The picture accompanying this piece captures much of what is wrong with our education system. Indian education is largely aimed at preparing students for a written test, but not for life. My question to the authorities who made the students wear this box to prevent them from cheating is: who will ensure that they comply with the dictates and not cheat once they leave the examination room and the box is off? In a world where information is available at our fingertips, where we don’t live in an Orwelian world, how are we preparing our youth for the 21st century?
Replace the cardboard box on the students with the regulatory environment that educators in India are subjected to, and you will understand the sense of siege that prevails at schools across the country.
NEW WORLD NEW LEARNING
With the exponential growth in technology, we are facing global opportunities and challenges of a nature and scale never experienced before. The kind of learning envisioned in this New World is personalised, anytime, anywhere learning, with varying degrees of control/facilitation by teachers, aided by technology. Complemented by peer and community based learning, we must create lifelong learners—in school, college, the workplace and society.
This 21st century learning is synonymous with the 4Cs of education: Communication, Collaboration, Creativity and Critical thinking. I believe that there are two more essential Cs for transformational learning: Choice (ability to take informed decisions) and Compassion (to deal with the negative consequences of technology and globalisation).
INDIA’S FIRST CHOICE: FEE PAYING UNAIDED SCHOOLS
Parents across the socio-economic spectrum are overwhelmingly voting with their feet and increasingly choosing private unaided schools over FOC Government schools. Contrary to popular opinion, most private unaided schools are inexpensive; 80% of them charge a fee that is lower than the government’s per-pupil expenditure (PPE). Yet, the Government does little to co-create a healthy ecosystem in partnership with unaided schools.
WHAT MOTIVATES PEOPLE IN THE 21ST CENTURY
According to Daniel Pink, a leading management guru, “Autonomy” (the desire to direct our own lives), “Purpose” (which education lends itself to very nicely) and “Mastery” are the three key components that drive “Motivation 3.0” in the 21st Century workplace. He further says that Motivation 3.0 needs to move from the reward-punishment compliance approach of the 20th Century to an “engagement” model.
EDUCATORS SHACKLED, LACK AUTONOMY
However, in a world which rewards strong leadership and desperately needs innovation, the Central Government’s draft New Education Policy (NEP) (May 2019), which promises to change the education landscape of India, strangely does not even envision a role for school management in running the very schools that they have established and are accountable for (including to financial institutions).
A key example of the lack of autonomy and trust is evidenced by a slew of fee regulations sweeping across the country to counter the perception that unaided private school fees are too high. State governments are tripping over themselves to be “voter friendly”, not realising that these very laws will lead to a race to the bottom for their citizens. Arguably this situation has been created by the lack of employment opportunities for parents and the RTE, which requires private unaided schools to provide 25% seats free of charge to the underserved. Schools in turn are passing this cost on to the 75% fee paying parents.
Regulations vary from state to state, with Gujarat mandating that school fee cannot be more than Rs 15,000 per child per annum for primary education and Rs 27,000 per child per annum for secondary school. UP has a more reasonable cap of CPI+5% year on year. My own home state of Karnataka has devised a rather ingenious formula—it sets fee caps based on the salary costs of the school two years ago and its geographical location! This without any consideration to the school’s actual level of investment, or the offering that attracted teachers, parents and students to it.
Based on a financial simulation done by us on historical financial data provided by a range of eight existing schools, this would have led to a cash deficit of between Rs 47 cr to Rs 263 cr over a period of five years for each of these schools.
All of this is happening in the backdrop of a dismal report card for Indian education, which indicates we need more investment in quality education.
Even as we are set to have the largest working-age population in the world by 2050, we are not creating enough jobs. We, therefore, need an education system which teaches our youth to be more enterprising and equips them with the 6Cs required to take advantage of the opportunities the globalised world has brought us. And we need regulation that is not going to lead to school closures and further job losses, particularly for women who dominate the K12 education sector.
ENABLERS FOR CHANGE: MOTIVATE ENTREPRENEURSHIP VIA AUTONOMY WITH ACCOUNTABILITY
In order to address this impending disaster for India and humanity, education must be the number one national priority with trust as the main driver as high achieving Finland did in 1970.
I would also strongly recommend modifying the Draft NEP 2019 vision to “An education system that enables every citizen to fulfil their potential and sustainably transforms India into an equitable society of enterprising and skilled citizens, capable of contributing to global development across all fields of human endeavour.”
Education for the New World cannot be delivered like a McDonald’s franchise! The government must enable a healthy ecosystem and a culture of trust between various stakeholders. We need an empowered environment where edupreneurs and teachers are given autonomy. This is not to say that schools should have absolute freedom. Schools that indulge in malpractices such as cash for admission or corporal punishment should absolutely be penalised as per law.
Educators, however, need to have the freedom to decide what kind of institutions they want to establish and what type and level of fee to charge. Schools should also exercise responsibility in clearly communicating what educational offering and level of fee increases (say up to 10% per annum) that parents may expect over the course of their child’s 14-15-year journey through school.
Parents in turn should be able to choose schools based on their aspirations for their children, and their ability and desire to invest in education. Unlike Finland, which has a homogeneous society, we need to cater to India’s significant diversity, by equipping every institution to be a successful school of choice for the unique learning community it chooses to serve.
To ask our children to be innovative and entrepreneurial while boxing their teachers in is setting up both children and educators for failure. Let’s not wait for another ten years, as we did with the RTE, to recognise that a seemingly well intended legislation didn’t meet its desired goals for the country. The RTE sadly never got buy in from unaided school educators and was drafted by people who had limited understanding of ground realities and what motivates people (young and old) to be learners (students and teachers) for life. The NEP faces the danger of repeating this performance.
Nooraine Fazal is Managing Trustee, CEO and Co-Founder, Inventure Academy.