Monday November 19, 2018
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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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Tips To Help In Decision-Making If You Wish To Study Abroad

We can learn every single day but only if we are open to it.

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Five tips to decision-making if you want to study abroad

Among the more important things we do in life is to take decisions. At a time of information overload, this can be particularly challenging. And yet, this is the time of year when students have to make up their minds on their future course of study abroad. It is one of the most difficult and important decisions they would need to take and would, most certainly, impact them for the rest of their lives.

Trends suggest that there would be an increasing number of Indian students who would be opting for higher studies, particularly in Australia.

What are some of the key things to keep in mind?

Abroad, study
Employability is not a quotient of how many books we have read or quotations we know by heart. Wikimedia Commons

Do your homework, but don’t get bogged down: Doing your homework and basic research are important, but too much information can make decision-making difficult and even confusing. It is important to decide what subject you would like to pursue, where you would like to study abroad, whether you meet the entry and eligibility criteria and, finally, do you have the required funds to pay for it. Given the Indian Rupee-Australian Dollar exchange rate, studying in Australia is significantly cheaper than opting for the US and the UK, which pose additional and new challenges.

Know how to apply: If you are going through an education agent, first find out which education agents have been empanelled by the university of choice. For instance, the internationally-ranked University of New South Wales (UNSW), Sydney, has only 12 registered India-based education partners. No one else is authorised to process student applications. The list is available on the university’s website. Furthermore, empanelled agents are not authorised to charge students for services they render. Such payments, or commissions, are paid by the university.

Abroad, study
India needs a world-class higher educational system Pixabay

Know why you are pursuing higher studies: Simon Sinek, in his path-breaking book, “The Power of Why”, emphasised the misplaced emphasis that so many place on “what” and “how” without ever knowing “why”. If we know “why” we are planning on a particular course of action, other things fall in place. In terms of sequencing, “why” is where we first start. You can decide, for instance, to pursue an undergraduate course in Finance and Accounting if you are clear in your mind as to why you would like to do so. Once you know your “why”, the “where” is easy.

Embrace Change: Often our parents, in particular, and sometimes even we, fear the uncertain. Living abroad, especially if it is the first time, can be challenging. Is it safe? What is the culture like? Would my son or daughter make friends? Would the studying and living culture cause problems? These are all legitimate questions and anxieties. At the same time, if the decision is to study abroad, it is important to be open to change. Some things might be similar to what we are used to but there would be big differences in several other aspects. What is particularly fascinating is that “other cultures” open up the mind to new ways of seeing and thinking — and even behaving.

Also Read: The Critique Of The Indian Education System

Learn with Passion: We can learn every single day but only if we are open to it. “Smell the roses” we are told and yet, we rarely do. Employability is not a quotient of how many books we have read or quotations we know by heart but how we are able to relate with our external environment. This is what employers look for because what they want are persons who can work in a team, who can take decisions and, consequently, who anticipate and solve problems without compromising on integrity and values. Great educational institutions recognise this and embed it into their pedagogy. It is what makes them stand out. (IANS)