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Skilling India: Ideas worth Adopting

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March 7, 2016

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Skilling India: Ideas worth Adopting

Adopting There are as many definitions of the words education and skill as there are dictionaries. The meanings also differ with context. Oxford, Merriam – Webster and Dictionary.com definitions are very close to each other and to what I too think they mean. Oxford defines education as ‘the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university’ and skill as ‘the ability to do something well; expertise’.

Society (private, public and government) needs a skilled, not just educated workforce. They hire and reward the workforce based on what they can do and not what they know. Society values the ability to apply knowledge to solve real life problems.

Unfortunately, Indian education system continues to produce unemployable, unskilled masses despite grand plans by successive governments. The Hindu of March 23, 2015 writes, ‘The magnitude of the problem has been analyzed by numerous experts: for a country that adds 12 million people to its workforce every year, less than 4 per cent have ever received any formal training. Our workforce readiness is one of the lowest in the world and a large chunk of existing training infrastructure is irrelevant to industry needs’.

The challenge is not lack of financial resources or the political intent. The problem is that policy is unable to keep pace with the fast changing global environment along with extremely poor and slow execution. Countries like China, Japan, Korea, Finland, Singapore, etc. already world leaders in education for building skills, continue to quickly adopt new technologies and tools to significantly boost their countries’ skilling and intelligence quotients. These countries not only emphasize on language and numeracy skills but also constantly innovate the way teachers teach and students learn. India therefore doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel. We just need to adapt their winning strategies into our system to raise ourselves to global benchmarks.

Before we discuss these winning strategies, some basic requirements must be addressed.

REMOVE OBSTACLES TO QUALITY TEACHING AND BUILD INFRASTRUCTURE

According to distinguished Sociologist and Professor Dipankar Gupta, ‘31% of children today go to private schools compared to 2% in 1980. People are not stupid, government schools are, and that is why demand for private education has grown tremendously. Even though the wages of private school teachers are much lower…’

The state therefore needs to take urgent steps to bring government school infrastructure at par with private schools –

  • By building more class rooms to reduce overcrowding.
  • Hiring more teachers and relieving them of election administrative and nonteaching duties.
  • Empowering school Principals.
  • Reviewing assessment and no detention policy, especially up to class 8.
  • Creating a separate organisation structure which focuses on administration, cleanliness and maintenance of assets.
  • Ensuring private school education is affordable and admission processes transparent.
  • Establishing close monitoring and review systems with clear outcome objectives for the schools.

Thankfully, some governments are moving in this direction with a sense of purpose. Others need to follow expeditiously. In the meanwhile, both private and government schools need to adopt the winning strategies of countries which have built essential learning skills of their teacher and students. These strategies leverage technology and teach with recently developed ‘new age teaching and learning tools’. Let’s examine the important ones.

FLIP THE CLASSROOM

Flipped Classrooms and Blended Learning is the new teaching norm. Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams in 2007 pioneered ‘Flipped Classroom’ model of teaching. The flipped classroom uses internet technology to leverage learning by students.

020The simple but powerful idea enables teachers to spend more time in classrooms interacting with students instead of lecturing. Lecturing is done via teacher created lesson videos posted on the internet that students view at home. It is called the ‘flipped class’ because the classroom/ homework paradigm is ‘flipped’. What is class work (lecture) is done at home via teacher-created videos and what is homework (assignments) is done in class. Converting lessons and lecture into online videos is very simple these days.

Availability of internet is rapidly improving in rural and urban India. Standard software preinstalled in computers along with a webcam can create a short video, which teachers share via YouTube. They thus become ‘teachers to the world’ instantly. For students without internet connection, teachers can simply copy the videos on flash drives or DVDs and the student can view, understand and learn the content at home.

‘Flipped Classroom’ changes the role of teachers completely. Instead of one way communication, they play the role of a coach. Some teachers might initially resist adopting this methodology. However, most teachers, keeping student interest primary, experience that flipped classrooms result in students doing better and learning the content faster with deeper understanding.

Teach ‘New Age Teaching and Learning Skills’

In the last two decades scientists have made remarkable new discoveries on how the human brain remembers, retains and recalls information. Based on these insights, educators have created new tools to teach and learn. Most important of these new age tools are, ‘Mind Mapping’ and ‘Techniques to Develop Long Term Memory’. ‘Speed Reading’ and ‘Scheduling’ are other vital skills to learn. These tools save enormous amounts of time and significantly boost students’ understanding of the subjects they are learning. Better understanding and memory enables abilities to apply the knowledge.

Contrary to some beliefs, these tools do not add to the teacher’s workload. Teachers continue to do the same things, only they do them differently.

Mind Mapping

‘Mind Mapping’ developed by Tony Buzan, a British educator, is probably the most important teaching and learning tool. With this tool teachers plan lessons using keywords and visualisation techniques to organise information into what Buzan calls ‘Mind Maps’.

When teachers teach using Mind Maps, students also learn to prepare notes as Mind Maps. Good notes are an essential prerequisite for academic excellence. Mind Map notes take a fraction of the time to revise compared to revision with conventional notes. Multiple revisions, therefore, become possible. Consequently understanding improves.

When understanding improves application of knowledge is superior. Skilling happens.

Development of Long Term Memory

Poor memory is often cited as a big reason for poor academic and work performance.

Scientists have established that by associating new information with old, it is possible to remember large amounts of information accurately for a long time. In other words, with the right techniques, good memory can be developed as any other skill. Good memory is the skill of organising information in our minds just like books are organised in the library. If teachers learn these techniques then they teach it to students as part of school curriculum. The students get to practice this skill throughout their school years. By the time they join the workforce their capacity to remember, retain and recall significantly improves.

Speed Reading

To be literate United Nations specifies a minimum reading speed of 400 words per minute with 80 % comprehension. The average speed of most us is around 200 wpm with 40 % comprehension. This is therefore another vital skill to learn especially for those who choose white collar careers in teaching, management, administrative services, R & D, etc.

Leverage Technology for Scheduling

Time is the only resource equally available to all. Therefore, using time to do first things first, as Dr Steven Covey says, is as critical for teachers and students as for anybody else. Unfortunately, scheduling skills don’t get the importance they deserve and time is poorly managed. It is not that education institutions do not plan or schedule their curriculum and activities, but my experience indicates that it can be done much better.

There are many methods of scheduling. The optimum method to schedule needs to be learnt by schools, students and teachers like any other skill. Standard computer software makes detailed scheduling easy, inexpensive, and easily shared with all concerned.

Computerised scheduling has several benefits. Administration and students know when what is going to be taught. In case a teacher is absent due to any emergency, substitute teachers can takeover easily. Changes can be made and communicated swiftly. Students learn to schedule their study and other activities and become responsible for self-management.

Conclusion

For India to leapfrog into the future and be globally competitive, it is imperative that we leverage technology and integrate the new age learning tools into the regular curriculum of the school.

The skills thus learnt are universally relevant and will be useful throughout one’s education and work life. That they are already successfully institutionalised by countries in the forefront of the workforce productivity graph is proof enough that they work.

Indian government, policy makers, education institutions and civil society have to come together to ensure these practices are adopted by Indian education system sooner than later. Only then grass root changes will be visible and the mission of skilling India truly succeed.

In fact, educational institutions which profess to be pioneers must not wait for policy makers to effect changes. They must take the lead and pave the way for others to follow.

Ajay Aggarwal is author and master trainer of New Age Learning and Reading Skills. He also contributes through magazines his views on global trends and how India can leapfrog its education standards. After a successful corporate career, Ajay co-founded Apsara Foundation in 2011. He conducts regular workshops for teachers and students on new age learning skills: mind mapping, long term memory techniques, managing study time, listening skills, whole brain learning, speed reading and preparing for exams. He helps education institutes absorb these study skills into their culture and curriculum. To-date Apsara Foundation has trained more than 550 teachers and 6000 students. For more information visit www.apsarafoundation.org or write to ajay@apsarafoundation.org

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