hours a day?
Today’s students are not able to relate to the chalk and talk method. Technology needs to be used extensively if we want to get their attention. Students must be allowed to work in groups and taught to collaborate in their learning process. It might mean rearranging the furniture in the class and making the whole school tech enabled. It might sound utopian but we owe this to our students. Either we keep pace with technology or become irrelevant in the field of education. If we don’t update the content and method of knowledge delivery, we will be adding to the millions of educated unemployables in the country.
We were always told of the famous 3 Rs of education – reading, writing and arithmetic; it is time to replace them with the 3 Hs – Head, Heart and Hand (knowledge, emotion and experience) and some would say the 3 Cs – comprehension, communication and computation. Schools and colleges today have to choose between assembly line production of students who will have degrees but will be unskilled and unemployable or using technology and skill developments so that they are ready to take on the world with confidence.
We need to urgently introduce some skill training in our schools. Experts agree that skill training must be an integral part of our curriculum and the ideal age for introducing this is at the secondary level or in class 8. It should not only be made mandatory in all schools but also made attractive to students. The need for skilled workers in India and abroad will always remain. The Government of India has taken some wonderful initiatives in skilling the country but it needs to be integrated into the school curriculum.
These ideas might seem impractical or even revolutionary but the challenge before us educators is to make our work meaningful and relevant. And if we are found wanting, the next revolution might well be caused by the frustrated educated unemployed.
*The interconnection via the Internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data.
The author is Head Master, Don Bosco School, Azimganj, Murshidabad Dt., West Bengal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.