Nurturing a disruptive and inclusive system for Education in India

When I was young, I'd visit a nearby temple along with my elder siblings to learn and play. The teacher, a middle-aged man, did not charge any fees for me whereas it was nominal for elder students. If I want I'd learn, else join other kids to play with. This went on for about an year before we shifted to a brick-and-mortar-with-benches school. We never enrolled into the temple school again. It ran for couple of decades more albeit with different teachers and varying strength. The temple is still there now but the school is gone.

My father, who belongs to a business family, had special inclination towards learning and education in his childhood. His group of friends were studious, many of whom left home to prepare for jobs along with other enthusiasts (it wasn't a common practice then). Those who could afford cost of education and exams went ahead, while few supported themselves by running tuition classes. Some of them were so critically poor that they could never get out of the cycle of tuition. They moved to menial jobs when imparting tuition wasn't enough to survive with a family.

Why did the school and the student die out?

Education today is burdened with expectations of economic rise, nurturing wisdom, building civil society and many other issues. Literacy is a tool to measure the social health of society. Since independence and even before, we'd been establishing institutions to achieve this. We'd buy a land, build a structure for offices, classrooms, toilets, playgrounds, library etc. We'd create a course on teaching (B.Ed for example) and ask students to enroll. We'd conduct an exam and hire teachers to run the school. Teachers are entitled to their salaries, students are entitled to few certificates.

Let us take a different example to understand a different point of view. Social service, often imparted by NGOs or simply people, is today regarded as important constituent of society. Given all government institutions well functioning, it'd still need help of social activists to effectively execute its programs. Suppose Govt. wishes to institutionalize this for certain reasons, one being improving management. What would it do? It'd buy a land; build offices for social activists; start a course on social activism and hire only those of who are trained in the course; provide them resources to carry out social service. They'd be entitled to salaries and perks, while people are entitled to their mercy.

It is easier to understand the fallout of second system. Would I serve people with same commitment while I'm a hired professional? It fails because it requires lot of commitment and passion, much more than required for becoming a professional (by passing a course and exam). Teaching also requires passion and commitment, perhaps lot more than being a social activist. Being a professional teacher (as different from a tuition teacher) is not so difficult today even for average students. Such teachers and administrators (senior teachers) have flocked the whole education arena of country: primary and secondary education. Today, even in higher education, 40% teachers are below-par and contractual. The system worked well in its initial days; when even enrollment of a student to school was driven by passion and pressure; teachers were enthusiastic about imparting education even to dull ones; worked day and night and served whole life. Today this system has crippled and almost failed, including private ones.

Instead of institutionalizing education, we need to build a disruptive and inclusive system, scalable to the needs of society. A system which does not need to hold hand of Govt. or large corporates in order to work; which converges under its own forces and blossoms into an institution; which is specialized; which is affordable for all economic classes without compromising quality; which creates knowledge systems sustainable through generations and time. Just like social service, it needs to focus on people passionate about learning and teaching to promote education in country.

Govt. has set great objectives for education like literacy, training, learning etc. All of these and much more can be achieved through people. Nalanda and Takshilla were not established by an act or the-then empires but great Buddhist scholars. Take example of a tuition teacher: it starts with couple of kids learning a particular subject. If it finds enough passion and money, it makes efforts to grow strength to ten. If it has good quality, word of mouth increases its strength to fifty. At a small scale, a peepal tree, a temple, a ground or even his house is enough. Increase in scale also pushes income, popularity and support. This helps into hiring a permanent venue with better facilities. If it grows further, it joins hands with teachers of other subjects: leading to foundation of an institution (such institutions are already running in many cities and metros.Students preparing for IIT-JEE hardly care about school teaching, but are very punctual to their tuition classes for most of their subjects).

Today, Govt. issues license to teaching only to establishment schools. Why not issue it to everyone who wants to teach? Even if Govt. keeps the right to issue certificates, it can conduct such exams on its own; it has no reason to meddle into how a student is trained to pass the certificate exam. Not just that, as Govt. objective is only to ensure basic learning levels of citizens, it should refrain from setting standards of comparison based on such certificates, like grades (A,B,C) or percentages of marks, except a pass or fail based on a uniform and common standard.

Govt. should also refrain from clubbing too many subjects for basic level certificates (primary, secondary and senior secondary; usually Bachelors degree and above are specialized). When a child enrolls full time into sports academy, do they train it in all sports like football, cricket, tennis, badminton, chess etc. or just one? When a child enrolls full time into a music academy, will he be trained into multiple instruments like tabla, sitar, flute etc. including vocal or just one? Just like these specialized academies produce finest sportsmen and musicians in country, our textbook academies should also be given such freedom to impart specialized education to its students. A student should've freedom to choose one subject to master or specialize (say Maths), while basic or workable knowledge of other subjects (say Hindi, History, Science etc). It should be left up to the student to include more subjects into his specializations.

Learning, teaching and the wisdom it generates in the process is a settled discussion. A people focused system lets people decide the good and the bad (like good teachers are flocked with students). In the long run, it is the teacher-student relationship which creates the wisdom chain for future generations.

Learning is a low gradient curve plotted between Wisdom and Time with points as Guru and its Pupils. Let the people draw it. 

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