The reform the Indian K-12 Education System needs

So we hear again and again, that the Indian curricula, like CBSE and ICSE, are not advanced enough, that they encourage rote-learning, that they are exam-oriented, that India does not have the educational infrastructure it needs, and all the same things. It’s almost as if the people who say this themselves rote-learned this essay.

Trust me, the CBSE curriculum is more advanced than the popular curricula of the US and the EU, and even on par with the educational curricula of the Asian tigers. A curriculum cannot encourage rote-learning. The teachers can. The students can. The parents can. Similarly, a curriculum can’t be exam-oriented. The students can. The parents can. The teachers can.

India has all the educational and scientific infrastructure you can think of. Peek into a university physics department and you’ll get what I mean. Supercomputers? Sure, Tata makes them. Space research facilities? All over the Deccan Plateau. Advanced chemical laboratories? In every Tier-I institute. Neutrino observatories? We have them too. Find me one other LEDC (besides China) that has these. Not even China has the kind of advanced technology that we do. Out of the BRICS countries, we are the most similar to a developed country in this regard (yet the most dissimilar on economic grounds).

And how much of that do you need in K-12 schools, anyway? What’s the last time you saw an 8-year old playing with supercomputers? What about the little amount of infrastructure schools do need? Well, again, don’t blame it on the curriculum. It’s the parents who fear them, the students who don’t want them, the teachers who can’t understand them, and the schools which don’t buy them.

So, why isn’t it working? Why is Indian K-12 education still so bad, especially compared to our Undergraduate and Graduate education?

  • Pay Teachers better – This automatically increases teachers’ dedication and brings in better candidates to the profession (as many talented people opt to not teach because the salaries aren’t high enough when they can go for jobs that interest them equally but pay them better).
  • Make essential facilities mandatory in government schools – Laboratories for the experimental sciences, good and functioning computers in every classroom, good computer labs and libraries, and other such facilities. It hurts me that so many schools choose to spend on unnecessary air conditioning instead of good labs and computers.
  • Remove the English Medium/Vernacular Medium Price Divide – So many people choose Vernacular medium schools because English medium schools are unaffordable for them or simply because Vernacular is cheaper. This hurts the children and consequently the nation in the long run as most of the world’s knowledge is available in English. Find out what are the extra costs for an English medium school and see what can be done about them, or if the extra cost is just for status.
  • Specialisation – Here’s where the curriculum needs to change: it’s absolutely abominable that a 12th grader has to study something like 15+ subjects. Quality of the subjects, not quantity. With these many subjects, the student ends up having to memorise or otherwise just lower his standards in each individual subject. Instead implement slow and steady specialisation in high-school. The student has got some surface experience of all the different streams in his primary years, and also has a good command of language, so why bother with stuff he knows he won’t be doing. Our Undergraduate programs will automatically adapt to new system.This allows the curriculum to push up its level and depth without stressing the student till his brain pops out. It also allows for smoother and more meaningful transition to the student’s Undergraduate Studies.
    • In years 7 and 8, the student can choose to study “Sciences”, “Arts”, or “Sports”, for example.
    • If he chooses, say Sciences, then in years 9 and 10, the student can choose to study subject trios (with compulsoury Mathematics) like “Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry”, or “Mathematics, Chemistry Biology”, or “Mathematics, Physics, Computer Studies”, etc.
    • If he chooses, say “Mathematics, Physics, Computer Studies, then in years 11 and 12, he is to choose a single subject, like Mathematics, Physics (with mathematical pre-requisites), or Computer Studies.
  • E-learning – Implement, on an experimental basis in certain schools across the country, complete electronic learning. Assignments and class notes will be uploaded on an electronic classroom service like Edmodo or Google Classroom. Tests and Examinations will be given in school, but on a computer. Multiple choice can be marked electronically, and the rest manually. The lectures will additionally be uploaded on an eClassrrom service. The students will be allowed to bring laptops to school for the purpose of taking notes. Students can interact and answer each others’ questions (the correct answer can be marked by the teacher) through a software like Question2Answer. This also encourages students to ask and answer questions, as the Q2A system is gamified with “reputation points”. Maybe once a student gets enough reputation, he can mark answers as correct too, along with the teacher. Implement Smart Boards, which behave like a physical blackboard (for familiarity) in terms of sounds, colours, and graphic quality but have great features, e.g. the stuff written on the blackboard will be recorded as a video and saved, and the chalk (a nicely designed stylus) will never run out. No dust, but the familiarity is there, with new useful features.
  • Teacher Training Workshops – I’ve always been stunned by one thing about Indian Education – everywhere around the world, the teaching depends on the curriculum and the school, but in India, the teaching depends on the teacher. In India, you can have a terribe teacher (videos of “Teachers in Bihar Schools” who know nothing and teach rubbish are all over youtube) or a great teacher who completely transforms the students’ lives (but go unnoticed, unlike the terrible teachers who get famous by teaching terribly). So what am I suggesting? Uniformising teaching? Nah, I’m no communist : ) – Let’s just make the bad teachers good (as in, above today’s expectations) and the great teachers superb. Organise national workshops for teachers from across the country with lectures for teachers on every single aspect of teaching you can imagine. For concrete things like “marking”, “useful tech tools for teaching” and “making professional and engaging presentations” to “engaging students”, “encouraging creativity in students”, and “conveying intuition and insights”. Let’s make model teachers give demo lessons too.

That’s not to say our higher education system is perfect. Eradicate reservation first (and make it a punishable offence for any state government to implement reservations in their states), and then let’s talk about going even close to perfection! It’s just ridiculous, that the there are only 60 seats, thanks to 49.5% reservation, in a prestigious institute like the Indian Institue of Science. The second-most attractive state for education after Karnataka, that is Maharashtra, has 74% reservation. Need I even speak about this? It won’t be far before we have 100% reservation in some states and if you’re by birth a male Brahmin middle-class urban Hindu who is not from Kashmir, you will have no chance to study or work in a government institution.

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