India is home to 1.4 billion people and the median age is 27. Between now and 2025, more than 25% of the people entering the world’s workforce will be Indian. The true potential of our nation, however, will only be realized when we provide our children the right skills and foundations. Yet today--almost 71 years since our Independence--we are failing to give our children the education they are guaranteed by right.
The Indian education system is plagued by many complex factors and there is an urgent need to reinvent it. Although programs such as Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan have made great strides in improving access to education, by building schools and enrolling students, many classrooms are overcrowded and run-down. Where there are schools and children, there is often a dearth of good teachers, particularly in low-income communities. This gap between education for the underprivileged and more privileged is enormous, and contributes to growing inequality.
Most importantly, we lack a focus on quality. When we think of education today, we imagine students preparing for exams so they can join the rat race. We think of benches lined with children ready to learn by rote. But an education should be holistic and go beyond the cognitive. Its purpose should be inspiring. We should not only teach children skills, but impart the values that will enable them to become responsible citizens. Yet the skills and mindsets that are being taught today are largely irrelevant to the 21st century and the progressive thinking it requires. Unfortunately, both our content and our methods are outdated, and only a privileged few have access to a quality education.
How much a student learns is inextricably tied to the motivation and investment of their teacher, and we are facing a deficit of engaged educators. Where previously a teacher (guru) guided a student’s development both academically and otherwise, today the role of the teacher is both limited and unclear. The value of teachers and education may vary across the globe, but in India, most people believe an education is critical. Nevertheless, we must improve the perception of teaching professionals and highlight their instrumental role in helping students meet their potential.
Just as these factors are working together to hold our children back, we too must come together to eradicate education inequity. Our constant search for quick fixes and our siloed approach have been largely responsible for our lack of progress. There are more than 300 million children in India--the scale of the challenge is enormous. Therefore, what we truly need is a broad people’s movement. When whole communities get involved and think of ways to improve the education system, change is bound to happen.
We must build a critical mass of leaders, including parents, bureaucrats, corporations, politicians, school administrators, teachers and students who are interconnected. For example, someone working in the education sector may focus on changing pedagogy, but support for that change may come from bureaucrats. A parent may advocate for improvements to a local school and may lean on the private sector to mobilize resources. Each one of us can join the movement by dedicating time or resources to the education sector.
Eliminating educational inequity will not happen overnight. It will be the result of sustained effort by committed people who are clear about the vision, and are willing to reinvent themselves to make it a reality. The vision is that each child, irrespective of social or financial background, will receive an excellent education, so that we, as a nation, can find our light and our true potential.
About the Author:
Shaheen founded Teach For India with the vision of an excellent education for all children in the country, believing strongly in the potential of all children. She is also the Founder and Chairperson of the Akanksha Foundation. She is an Ashoka Fellow (2001), a Global Leader for Tomorrow at the World Economic Forum (2002), an Asia Society 21 Leader (2006) and serves on the boards of Ummeed, The Thermax Social Initiatives Foundation and is an advisor to the Latika Roy Foundation. She also serves as a committee member for National Council for Teacher Education. Shaheen has a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Manchester, England.
This article was originally published in the Anniversary (August 2017) issue of ScooNews magazine. Subscribe to ScooNews Magazine today to have more such stories delivered to your desk every month.
Photos courtesy - Teach For India