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  • Writer's pictureLopa Shah

What are we really assessing?

There's something about re-reading what you wrote a while ago. Almost tells you if you are where you were meant to be!

This is one such rant I made to myself 5 months ago.

I was asked to share my view on whether the education system of India has been able to achieve its desired goals. Here's to my everlasting dream!

If facilitating children to become aware, critical, responsible and self-sustained active citizens of the world was a desired outcome, the system of education in India has yet a long way to go! There is yet a large distance to travel from teaching how to gulp, flush or reproduce content, to realising the truest value of education, which is to empower minds, equip hands and uplift spirits; And a system of empathetic facilitators and a skill-specific decentralized curriculum is imperative to make that happen.

But if our system had aspired to produce masses of certified engineers and doctors, who’ve to wait for years to earn a decent living, to recover at the least, if not outnumber, the amount they spend on their education, then, yes, it has achieved its goal. If it had envisioned fostering a generation of uncritical followers, yes it has achieved its goal. If our system of education had intended to make learning burdensome, irrelevant and unproductive, yes it has achieved its goal.

Ever since independence our focus has been on increasing the rate of literacy in the country. While this was the need of its time and will continue to remain an important matter of concern, we must acknowledge that times have changed and so have people and their realities. Aspirations and situational goals have also undergone a massive shift, and at an unmatched pace. Comparing this shift of a larger collective knowledge with the shift in the approach to educational goals, it is clear that we are far behind what is expected. While we may certainly pride ourselves on the growing numbers of public schools and literacy programmes in the remotest of villages, are we delving enough into following up and finding out how efficient these efforts are or how much are ‘the beneficiaries’ really benefiting?

We are still faced with unnerving numbers of farmer suicides, high school drop-outs, unemployed youths, lingering jobs and dissatisfied students. Our education system still cannot guarantee sustenance, or promise skills enough to alternate complex social problems.We are still falling prey to mass movements and exercises of violence in the name of power. We are still struggling to educate people about waste management, hazards of open defecation, significance of traffic safety and much more, while we are building more schools and churning more and more literacy programmes. What are these programmes serving, if we’re left to educate beyond them? What is education meant for if we’re still to straighten out the basics of living? What purpose does schooling serve, if we’re still fighting growing numbers of unemployed youth and hence lingering families.

This is disheartening, indeed, and it is natural to ask if we are finding answers in the wrong place or expecting results of an impossible kind. But the key to finding any desired answer, is to ask the correct question.

And the question really is, what are we aiming for? India is a land of indigenous richness and diversity, and to be able to use this knowledge and weave contextually relevant and equipping systems of learning, could have been our biggest strength. If our desired outcome is to see an uplifted society and self-reliant individuals, we must begin with and thrive on local sensibilities, experience and expertise, and see them all as a web of opportunities. There is nothing more empowering than a sense of worth for who you are, what you do and where you belong. We need programmes, which integrate social, economic and intellectual realities of its learners, and invite them to engage with those realities critically. This in turn can pave ways for both cognitive and social advancement.

Imagine if each state were to employ all its geographical, scientific, structural, cultural, conditional and operational realities to develop skills of observation, criticism and meaning making in its children? It would foster growth of critical, independent thinkers, doers and change-makers for the nation and, in turn, the rest of the world. The ‘desired goal’ of our education system, in this case, would have been to focus on developing cognitive and social skills and to employ a range of content, starting from the local to global, to do this. Content of the texts would then become a mere tool to facilitate knowledge making as opposed to being the only means of assessing skill as it is today.

In the bid of going ‘mainstream’, what is richly local (or native) is not leveraged enough. There is a visible distance between the understanding of that which is internal, accessible and highly resourceful, and that which is external and commonly sought after. The absolutely imperative and urgent need of the hour is to dwell in and build from this distance, not to bridge it, but to scaffold programmes that turn lenses inwards and facilitate growth that spreads equally outward.

Unless the desired goals, particularly of our system of education, which ensures laying foundation for many other systems in the country, are based on a clear realisation of the existing richne

ss and a critical foresight into the impending future, it will be insignificant to assess the performance of the system.

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