Leading lights from education discuss the highs and lows of 2019 as well as the hopes for 2020

Team ScooNews
Leading lights from education discuss the highs and lows of 2019 as well as the hopes for 2020

In the last month of the year, a note of hope was sounded with the HRD Ministry declaring that the new National Education Policy would be in the public domain very soon and, what’s more, it would ‘establish the glory of India in the world’. Yes, we could do with some of that shine! MHRD Secretary (Higher Education) R Subrahmanyam emphasised, “This education policy is going to modify the way we are implementing our education systems.” NEP 2019 envisions an India-centred education system that contributes directly to transforming India sustainably into an equitable and vibrant knowledge society, by providing high quality education to all. Some of the goals include quality early childhood education for all children between 3-6 years by 2025, every student in Grade 5 and beyond to achieve foundational literacy and numeracy by 2025, new 5+3+3+4 developmentally-appropriate curricular and pedagogical structure for school education, integrated, flexible school curriculum, no hierarchy of subjects, no hard separation of areas; integration of vocational and academic streams and lots more. The implementation of the NEP is naturally much looked forward to in the new year, by a system that has much to achieve. Incidentally, the HRD ministry received more than 2 lakh suggestions on NEP.

Edtech continues to make big strides. A study conducted by Google and KPMG had estimated online education in India, apparently the fastest growing internet market, to mushroom by 8 x into a close to $2 billion industry by 2021. This boom has seen a varied range of edtech platforms tackling the current infrastructure gap in different ways. While some use animation to teach complex topics, others have human tutors doing the teaching, while still others have gamified the process to create an interactive learning experience. Edtech start-ups, with their new and engaging range of solutions including new age tutorials, flipped classrooms, personalised learning and standardised resources, have the potential to leapfrog our education system towards increased success.

Say edtech and it must willy-nilly be followed by Byju’s… Byju’s, which has since raised close to a billion dollars from investors, is among the five most valuable Indian start-ups, along with Oyo, Paytm, Ola and Swiggy, last valued at about $5.5 billion in July. The company posted profits of ₹20 crore last fiscal on revenues of about ₹1,400 crore, on the back of about 35 million users, 2.5 million of whom are paid subscribers. With close to 85 percent renewal rate, the firm is on course to clock ₹3,000 crore in the current fiscal.

Budget time, it was revealed that the government plans to invest Rs.38, 572 crore under the National Education Mission. In 2018-19, Budget Education was Rs.56,619 crore, which had been increased to Rs.62,474 crore. It has been further increased to 76,800 crore in BE 2019-20. The four prominent schemes under National Education Mission, including Sakshar Bharat, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha and Teacher training programs, are expected to get a boost. The increased spend on National Education Program will make provision for skilled teachers in the system with better pay. It will also provide incentives to encourage research across all disciplines along with strengthening the technical capacity of the central schools.

With the budget's emphasis on digitisation, AI and advanced technology, integration of technology in classrooms is expected to get a considerable thrust. Additionally, education is expected to become more accessible for all. Technology upgradation and teacher's training are the two critical elements that will allow Indian schools to leverage the power of digital solutions and prepare students for new age jobs and careers.

Even as President Ramnath Kovind stressed that liberal arts education needs to be given as much importance as science and technology, and at least 23 teenagers in the southern Indian state of Telangana killed themselves since their controversial school-leaving exam results, several million people, including thousands of students, took part in the global climate strike across the world, inspired by Swedish climate activist and student, Greta Thunberg. “People are failing to grasp the anger of the younger generation in the face of a changing climate,” young Greta pointed out. “People are underestimating the force of angry kids.” Truly, if we cannot help, let us not hinder and simply get out of the way!

Since year endings merit looking back and looking forward, we got key experts from the field of education to share with ScooNews their views on the main developments and happenings in the field, both domestic and global, over the year. What did they find encouraging? What are the lessons that need to be learned from the challenges encountered to ensure better outcomes? What are they particularly looking forward to in the new year with regard to education? Here’s what they feel…

‘Learning is now a life-long practice’
Pukhraj Ranjan
Indian education & social innovation advocate
Head of Community & Media at

Schools in India and around the world are trying to innovate and match the speed at which the world is changing. But education, as of today, isn’t restricted only to the school boundaries. Children are learning from TV, social media channels, their own parents and communities, news, internet and through many other learning avenues. Learning is now a life-long practice which presents an ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons.

Through my experience at the HundrED Innovation Summit (Helsinki, Finland) and World Innovation Summit for Education - WISE 2019 (Doha, Qatar), over the last month, has reiterated my belief in the future of education to be rooted in holistic development and holistic wellbeing of the child.

Across both the summits and my continued interaction with global education innovators, I have noticed a deep focus on using design thinking to solve social challenges that prevent students from getting access to education. I also have noticed a rise in soft (essential) skills education like that of  social inclusion, active citizenship, and personal development, but also self-sustainability, as well as competitiveness and employability.

71% of the HundrED 2020 global collection of education innovations target the development of 21st century skills as defined by the Future of Education and Skills 2030 report by the OECD (2018). The six winners of the 2019 WISE Awards were also seen to be addressing global educational challenges from supporting low-income families with funding support packages in Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Liberia to facilitating early childhood development through home visiting programs in Brazil, etc.
A key facet of the conversations in the current global education landscape revolves around innovative practices in education that have solid evidence of impact and more importantly have the potential to scale.

New innovation needed:

While researching innovative education practices, the HundrED research team identified some global factors contributing to the resistance and distrust on experimenting with new practices and technologies. These include:

Time is a scarce resource that is spread thinly across curricula demands, which consequently stifles deep thinking, imagination, and creativity in schools.
Managing demanding assessment expectations causes most educators and students to be risk averse (e.g. the rise of standardised assessment).
Teachers are stressed just to get to the end of the day and cut corners out of necessity, leaving little room for new ideas to grow in an agile way.

Current structural boundaries (like a rigid school timetable) stifle new ideas for teachers and students, making it very difficult for innovation in education to spread easily.
As an Indian educator and innovation advocate, I believe new innovations in education should aim to allow us to do more with less and provide ways for educators to mitigate against these barriers.

Holistic wellbeing of all:

As we move into 2020, I look forward to seeing a sustainable and continued commitment to holistic development and holistic wellbeing of not just the child but all key education stakeholders like teachers, school leaders, parents, etc. I am also hopeful for a renewed focus on actively listening and involving the beneficiaries of our work and critical educational conversations, especially students and youth. And as mentioned above, I hope to see more innovations in education that do more with less and provide ways to help children flourish and reach their potential worldwide.

‘Attention given to personalised learning is heartening’

Lina Ashar
Educationist, entrepreneur, writer
Chairman, Kangaroo Kids Education Limited

The most promising developments in education recently have been the integration of technology in classrooms and schools and the increased attention given to personalised learning.
We’re at the cusp of an education revolution and modern advancements have been the driving force that could very well change the face of education forever. The integration of technology in schools and classrooms has been a boon to students, faculty and management. The use of classroom management software and cloud technology have not only help drive cost savings and operational efficiencies but improve the utilisation of resources for student learning. Breakthroughs in the field of Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality, within the education sector, have changed the way students learn, paving the way for data-driven and personalised learning.
Artificial intelligence has improved student learning through tutoring systems that are available as and when the student requires. The same system is able to adapt the teaching approach to suit the student’s needs and thereafter evaluate the student’s performance. It utilizes data obtained through direct interaction and mobile learning to adapt the approach and help realise the student’s potential for learning. Artificial intelligence, through the use of concepts like online learning and data-driven learning, is helping make a student’s education more relevant and personalised. Virtual reality or virtual learning has made it possible for students to experience their education more vividly, increasing their interest in the matter and improving their understanding. It makes the interaction between students and subjects more immersive and engaging by giving students, quite literally, a better view on the subject.

The need to find motivation:

Resilience and positivity are the key lessons to learn from any challenge. I believe that students today lack the self-belief and determination that could help them overcome challenges. Students may have the skills and direction to overcome challenges, but they need to find the motivation to keep moving forward.
Parents and teachers need to help students understand that failure is not the end, it’s a means to an end. Failure is a stepping stone and can help students learn, so by teaching them to look at it positively, children can gain the potential to learn more.

Obstacles and challenges are a part of life, it’s how we choose to look at it that can make the difference. When these challenges appear, it is up to us to find meaning in it. This can set us on the road to developing resilience. Let the life story of Lou Gehrig serve as an example of overcoming challenges and creating better outcomes. Lou was a clumsy kid, and the boys in his neighbourhood wouldn’t let him play on their baseball team. But this didn’t deter him from playing baseball, instead, he tapped into his source of inner courage and determination to keep improving. Where do you think that got him? Today, he is listed in the Baseball Hall of Fame as one of the greatest players of all time. Such is the power of positivity and resilience.

Taking failure positively, but at the same time using the experience to overcome it, can put students on the path to success. Ultimately, to ensure better outcomes, we need to make sure that we learn from the experience and use that learning to do better; positivity and resilience help ensure that we keep moving forward and keep learning.

Not a restart but change:

A new year symbolises a new beginning, but what we need isn’t a restart, we need a change. Education needs to be restructured to provide learners with the knowledge, skills and competencies they need for the future.
Education needs to be less about just teaching children and more about how we can create effective, lifelong learners, where learning new skills will be an ongoing necessity throughout life. To that end, I’m looking forward to a revamp of the system; making student education more focused on development rather than on results and success.
In the future, education and every other aspect of the world will be heavily dependent on technology. Many jobs will be replaced by machines. So, what’s in store for our children?

Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, spoke at The World Economic Forum, saying: “If we do not change the way we teach, the world will be in trouble. Our education is knowledge-based, and we cannot teach our kids to compete with machines. We have to teach them something unique so that machines can never catch up with us.”
We need to equip the learners of today with the skills and values that can help them become adaptable, innovative, and purpose-driven, as those will be the requirements for success in the world that they will live in. We need to prepare our children for the workplace of the future.
Keeping that in mind, I look forward to the evolution of education in terms of a pivotal shift. Regrettably, the push for change is an external one, from industries that are not having their needs met by the current state of education. Education should be more proactive to future vision and change by itself. So, here’s to hoping that the education system will realise the necessity of such a change.

‘Overjoyed by happiness inclusion in curriculum’

Dr Jagpreet Singh
Headmaster, Punjab Public School, Nabha.

I was thrilled to see the inclusion of technology making its presence felt in almost every education sector. I was overjoyed by the fact that Delhi government and other states included Happiness in their Curriculum. Ironically, at the same time this has left me wondering we need to teach happiness and enforce it in our lives? Time to contemplate, my dear colleagues from the education fraternity...!

Drawing the line:

Yes, with IT playing the role of necessary evil, we need to have a more clear line of thought about “how much is too much”. We must understand and find out the constructive role of technology in the learning outcome as per various Educational Boards.

Catch ‘em young:

I will be extremely elated to see the young generation taking up teaching as profession. Classrooms breaking the barrier of four walls and inter-disciplinary approach will be an interesting thing to learn and implement.

‘Dialogue is a silver lining’

Dr. Sumer Singh
Author and advisor to schools
Director Education Salad

In spite of the dismal level of financial support from government towards school education and education research, there are some silver linings which have emerged in recent times.
What comes to mind first is dialogue, dialogue between educators and the CBSE and between educators and the Ministry of HRD. How much is the impact on policy is still not known but the desire for more open conversation gives rise not only to optimism but also to the emergence of enhanced brainstorming and to a consequential growth of education leaders in the private sector.

From my perch as a retired educationist I see them coming out of their limited campus environments onto the bigger stage and a number of educational thinkers are having a very positive impact. Not only are these educationists more outspoken than their counterparts of my generation, but they have been sharing their views and experiences on the platforms provided by a mushrooming of conferences and workshops across the country. These ever-multiplying conferences are leading to sharing of best practices, ideas and cooperation as never before. Organisations like ScooNews, Education World & Future 50 need to be recognized for their contribution in the development of this phenomenon.

The second positive development is globalization and inter-cultural learning. Educators are engaging beyond the elitist global clubs that benefit only a few. AFS has grown in the last two years into a network of a hundred schools pan India, providing training in intercultural skills to over thousands of students and hundreds of educators. Apart from overseas exchanges it has initiated domestic exchanges and I have seen the dividends of student exchanges between schools in different parts of the country creating friendships and a better understanding of our cultural diversity. This is so important in an age when nations and even Indian states are finding reasons to isolate themselves in a false sense of nationalism and protectionism.

Migration across state and national borders in search of better education, professional development and tourism is a growing reality and preparing students in inter cultural sensitivity is an essential component of education.
Educators are equally exposing themselves through study tours abroad. The biggest impacts in this process is the emergence of humanities or the liberal arts as a preferred option and the importance now being given more widely to languages, visual and performing arts.

In all this churning many of our students have shifted priorities beyond traditional and well-paying careers to areas of responsible citizenship, desiring to make an impact on issues like environment & urban planning, gender sensitivity, conflict resolution as also educational opportunities for the less privileged. This new breed will impact our society for the better for they are thinking beyond their own personal comforts. Certainly more than we did.
There is also a gradual shift in rural areas away from a desire to secure government jobs towards acquiring skills and working independently. If this trend grows the result will be more enterprise and the creation of jobs.

Postponement of qualifying exam disheartening:

Having listed some of the positive trends I have a major regret which I do hope is addressed soon. In the 1980s I attended a series of meetings with the HRD Minister, Education Secretary and Chairperson of the CBSE. It was resolved that India would do away with the school leaving examination which restricts multi-faceted talents recognizing only academic achievements based on restricted parameters, encouraging unhealthy competition and stress. That we would replace this with a common higher studies’ qualifying examination that could be attempted a multiple of times. It was hoped to reduce the existing numerous entrance examinations and, in the process, give more freedom of curriculum at the school level.

I was sad to learn soon after that the implementation of this decision was postponed because the Ministry lacked the technical skills to introduce the resolution till such time as papers could be simultaneously prepared in multiple languages. I do still hope this scheme, long forgotten, is revived one day.
We all hope that educators will shift from a lecture, notes and memorization methodology to a more creative and experiential model. But until the assessment model is changed, we will remain tied to marks and ranks, neglecting the essential soft skills that define each of us.

‘Swing from memory-based to skill-based education’
Anirudh Khaitan
Vice Chairman Khaitan Public School
Director, Bengal Education Society

Our recent trip to Australia has been an eye opener for the education system that is being followed there.  The complete assessment and analysis of students performance is being monitored through data using artificial intelligence tools.  Technology is being heavily integrated into classrooms, being in the real world feel into classrooms.  What was very encouraging to see globally is how education is being moved away from memory based to more skill-based education.  Specially in Australia, they have managed to bring in literally 1000’s of skills into high school education and there is a very positive impact on schooling there because of it.

Even in India, there has been a complete thought process change in how one of their leading boards CBSE is viewing education.  They have been able to shift their mindset from Rote Learning Methodology to more experiential based learning.  This is more in line with what is needed in our country.  The have recently announced many initiatives from reforms in assessments that will have a huge impact on how education is done in the country.

RTE challenges:

The introduction of RTE has been extremely challenging both for government institutions and private institutions.  Instead of increasing overall enrolment, RTE has managed to only shift students from Government to Private schools.  Currently the RTE is going to be revamped and we are very hopeful that the government will look at all the misgivings of the earlier policy and make it better.  The government is the biggest provider of education, without which a country cannot move forward.  They are already focussing more on making their own schools better and now we look forward for their support in the initiatives taken by the private schools, so together we can all take the country forward.

Needed: NEP implementation:

I am particularly looking forward to the implementation of NEP as if done in the right way, it could make a huge impact on school education.  Personally, for our schools, we are looking at automating all processes as into give a better product and experience to our students and parents.

‘AI is digging into data and learning rapidly’

Anand Krishnaswamy
Dean of STEM Studies
Purkal Youth Development Society

What a teacher is, has been a shape-shifting definition since our mythological version of the guru in a gurukula - from being a controller to a facilitator, from being the store of knowledge to flipped classes, from being the key player in a closed room to MOOCs, from that strict martinet to an empathetic comrade - and continues to change. But there is one development which is rapidly pushing education and teachers to answer this question as in that answer will be the roadmap to how education itself will take shape. That development is of artificial intelligence (AI) and its increasing role in education. Before I go into the debate, let me present some of the work that is out there.
Many countries are invested in AI in education. Global edtech funding jumped a whopping 58% in 2015 from the previous year. The market is projected to grow at 17.0% per annum, to $252 billion by the year 2020. Asia is seeing the fastest growth in investment into the sector; China, in particular, is the largest edtech market. China is also very bullish about AI in education. Many reports across the world attribute higher pass grades and reduced dropout rates to collaborating with an AI adaptive learning system. It will no longer be about gadgets but about utilising tech for providing value unlike realised before in education. The validation is there but what are the key differentiators?

The biggest strengths:

AI’s biggest strength is scale of operation. An AI system can not only look at the responses of students in the class and identify patterns of error and learning (which an excellent human teacher could also do) but it can also crunch numbers and extract patterns from all schools in a city or state or country and indicate with varying degrees of confidence, the likely paths ahead or challenges in the past. A human teacher is not even privy to this information, let alone possess the ability to process these. An AI system can respond to identified patterns by picking from a massive catalogue of options. A human teacher (and even the best) can respond with a few options. An AI system can process data about a student’s learning pattern over the years & even build a model that maps it to physiological changes - and then repeat this for thousands of students. The best human teacher is rarely ever with one student for many years and even if they are, they are unlikely to repeat this intimate awareness at a scale beyond a few tens at best. AI is a function of its algorithms. The best human teacher is a function of his/her moods, mental acumen (which is not fixed), commitment, health and energy levels.
I’ll present one example of the work out there. A lot of fascinating advancements are being done at Squirrel AI Learning, China. Their strength lies in the granularity they invest in and the responses to signals at that level of granularity. In common terms, Squirrel’s strength is in how minutely they break down each topic, say, a chapter, into facets that require new learning or reconnect to old learning as well as the response mechanism they have for a student’s interaction with those facets. This response mechanism, they call a “knowledge graph”. By presenting about 10-15 questions, the system is able to determine the exact support and help the student needs as well as the flavour of the next lesson (since the next lesson can come in different flavours depending on student learning styles and their individual knowledge graph). The future, at places like Squirrel AI, is fascinating & full of possibilities. Whether this ends up in a test-driven education model (much like what we see in coaching classes and cities like Kota) or an expansive and holistic education - we will never know but AI is here to stay.

Teachers and AI:

While many will emotionally respond with “Ah! No computer can replace a real teacher”, that number is reducing very swiftly. The wiser few do not talk in terms of “either or” and acknowledge that the human would be the best human teacher if s/he admitted his/her shortcomings and utilised AI to fill those and inform his/her judgement. The reason that is inevitable is because teaching and education has loved to play to the image of that amazing teacher who created a miracle in the lives of many. AI is simply not wasting time in miracles but is digging into data and learning rapidly. Teaching & effective learning is composed of elements that are repetitive & rudimentary, coupled with elements that are subjective and perception-based, combined with elements that are inherently evolutionary and adaptive. Some of these elements can be presented by a machine (which is not very different, in its role, from a textbook; just richer). There are elements of analysis that simply need to be performed (what example works best for Kumar? What video should Sujata watch next? Has Vijay truly understood fraction equivalence? etc.) and are today held ransom to the teacher’s willingness, capability or inclination to trick the system. AI can perform these without taking a break. A wise teacher would use this to identify his/her next move.

While India is far behind in AI and is more likely to end up adopting from elsewhere, this is going to be a significant overhaul of education system implementation as we know it. This is a trend I am eagerly watching.


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