Crisis in school education system

Schools are ill-designed for providing quality education in knowledge society

A very important question, any discussion on it hinges on the definition of ‘quality education’. The schools as we see today, ‘the industrial society schools’, have a very simple definition of quality – maximise the fraction of total students who excel in the public examination that assesses the knowledge of the prescribed syllabus. In other words, currently the quality of education has two broad dimensions:
1. The first measure of quality is the quantitative view of the performance of students enrolled. It is measured in one of the two ways mentioned below:
The ‘relative number’ of ‘performers’ (i.e. the share of performers in the total student population)
The absolute number of ‘performers’ from the school
Schools pick the best of the two as the default measure of quality, based on which of the two shows the school in a better light. Till date, a good school is one where a ‘reasonable fraction’ of students manage to achieve something that is high on the ‘popular choice’ (such as Engineering). Unfortunately, the ‘reasonable fraction’ could be as low as 1/20 or 1/30 of the relevant group of the students!
It is interesting to stress that at times schools do not even work on maximization of the ‘reasonable fraction of achievers’ and it is simply the maximization of the achievement of the best-performing students. Worse, students attaining high achievement levels in less popular choices may not even count much in a school’s scheme of things; for instance, a school may not trumpet the recognized painting genius of a child as much as it may for children securing admissions in under-graduate courses in engineering or medicine.
Certainly, the society is to be blamed for this educationally unsound practice but schools cannot totally wash their hands off it – schools must always stand by the (child-centred) educationally appropriate practices (and slowly and steadily mould public perceptions for the larger good of the children and society).
2. The second measure of quality is the performance as measured against a given content, the syllabus! The overwhelming majority of the assessments are unapologetically focussed on measuring ‘rote’ or memorised text book content.
We have extensively discussed elsewhere that these measures of quality worked well in the industrial society. In the knowledge society, the imperatives and opportunities have significantly altered, for instance.
a. In the knowledge society, no child can be left behind in education – we must guarantee development of every enrolled child in every school! Higher education is quite an imperative for successful living and career and that requires good school education.
b. Knowledge is on-tap, multimodal, unbounded and intertwined across disciplines in the knowledge society – syllabus is now just a misnomer for the knowledge to be acquired during a period; there is no way knowledge boundaries could be drawn. As a result, ‘teaching’ is out-of-place in a knowledge society; it is impossible to teach anyone the world of knowledge. Teaching has to acquire a new avatar teaching children to learn by themselves. Expert-level reading skills, command over English and logical thinking powered by conceptual clarity in math and science, besides career exam/skill preparatory support, are the new goals of teaching (and quality of education).
Clearly, schools are fairly off the mark to be relevant in a knowledge society because
a. Schools cannot ensure excellence for all students and
b. Schools are too syllabus and teacher-centred; schools are not student-centred and do not aspire to develop students as self-learners.
The following three are the deficits schools need to address to deliver quality in the knowledge economy:
1. Poor reading culture: it is made worse by low-grade-interactivity of TV, digital games – fluent reading skills are the most critical pre-requisites for self-learning capability
2. Ever-sliding quality of maths and science education (and passion) due to ‘weak pedagogical frame’ for teaching maths and science: maths and science education needs a complete overhaul.
3. School – home divide: one of the weakest link in school education is the poor appreciation of the critical role of study at home and the general educational context of the parents and community around. The increasing centrality of self-learning only enhances the role of parents in the quality of education.
In the Indian context, there is an additional dimension to be worked upon – securing English language competence among all students who use it as their medium of academics. There is a total lack of knowledge about ‘teaching’ a second language to the level of instructional language. The world does not know how to achieve it; American/British universities are least equipped to teach English to Indians that can take it from second-language competence to the level of first-language competence.
To top it, the leadership in K – 12 education – at the level of schools, bureaucracy and political – is irretrievably gapped-out to committedly pursue the risk of inventive classroom strategies for the next-gen (knowledge-society) schools. A new-genre school leadership, at multiple levels, is the most critical imperative to nurture quality knowledge society schools; bureaucracy and political leadership should also be professionally supported by ‘progressive school educators’. Large-scale school education is as much a specialized professional domain as bio-technologists, space scientists, agriculture scientists, economists and such others.

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