Understanding the larger context

When we sit around the tiny Teacher Plus office and brainstorm on ideas for future issues, we try hard to stay connected to the world of the classroom, lesson plans, curriculum, tests, and the minutiae that make up a teacher’s life. As regular readers would know, our attempt is to stay as grounded as possible in the everyday context of the Indian schoolteacher. But it’s also important for us to pull back now and then and look at the larger world of education and think about the various forces that structure, at a macro level, the context of our work. The past decade has certainly seen a lot of changes in many aspects of life in our country. There’s been a realization that much of our focus on examination-oriented teaching did not lead to relevant learning and certainly did not build life skills or the ability to cope creatively and productively in different spheres. Large numbers of children, both in private and public schools, were way outside the learning curve, and the blame was fixed on a multiplicity of factors, ranging from outdated syllabi, poorly designed and even more poorly applied curricula, inadequate teacher training, misguided assessments, and of course, lack of appropriate infrastructure in schools.

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Many interest groups have jumped on to the education bandwagon since then, each offering a different sort of solution and a differently shaped magic bullet – from standardized assessments to affordable private schools to technologies that take us beyond the teacher. We’re all still in the process of figuring out what each of these means in the long term, and how exactly it can help address the basic issues of quality and reach of education. As part of our ongoing effort to make sense of such issues, we decided to look at how the context of public school education was being influenced by the involvement of large corporate-funded not-for-profit organizations. This is a big question to explore, and perhaps one article cannot do it justice, but to start with, we spoke to a sprinkling of key decision makers in some of these organizations and put together their perspectives. In pulling back to understand the dynamics of the education sector as a whole, we hope to engage teachers in the larger debates surrounding education and teaching – and begin circles of discussion in your own classrooms, staffrooms, and assemblies.