Special Issue
A stirring call for change!
The Conference on ‘Sharing Best Practices in Education’ brought together diverse voices on education as never before. As the monsoon lashed Mumbai’s shores, educationists from every corner of India converged, exchanged views, had their say and held discourse on what educational reform must mean to our nation, reports Rachana Rana Bhattacharya.
eachers, academicians and educationists from around the country were one in calling for a radical change in the education system, which they felt was quite outdated and not in tune with the changing needs of today.

The forum was a Conference on Sharing Best Practices in Education, organised by the Quality Council of India in collaboration with the Dayanand Institution of Education Management and Research, Navi Mumbai, July 18-19, 2009 at the Taj Lands End Hotel in Bandra, Mumbai. The first of its kind, the event buzzed with opinions and learned discourses and was a great learning experience for everyone. Around 30 speakers, young students as well as eminent educationists brought out the country’s diversity most effectively. Teachers, for once treated with due respect and hosted at the Taj, beamed large smiles and brought together the essence of their collective wisdom to enlighten us all.

“The curriculum should be culture-specific but must also respond enthusiastically to modernisation by imparting competency in contemporary life skills. Outdated practices that do not impact society as a whole have no meaning; they only create islands of excellence but not a great nation,” said Dr K B Kushal, Director, DAV Centre for Creative Education.

Prof. A K Sen Gupta, Directors, SIES College (Mumbai) spoke about the serious gaps that exist in the education system. “With 90 per cent dropouts from primary education and 80 per cent graduates with no employable skills, we are faced with a demographic disaster waiting to explode,” he warned.

“We copy everything from the West, where is the innovation? We function as if there is only one way to reach Mumbai from Delhi. Education is pushed in through one end and vomited onto the exam paper through the other. Where is the learning? Naturally, we don’t believe in ourselves. If you think you can’t, you can’t,” he said. “Six crore Indians do not get a meal everyday. We are moving without direction. Our insensitivity is terrible,” said Prof Bhoomitra Dev, Vice Chancellor, Mangalayatan University. “Let us not blame the politicians. One cannot have so much respect for others that there is none left for oneself. Restoring self-respect has to be more important than creating wealth. Someone rightly said, if you think education is expensive, try ignorance,” he added.
Best practices that emerged
— M Hamid Ansari
Vice President of India
Providing education is not just the job of the government. It is a collective issue and needs participation from the entire society. It must be ensured by the educators that the knowledge being imparted is contemporary.
— Pranab Mukherjee
Finance Minister
The demographic advantage that India has needs to be converted into a dynamic economic advantage by providing the right education and skills.
— S K Singh
Governor, Rajasthan
We must always be conscious that ensuring good and more ambitious primary and secondary education can ensure better higher education.
— D Purandeswari
Minister of State for HRD
India’s educational scene is at
a tipping point. Opportunities abound and the challenges are unprecedented. Effective fund raising and deployment backed by the right policy framework is key to boost the higher education.
— Narendra Jadhav
Member, Planning
Commission
Education in particular is critical
for India at this juncture than at any other time because of the
demographic dividend we can earn.
— Prof Yash Pal
Educationist
Interaction among students belonging to different streams at college and university level is necessary to bring out innovation
and new ideas which come through the boundaries of discipline.

Best Practices For Better Learning:

  • Ms Devika Nadig and Mr Vijay Gupta, Directors, Shikshangan, Pune, shared what they had learnt while training teachers, which is what they do.
    1. Bilingual teaching seems to work better. Especially in ‘semi-English’ schools where subjects like Maths, Science and English are taught in the English language, while the remaining subjects are taught in the vernacular. In subjects like Science, replete with terminology, switching to English later becomes difficult.
    2. The brain learns by making patterns. Therefore, mind mapping is a great way to teach concepts: like creating timelines in the process from birth to death, and in the process of how cotton is made into a shirt in a mill, is marketed and reaches your home etc. helps children understand complete processes and become critical thinkers and problem solvers. Mind maps also help build connects: of art to architecture, building to history, the environment to us etc.
    3. The above methods work best if introduced at the earliest primary levels

  • Ms Valli Arunachalam, Principal, PSBB, Chennai, runs PSBB — a teacher’s training centre. It teaches out-of-thebox thinking at all levels by encouraging the use of futurology, lateral thinking and the arts to trigger the imagination. For example, doing a creative drama on the rivers of India which cover many aspects not found in textbooks.
  • Dr Rajani Konantambiji, Associate Professor, School of Social Sciences, Mumbai, presented a case on best practices for class 1: A case of a private Marathi medium school in Mumbai. Use of audiovisual /creative play way methods worked very well. The rote approach did not. Experimental demonstrative teaching methods did. There were no outdoor activities, which she cited as a serious problem in most Mumbai schools.
  • ‘How do you reinforce concepts?’ asked Kalpana Mohan, Principal, Vidyashilp Academy, Bangalore, answering her own question by showing her interactive lesson plans of introducing the child to the sights, sounds and ambience of the rainforest with audiovisual clips, question-answer sessions, mind/concept maps and buzzer rounds where the teacher can measure the immediate response of the class. If concepts are unclear, they are re-taught at once or explained later. Children are won over through creativity — using role play, dramatisations, essays etc. For example, during the tsunami, teachers surfed the Net, took videos, media clippings and taught the children everything about the hurricane — engaging the mind ensures that students are mentally present. Co-curricular activities give children the scope to learn holistically beyond the syllabus.
  • Ms Rekha Vijayakar, Principal, Guru Harisingh School, Mumbai, said “The main objective of teaching is to create interest. You can do that by acting. Instead of teaching boring geometry, ask children to make triangles and colour them. Ask them to put their hands straight up to explain the distance between parallellines. Create songs on numbers and geography, introduce music. Do not limit acting to the annual day. Act like Portia, someone will want to become Shylock. Put two groups of children on either side — one sodium, one chlorine. When they dance and come together they become Sodium Chloride — a salt. Teaching concepts become simple when you make learning fun.”
  • Many of the speakers urged that creativity absolutely must return to the classroom and remain an integral tool of imaginative learning throughout the schooling years — as is the practice across the world. Humanities and the arts must be re-instated as essential inputs to out-of-the-box thinking if we are to strengthen entrepreneurial endeavour.
  • Dr Swaroop Rawal, Freelance Educationist, Mumbai, who conducted a 10-day residential drama camp in Gujarat, shared her experience, “It was a village where no one knew how to write. The potential of interactive drama was explored to help them understand and reflect upon their paradigms.”
  • Ms V Meenakshi, Principal, Kendra Vidyalaya, Malleshwaram, who believes strongly in project-based learning, felt that if you tell a child he will forget, but if you show him how he will remember. “In the 21st century, a child will construct his own knowledge, learn on his own. We must seek to synergise new ways of learning into the curriculum by evolving relevant teaching methods.”
  • “We should not be rigid. If a child can’t learn the way we teach, we must teach in a way that helps him learn,” explained Ms Avnita Bir, Principal, R N Poddar School, Mumbai, stressing the importance of adaptability and consistency in education. Fostering a partnership between education and industry would make the education we impart more relevant and ensure employability, she felt.
  • Mr Rashmikant Makhwana, Principal, Adani DAV School, Mundra, Gujarat, explained how they had introduced School Council Elections in the school to teach children decision making and governance. Also, games like Business City taught children about profit and loss.
  • Ms Sheela Mallya, Principal, Children’s Academy, Mumbai, shared the uniform teaching methodologies and evaluation processes they had devised and how, despite disparities, these measures had yielded distinctly uniform SSC results across three branches situated in different areas. The methodology included very comprehensive guidelines on how to introduce, develop and conclude a lesson, with suggestions on specific activities, learning experiences and resource materials that could be used to aid comprehension and retain student interest.
  • “If we don’t embrace technologies, how will we integrate will global paradigms? Please accept that the focus of our young on that screen is here to stay,” urged Mr Raghu Raman, Founder, Amrita Learning, Bangalore, as he shared computer-based assessment concepts with the audience. Unlike written tests, which are not interactive, these tests identify differentlyabled students and are adaptive to each student’s level of learning at his own speed. With the immediacy of the internet, students receive praise and feedback instantly, without being compared to others. No crunching through answers for teachers either. There was an overwhelming response to the idea when tested in English and Maths. “Perhaps we need to strike a balance between the two methods for now…” he pondered. “A meaningful, sensible and supportive assessment system needs to be in place,” added Mr Venu N.
Best Practices For Student Empowerment:
  • Dr Malini Goyal, Director, Lokhandwala Foundation, Mumbai, discussed how fruitful innovative concepts, like restructuring the duration of periods to allow different time frames needed for games and activities and a weekly ‘Free Play Day’, helped in making young children desire schooling. “Education is not the filling of a bucket, it is the igniting of a mind. The most challenging thing is not policies, but finding ways to make this happen,” she felt.

  • Civic awareness issues like pollution, rain water harvesting and disposing of toxins must be included in the curriculum to prepare our children to live in an uncertain world. Twice a year, the Naval Education Society, Delhi conducts a mock evacuation drill on how to come to a safe place in their schools, to prepare everyone for both natural and manmade disasters. Because of this, despite tsunami, the naval school in Port Blair is running again. Measures like this could be incorporated into the educational framework itself, taking local needs into account. Awareness of transglobal problems like climate change need to be understood and explored with problemsolving in mind.
  • Talking on stress-free evaluation, Ms Alka Vaidya, Principal, Dhruv Academy, Sangamner, said, “There is no end to expectations. Einstein failed in school. If a child does not do well academically, it is the failure of the system not the child.” In her school, no one fails. There are no timetables, grades or exams. Value judgements like stupid/ brilliant/ slow/ dyslexic etc. are discouraged and each child is allowed to learn at his/her own pace.
  • Mr Anil Kumar, Principal, Pratibha School, Delhi, regretted that our system puts very little emphasis on teaching life skills and learning beyond academia. It measures achievement only through scores, honouring only the top academic achievers without rewarding diligence and hard work. He showed graphs of how awarding a rolling trophy for best performing class helped pushed up overall performance.
  • Dr Sonal Shukla, Research Officer, TISS, Mumbai, observed that “during the transition from adolescence to adulthood, the imparting of life skills education like thinking, social and negotiation skills, and the development of psycho-social abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour is imperative. But we lack life skill indicators and assessment tools to measure these parameters in our adolescents. Our studies are based on guesswork. We also have huge migrant populations in this age group. There are no social policies in place to impart life skills to them. Contextually and culturally sensitive programmes for various social sectors are needed.”
  • Vijayeta Singh, Student, TISS, Mumbai, gave a students’ perspective to the conference by asking, “Is there something really wrong with children? Why do we think children cannot be actively involved and claim ownership of their own development? How can educational policies be decided without listening to their voices? The arts are not encouraged in even elite schools. What kind of message are we giving out? Why teach values to us if adults cannot live by them? We need a platform where students can have their say and build common consensus on their needs. myeducationmyvoice. co.nr is one such internet forum that we have created. It is a portal which even migrant students can access and where experiences can be shared. Why someone feels like committing suicide, how to deal with the competitive environment, why someone dropped out or was not allowed to sit for exams because parents could not pay fees, and other such matters. Aknowledge pool of the voices of children can be taken as feedback by those in education. If only they would listen to us.”
  Best Practices For Teacher Empowerment:
  • Mrs Savita, Principal, Bombay Cambridge School, Mumbai, said, “We’ve heard about procedures, systems and techniques. We’ve forgotten that education must produce human beings. Today, children want to prove things to parents, teachers want to prove to principals, the whole country is living a mindless robotic life. Every individual teacher needs to feel — this is what I want my life to be. Teachers need to remain passionate, committed and believe in their students’ potential.”
  • Mr Rashmikant Makhwana, who started the Adani DAV School in Kutch, advised the audience: “Don’t wait to get the perfect model, exact solutions… just start off somewhere. Life itself also starts as an imperfect thing. When I began the school, most of the teachers had never taught before. You must believe in your teachers.”
  • Mr K K Nohria, Chairman, NBQP, held that because attitudes get created at a young age, parents and teachers remain the main catalysts in creating a holistic person and thereby a quality nation. “Teachers should be highly paid especially in rural areas,”
    he recommended.
  • Prof H Lal cautioned: “Parents cannot outsource their responsibilities. We must move away from this tuition culture. Teacher attrition rates are very high. Unionism has entered schools. You must win the hearts of the teachers; they are your real facilitators. Unless teachers’ needs are met, things will not improve. You empower them and they will empower the students.”
  • Dr Sheila Naik, ex-Director, Universal College, Mumbai, explained how they had implemented a transparent measurement system, whereby a teacher’s performance could be monitored throughout the year and monetary incentives given thereof. Parameters like regularity, punctuality, innovative teaching methods, research work and co-curricular activities undertaken, and ability to create rapport with students, parents and colleagues were taken into account. It worked very well indeed and boosted morale immensely.
  • Teachers must recognise that knowledge is changing rapidly, dynamically. To meet these challenges, professional and personal enrichment programmes for teachers — like computer literacy classes, project-based learning and partnership activities like scientists meeting science teachers, even on a global level — are needed. Teachers need to be trained to become facilitators who encourage children to discover, question and indulge in critical thinking. Intensive teacher training courses outlining uniform teaching methodologies and clear guidelines with scope for creativity that allow more flexible curricula were recommended.
Best Practices For Better School Governance:
  • Citing her research on effective school governance, Dr Vandana Lulla, Principal/ Director, Podar World School, Mumbai, felt that good governance is the key to mass transformation, to everything that happens in education. If the Board of Governors doesn’t think of change, there will be none. Schools across the world have shown that organisational structures are essential to function efficiently. Basic Board responsibilities, strategic accountabilities, and a mission for the school should be clearly outlined, with clear roles for the faculty and staff.
  • Ms Ramadevi, Principal, Bharati Vidya Bhavan, Hyderabad, delved into Arthashashtra — Chanakya’s treatise on good governance — in search of solutions. Stressing the importance of transparency and responsibility, she felt that sometimes, we need to drop practices that don’t work, depending on where the school is situated and/or the backgrounds of the said children. Initiatives like planting saplings, donating books or til ladoos to underprivileged children in a belt where fluorosis was prevalent, inculcate sharing practices, invoke empathy and help ensure that our children become good human beings, as well as good professionals, without losing sight of core values.
  • Ms Vijayam Ravi, Chairperson/ Managing Director, Global Education, Mumbai, felt that “a Principal should not lack decision-making skills and must know how to translate the managerial vision into practice. Handling relationships well is what good school governance is all about. You must have a passion for your work, deserve the power.”
  • Mr Venu N felt that the hierarchical colonial mode still prevalent needs to be disbanded and replaced with more open organisational structures and a flexible approach. Ms Anita Makkar, DAV School, Gurgaon, explained: “We have a flat structure — there is no principal, only supervisory heads for different sections. One person coordinates everything. We have a multiple intelligence approach and host literary festivals, science and business weeks etc. It helps us identify and nurture individual talent.”
  • Ms Kamini Bhasin, DPS, Greater Noida, revealed that “to deal with the growing number of students, the school building was intentionally designed in blocks, with separate block incharges, academic counsellors and subject supervisors. Innovative teaching (through theatre, puppetry and a reading period to increase vocabulary), meditation, global citizenship initiatives (German, Spanish and Japanese are offered as languages) and research in education (poor eating habits, consumerism and interact club) were examples she cited.
  • “Principals must be directly accessible to students, share in their experiences and problems,” asserted Principal Anil Kumar, Pratibha School, Delhi, who installed a mailbox where a tiny student put a chit requesting that the height of it be lowered to enable her to have easy access!
Best Practices For Inclusive Education:  
  • Ms Bhanumathi Kalluri, Dhaatri Resource Centre, Vishakhapatnam, spoke about education in places where there are no schools at all. She transported the participants’ minds to the interior forests and hills of Andhra Pradesh, where 6 per cent of the state’s 8 per cent tribal population live in deplorable conditions and where no government initiatives have penetrated. The adivasis had one single strong demand — a school, and collected Rs 1,000 to start one. Today, Ms Bhanumathi and her team have helped start 30 such schools in these hills. “Nature is the best teacher. We need to keep tribal cultures alive — not banish them to museums. How many urban children can casually name 250 birds and hold forth on how to hunt them, their habitat, and explain how long it takes for which eggs to hatch?” she questioned, firmly turning on their head mainstream prejudices that adivasis are savage and ignorant. She thus brought into focus how mainstream education paradigms are in fact a threat to traditional insights — unequipped to acknowledge or respect their wisdom or processes of receiving that knowledge. She warned against encouraging children to escape from real life and live virtual lives online, reiterating the need to create inclusive frameworks that allow children to exchange places and learn about life from each other.
  • Many schools are become sensitive to inclusion. Ms Anita Makkar, Regional Director, DAV school, Gurgaon, faced an interesting challenge when they opened a school in a rural area that was rapidly getting urbanised. “On their first day, rural children would come and reverently touch the furniture, the blackboard, the walls, their eyes incredulous, unbelieving that this was all for them. Soon, the urban and rural children were friends,” she smiled. “At DPS, Greater Noida, we run afternoon shifts for underprivileged children,” Principal Kamini Bhasin informed.
  • Ms Madhuri Deshpande, Managing Director, Ankur Vidya Mandir, Pune, started her inclusive school with two children, now there are 250. About 75 per cent of them are disability affected and 45 per cent are severely challenged. They follow a zero per cent rejection policy. “While all children learn, not all children learn in the same way. There are specialists, speech and physiotherapists and remedial teaching methods to help them along,” says Deshpande, amply demonstrating that where there is a will there is always a way.
Mr Vipin Sahni, Director, NABET, added to this by recounting how former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam asked a visiting dignitary, ‘Give me three reasons why your country is more developed than mine?’ The lady answered: ‘education, education and education.’

Alluding to a study conducted in Ontario, Dr Sudhakar Thakur, Principal, Kendriya Vidyalaya, Delhi, stressed the need to factor in cultural, lingual and personal growth issues and resource inputs available for transaction.

Mr Vijay Thadani, Chairman, NABET, enthralled the audience with his plainspeak: “If you put a 200-year-old professor into a time machine, the professor’s world would have changed. Even how we define education would have changed. There is a very good possibility that today my students know more than me,” he admitted, but went on to lament that education itself has remained static.

“The world has moved from an industrial economy to a services economy. No two waiters can deliver the same tea. In this changing environment, what happens to education? It must become outcome-driven, with some specialists. We must become globally competitive, yet remain locally relevant. Education has to be holistic — body, mind and soul with strong heritage values. The world is falling short of moral leadership,” he elaborated.

“The DAV schools have brought this to the forefront. If a child with 99.99 per cent does not get admission in college, we need to redefine education. If school buildings are used for only six hours a day they could become a place for community learning. A temple of learning for everyone,” he said, adding, “We must use technology to deliver education and use the same measures of efficiency that industries do to see that it is delivered. Educationists, industry, the government — they cannot all do their own thing. We need continuum, to become seamless. Excellence after all, is a continuous process of improvement bit by bit.”

“The whole world is struggling to change education; it is a huge opportunity for us to create a global benchmark which others will emulate. The other day, US President Barack Obama said, ‘In 20 years, we need to overtake India and China’. There are three points to be noted in that statement: ONE: India came first.

TWO: It will take him 20 years. And THREE (which he did not say): India will remain where it is (or so he believes). Our opportunity is to change all of the above,” Mr Thadani added.

A great raconteur, he regaled the hall with a story of how his father refused to change the old sofa’s upholstery, no matter how tattered; comparing it to our archaic education system. “Do we need to change the design, seating, framework or get in a new sofa?” he queried. “Whether we accept it or not, change is going to happen. And you are the ones who are going to make that change.” he declared, pointing directly at the students seated before him.

Prof Usha Nayar of Tata Institute of Social Sciences cautioned: “There is no time for incremental change, we need radical change. We have to redefine development. We should not copy the West blindly but must learn from the many mistakes developed countries have made. To solve our own problems of inequalities and diversity, we need to create systems which are inclusive not exclusive. We should get out of this inferior mindset that we cannot manage our own development; we do not need or want foreign universities, we want collaborative studies. We need to work with our young to define our policies,” she declared to thunderous applause.
The quality way to education
Finally, a way has emerged to quantify quality in Indian school education, says Rachana Rana Bhattacharya, reporting on the Conference on ‘Sharing Best Practices in Education’.

hile accreditation standards exist for higher education in India, there is no mechanism in place to measure the quality of education being imparted in our schools, according to Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal, whose recent statement emphasising the need for an accreditation programme has received widespread kudos.

“Many states are showing a lot of interest in standardising education. Accreditation applies the principles of ensuring quality for national well-being validated through branding. To ensure this, we need to look into systems, processes and outcomes,” said Mr Girdhar J Gyani, Secretary General, QCI, speaking on why accreditation is indispensable to ensuring good education.

While lauding the flexibility of the accreditation framework put in place by the Quality Council of India to benchmark the quality standards in education, Mr Avik Mitra, Advisor, QCI, made it clear that the yardsticks were not elastic and eloquently explained the finer details of how the framework would work. “There are three principal components of the standard, namely (i) school governance (ii) educational and support processes and (iii) performance measurement and improvement. The standard is supported by an accreditation checklist enabling schools to carry out self-evaluation and be graded on five levels.

After a thorough validation exercise of the standard, carried out in a sample number of schools, including government, public and society run, QCI now has an implementation plan, complete with training modules, implementation guidelines and accreditation systems in place. Accreditation criteria and methods of assessment have been drafted based on global school accreditation practices, so that Indian standards of education become internationally acceptable,” Mr Mitra elaborated.

Setting benchmarks for quality education  

The Quality Council of India (QCI) is an autonomous body set up by the Government of India. It is mandated to establish and operate national accreditation programmes and promote quality in all walks of life.

The accreditation standard for schools attempts to facilitate schools to focus on governance through leadership and empowerment, help schools to build competency on a continuous basis and go beyond the curriculum to facilitate learning. Pedagogy, co-curricular inputs, extra curricular activities, coupled with physical, social and ethical development of students, are some of the key elements incorporated in the standard.

The accreditation of schools will be voluntary in nature; schools will be encourage

 


ProThere is a dearth of talented, educated people here in the Indian society .The need, therefore, is to rapidly change the present higher education system.

— Sam Pitroda
Chairman, Knowledge Commission

“Quality education only happens when students and parents demand that quality,” asserted consumer expert Mr Bejon Mishra, ex-Chairman, Consumer Coordination Council, Noida. The Consumer Protection Act (1986) outlines the rights of a student to education, safety, information, choice, representation, a healthy environment and other basic needs. Mr Mishra urged everyone to recognise their rights and ensure that quality is delivered by making the best use of the Act.

Amidst the emphasis on the need for accreditation, Mr Venu N from the Centre for Learning in Bengaluru quietly asked a really important question. “Yes, we need criteria to judge quality with, but how can we decide criteria without clearly defining the aims and goals of an Indian education?” He felt that we must seek to first acknowledge and understand the tremendous diversities of our peoples — the disparities of access, capabilities and resources. Only then can we accurately chalk out our roadmap to a quality education.

“We need to rethink values and objectives, means and methods accordingly, and seek to answer why and how to educate our young. Is it for effective learning, social and political justice, or to acquire leadership skills, attain responsible nationhood or global citizenship? What is the context of quality education in the 21st century? A public dialogue is needed,” he asserted.

In the discussions that followed, many of the youngsters present at the conference desired intensely to be part of the ideating process, and own their future.