John Mason, Head of Asian Schools at GEMS Education and ex-Headmaster of The Doon School is in the hot seat for the first week. John Mason is currently based in Dubai from and he education delivery, curriculum development and learning systems for the many schools GEMS runs in India,the UAE and other parts of Asia.
In this interview he focusses on the new National Curriculum Framework introduced by the NCERT under the chairmanship of Prof. Yashpal and also delves into the conflict between marks and ‘real’ schooling.
(Full Disclosure: I work with GEMS as Principal of one of their schools in India)
The new NCERT curriculum framework has several points of departure towards a more progressive curriculum from its earlier avatar. What do you think of the changes being introduced?
The NCERT, in seeking to strengthen the national system of education, has addressed a number of vital issues. They are old concerns, expressed with a fresh urgency.
1) Quality education for all. It is a shocking anomaly that a large number of children from the marginalized sections of society drop out annually as the schooling available to them does not use their experience for learning.
The strongest contribution of this document is the call for a paradigm shift from teacher-dominated classroom transaction to the need for a child centered approach through knowledge construction based on the child’s experiences. This is by no means a new pedagogy but it is emphasized as the need of the hour because of wide spread disillusionment with the present system.
As the vision is education for all, total inclusion, the focus on the present breakdown in the transaction process is appropriate. In this regard it is interesting to note an observation in the Framework that knowledge of the psychology of the child is not as important as an understanding of the social, cultural, economic and political context in which s / he is placed. This is an educational rationale seeking to redress centuries of inequality and is to be welcomed in the national interest.
Not only does the new curriculum propose an experiential approach in classroom transaction but it also recommends, at all levels, contact with the world of work.
However, without denying the necessity of this bold proposal one is apprehensive, if not sceptical, about its outcome in practice. Acceptance is necessary over the supervisory network of government and private schools, not only for implementation but also for continuance. One is reminded of the disappointing status accorded to SUPW / work experience in the majority of Indian schools
2) The document regrets that the 0 to 6 age group has been excluded from the purview of Article 21. An important concern is hereby expressed as, for the majority of the children in the country, early childhood care and education is seriously neglected or non existent.
3) I support the view that there must be a creative and concerted effort to maintain the multilingual genius of Indians and persevere with the three language formula. The role of English is envisaged but not at the expense of the mother tongue. At the Primary level the mother tongue is regarded as the essential means for the expression of experiences in the process of learning. Given the multilingual character of society, it is a necessary that the education system promote multilingual proficiency which includes proficiency in English.
However, I believe the fine balance that the above proposition calls for may not always be met, given the tendency for schools to respond to public and community pressures based on less idealistic objectives.
The document decries the present system of loading information on to children at the Primary stage instead of developing their learning skills. Up to Class 2 the curriculum prescribes Language and Maths, advising that knowledge of the environment is to be derived through these two disciplines. The need for a dynamic approach to the promotion of reading is stressed. The process of knowledge construction based on a child’s understanding and in relation to his / her socio cultural experiences is well articulated and the most inspiring aspect of the framework. But, as I have said before, one hopes that these ideals are respected and that children who are the intended beneficiaries can look forward to a better way of learning
Finally, the document makes an important point on pre-service and in- service teacher education by arguing in favour of greater practical orientation of the new concepts. In fact, it is made clear that unless the teacher and the text book change radically, there can be no change.
There is an abundance of literature on progressive education. Given the marks-oriented culture of the Indian Higher Education System, do you see widespread adoption of Progressive Schooling? What systemic changes would you recommend for this to happen?
The key to progressive schooling lies in the child having charge over his / her own learning, as discussed above. There are a two issues however, that can obstruct this goal. The first is the feasibility of mobilising the teaching community to accept and deliver the new pedagogy. The second is the question of transaction time. A system which foregoes the practice of information delivery in favour of experiment, discussion and experience needs time. It is not clear whether the new structure of curriculum has factored in the time required for effective transaction..
If this framework is to be a success its precepts must be accepted not only by the large teaching community but also by the community at large. Just as these precepts have been produced through widespread consultation and public consensus, so also must the recommended policy be made known to the public for its acceptance. The call for quality education for all must be heard by all and demanded by all.
Do you agree with the oft quoted stand that privatization of education may be the key? How do you see this playing out in Government run schools?
The State has the responsibility to provide education for its people. It also has the responsibility as evidenced, in the several educational commissions and reports, to enquire into the state of education in the country and address the prevalent issues. Private education does not have the authority or the reach to bring about the transformation envisaged by the NCERT.
What do you think can be done by the famous public schools of India?
A large number of private and public schools in India are well endowed and have the capacity to incorporate the precepts provided in the Framework and in so doing, serve as model institutions in the propagation of the new system.
English Language Acquisition is a key problem across the country. A recent article mentioned that first generation learners in government schools can rarely hope to achieve even moderate fluency on the back of the dual problems of poor teaching staff and a non-English speaking/supporting environment at home. Would you agree? What would you recommend the government does to counter this?
Proficiency in reading is the answer and this should be pursued on a massive scale.
What is your take on the Education Voucher scheme?
I would suggest that the Government should take no course that would seem to indicate an evasion of its responsibility in providing quality education to its citizens.
Next week we will be interviewing Usha Albuquerque, Director of CareerSmart, a Delhi based career management company and the leading careers consultant in the country. Mail your questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org If you have comments and thoughts, use the comments link under and write away!