Thursday January 17, 2019
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Let’s make our classrooms non-smart and teachers smart

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By Harshmeet Singh

About a decade ago, when Indian parents used to shortlist ‘good’ schools for their children, their most important parameters were the schools building, the playground and if their toppers were among the city’s toppers. But things have changed in the past decade. While parents’ affinity towards schools which produce toppers is still intact, the place of ‘playground’ has now been largely taken by ‘smart classes’. Every third school in almost all major Indian cities now boasts of a ‘smart class’ (an achievement which is often mentioned at the school’s entrance gate!). A typical smart class contains highly sophisticated audio-visual infrastructure that ‘supposedly’ makes it easier for the students to understand ‘concepts’. The concept of smart classes is in line with the common thinking that ‘computers will replace teachers in the classrooms very soon’.

For those who agree with the notion of technology overpowering human intervention in education, the recent OECD study on education can be a heart break. According to the study, even the nations that spent huge amounts of money on introduction of information and communication technologies in schools didn’t witness much improvement in the reading and mathematical levels of the students. Since 1990s, there has been a steep rise in the usage of computers as teaching aids in private and government schools alike. The results of the OECD study are a sign that our education policies must be revisited.

As compared to the Western countries that depend heavily on computerized education, students in East Asian countries like Japan, South Korea, Singapore and China performed much better. These countries boast of a robust teacher training model and holistic education policies. Unlike India, where the internet is seen as the solution to every problem, these countries provide restricted internet access to the students, thus shielding them from the issues internet can give rise to. While these East Asian nations invest heavily in teacher training programs and physical infrastructure, Indian politicians adopted policies such as free distribution of laptops to the students to boost the education standard in the state!

For all the shortcomings in the public education system in the country, the Government responds by filling up the schools with computers, to make them ‘modern’. One major outline of the OECD study is that computers can never replace teachers inside the classroom. With a sea of knowledge available to the students in this age of internet, the role of a teacher is more crucial than ever. Guiding the student to the correct source of knowledge is perhaps the teacher’s biggest responsibility today.

Unfortunately, our education policies of the last decade or so don’t seem optimistic. The schools are run by ‘administrators’ and not ‘educators’, which clearly shows up in the style of operations. While the government has been extremely excited about equipping the schools with computers, there hasn’t been any follow up mechanism to gauge the progress made by the students, if any. A skewed education budget in the country doesn’t make things any easier. During the UPA government, the total spending on education as a proportion of government’s total expenditure was 9.98%, as compared to 11.1% in 2000-01. This number should ideally be over 20%! The 2015 general budget also saw a 2% cut in the overall education budget.

We now have an army of schools with no toilets and libraries, which have a bunch of computers! With administrators (and not educators) forming education policies, a major divide between the reality and assumptions is evident. May be it is time to move back to the ‘non-smart classes’ and focus on preparing our teachers better.

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To Catch Up With China, India Needs To Focus on Improving Its Educational Outcomes

China reached a 100 percent gross enrollment rate (GER) in its primary education in 1985, whereas, India attained that level only in 2000.

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Children learning in a classroom, pixabay

By Amit Kapoor

Both China and India started building their national education systems under comparable conditions in the late 1940s. Different policies and historical circumstances have, however, led them to different educational outcomes, with China outperforming India not just in terms of its percentage of literate population and enrollment rates at all levels of education, but also in terms of number of world-class institutions in higher education, and greater research output.

The roots of China’s successful education system date back to the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), which unintentionally expanded access to the primary education through democratising the schooling system, which was previously elitist in character, thus addressing the problem of mass illiteracy.

In contrast, India continued to focus on its higher education system since independence and only realised the importance of basic education in 1986, keeping it behind China and many other countries in Asia in educational development. In terms of enrollment, China reached a 100 percent gross enrollment rate (GER) in its primary education in 1985, whereas, India attained that level only in 2000.

In terms of secondary school enrollment, India and China both started at the similar rates in 1985, with about 40 percent of their population enrolled in secondary schools. However, due to a wider base of primary school students, the rate of increase in China has been much faster than in India, with 99 percent secondary enrollment rate in China and 79 percent in India in 2017.

Happy kids in School Uniform
China reached a 100 percent gross enrollment rate (GER) in its primary education in 1985, whereas, India attained that level only in 2000.

India is closing in on the Chinese rate in terms of access to education, but on the literacy level front, there is a huge gap in the percentage of literate populations in the two countries. In the age group of 15-24 years, India scores 104th rank on literacy and numeracy indicator, compared to China’s 40th rank.

The OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which assesses after every three years the domain knowledge of 15-year-old students in reading, mathematics, science and finance, revealed that students in China performed above the OECD average in 2015. Moreover, one in four students in China are top performers in mathematics, having an ability to formulate complex situations mathematically. Further, China outperforms all the other participating countries in financial literacy, by having a high ability to analyse complex finance products. For India, the comparable data is not available as it was not a participating country in PISA 2015.

However, in India, the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2017 provides data for rural youth, aged 14-18, with respect to their abilities to lead productive lives as adults. According to this survey, only about half of the 14-year-old children in the sample could read English sentences, and more than half of the students surveyed could not do basic arithmetic operations, like division. For basic financial calculations, such as managing a budget or making a purchase decision, less than two-thirds could do the correct calculations.

India
Schools in India

With regard to the higher education system, both India and China dominate the number of tertiary degree holders because of their large population size, but when it comes to the percentage of the population holding tertiary degrees, only about 10 per cent and 8 per cent of the population possess university degrees in China and India, respectively. By contrast, in Japan, almost 50 per cent of the population holds a tertiary degree, and in the United States, 31 per cent of the population hold a tertiary degree.

In terms of the international recognition of universities, the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Ranking for 2019 places seven of the China’s universities in the top 200, compared to none for India. The global university rankings, which are based on various performance metrices, pertaining to teaching, research, citations, international outlook and industrial income, shows progress for several of China’s low-ranked universities, largely driven by improvements in its citations.

In fact, the Tsinghua University has overtaken the National University of Singapore (NUS) to become the best university in Asia due to improvements in its citations, institutional income and increased share of international staff, students and co-authored publications.

While India has progressed in terms of massification of education, there is still a lot which needs to be done when it comes to catching up with the China’s educational outcomes. China’s early start in strengthening its primary and secondary education systems has given it an edge over India in terms of higher education. Moreover, Chinese government strategies are designed in line with the criterion used in major world university rankings, especially emphasis is on the two factors which weigh heavily in the rankings — publications and international students.

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The relentless publications drive, which is very evident in China, is weak in India and has led to a growing gap in the number of publications contributed by the two countries. Further, China enrolled about 292,611 foreign students in 2011 from 194 countries, while India currently only has 46,144 foreign students enrolled in its higher education institutions, coming from 166 countries. The large number of international enrollments in China is a reflection of its state policies granting high scholarships to foreign students.

To catch up with China, India needs to lay emphasis on improving its educational outcomes. Massification drive for education has helped India raise its student enrollments, but a lot needs to be done when it comes to global recognition for its universities. Further, it needs to focus on building the foundation skills which are acquired by students at the school age, poor fundamental skills flow through the student life, affecting adversely the quality of education system. (IANS)