As a new founder of a learning design edtech, recently I have been doing a lot of thinking about how we learn. Coincidentally, I stumbled across this article which made me think about how an education system can open young people’s minds for growth and expansion, or it can close them down into narrow channels. This article shares some thoughts on this and highlights India as an interesting case book example of being careful what you wish for!
I began my career working as a Fellow at Teach for India in the slums of Mumbai during 2018-2020. I was immersed by 34 kids with minimal direction in the classroom but who often displayed an urge to learn. I tried my best to give them an excellent and comprehensive education. I tried to open their eyes to various concepts of the wider world and wanted to avoid them becoming wedded to textbook learning. I focused majorly on the values and guided my students to figure out their strengths, navigating the challenge of parental pressure on them to focus only on the one science stream. These three pillars were good for a starting point, but also extremely difficult to do when there are limited resources and awareness about holistic education.
This begs the question- what is the purpose of a teacher? If I have to summarise, their job is to get the best out of the student, increase self-awareness and provide an environment where they can grow.
But what does growth mean in a classroom and for students? Despite its competent teachers, my school followed an approach where I did not see the best in me come out and needed more space to work on myself, especially my EQ. The schooling system tests you on transactional skills, such as your memory, rather than transformational skills, such as your critical thinking. It also, unfortunately, focuses on limited topics, not providing enough exposure for students to figure out what they want to do after school, only getting exposure to small careers.
In the culture of contemporary India, science is given the utmost importance as a career field, especially if you’re a doctor or an engineer, you are highly respected. Due to this, there is a surplus of science-related professionals and an imbalance between the other fields. India will have over one million additional MBBS doctors by 2030. However, the employment opportunities for qualified doctors in India in the public sector are limited due to this surplus in supply. Additionally, the average salary of MBBS doctors in urban private hospitals is very low. Paradoxically, in a country of 1.3 billion populations, there is no actual demand for medical professionals. Additionally, India trains around 1.5 million engineers, more than the US and China combined. With only 7% of the engineers getting hired and some well below their technical qualifications, the market is shrinking for this overflowing talent pool. The two key industries hiring these engineers- information technology and manufacturing- are hiring fewer people than before.
So what is the solution?
India rolled out its new National Education Policy in 2020, replacing the previous one from 1986, which I believe was an excellent step towards a more growth-centric education. The policy focuses on vocational training in rural and urban India and aims to transform India’s education system by 2030, in synch with the global education development agenda reflected in Goal 4 (SDG4) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Some notable changes this policy brings are an unrestricted selection of subjects for the students and not being limited to “Science, Commerce, and Arts” streams. There is also a focus on digital technology, computer languages, and artificial intelligence.
Education is never one-fits-all, and although I believe we’re still a long way to go from an excellent education, this policy definitely is a step in the right direction, giving me hope.