We are living in an era of high-stakes testing and global comparisons, and the need for re-examining the world’s educational systems is critical.
We are living in an era of high-stakes testing and global comparisons, and the need for re-examining the world’s educational systems is critical. The real challenge for schools is threefold: to prepare students to thrive in a competitive global labour market after completing their education; to achieve community harmony on a global scale; and to promote cultural diversity and the value of universal citizenship in a global community.
It is evident that schools in India (in fact, in most countries) have not kept up with the pace of change in the global society, and are therefore not preparing students well enough for real-world life and the working environment they will face after they have finished their education.
Students today need to learn valuable 21st century skills. For children to be competitive in the future, is it essential that India transitions to an educational system that cultivates relevant skills which will contribute to global citizenship. Currently, schools in India prepare students to be effective task takers, but that alone will not prepare them to thrive in this rapidly changing world. Emphasising test scores above all else not only puts great pressure on
children, it also fails to teach them critical skills like collaboration, communication and multi-level critical thinking. Doing well on a mathematical test does not adequately prepare a student for the challenges of real-life; rather to excel in the future, students must know how to apply mathematical concepts, not simply answer them.
Further, students need to develop skills. For instance, many of us who work in an office constantly work in teams. To be effective in a team, we all need to have strong collaboration and communication skills. But simply sitting in a classroom, listening to a teacher, memorising facts, and then taking an exam does not help students develop these essential skills. Education need to change and needs to cater to the changing world. Students must practice what they need to learn. Essential skills can not be learned by reading or talking about them—they must be practised.
Some schools in India are talking about developing 21st century skills in children, but these schools are definitely not advanced enough in my opinion. For instance, all the schools I visited in India still have closed classrooms where children are sitting and are listening to a teacher. But in work and career experiences, nobody sits in a closed room and listens to one person standing in front of the room. To really change education, India needs to build new schools from the ground up, where differentiated learning spaces replace these closed classrooms; where students work in groups on projects with the teacher acting as a guide rather than a content expert; and where school life and the life after school is bridged.
I believe every child is unique and that a school has the great responsibility in discovering this uniqueness. Sadly, most of India’s schools don’t even look at the child. Instead of starting with the child’s passions and interests, schools start with the curriculum as the main point of view and hire teachers around that. The uniqueness of the child is completely forgotten. A child’s learning goes so much deeper when s/he is challenged on his/her own passions and interest.
The picture is not all bleak, however. There are great schools in the world which are rewriting history by changing the way teaching and learning occur. Some of these forward-thinking schools have formed an international alliance, the “Global Schools’ Alliance”, to further the cause of changing schools and to share ideas, best practices, and data on effective teaching and learning.
To prepare India’s future workforce, one that can compete with the world, the focus should not just be on educating people. The quality and kind of school education offered will make all the difference. India must build new schools from the ground up, led by people who have the right mindset, knowledge and skill-set, and who are passionate about changing education and are willing to learn from around the world. The change needs to start now, lest we deprive an entire generation of children great opportunities that await them.
By Steven Edwards
Dr Steven Edwards is the co-founder of Vega Schools; he has helped create some of the most successful schools in the US and has advised the White House about change in education