Changing Our Educational System — A Utopian Idea

There is a strong love within me for the field of education. I firmly believe that for us to progress as a society, education is the key. I am hardly qualified to judge our education system. But what if my inane banter is the one stone that creates a small ripple? I should take that chance. I may be way off base. Bear with me. [Day 25 of my “One Day One Blog” ]

Every year, one or more studies are released which deplore the fact that 80% of our engineering graduates are unemployable. To increase the shock value, we also have headlines shouting that only 7% of engineering graduates are employable.

For a few days we will have significant portion of the above 30 age group brimming with righteous indignation. I am often left a little confused as to who is really at fault here.

Is it the students — most of whom are pushed into engineering against their will?

Is it the teachers — half of whom took up this profession because they were unemployable elsewhere?

Is it the parents — who force the students to take up a subject for no reason other than a false sense of security (at best) or misplaced sense of prestige( at worse)?

Whoever is at fault, the saga continues year on year, with the number of unemployable graduates increasing every 12 months.

If the engineering graduates are so deplorable, how are they graduating from the universities in the first place? Is there such a huge disconnect between what a company expects and what we teach our students and test them on?

I started with the engineering graduates’ story as that is what originally brought my attention to this topic.

The “engineering” problem is just the tip of the iceberg

As a country, we have a much bigger problem than these engineering graduates. As far as I am concerned, these kids know enough to read and write, can do basic maths and knows the fundamentals of science ( hopefully) and can therefore survive.

Earlier this month, our state boards and the national ones came out with the results of the 10th board exams. I picked a few states at random and searched for their pass percentages.

Punjab: 57%

Madhya Pradesh: 49.86%

Kerala: 95%

Karnataka: 67.87%

Tamil Nadu: 94.4%

Maharashtra: 89.56%

The Kerala Model of Education

As a Keralite, I should feel some pride in these numbers, rt? I don’t. Let me tell you why.

Back in 2006, the pass % of the state was at 68%.But 104 schools did not even manage 33% result. Only 1/3rd of the students graduated from these schools! At that point Government launched an initiative called QEPR( Quality Education Pupils Right) in selected schools to improve the quality of education. This resulted in the pass percentages in these selected schools to go from 23% to 94%. Impressive, you might say.

But in the 2014–2015 time frame a study was conducted by the “State Council for Educational Research and Training”. This was the result from a sample of class 7 students:

5% cannot identify alphabets

35% cannot read or write their mother tongue

85% fared badly in basic science

73% fared badly in mathematics

If you do a bit of research you will see that the governments at the centre and state levels are coming up with a lot of policy changes and schemes to improve the quality of education. But somehow, the results are not percolating to the lower levels where it is most needed.

My Utopian dream for Kerala — Inspired by Finland

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” Nelson Mandela

In the last 3–4 years, the schools in Finland have been praised a lot by the global media. When you start reading up on what they are doing, you will understand one of the basics that we have been missing out on.

Quality of Education begins with the quality of teachers

If our country should change, our children should get better quality education. For that they need the BEST teachers. We need a system in place which makes the Kindergarten/Nursery and Primary schools teachers positions attractive that the best fight for the role.

Right now a 12th pass with 50% marks can teach a pre-primary class.This should not be acceptable. Let us only select the very best for this job.

Let’s do a POC

We startups are big on POCs — any new idea we have, before we get sign off by the board, we have to do a “Proof of Concept” to convince the skeptics that this will work.

So this is what I propose. Let’s take the lower primary government schools in one district of Kerala. Create a model of “Public-Private Partnership” — assuming the significant part of the costs will be covered by the Private entity as part of their CSR initiatives.

The lower primary teachers selected for this program need to have completed their masters ( or atleast have a 1st class for graduation). They will have to undergo the kind of research based learning which the aspiring teachers in Finland undergo. They should be paid attractive salaries.

These teachers should be given a significant amount of autonomy. They will not be judged on the marks scored by the children but the progress made by the students in their education as compared to their peers elsewhere.

One of the philosophies of these classes would be to impress on these young minds the value and importance of education.

Yes, this is a utopian idea which is full of holes. But the sole reason for me to put it out there is for people who are far more learned than me to poke holes in this and thereby come up with a system that works for a remote village in Kerala. When we have a model that works, the rest of the state and the country can adopt this.

Because as I see it now, we are just going on putting bandage after bandage on a frame work as outdated as Macaulay and expecting life altering results.

We need to get the basics right. Without a solid foundation, we cannot create anything of value.

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Friends, this is the Day 25 of my odyssey to write one blog EVERY DAY for the month of May 2017. “One Day, One Blog

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