Arti and Aanya were born in the same month of the year 2004. But born to different parents in different places. While Arti was born to lower middle class parents in Pathankot, a small town in Punjab, Aanya was born to similar income parents in Mumbai. Today, in 2020, this small geographical gap has amplified so much that while Arti is studying in a local government college in Pathankot, Aanya is studying at a top US university. Geographic disparity has such a marked effect on a child’s future that bringing excellent learning to every child is imperative to realise India’s demographic dividend.
At a time when India is in the process of transforming its education sector with the motto "Sabko Shiksha, Acchi Shiksha" (Education for All, Quality Education), it is only appropriate that we mark the UN International Day of Education on January 24 and propagate ‘excellent education for every child’. For, without education that cuts across geography, gender and socio-economic groups, it will be near impossible to break societal inequalities and create lifelong opportunities for millions of children and youth across India.
I believe our country’s future lies in educating our children, nurturing their full potential, and helping them grow into capable adults, responsible citizens and good human beings.
Today, the world is in awe of India’s young demography. Our average age in 2020 will be only 28, compared to 37 in China and USA, 45 in Western Europe, and 49 in Japan. But that’s little comfort when only a very tiny proportion of our students, go on to hold leadership positions globally. According to the United Nations Population Fund, India will see‘a demographic window of opportunity — a youth bulge’ until at least 2030. Heartening as this news is, how many among our youth will actually be in a position to grab current and emerging opportunities, and make the transition from mere knowledge holders to innovators and entrepreneurs to eventually leaders on a global scale? I suspect, not many.
The reality is that our students continue to pass out from academic institutions with a wealth of knowledge and information, but sadly, with little or no practical experience that helps them face challenges in both life and career, and capitalise on the vast opportunities that await them in a fiercely-competitive world.
The way out of this is to significantly transform how schools are run in India. We need to overhaul our curriculum to focus on skills, mindsets and habits in addition to the basic literacy and numeracy skills. We need to aim for 21st century skills of critical thinking, creative thinking, collaboration and communication. We need to empower our teachers to teach like the best teachers in the world. We need to ensure each and every child in the class, and not just a few toppers, is learning. And we need to use technology and data to enable personalisation in schools – both for teacher development and student progress.
One way of achieving the above is for schools to run on integrated school systems that upgrade curriculum, upgrade pedagogy, empower teachers, upgrade learning infrastructure and connect all stakeholders. Such integrated school systems replace the traditional piecemeal solutions of books, smart classes, teacher training and assessments. Integration brings consistently high results in student learning, teacher performance and school operations. And a system brings in change in habits and behaviours among principals, teachers and parents – a critical aspect in any change management process.
Such integrated systems use technology where needed – in empowering teachers and enabling school leaders and lead to sustained transformation. After all transforming the 1.5 million schools in India is not a one year endeavour. But we need to begin now because every year lost closes the window of opportunity for our country and loses a generation to poor learning. We need to work towards a day where both Arti and Aanya have the opportunity to great education and create great careers. That’s an India worth working towards. Let’s pledge to make it a reality today on International Education Day.
By Sumeet Mehta, Co-founder and CEO, LEAD School