Education for the SPECIAL – Part 1

Every travel has been a wonderful experience for me, a learning experience that changed my perception of education in our country. Travelling far and wide in the journey to improve the quality of education in schools spread across the length and breadth of the country the definition of quality changed with every visit and every endeavour.

When I visited the Social welfare and the Tribal welfare schools in the state I was amazed at the kind of money being pumped into these learning institutions that are grooming the young generations of the underprivileged sections to access mainstream education and lay a foundation for a successful after school life. These schools do not boast of a lavish infrastructure or basic facilities but are cradled in nature’s lap which brings back the memories of vedic universities. Undoubtedly the buildings are dilapidated but the shortfalls are compensated by the availability of abundant natural resources. The natural settings around some schools can awe any visitor and give an illusion of high standard education being delivered.

These schools have been set up with an idealistic vision of providing quality education modelled along the lines of gurukul system which provided shelter and food along with education on the guidelines of our scriptures that say that “no learning can happen on empty stomach”. Apart from accommodation these students are assured a small sum of pocket-money which they use for their personal needs.

The quality of education provided in these schools range from least effective to effective, of course these students sit for various competitive exams and few successfully get entry into different engineering and medical studies; however the number getting into these fields is not very high. Then, how far can we say that these schools are successful in achieving the outcomes.

Walking through the corridors of these schools, looking at the young boys and girls whom we promise quality provision that fuels their dreams of a good life for themselves and their kith, I mused on how many really make it happen with the kind of support they get in these schools. Are these schools able to achieve the goals? Where do these children go with bits of knowledge and understanding of subjects and ineffective communication skills? Sometimes I wonder, are we able to make it with this section of the society that means and matters a lot in the national development and assure us a better place in the world ranking with improved human development indices.

I leave the schools with an agitated mind and confusion on what could be the next steps for these schools to improve. The rigid regulations and policies that govern the Indian school system make it very challenging to import innovative ideas to change the eco system of these schools. I really ponder why did we think of a typical traditional system for these students who need more than knowledge of social sciences and language to raise the standard of their lives. Why do these children have to suffer the consequences of erroneous planning?

When the agenda of human development takes precedence then the policies that script the destiny of the weaker sections should probe the factors that favour their progress. There is no denying that education is the overall panacea for all problems. The question should have been what sort of education will help the weaker section get into mainstream successfully?

Within the traditional set up a different scheme of things would lead to better outcomes. The students come from different social settings and background, addressing and arranging a system for this group requires radical ideas and divergent thinking.  A total overhaul of the system is required for the transformation of these institutions into universities of learning, preparing young men and women to fight all odds to move forward in life and contribute to a peaceful and progressive society.

Proficiency in three languages is not imperative for a successful life. Therefore, two language formula in these schools will not derail the overall education system or disqualify the students in appearing for competitive exams.  A choice to study any one language other than English will benefit the students and the schools in the long run.

What else is required to make a good living?  Undoubtedly, it is the proficiency in the global language which opens up better opportunities. This is the language of communication, of facebook and twitter that enables the young to contact people all over the world. Furthermore it is the most dominant language of diplomacy, business, science, and economy and web world.  More than 90% of the data on the websites is created and written in English with about 80% stored in the computers around the world. Therefore it becomes exigent that the schools focus on developing the communication skills. The locus should be the functional aspect of the language and not the unit lessons. These schools bind themselves with the syllabus so tightly that they end up teaching content than the language which complicates the issue, the acquisition of language skills hence becomes challenging for both the teacher and the taught.  An innovative and interesting blend of curricular goals with vertical and horizontal progression enables the schools to achieve outcomes in a short span of time. The English language curriculum has to be contextualised in view of the background of the students. The main aim of the language module should be the development of effective communication skills. With a clear mission and mile stones, accomplishing outcomes would rather become easy.

When the focus shifts from communication skills mathematics and science stands out as important subjects, movement and progress in life depends on the calculation, estimation and problem solving skills. Immaterial of the career, knowledge of calculations will endow the skill of tackling challenges head on. These two sciences support an individual’s capacity to think logically and differently.  The main question still remains- what percentage of students attain minimum levels in maths and science that empower them to become progressive thinkers. The thinking of young generation becomes vulnerable if science and math subjects do not teach them reasoning skills and unfortunately it is a fact.

What are the young boys learning with wandering minds and quivering thoughts? These youngsters behave as aliens in class and as warriors in playground. Well, here is the clue, the young spirits are bubbling with raw energy waiting to be shown the right direction, I have spoken to several young boys in these institutions who are more interested in sports and games than in theories and theorems.  They need “sports schools” or “sports classes” to encourage them to participate in their own rise and success. Their thought process belong to a totally different genre as they have seen and heard of their generations living in penury and inaccessible pockets of civilizations therefore drawing them into the current society norms may be challenging.  India cannot sit basking in the glories of Vijay Kumars or Mary Koms, these species have to be multiplied in the playgrounds of learning institutions.  Therefore it becomes necessary to rewrite the education plan for these schools, directed and targeted focus leads to specific and definite outcomes, generalised education and a blanket program may still leave several gaps which makes the entire planning a naught.  Playgrounds and sports fields are the suitable learning places for these adolescents which trains them to accept defeat and exhibit positive sportsmanship skills. In defeat they learn valuable lessons of life. These students enjoy the sporting experience because it is close to their roots and run in their genes. Sports will teach them innumerable lessons which may last longer than monotonous class lessons.

(To be Continued…)

– Ms Anitha Jagathkar, Member – Advisory board, Ankur Learning Solutions Pvt ltd

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