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Educating Children to Stay in the Country

Abha Sahgal, Principal of the premier Delhi school Sanskriti speaks about what the National Education Policy needs to focus on

Nirupama Sekhri
Publish Date: Oct 16 2016 4:10PM | Updated Date: Nov 23 2016 11:39AM

Educating Children to Stay in the Country

Abha Sahgal, Principal of premier Delhi school Sanskriti spoke about what is the National Education Policy (NEP) needs to focus on.

 

NEP thrust?

 

The need is of a much more efficient and relevant harnessing of digitisation and technology. We need to move away from the conventional style of teaching, and move into the world of the children of today – that’s where they will learn best – in their own environment. If we are in the era of smart phones and technology then it has to be incorporated into the education system too.

 

Technology implies the use of multiple media not just the computers but audio-visual and multi-media. The point is to be able to access and communicate information and knowledge that is not dependent on teachers but can tap into the ubiquity of info and knowledge available so easily today at the click of a button. We have to be open to different ways of learning.

 

Equity is another major concern. How can education reach everyone? This decision has to be taken keeping in mind the diverse nature of our country, and has to be a major process. It is a complex issue because it is not just about getting to school but about what the child is learning.

 

The challenge that needs to be addressed is about creating a curriculum that is relevant and close to a child’s own experience, while at the same time taking them beyond to children’s experiences around the country, and the world. A child in Tamil Nadu should understand what’s happening in Kashmir and in other parts of the world.

 

Another aspect of equity is adjusting curriculum to suit each child. Each child’s requirement needs to be at the heart of education and the curriculum needs to adapt itself to the child rather than the other way around as is currently the case.

 

Critical thinking is most important to inculcate in our young. The classroom is not the only place for learning to happen and the entire thrust of education should be encouraging critical, logical, lateral thinking in a child no matter in what space they are in. For this a variety of strategies can and should be used. The curriculum should excite imagination, it should move more towards a hands-on and experiential based style.

 

Languages

 

It is also extremely important to encourage the learning of languages among our students. The importance of English cannot be under-estimated – it is the language spoken across the country and the world – it is a global, binding language.

 

But we need to limit its importance to just that, and not at the cost of our children’s mother tongue. Our curriculum must pay attention to encouraging national and regional languages. In fact I feel that if we are doing French and German, why not Indian languages – Telegu, Tamil, Kannada, Gurumukhi, etc.  The importance of English should be that much and not more.

 

Yes, I feel Sanskrit is a very important language. It helped us a lot when we were growing up as part of our Hindi curriculum. There definitely needs to be a revival of national languages in schools. Otherwise we are preparing our children to move away from the country rather than staying in it.

 

Strengthening policy implementation

 

One way of doing this is that parental involvement must increase. They are major stakeholders and beneficiaries and need to have a say in where, what and how their child is learning. However, having said that, it is very important first to educate the parents themselves. While it is essential to have them as part of the community, the extent and quality of their involvement has to be carefully looked into.

 

Teachers

 

I was reading recently that in Finland one of the most difficult professions to enter into is teaching. It carries prestige and remuneration. If teaching is to attract the best minds in India too, then that is the kind of respect and importance the profession has to be given. It cannot be like it is presently - if you cannot find a suitable job, then teacher to ban hi jaogi (you can always become a teacher).

 

It is also perceived as an “easy” job – you enjoy short working hours and long holidays. So make it into a coveted, attractive and qualified job – pay well and then I’m sure the teachers too will not mind working to the same working hours and holidays as in other comparable jobs.

 

In addition, there is a need to empower and support teachers with facilities and training – you can’t just leave them to manage all on their own. Our own experience in this is useful for other institutions. When we introduced inclusive classrooms with children with special needs studying alongside regular students we faced a lot of resistance, But we stood our ground – we insisted that we would give it our best shot.

 

We trained our teachers, we empowered them with freedom and flexibility to work for the best outcomes and by the end of the year, our educators had learnt to handle the class and deal with all the children, and I’m proud to say that all our teachers are special educators.

 

Challenges?

 

Like I mentioned about our challenge to maintain integrated, inclusive classrooms, we face questions and confusions on a regular basis. It is normal and natural when you are working in such a dynamic environment with so many variables – children, teachers, parents, the developments outside …. in fact if someone was to tell me that they are facing no challenges while running their school then they should be worried!

 

We always need to be aware of our philosophy, pedagogy and operations, and see that we are responding to the changing needs of the children and the times.

 

For example, when we began our nursery classes we encouraged teachers to speak to the children in the language the child was most comfortable in. However, when our induction of children from the economically weaker sections (EWS) increased we realised we needed to raise the proportion of English used in the class-room, so that familiarity with the language started early and that’s what our nursery teachers did. This is important that the teacher can change their style and content according to the needs of the class.

 

The EWS Challenge

 

It is no doubt a challenge because often EWS children are first-generation learners. They usually don’t have an exposure to books and reading. They don’t get direct educational support from their families, and what’s said and spoken in the classroom may not be reflected in their home environment.

 

In response to this we initiated regular communication with our EWS parents through direct meetings and newsletters. We informed them about what the school was about, what we wanted the children to learn in the classroom. We told them to leave the academics to us but to support their child in promoting a conducive attitude to learning in their child, to be happy and well adjusted, both in school and outside.

 

Indian society is fast changing, people are eager to break away from the traditional circle to reach somewhere else - a carpenter doesn’t want his child to follow his profession but to explore other avenues. There is a much greater aspiration among parents than ever before, EWS parents really believe in education being the key to social mobility and that conviction and hunger helps. We find that the parents from EWS are very keen listeners, maybe more so than parents of regular children!

 

There is no doubt that it is a challenge to maintain a socio-economic mix of children in classrooms. But I think the society is changing, I think the children are different today and they are much more accepting and accommodating. The problems are many, and I would be lying if I said that it was all smooth, but we have to adapt to these needs and tests and do the best we can.

 

You know that saying - the only constant is change – I feel that applies to education more than anywhere else!

 

Central Education Service (CES)

 

The NEP mentions the creation of this cadre in the government, which sounds like a great thing. If you elevate the job status like that of the Indian Administrative or Foreign Service, and induct officers who have to qualify to stringent criterion then I think it will help the education sector tremendously.

 

Just like IAS or IFS officers who don’t mind getting posted anywhere because they are assured of certain working conditions and support, CES officers could help standardise education across the country.

 

I’m all for this kind of intervention. Make the CES exam tough and prestigious. Presently, the quality of a school depends solely on the personal drive of the principal and how much s/he is able to inspire and lead the staff members. The CES will help broaden this to include many more schools and the principals by proper, adequate training and standards.

 

Right now no-one says “Wow, you are a teacher, that’s fantastic,” unless you are at some really well reputed school. This needs to change, and perhaps something like introducing CES can help change that.

 

Teaching needs to attract top people and if you get good leaders in education, the system will be fine. We need to train and inspire anyone to become good teachers – that’s lacking at the moment. Seniority of years should not be the most important criteria for incentive or promotions, which it is at present especially in government schools.

 

Teachers in well reputed private schools perform well, why? Because the leadership is good, they are motivated and supported, that’s one big difference between govt and private schools.

 

Pvt vs Govt Schools

 

There is a tendency to have this face-off. It’s not that private schools are without faults and problems, but the reality is that private schools exist all over the world. The government can help regulate them, make sure they operate at certain standards.

 

However, the government can do that when atleast some basic standards of their own schools are in place – their vision, commitment, deliverables needs to be clear – and that’s not happening and that’s why whether it is a parent from an elite neighbourhood or living in an informal settlement – they are all opting for private schools. Why?

 

My grand-daughter goes to a government-funded school in the US, despite the fact that my daughter can well afford to pay for a private school education. But the public school is doing a great job and she doesn’t feel the need to do so.

 

On Corruption

 

The demand is way higher than the supply so it allows corruption to fester. Start offering easy access to quality schools then corruption will automatically reduce. The advantage today is with the schools so they do whatever they want; the advantage should be with parents and not schools – change that equation - make our public schools strong and great places of learning, otherwise if another school is providing some kind of infrastructure and quality, the parents will send their child there.

 

Although my personal interaction with government school is not extensive, we are twinned in Delhi with a government school – Kitchener School – with which our staff and students maintain regular contact. I find that school very motivated and offering a good standard of schooling.

 

At public fora I have met principals of government schools and some of them are remarkably talented and enthusiastic, they have ability and zeal, it just needs to be better harnessed. Some of them are truly impressive – recognising and supporting them is what the government needs to do.