Sunday, May 20, 2012

Education for All? That's not enough!

“Sarva Shiksha Abhyan (SSA) is Government of India's flagship programme for achievement of Universalization of Elementary Education (UEE) in a time bound ...” (Source:

SSA is primarily aimed for the kids belonging from poor and under privileged backgrounds. There is a similar state funded program in the US called KIPP and this too is intended for kids from poor and under privileged backgrounds.

Apart from the kind of kids these schools target there is hardly anything common between them. Look at the names again.

Sarva Shiksha Abhyan literally translates to- The Education for All Movement.
KIPP is an acronym for- Knowledge Is Power Program.

Note the difference in intentions. One is concerned about numbers, other is concerned about knowledge.
Our efforts are concentrated at opening maximum schools and admitting maximum students. And in a country like India, that makes sense.
But are we concerned about quality, at all? About methodology for teaching?

KIPP schools are considered among the best public schools in the US. At KIPP, students are taught Maths, science, social studies and language. As well as problem solving, structured thinking, communication skills and music. The students are made to work hard, throughout the year, almost without any summer vacation (more on that later).

We all are aware about the state of government funded schools in India. Many of you must have seen it first hand, others must have read about it. But that entire situation is just one of the problems.
One of the other reasons of failure, or ineffectiveness, of the state funded schools is  their intention. A school for the penniless. Our current system makes schools for the poor, makes the content suitable for kids belonging to such families. This results in making those kids incompetent against the ones in private schools.
What should they do instead is make schools of  excellence- accessible even to the poor. Make the content superior and have best teachers to teach them. Make the students to work hard, provide them with incentives to work harder. We need to build schools that can provide quality education to the maximum.

Doing that on as massive scale as India’s, would be a daunting task. It would be a risk, with disastrous outcomes should it fail. Here again we can learn something from KIPP, we can start this as a pilot program, open only a few schools in the beginning. Improvise, update and expand them with time.

I want to talk more about on KIPP, but I'm more concerned about our education system. What our present education is doing- producing what I call employees (which some point out, are not even employable) . Instead it needs to produce more employers, original thinkers, innovators. The education structure has hardly changed in decades. Most of the entrance exams consider school reports and performances irrelevant. There are not enough incentives for the students to work hard and excel at schools.
We need a mix of both- people who are employable as well people who can think and create. As many scholars and concerned people have been saying- Our entire education system needs an overhaul. But I think, and most would agree, we should work on the grass root level first. And government schools would probably be the best place to start with. Not just the quantity of people we educate, but the quality should matter too. It should matter more. Bringing in Akash would not help anyone. Students would watch the lectures on their tablets, only if those lectures are worth watching live, only when there are incentives to watch those lectures at all.

For curious minds:

Click here to read about the state of our education.

Or, read Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell