Education is critical for the future prosperity of India as well as every Indian citizen. India has excess in some parts of the education chain and has scarcity in some parts of the chain. This inconsistency today automatically places the emphasis on the individual and his family to use their own means to ensure they have good education. Good education is dependent on one key variable – the quality of teachers!
Why is education so important in India? Education has been defined as a basic requirement for any job seeker in India. In India many employees are overqualified for their jobs, in many cases, people have a master’s degree or a PhD when the job does not really need it. We as a nation tend to have a higher proclivity to dual degrees. I believe this will not change despite the proliferation of self - employment and entrepreneurship. Any which way, we will need to continuously improve the quality of basic education in India.
Let’s start with the basic schools. Education in India for children between 6 and 14 is a fundamental right. If we have this as a fundamental right, then we must ensure that we have the best resources allocated to this fundamental right. We have to invest in teachers at every level in the education system. Today, we have one teacher who teaches almost all subjects in a small school. How can we tap the large women pool we have to bring in more teachers? Years ago, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu hit upon the idea of providing midday meal scheme for children in schools. At that time many economists and social scientists ridiculed this. However, in a country where young kids are used as cheap labor, this was an excellent innovation to ensure that children were sent to school and were given one square meal which their families could not afford or guarantee.
The teaching aids and facilities are improving, we need to add a lot more of the sports facilities in schools. Sports Authority of India has adopted a number of schools, we need to make this compulsory and invest in it.
“Teachers at every level are being challenged by more aware students, more aware parents and more aware society”
Our secondary school and college education are better than our primary school system. Overall at every level, we need to maintain the 30:1 student teacher ratio. Many schools and colleges are already there in terms of this ratio. We need to do two things with the teachers in secondary schools and college teachers. First, we need to move them away from a prescriptive way of teaching to a more exploratory way of teaching where they excite the imagination of students rather than ask them and reward them to memorize things. We should get our teachers to visit leading edge schools and universities in other countries. We should encourage short term assignments of international teachers to Indian schools and colleges.
At post graduate level, professors tend to associate themselves to the discipline first and the institute next. They believe in research and new knowledge and they believe that being part of the discipline system has more benefits than showing allegiance to the Institute.
Teachers at every level are being challenged by more aware students, more aware parents and more aware society. Today students can research a topic and know more about the topic than the teacher who has been teaching the topic for years. So, the know-how which differentiated the teacher is no longer an advantage. So, the teacher has to be insightful and innovate in teaching methods to make the topic inspiring for the students. Charisma will be crucial for future teachers as a basic capability.
Great teachers will have even more platforms to be rock star thanks to digital technology. Teachers can hold on line sessions with people who care and have a view of what they teach. This will produce super star teachers this decade and will hopefully attract more people to volunteer for the noble profession.
I have been shaped by a number of excellent teachers. When I was in school, one of my English teachers encouraged me to write after she gave me the highest marks on an essay I write on the Radio! Her encouragement when I was 9 years old is possibly the most significant encouragement I got outside of the family. Teachers can play a dramatic role in our lives and we must do everything to invest in teachers if we want to be a society that sees education as a continuous priority.