We wish to approach the discussion on this question by briefly revisiting the need for a new definition. One of the obvious reasons for a re-look at schools is the stress in the school education system; schools as institution are under tremendous stress.
Unprecedented stress has crept into the role of every stakeholder in school education and it would be an over-emphasis to detail the same. We may just want to add that the stress in the education sector is unparalleled because in most other sectors of business or governance under stress, not all stakeholders are so equally stressed out. In schools, all stakeholders are ‘equally stressed’ and no one is making merry (at the cost of others). Schools need a comprehensive institutional re-jig.
To start with, let us explore the critical causes of institutional stress; the three primary sources of dissonance in any institution are:
- Institutional goals are highly demanding (i.e. goals are not achievable) or highly misplaced (i.e. institutional outcomes have no market or demand)
- Processes are ill-defined or ill-monitored
- People in the organisation lack due professional skills, knowledge and attitude
Incidentally, of the three sources, misplaced institutional goals steam up the most stress across an institution because ‘customers’ start to seek alternatives and the future is at stake.
Unfortunately, schools are hit by misplaced institutional goals; schools are still developing ‘manpower’ for the industrial economy while the services economy has become far bigger. The services sector of the economy is essentially a knowledge-based economy and requires a different kind of ‘manpower’. The processes and people in schools are also out moded for developing manpower for the knowledge society.
We need to reset the goal(s) of schools and use that as an anchor to redesign the processes and retain the people, for the new goals. How do we find the new goal(s) of schools (or the new definition of a good school)?
A simple and effective way to start on a new definition of a good school is to critically analyse the current definition and find the holes in it and plug them all or to invent a totally new definition if plugging them is too demanding.
Let us look at the two key aspects of the current definition of a good school –
- Focus on overall development OR focus only on academics, i.e. verbal (literacy) and logical intelligences (numeracy)
- Focus on all enrolled OR focus only on the top-end performers and the average performance
The first aspect of the current definition of a good school accept the two polar ends – overly focused on academic achievement or overly committed to holistic development (but almost always at the cost of academic achievement for all). And all the in between hybrid cases are considered not-so-good.
Clearly this has to change – overall development is the new goal because very many new career opportunities are unfolding and many desirable personal skills and attitudes are now a critical must (such as leadership, cross cultural team play, communication skills). However, overall development must be built on the foundation of academic achievement because in a knowledge society over 99% of knowledge is outside curriculum. Students will have to self-learn. There is no ‘either–or’ choice between overall development and academic excellence.
The second aspect of the current definition is too ‘average performance’ dependent and the bottom of the class (which could be even up to 3/4 of class) is not counted towards quality of education imparted in a school. Only ‘top of the class’ demonstrates quality and schools bear no accountability towards the bottom. Schools accept failed students as a sad reality!
Clearly, no child can be left behind anymore (the base academic achievement for participation in the knowledge society is fairly higher), every child must be developed overall, guaranteed.
Putting the two aforementioned perspectives together, a good school should ensure guarantee of overall development (GOOD) of every student. Thus, a good school just needs to be a GOOD school! GOOD being an acronym for Guarantee Of Overall Development of every student.
Pertinently, any school can be a good school and it does not require tennis courts, 5-star cafeteria, 5 music studios, 5 creative arts studio, air conditioned transport, smart classrooms, 5 acre facilities, etc. to offer overall development opportunities.
Schools can settle for locally resourced art, music and dance, design, handicraft, theatre, games and sports, yoga and natural resources to offer ‘world-class’ overall development opportunities to all. After all, the primary goal of teaching music to all students is not to make them all musicians but to train their sense of hearing; thus learning Baul Geet in rural Bengal fulfils the purpose of teaching music in a school as much as learning Hindustani or Western classical music would do. Similarly, the primary purpose of sports for all is to develop the body and playing kabaddi or running is no less than playing football or tennis.
Thus, every school would be able to become a GOOD* School sooner than later while remaining within the economic reach of the parent pool it draws students from.
*Guarantee Of Overall Development of every student.