Quality in school education

Living and career have transformed in ways beyond our wildest dreams since the turn of this century. Has the definition of quality in school education changed in this century?

No. And that is the problem! The definition of quality in education must change, but it has not. There is no ever-enduring standard of quality in any sphere of life and nature e.g. even after 100 years of existence (and experience), the definition of a luxury car changes every year; quality of education should be no exception.
To the extent that the public school system (the form of schools we see across the world) was invented in the 18th century and scaled up in early 19th century to prepare manpower for the industrial revolution, the quality of school education also was tied to the necessities of the industrial revolution era/society.
Hence, good quality in education (i.e. quality benchmarks) in schools was defined with respect to its ability to support the growth of industry. Three quality benchmarks became the default standard for schools:
a. Adequate numeracy to work with machines.
b. Adequate literacy to read and write instructions.
c. Enough number of students qualifying schools terminal examination to ensure adequate supply of skilled manpower for factories – Numbers of students failing to qualify was as such not part of any quality definition.
You’ve guessed it right! The catch is that we are now living in another era – the fast-emerging ‘service dominated’
knowledge society – yet the quality benchmarks of school education remain the same as mentioned above. The school system as a whole remains unchanged and this steadfastness has become the source of unprecedented stress among students, parents, teachers, management and it has increasingly engulfed young adults too (language and logical thinking deficits due to poor school education is at the heart of significant unemployment and underemployment).
We need a new definition of quality in education, because in the knowledge society –
a. Over 99% of knowledge is beyond the ‘text books’ – achieving numeracy and literacy limited to syllabus content are totally inadequate. Schools need to help children become great learners i.e. skilled and extensive readers, no conceptual backlogs plaguing new content learning and logically well-nurtured! Self-learning capabilities are the new-age educational goals and must be acquired in schools.
b. No student can fail in school education – ‘a failed school student’ cannot transact an increasingly sci-tech living and work environment. Strong basic education is a pre-requisite for survival, let alone excellence.
For instance, the minimum bar of qualification of a ‘knowledge worker’ is graduation (for a job in global BPOs) and enrolment in undergraduate courses requires good school grades.
c. The emergent competitive landscape is unparalleled
– increasingly, artificial intelligence is the new competition for our children; the race is against ‘artificially thinking things’. It is predicted that by 2045 (not ‘too far’ in the life of a child in Class V today), perhaps sooner, ‘computers’ will stand as tall as us in thinking.
Overall development of every student is the best foot forward for us to prepare our children to ward off the ‘competitive threat’ of artificial intelligence. Hopefully, emotional and ethical intelligences will not materialise in computers for far longer.
Clearly, the definition of quality of education needs to change as soon as possible and the following are the suggested goals of quality in education:
a. ‘Self-learning children’ is the new benchmark
b. Guarantee of development of every student is the new target
c. Overall development of every student is the new imperative
To summarise, a good school in the knowledge society must ensure Guarantee Of Overall Development (GOOD) of every student enrolled.
Q. What is the touchstone of quality in school education?
This is a pivotal question in the book; the best question to start the journey of ‘discovering education’. It captures the all-important exploration that propelled us to conceptualise Education – 3.0!
One of the most disruptive social changes in the past decade has been the ‘loss of grace of gray hairs’. All too sudden, age seems to offer no advantage in life or work; in fact, the dawn of the 21st century has created an illusion of an inverted relationship between wisdom and age. Is this change for real and good?
It is this context of the changing fabric of wisdom that best sets the stage to discover the touchstone of quality in education. Unearthing the fundamental play between (formal or schooled) education and (personal) wisdom holds the key to understanding the essence of quality in education.
Education was informal and community driven before the re-discovery of schools over a couple of centuries ago. In such a scenario, all were ‘equally educated’ in a community – every child grew up living in the contextual, ‘limited’ and common set of values, skills and knowledge; everyone was certain of equally internalizing the shared context. Yet, no two people were ‘equally wise’ (wisdom was not ‘similar’ between any two members of a community) because incremental knowledge was welcome and appreciated and ‘officially’ added to the common pool of knowledge.
The lack of structure and limited scope/goal of informal education of pre-school era has had a very amazing impact on the development of children. Every child was free to hold a unique take on events or situations around (but beyond the shared context) and the community had the benefit of diverse perspectives. People’s minds were not boxed into ‘standard constructs’ and learning was a life-long process (that mostly explains the association
of wisdom and age). People gained more knowledge as they faced new situations or events, quite in line with progression of age. In essence, wisdom = ‘self-learning’ + self-discovery = life-long learning!
If we are to look into our current educational system with respect to this definition of wisdom, we can easily explain our current predicament. ‘Development of wisdom’ is increasingly missing in our education. ‘Schooled education’ ≠ ‘self-learning’ capability ≠ ‘self-discovery’ ≠ ‘ability of life-long learning’; ‘schooled education ≠ wisdom’.
The impact of a ‘too rigidly standardized’ education system meant to reach out to ‘one and all’ is all very loud and clear – limited capability and opportunity for ‘self-discovery’ or ‘self-learning’. Expectedly, we see the increasing loss of association between wisdom and age and the diminishing respect for ‘experience gained over years’. And indeed, long years of ‘experience’ are apparently not translating into higher wisdom now. For example, a 10-year teaching experience does not necessarily mean 10 years of continued learning and self-development. There is no ‘learning on the job’ or ‘learning from new situations or needs’ that is welcomed back into the classrooms.
We are cramming up knowledge in search of wisdom. We are not making any personal connect, interaction, introspection or simply rich conversations around what we are taught. The seamless access to knowledge due to the Internet does not seem to have yet made people realize the futility of cramming in search of wisdom! Wisdom is a private journey of exploration, observation, thinking and expression.

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