Sunday, December 11, 2005

Random thoughts on education

The discussion on school education in India continues perhaps as vibrantly as ever. Though, presumably, removed from the glare of mainstream media. Notwithstanding good intentions, I haven't really been able to follow this discussion all that well. The issues involved are complex and beset with confounding conundrums. (That's the disclaimer for the following, if you didn't realize.)

It was Dr. Vinod Raina's talk at Asha Princeton which sensitized me to the inappropriateness of the current school system which tries to train everyone for jobs in the "organized sector." The fact remains (according to Vinod) that the organized sector does not accommodate more than 10% of the Indian workforce. Clearly the same size shoe doesn't fit everyone. But the burning question is who will get the smaller sized shoes: the employment opportunities and life-styles promised by the organized sector is by and large universally more attractive. Almost everyone, given the choice, would pick the education for their children which can land them a white-collar job.

Neither the current system of a uniform curriculum across all segments of the society, nor a system which reinforces the segmentation or fragmentation of the society through separate curricula based on parents' background (separate for say, children of professors and children of illiterate migrant labourers) would be optimal or fair. The via media would probably be to offer multiple curriculum streams with a lot of inbuilt flexibility, which would let a child start off in any stream and to switch to other streams as his or her aptitude (and circumstances) develop. At least, then the blame of stymieing a child's growth wouldn't be so much on the education system as on the other "circumstances" (which we are not talking about here just now). One major problem with such higher flexibility would be that the educators need to be all the more available, qualified and willing to guide children through their options and opportunities. Given the number of children in question, training such a teaching force would be non-trivial.

While realistically there is no hope to completely solve the conundrum, there is ample room for improvement from the current situation. NCERT has been hard at work and has proposed a new National Curriculum Framework. However there is still some way to go.

In other news, the debate on the "Right to Education Bill" rages on.


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