A Vision on Education and Teacher Education
Chairperson, National Council for Teacher Education
The prevalent education system is anachronistic. It continues to be tied up to the context of learning when one could acquire one-time skills and use them effectively for the entire professional life. But these days, with rapid developments in science and technology, there are frequent changes in the nature of occupations and that of the world of work. Therefore, it may not be possible to function productively throughout one’s professional career with one-time knowledge and skills. The context of education has, therefore, changed, particularly, when the world has entered in the Information Age. Now mere acquisition of information in one’s brain would not be of much value as vast amount of information can be readily stored on electronic devices. The human brain has a unique capability – the ability to think. Thinking is not a programmable skill. What needs to be done is to use the brain for performing those tasks that cannot be done by a machine. A machine cannot think. Information can be stored on a machine and recalled. Therefore, what we should not do is to use the human brain as a memory storage device.
Earlier, learning was geared towards helping children to memorise information, what is called rote learning. That will be of no avail to any individual for living in a society, which is constantly changing with time. Some of the skills that are required now are those of decision-making, problem solving and creative thinking. So, what now needs to be done is to develop in children these abilities and the ability of learning how to learn. Once children learn how to learn, they will develop attitude of lifelong learning and will become lifelong learners. And that would mean that they will never feel at any stage in their life that they have become misfits – that is getting the feeling that the abilities that they possess are no longer needed by the society.
Such a context requires a paradigm shift in our approach to learning. The role of the teacher in the learning by children has to be re-examined. Also, it would be important to accept the findings of the researchers on learning theories – the concept of multiple intelligences. Each one of us is different. We all have our own preferred approach to learning. Some people like to learn by manipulating things by hand, some prefer to learn by seeing something, and some prefer to learn when they read something. Once we believe that each child is capable of learning, a common approach used by a teacher shall not be relevant to all children. So, what needs to be done is to make learning more child-centric. Parents too need to have the confidence that their child can learn. If the child is unable to learn, maybe the approach adopted by the school is not what is suited to the learning temperament of that child. This brings in a totally new approach to learning - as regards to the role of the parents, and the role of the teacher. The role of the teacher in the learning of a child is most influential.
We have a large system of teacher education in the country. There are more than 5 million teachers in service and each year about 200,000 new teachers after undergoing pre-service courses are made available to the school system. The National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) has laid down norms and standards for various courses of teacher education and issued them as regulations. By developing resource materials in print and electronic forms and distributing them to teacher education institutions NCTE has been playing a catalytic role in the process of change of teacher education and for making it relevant to the context of learning today. We hope that teacher educators will pick up the new ideas and that they will be able to reorient teacher education programmes for giving to the school system such teachers as can competently take care of education of children for the 21st century.
A centralised education system in a vast country is potentially damaging. The context of learning is tied up with local needs, which are diverse. Therefore, school system has to be decentralised. We have to decentralise it to the level of each child. If there are 300 million children then there must be 300 million ways of how children learn. It is a kaleidoscope. By regimenting teaching and learning through a uniform curriculum that is by laying down centrally what each child must learn learning achievements will continue to get less and less. Statistics reveal that of the 100 students admitted to class 1, only 14 pass class 10, and even those who pass class 10, very few of them complete the senior secondary stage and go to the tertiary stage of education. As long as curricula and textbooks are going to be prescribed at the national level and with little flexibility to teachers and schools, we will not be able to shift the prevalent learning environment for meeting the needs of learning for building a knowledge society. In a knowledge society creativity and the problem solving will be the preferred abilities.
What is required is an education system that is decentralised, is learner-centred, and is built around the belief that each child is capable of learning. Even if a child is challenged either socio-economically or has some other sort of learning disadvantage such as physical disability that child has the potential for learning. The challenge is to treat each child as an individual. The child having been born in the world has a right to life and to all the opportunities that the world offers. We need to have full belief in the innate ability of learning in each child. The challenge lies in being able to shift the focus of schooling from teaching to learning.
The process of change, particularly in education, is very slow. We have to overcome a large inertia. The inertia is that of the mindset. All of us are complacent and reluctant towards bringing about any change from the status quo, because it puts new responsibilities on each one of us. Our attitude to life has to change.
We cannot help a child in learning how to learn if we ourselves do not know how to learn. If we do not possess the attitude of lifelong learning we cannot develop it in others. We must realise that it is never too late to learn something new, and that too by ourselves. We cannot continue to depend on others to teach us each time some new skills are required. We should be able to acquire them on our own. So, this would require a change in mindset in all of us. We cannot bring about change by merely talking about it. We have to make it happen by changing our attitude to life. Many of us are reluctant to respond to the need of the hour, including those of us who are teachers. Therefore, it may not be easy to bring about the required change. Perhaps, a starting point could be to internalise that the important learning skill now is not memorisation of a vast amount of information, that is storing information in the brain, but to use our thinking ability that is available to all human beings, and that if we do not use our brain for thinking then we are using it only as a memory storage device. To put it bluntly we can say that for 30 Rupees 650 megabytes of information can be stored on a CD ROM. That is the opportunity cost of storing 500,000 pages of information in our brain is mere 30 Rupees. Are we going to use our brain for a very limited purpose of storing information or are we going to do with it things which a computer cannot do? So, that is where the emphasis of learning now has to be. It will require a change in perception in all categories of persons who come in contact in the development or the growth of a child – parents, teachers, the system which lays down the curriculum, the examiners – all have to accept their changed roles.
What is the objective of education? It is the development of creativity and problem solving skills complemented by the ability to be happy, living with self-confidence and positive self-esteem. The emotional quotient is as important as the intelligence quotient, if not more. The affective attributes are to be nurtured in children through sound education.
At sometime or the other in life each one of us seeks answer to questions such as who am I? What is my purpose in life? This leads us to discovering the treasure within, which is the domain of spirituality. Therefore, education is to be used for holistic development of one’s personality, both in terms of one’s intellectual abilities and emotional skills. Also, it is really not possible to make distinction between skills that get developed with the support of the school and those that get developed with the support of the community or that of the parents. Every experience provides some input for one’s development. Each experience plays some role in emotional development, in intellectual development or in some values development. Education, in its holistic sense, is taking place in every experience.