“Create an ecosystem where the child thrives”

Dr. Farooq Wasil, CEO & Global Head - Affordable Schools, GEMS Education, talks about a whole range of issues regarding school education in an interaction with Greater Kashmir Opinion Desk. Here are the excerpts:
"The good rule is that you must always be ready to disrupt the environment, rather be disrupted."
"The good rule is that you must always be ready to disrupt the environment, rather be disrupted." Special arrangement

What is the future of education in global context?

Future of education is a daunting question. After having so much of experience, I sometimes wonder how you can prepare your children for future when future has no precedent.

It is a blind landscape. But the time has now come that we predict future. Good leaders predict future. You cannot have a knee jerk reaction. The good rule is that you must always be ready to disrupt the environment, rather be disrupted.

That means, your rate of learning, interaction, understanding, critical thinking, and reflective thought processes have to be sharper, if you have to manage this uncertainty and unpredictability about the future.

So what is the gap between the change happening around and our preparedness to meet that change?

Is there a data available on how states are performing. First, we don’t have international benchmarks available. Are we doing TIMSS, or PISA to know how our students are performing. Our evaluation is led internally, so what is the credibility of that data.

Is there a way of gathering this data, processing it, and matching it with international standards?

There are two ways of doing it. Either, state becomes part of that testing process, which is available internationally. For that to happen, it boils down to classroom interactions.

How well our classrooms are equipped. How good, and skilled our teachers are. Because ultimately impact has to be seen in the performance of children.

Assessment is the most difficult part of teaching-learning process. If your data is not credible. If it doesn’t give you indicators at the earlier stage about the remedial processes of learning, you are actually allowing incompetencies accumulate, and reach a stage where no correction is possible.

That is why schools must become reflective of themselves. Second, there are different ways of doing it. While the assessment has a certain cost component to it, nothing stops schools, that are struggling with their finances, from being collaborative. Why can’t schools get together and share practices, have teacher exchange.

Given your own experience at the international stage, if we make our education child-centric, what would be the immediate things that schools here will have to do, so that the process begins?

Educators are the harbingers of hope, and traders of trust. Now how do they give this hope, and how do they create this trust. Child is pivotal to this whole enterprise.

He is supreme in this organic relationship. Parents have the interest of child at heart. Schools claim that they have the interest of children at heart. Teacher also believes that he is doing it for the child. So what are we doing to make a child’s life comfortable. Give him all the opportunities, and create a landscape and ecosystem where the child thrives.

I strongly believe that the first intervention that should come is in the pedagogy. I have written a book on this – Pedagogy From Perception to Perspective- capturing 200 years of teaching-learning history.

Today I ask the question that if you look at the society for last, even 100 years, in which way it has not changed. But if you look at classrooms today, randomly go to schools, do you find any change. Because, unfortunately, education, like any other field of experience, has not been on the forefront of change management. Schools are still based in he industrial model, didactic teaching, rows of desks and children.

I ask this question, that how do you still reconcile with the fact that 33% is pass marks. The educators must raise this question. After 75 years of independence yo mean that the nation has not collectively improved in its intelligence. It is a criminal waste of human resource.

When you say that he has to be relevant to future, you have to impart him 21st century skills which are not curriculum led. Critical thinking does not come through books. It is more of an experiential component developed through human interaction. Pedagogy is very crucial, and how well equipped our teacher are in transacting this model of pedagogy inside the classroom.

In our education system everything boils down to getting a job. Do you think this job consciousness be a part of our education from the very beginning or would it be counter-productive?

One very existential question comes to my mind. Do we need schools, are they relevant anymore? If you look at the schools in India, there is not a single school where students don’t go for tuition. So what is schooling all about then.

Can schools take the credit that all the student’s performance in final exams, or whatever he has achieved, is because of the school. There are schools in India that are hunting for good students to claim that they have got best results. This is a harsh reality. The question here is that am I looking at those top 2% or top 5% ; what happens to the rest of the students.

How do we make use of schooling years to actually equip a child to crack the exams all by themselves, or find a job without going to coaching centres?

Let us revers the coin. Can schools guarantee that a child is progressing, as we envisage. They need to ask themselves. I don’t want to reach a stage where I am told every year that your child gets 90% marks, and when it actually comes to throwing him in the bigger world, he is failing.

That means all you have indicated to me was a big lie. If he does not have communication skills, if he does not have emotional skills, if his value orientation is poor, how is he preparing for future! So schools need to account much earlier to this.

What is it that schools can impart to students?

When we say humans are designed for learning, what you have to create is a wholistic environment for learning. There are enough indicators that if you provide right environment to them they will learn.

We are not exposing children to the ultimate goals of learning. You do these sums and lesson and then exams; you teach them to answer certain questions, and if there are some questions outside syllabus you find children on streets. What is it!

School is not static – brick and mortar. Schools of future are living organisms. It is community within a community, a society within a society. The future schools will be community centres where all stakeholders will sit, talk and negotiate. That is what a future school will look like.

The central question here is that teachers in private schools are not paid well. You can’t attract good talent for pea nuts, and even if you get a good talent, because there are no jobs available, it rots inside a school. What kind of interventions are needed here?

School is as good as its teacher. I will first ask the question; how do you define the teachers’ standards. If it is an English medium school, what qualifies it to be an English medium school.

The understanding with all stakeholders is that everyone inside this campus speaks language with proficiency. If you take this one indicator and assess schools, yo can get the answer.

So when you develop your teachers’ standards the first thing that comes to mind is a reasonable proficiency in language. Because language development is an essential component. On this indicator you go and audit schools.

We are all fallible. But for us, for the society at large, the idea of a teacher is that of an infallible. I can get away with writing poor english in corporate world, no body is going to question that.

But in a school, the moment I spell something wrong, the whole school, my student community, will be up in arms. Because for them I am the final authority. So, the knowledge has to be exemplary.

The trade off between students and teachers is what – Knowledge. So if your knowledge base is poor, the craft of teaching won’t help; the craft can be employed only if you Knowledge resource.

Can we envisage an independent platform, outside school space to make effective interventions, connecting schools to the larger community?

We must first start a dialogue for making schools realise that all is not well. Unless we don’t make them realise, and make them to buy in this belief that to improve we need many others, no change can happen.

It is about the future of children. I am not against a business vision, I am nor against expansion; but only as long as you deliver what you promise. The challenge these days is that image and reality do not go hand in hand.

If you evaluate schools, the promise they make to parents, and then you see the finished product, we are not getting it. That is why there is trust deficit, and parents do not believe what the school management says.

The new regulations, those who run private schools say, are creating a disabling atmosphere, where schools cannot operate to their potential?

Let me share my ignorance in this landscape about school profiles. What kind of financial models the schools are built over. What kind of fee structures and salaries are in place.

It can be only after data is available that we will be fairly in a position to say whether the schools are being handicapped. In absence of this data it will be very unfair to make a judgement.

However, given that, the thumb rule should be - what does government spend on each child.

Apply that rationale to private schools. Let us say that non-profit is the model we need to practice, that is fine; but as long as we are fair to them in terms of managing the costs and expectations.

Can we say that a govt school product is far more polished than a private school product. Or if it is the reverse, how can you restrict private sector.

But, I think the private school owners need to have an internal dialogue to understand their position; what they offer and what they spend.

And if they are fair enough, then they need to have a relentless dialogue with the concerned in the government; getting angry is not an answer. You need to educate them.

Yes, there are pulls and pressures, but if you are change agents, you make a compelling argument in favour of that change. For me what is central is ethics, that cannot be compromised.

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