‘Decoding the Recipe of Education & Skilling in the 21st century’ was the topic of yet another webinar hosted by ScooNews, held on 11th, May 2020.
Mr Ravi Santlani, CEO, ScooNews, had a penetrating conversation with the global voice in education, Mr Ratnesh Jha, CEO, Burlington Group of Companies for India and South-East Asia. They were later joined by Dr. Arunabh Singh, Director, Nehru World School.
Mr. Ratnesh Jha
Dr. Arunabh Singh
Ravi Santlani: Introduce the Burlington Group to our listeners.
Ratnesh Jha: In 30+ years of our existence, we have been able to spread across 30 countries. We run large schools in multiple countries; and also big-scale technology solutions in the education space as well as in the skilling space.
My personal story should clarify what this organisation is all about. I was a keynote speaker in one of the technology-education conferences abroad. A lot of frameworks, ideas, a large set of the ideal balance of knowledge and skill, etc. are talked about in these conferences and you usually come out thinking about how we can implement this.
After that conference, I met the team who were attending from Burlington. They humbly offered to share with me their solutions and frameworks that they have been using. Burlington has been publishing educational material used by millions of students around the world. Today, they are a major supplier of digital material for students learning English. This resonated with my passion for equity, quality, sustainability & skill that is needed to be at the core of educators for the impact on billions of minds. At that time, there was nothing here in India and South-East Asia distantly similar.
Ravi Santlani: How are you dealing with COVID-19 pandemic?
Ratnesh Jha: These are difficult times indeed, but these are also times where we are getting an opportunity to discover ourselves and the education sector all over again. Right now, the whole world is teaching online and a new world is being revealed to us as educators. To get the optimized teaching-learning conditions, we are finding easy ways to keep online teaching as natural as it was before. A blend of offline & online is proving to be very accommodating, it has given us better productivity as well. This is the step forward, it should give us better goals to look up to.
Ravi Santlani: Remember your school days and tell us what turned you into a person you're today?
Ratnesh Jha: The distinct difference I saw being a student and in fact, my whole life, is the whole culture of being a master of rote learning rather being an independent learner who’s able to question and be curious about the subject in hand. I suppose this is what is the basis of defining an individual from another.
The quintessential question today is ‘what is happening in the education system’ in India and in different parts of the world. We, as a society, are geared for rote learning, mastering it and reproducing it, and to top it, even the curriculum supports it. In my opinion, we, as educators, need to make certain that we are not bringing the same culture to society. Coming back to the previous question, if we are to think linearly in accordance with rote learning, it is going to be difficult to deal with COVID-19. But, if we are to think exponentially, we will be able to handle better. Think beyond the usual, how can we teach in a way that would help develop a reflective child, how can we expose them to self-learning?
Ravi Santlani: What, according to you, is changing in 21st-century education? How will the future look like?
Ratnesh Jha: None of us has figured out what it will look like, still, a lot of assuming and trying to figure out is going on. COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to question if we are aware of what is happening in the society and ecosystem of the education field. All I could say is, the future will not be the same anymore. Thinking exponentially will make all the change. A real play of technology, biology & psychology together might happen in the future. With all the AI advancement, human skill development is needed, which will make the coming generations capable enough to think critically and navigate the technology efficiently.
Ravi Santlani: Is the current style of education helping the future?
Ratnesh Jha: In a contextual sense, we have many variations in one’s teaching style that have been introduced in the past months, however, infrastructure change or development is also important at the moment. Both the teacher & the learner need to be given a space for the learning to happen, doesn't matter which education system one is in. Allowing that space to be played, allowing technology to be personalized, and collaboration to take place is important. Let us give our educators some room to be more creative with teaching.
Ravi Santlani: Is online learning as optimized as offline learning? What is your perception?
Ratnesh Jha: As educators, we should acknowledge that the technology is here and we should use it for our betterment. It's just a medium, it will equip the teacher and schools but I don't think the teaching-learning process can be made successful by AI. The technology is here to equip the teacher, see technology as your buddy for your assistance. Many things that are repetitive or automatic can be taken care of by technology so the teacher can have time to create self-reflective teaching.
Future skills have not changed but the definition might have changed. To be a ‘thinker’ is what we need to teach. Take DIY learning activities, for example, that are enjoyed offline. Children are learning to go beyond their set curriculum and become better ‘Thinkers.’ It is important for us, the educators, to see how we, as well as our students, can learn beyond what has been provided to us.
Ravi Santlani: Don't you feel we need an overall change in policy-making for the education sector, so the educators are not as tied as we are now?
Ratnesh Jha: There are discussions happening to bring technology to the front line of education. In this way, policymaking could evolve over time in the country. But a significant change is not something a policymaker does but what the educators and learners do. If you are dealing with and developing a creative culture, the presence of a teacher, who is equipping students with the ability to have innovative thoughts beyond the curriculum, is more important.
Dr. Arunabh Singh: Also, I think perpetual learning and skilling is the new change. Earlier, the syllabus used to change only by 5% in years, but in the last 2 months, everything has undergone a major makeover. Educators and schools had to learn to survive and not thrive. We had to learn to help teachers and students with the new paradigm shift. Alongside, we are also needed to look after the mental well being of our teachers.
Ravi Santlani: Dr. Arunabh, tell us how you developed the ability to learn & co-exist with fewer resources. How are you helping the team deal with such a crisis?
Dr. Arunabh Singh: We have started a new way of sharing one highlight from every wing (primary/secondary) of the school every day. Anybody can share anything that they tried while teaching, whether it has worked or not. It brought out a significant difference. Earlier it was the seniors who were expected to do something like that, tell newer teachers about tips and tricks, but now whoever is using something different is sharing about it openly and that is only improving the skills and learning of others. Not to mention, everyone's confidence has developed, too.
Ravi Santlani: How do you see change happening in the government schools of India?
Ratnesh Jha: It is true that our rural schools have not received aid as much as private schools, but the infrastructure of education today is not just technology or the internet but the whole mind-play that does not depend on only AIs to go forward. Also, not everything and every resource need to be paid. The change is needed to start from our mindset, to be able to apply the available resources in the best way possible. We are not constrained with technology but our mind, learn by discovering through curiosity and it shall release the constraints.
Dr. Arunabh Singh: Should we ask students to get an application that is payable if we are certain it will improve teaching & learning?
Ratnesh Jha: There is always going to be investment needed to be put in, but as long as you are sure that the app is helping the teaching and learning process, it is all good. We will have to be quality conscious. Please do not compromise with the definition of equity at the sake of quality.
Ravi Santlani: What are your thoughts on substandard teacher training?
Dr. Arunabh Singh: Definitely, it needs to be worked on but something is better than nothing, right? Education is central to effort if only all of us put effort together. We need to realise that we would not get high-quality teachers without training them. But, again, blaming the system is not going to help. Let’s make efforts at the individual level.
Ratnesh Jha: Learning should happen in collaboration, learning from just another teacher or a program is constraining. With all sorts of facilities available today, a global collaboration with people from all walks of life is not so difficult. I agree when you say the training sector needs to be better and that there need to be investments regardless of class size for the betterment of teachers.
Summary: Mr Ratnesh Jha concluded that it is in the time such as now that a lot is brought collectively for the education system. "Together, all of us are trying to solve a basic set of problems and bring a balance between skill and education. The needful is competence building in children. Developing children to be inquisitive minds & self-learners is necessary," he signed off.
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