What makes for a good school; why do we need them?

To understand the concept of good schooling, a series of web conferences has been initiated by us at the Centre for Development Policy and Practice.

By Amir Ullah Khan and Anjana Divakar

The debate on education has shifted from supply to demand, and from quantity to quality. Now with a large number of schools opened up, where some still struggle to get an optimum number of students, the scarcity of schools is history, at least in most parts of the country. Also with a number of parents now realising the value of education, the earlier problem of an unwillingness to send boys and girls to school is no longer seen in most places. What seems to matter is quality – parents want good schools and children do not want to attend poor quality schools.

To understand the concept of good schooling, a series of web conferences has been initiated by us at the Centre for Development Policy and Practice. “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” Gowri Ishwaran began this week’s conversation by quoting the philosopher John Dewey. Gowri is one of our most celebrated educationists, who has made several contributions to the education sector and is most well known for setting up the Sanskriti School in New Delhi, one of the leading institutes in the country. She was conferred a Padmasri in 2014 for her pioneering efforts in building inclusive, modern and progressive schools.

MS Education Academy

What we think of as good can be split into two aspects, one the human element and the second the competency aspect. She says we are at a crossroads with education where the future is uncertain. Today’s schools and educators need to prepare students for jobs that have not yet been created, technologies that have not yet been invented, equip them to solve problems that have yet not been anticipated. A good school in this dynamic scenario is one that is ready to take risks, is flexible, not thrown by unexpected situations and embeds these broad principles in its curriculum.

It is crucial to recognise that a good school will take a collaborative effort. The staff, children, parents, school heads and management need to be working together to create what will be a welcoming environment. Ishwaran stresses the importance of value learning and less on rote learning, prevalent across the country. She says, “Textbooks are not our masters; they are just tools of learning and teaching.”

The pandemic, says Ishwaran, has brought technology as a tool in the education system. Every educational institution requires some form of technology interface to keep up with its functioning.

Teachers often ask whether AI (Artificial Intelligence) will replace them and make educators redundant in this edu-tech world. The loud answer is NO. The teacher’s role in the school system will need to change from a dictator to a facilitator. Teachers will never be redundant, but there is a need to upgrade their skills. They need to create awareness among the students, help them navigate their path, inculcate values to be part of society and not breed individualistic behaviour.

Educators need to guide children in the new age of access to information, media and social media. Understand how kids evaluate these avenues, bring about a sense of morality, what is right and not simply how to process it. Changing times require new approaches and focus. Teachers are vital to this process of creating a good school, and so is their training. Teaching is not a one-time learned skill; it is a process that requires regular honing. Ishwaran favours regular and extensive teacher training both by colleges and universities and by the schools and their management. She says the B. Ed curriculum in Indian has been static for years; therefore naturally does not adapt to the dynamic environment. The curriculum requires alterations and additions almost every two years, along with following up training considering new developments. The long lost element of in-service training needs a swing back, says Ishwaran. In her opinion, re-training is equally or rather more important than the training itself.

It is not enough to study for marks and to limit skill development for categorised jobs. Education being the ever-evolving phenomena it is, the school system (all stakeholders) also needs to keep up their pace. The hour’s need is in developing 21st century skills like empathy, collaboration, teamwork, innovation, creativity. The apparent downside in our present system, says Ishwaran, is the lack of focus on values. Children are coming out of schools wildly competitive, almost out there to kill each other. There must be a focus on qualities that nurture children into good human beings, bring consciousness into citizenship and lead to society’s greater good.

At Sanskriti School, she says teachers were encouraged to think about gratitude. To be grateful–to nurture this in class with children that breeds humility. These are values and skills she says are going to be relevant for any and every aspect of an individuals life. India thrives because of its demographic advantage defined by a large youth population. However, what is the point if they are not equipped with 21-century skills. Ishwaran says there is a reason Indian origin Nobel Prize winners receive their awards as other nations’ citizens. There is a need to create an atmosphere that fosters thinking, growth mindset and get rid of rote learning, which stunts growth.

Quality education is a question we as a society grapple with, and more so in the Indian context. The ASER reports each year present a grim picture of the status of education in the country. Literacy is one aspect of education that is more or less measured or at least attempted but is quality of education measured, and how do we begin to define a good school? The prime reason for the child dropping out of school these days is not so much the costs of education but the returns it has to offer. Therefore, there is so much emphasis on quality of schooling and teaching, and that is what our education system must focus on now

The authors Amir Ullah Khan, Anjana Divakar are Researchers at the Centre for Development Policy and Practice (CDPP)

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