Home Insights India needs a new pedagogy, not any Kota factory

India needs a new pedagogy, not any Kota factory


T K Arun

In the US, young people are immersed in technology in their everyday life. In much of India, that is not the case. Things have to be learnt.

In the US, it is not uncommon for bright young people to drop out of formal education, start up a business and make a huge success of it. The tradition goes back to Thomas Edison, who invented some early versions of the light bulb and founded General Electric. In India almost all notable startups are the handiwork of those who have at least one degree.

In the US, young people are immersed in technology in their everyday life. In much of India, that is not the case. Things have to be learnt.

All the unicorns getting listed or being bought out, making millionaires and billionaires out of middle-class kids, were made by graduates, mostly of engineering, some of engineering and management. A whole lot of them come from institutions of high repute. That has been the case with all those shortlisted for the Economic Times Startup Awards as well.

Enter Salman

So, it stands to reason that if you build more educational institutions of excellence, you would produce more talented innovators, entrepreneurs and business successes that create jobs, pay taxes and invest in research and development. Right? Not quite. To widen the pool of talent, the focus must be on quality school education.

And this is where India fails its young, and stunts its own potential. If a Class 8 student cannot read a Class 3 text proficiently or if a child has not learnt to add before being taught multiplication, that education is just a burden.

Salman Khan – of Khan Academy fame, fully shirted -once suggested that at primary school, no child should move up a grade unless she has learnt 100% of what she is supposed to learn in that grade. Not 40%, not 60%, but 100%.

The logic is quite straightforward. What you learn later builds on what you have learnt before. If you do not understand why 2 and 2 make 4, you would not understand why 4 minus 1 is 3.

If you pass with 40% marks, and knowledge of a right-angled triangle is part of the 60% you have no clue about, the sine and cosine of angles make zero sense. If you cannot read a simple sentence, how do you take a ride on the viewless wings of poesy, leave alone attempt to decipher the Indus Valley script?

What would happen if you insist on 100% mastery of the basics before graduating to a higher level? The child would be equipped with the wherewithal for understanding the next stage of the discipline at hand. More important, the child would learn that if you apply yourself to something long enough and hard enough, you can master anything. This would be quintessentially human, life­ changing, empowering and liberating.

In the emerging world of transient skills and the need to keep overhauling your skill set, the most important function of schooling is to teach a student how to learn.

How can such a pedagogy be practised? Can a teacher track the individual progress of every single student in her class and offer remedial help, to make everyone understand everything? This is where education technology should step in. Edtech in online coaching is tech, so is writing on a tablet instead of on a plain old slate or a notebook, but such tech is vapid. Tech that tracks individual progress, simulates a sorting hat that dynamically allots students of a class to small groups of similar levels of comprehension and helps a teacher offer one-to­ many teaching for similar groups of several classes -that would qualify as edtech.

Can such comprehension take place if the medium of instruction is a language that the child does not hear spoken at home? It cannot. The medium of instruction should be the mother tongue.

What of learning English, the language of global commerce, of breaks in life, career advancement? It is only in former colonies that people fanatically believe that they can master a foreign language only if they abandon their own, and learn maths and history and science in that foreign language.

Have you heard BTS belt out Permission to Dance or Abba’s ode to Fernando’s rebellion of a faded youth? Think the Koreans and the Swedes study in the English medium? Most young Germans speak English, as do the Dutch. All of them learn in their mother tongue, and also learn English as a foreign language. The point is to improve the teaching of English in Indian language-medium schools.

With the internet’s vast resources and the mobile phone as a handy means of accessing them, it is far easier today to learn English well than in the past, including to converse in that language, regardless of your primary language.

Tamil Nadu’s Lead

Nor is it enough to learn technology or specific disciplines. Innovation calls for imagination and creativity, aesthetics and cooperation. Entrepreneurship calls for risk-taking and the will to act when an opportunity presents itself.

That calls not for any Kota factory but for kids who pursue plays and painting, play on the field and play computer games. Once basic education is fixed, then comes the role of higher education institutions of excellence. Here, Tamil Nadu has achieved singular superiority. In the government’s NIRF ranking of all institutions of higher learning, TN accounts for 19 of the top 100. Of engineering colleges, that count is 16.

Expect that state to race ahead in future iterations of Freshworks.

This article first appeared in The Economic Times: View: India needs a new pedagogy, not any Kota factory on 30 September 2021.

About the Author


T K Arun, is a ET consulting editor.

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