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JANUARY 14, 2007
 Letter From
 Message From
The Prime Minister
 Editor's Letter
 The Great Indian
M iddle Class
 India'S Poor
 The Next 15 Years

Flying High
The Indian aviation industry is growing at a rapid pace, thanks to air transport deregulation, emergence of new operators, lower fares and large untapped demand for air travel. The numbers tell an interesting story: India will require an estimated 1,100 aircraft. The average annual passenger traffic growth in India through 2025 is estimated at 7.7 per cent, well above the world average of 4.8 per cent and China's 7.2 per cent.

Bars Of Gold
The global gold industry is flourishing, largely fuelled by Asian demand and a weak US dollar. The boom is probably only halfway through since prices bottomed out in 2000. Since 1800, the boom and bust cycles have averaged about 10 years. While production is down, the value of gold purchased today is up 47 per cent from a year ago. The super-cycle of high metal prices is seen to be spurred largely by demand from China and India. An analysis.
More Net Specials
Business Today,  December 31, 2006

We Don't Need No Status Quo In Education


The broad goal is for our schools to give every child the opportunity to grow into someone committed in spirit

Last month, a group of adolescent boys and girls was playing high quality cricket; it was recess time at a school in Jaipur. To me, their unrestrained participation was extraordinary, because these children come from an impoverished minority community in rural Rajasthan. To anyone even briefly familiar with this context, you will understand what it means for these children to have shed the strong gender stereotypes they have grown up with.

This is what a school can do. In a carefully designed space within a child's life, a school can make a different reality possible. It can challenge a child to question her views about herself and her world. And in the process, the school stokes the child's fire of learning and expands her innate potential.

These cricket playing children have begun to rationally question their customs, their capacities and their place in society. Today, they carry these questions outside their school to their homes and communities. And tomorrow, when they begin to engage more fully with socio-economic processes, this small rural school's true power begins to manifest. For, slowly, what happens within the school begins to permeate the world outside.

It is this that can drive a more equitable India, an India that is economically vibrant-not just in a few pockets but across regions, across socio-economic classes and across the rural-urban divide.

The Reality

Compare this with what happens in other schools across India. In most schools, the primary process at work most of the time is the mechanical preparation of students to respond to exams that rarely test real understanding. From a recent study Wipro conducted, we realised how shallow student learning is even in our country's most popular schools (see India Today, Nov. 27, "What's wrong with our teaching?"). Knowledge seems largely restricted to knowing how to respond to predetermined stimuli, such as a set of questions, with a predetermined set of answers; answers that require the repeating of an agreed string of words or procedures.

I think this is directly attributable to the archaic lecture-based teacher-to-child pedagogy that continues to pervade Indian classrooms, forcing children to respond with meaningless memorising and rote. And children stop seeing classroom learning as something integral to life, and view it merely as something for use in exams.

Given the narrow funnel of economic opportunities in India, it is not surprising that marks and grades have become excessively important, for it is the tendency of large systems to evolve simplistic, even if unfair, filtering mechanisms. Another argument I have heard often is "the rigour, drill and discipline" this process instils in our children. But to what extent is the argument valid when it hurdles real growth? When it comes at the cost of real learning and child development, it is time to reconsider where we are headed.

With every passing day, we get queries from popular mainstream schools asking us how they can change their age-old culture and practices

As adults, we know that true learning is that which helps us live productively, meaningfully, empathically and creatively in an ambiguous and uncertain world. Yet, why do we as parents and educators continue to refuse to see this reality? Are we not being irresponsible with and unfair to our children? And to the future of our society and economy?

Reasons for Hope

We need to be concerned; and these questions are at the root of growing dissonance with the state of Indian schools. I am glad the debate is finally entering mainstream media. At the same time, it is important to highlight the many laudable efforts at educational reform unfolding across the national canvass. The anecdote we began with is not an exception; let me take this opportunity to share with you some of these inspirational efforts which my colleagues and I have had a chance to engage with over the past few years-across the government and non-government sectors.

The Bandhyali School is a free upper primary school in the outskirts of Jaipur. It offers quality education to children from educationally, socially and economically disadvantaged communities. The cricket playing children we encountered earlier are students of this school. The school believes that every child should develop the ability to choose one's ideals and the capacity to realise those ideals. In turn, this needs the development of the child to access and create knowledge, to think critically, and to act with care and concern for others. This school, run by Digantar, a reputed NGO working in the field of elementary education, has been an example of what education can be, for it has shown us that quality education need not be the privilege of an exclusive few.

Of similar lineage is Eklavya of Madhya Pradesh, perhaps India's most reputed social organisation in education. Eklavya's genesis lies in the Hoshangabad Science Teaching Program (HSTP), an innovative effort to use experimentation as the primary pedagogic tool in science teaching. Beginning as a small intervention in government schools, Eklavya has expanded its work from curriculum and teacher development to publications and policy advocacy. Perhaps Eklavya's key contribution lies in the sheer number of talented individuals it has managed to bring into the education domain.

While it is clear that the Bandhyali School and Eklavya are social assets to be celebrated, it is ironic that both these institutions have faced the risk of closure. Yet, as Rohit Dhankar of Digantar eloquently argues, an idea is the most difficult thing to quell. Not only do Digantar and Eklavya continue to survive and grow, they have in turn inspired several more progressive efforts across India.

Rather than being one-off incidents, everywhere around us, such stories abound; for this is the story of the resurgent progressive education movement in India. Schools such as Centre for Learning in Bangalore, or Vikramshila's Bigha School in Burdhwan. Social organisations such as Vidya Bhawan, cemd and Neev. Businesses with a social purpose, such as iDiscoveri, EZ Vidya and Educational Initiatives. Each of these organisations has begun to impact the mainstream of schooling in various ways.

Many of the ideas behind these progressive efforts have culminated in the new National Curriculum Framework of 2005. With every passing day, we get queries from popular mainstream schools asking us how they can change their age-old culture, competence and practices. These are encouraging signals, and I believe we are going to witness an overhauling of Indian education within the next five years.

If a large number of like-minded corporate bodies come together and resolve to engage with our school system, we just might see catalysis

What Do We Do?

The broad goal is for our schools to give every child the opportunity to grow into someone courageous and committed in spirit, curious and critical in thought, and creative and caring in action. This means we have to rediscover our understanding of how each child learns; for truly every child can learn! But each child has his or her own pace and way of learning, and we need to customise learning experiences to each learner's context. This means shifting to a more constructivist classroom where the primary learning process is driven by inquiry.

But we need to keep in mind that large and complex social systems, such as education, have a mind of their own. Though it might seem that change is on the anvil, one can never predict which way the system will move. Therefore, it is important that each one of us plays his or her part in steering this change for the larger social good. Let me suggest some things we could do as parents, educators, policy makers, corporates, or simply interested citizens.

As a parent, you will greatly aid this cause if you can begin a dialogue with your child's school. Get the school leaders and teachers to begin to question their goals and practices. And if you are able to bring in other parents into this dialogue, you just might be able to trigger a movement.

As an educator, no one is better placed than you to re-engineer your classroom and school. Take courage from the fact that several teachers and schools across the country have chosen to change. If you have the will, you will yourself be able to answer many of the problems this change might suggest. And there are many organisations willing to help as you go through this demanding phase.

As policy makers, you need to ask why the gap between national policy and ground reality never seems to close. My hypothesis is that policy is not something formulated at centre, but is something that has to emerge out of real action on the ground. Also, by itself, policy cannot change a large social system. Hence, policy makers need to don a different hat-not of establishing standards or rules, but of trying to motivate through suggestion. The latest national curriculum has taken a courageous leap forward on both these issues, and it will be interesting to see what impact it has.

A Call to Action

I have a far braver suggestion to my friends from the corporate world. In the world of today, private corporations wield increasingly greater amounts of power and influence. This is both economic and socio-political, and it comes with equal responsibility.

At Wipro, our belief is that it is absolutely imperative that corporations try to leverage this power to drive positive change. This is imperative because the amount of power that is concentrated with such organisations today is substantial.

To make this happen, organisations must drive thoughtful and deliberate actions for long term, fundamental, societal and ecological development. And it must reflect the same level of enterprise, corporate and fiduciary rigour and strategic thinking that such an organisation brings to its business activities.

My belief is that since organisations have power, they have an obligation to "do good".

With this philosophy to guide us, if a large number of like-minded corporate bodies come together and resolve to engage with our school system, we just might see catalysis. And I feel that there is no better space for us to work in, for education is the fundamental enabler of a just, humane and equitable society.

Finally, no school is an island; every school is part of an unfolding society, and it has to respond to emerging social needs. The cry for school transformation will soon reach a critical mass, and schools that fail to respond to this reality will find themselves out-of-sync.

In a democracy, each of us is responsible for the reality we live in. Broad-based economic development and social change will only begin when we ask ourselves how we can engage with and make a difference to way things are around us. When we stop being bystanders, we will see the status quo break.




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