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.