Modern education systems must be conscious that both nature and nurture contribute to personality development and individual characteristics
The recent Cabinet reshuffle strengthens the Ministry of Education by bringing the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship within its ambit. It was an artificial separation in the current times when the progress and development of any nation is directly dependent on skilled manpower and the spirit of innovations. The change of nomenclature from the Ministry of Human Resources Development to Ministry of Education has now acquired a truly comprehensive mandate. Both these changes harmonise beautifully with the recommendations in the National Education Policy (NEP-2020).
This policy has the potential to usher in the much-needed-though-considerably-delayed emphasis on flexibility and multidisciplinarity that would enable learners to chalk out their trajectory depending on personal assessment of interests, liking and comfort. The curriculum developers and textbook writers have a real challenge in front of them. Einstein once wrote that if he had his say, the school curriculum would consist only of science and mathematics. The spirit behind the preference for music and mathematics clearly indicates the inseparability of knowledge.
Henceforth, a child in class 10 or 12 or in higher education could opt for physics, music and psychology in consonance with the policy stipulation: “No hard separation between arts and sciences, between curricular and extracurricular activities, between vocational and academic streams….” In the 21st century, the boundary among sciences, social sciences, arts, humanities and sports must get obliterated to ensure “unity and integrity of all knowledge”. These are the times of universal acceptance of the “cognitive capital” being the prime vehicle for growth, progress and development of every nation, which could be enhanced manifold if the education systems offer a joyful learning environment.
Further, the prime prerequisite is to ensure that the inherent interest and choice of the learner is identified and encouraged without any external influences. Education systems — particularly every teacher — must remain conscious that both nature and nurture contribute to personality development and individual characteristics; the height may be because of the genes, but expertise in aviation dexterously acquired could be the outcome of precise identification and empathetic nurturance of the interest shown in school. Finally, it is the overall transition from an innocent person to a personality — achieved through formal education that integrates skills and spirit of enterprise — that contributes to national knowledge kitty.
A thoughtful, visionary and futuristic curriculum harmonising academic education with skill development and entrepreneurship could generate much higher levels of learner interest and participation, help in moving ahead in creating an enjoyable stress-free learning environment. It would be worthwhile to refresh the factors that impeded the launch of vocationalisation of secondary education recommended by the Kothari Commission (1964-66), and included in NEP-1968. At that stage, no parent was willing to let their ward opt for vocational stream as social milieu considered acquisition of vocational skills as “second-rate education” and everyone wanted a Government white collar job. The job market scenario has changed drastically, and this change is being accepted by the parents and learners. It is common experience that children get more interested and involved in participatory activities. Well-perceived and judiciously articulated amalgamation of academic learning with skills and entrepreneurship would offer far greater opportunities for nurturing curiosity, creativity, ideas and innovation. It could indeed offer the opportunity of working together, and that leads to “learning to live together”.
Major breakthroughs in economic and social sectors or an attitudinal transformation would be achieved if the education system is pragmatic, dynamic and fully responsive to the current changes. Consequently, education systems that have in-built mechanisms to usher in changes in content and pedagogy without delay shall sustain their relevance. In this race, there are no quarterfinals or semifinals; everybody is in the final round. We are already witnessing the consequences of the advances in ICT in terms of societal and cultural transformation. Any delay in “learning to live together” could result in dangerous repercussions. The world got glimpses of it when France had to suffer in terms of social cohesion and religious amity. Laws, rules and regulations shall have only limited impacts. It is the right education, the holistic approach — through dialogue and intensive interaction — that alone offers a long-term solution.
There would be no breaks in “lifelong learning”. It was never before so critical and compulsory. As Einstein said, “it takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage” to make awesome-looking complex things simple and simpler. In the recent past, Steve Jobs, whose mantra was “focus on simplicity”, articulated: “Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it is worth it because once you get there, you can move mountains.” This is most relevant for the teachers of every stage, the gadgets are not making your job easy, you have find out how these could be used to make life easier and enjoyable for learners. Teacher education institutes must realise the new challenge before them: Make teaching learning simpler. Sir Richard Branson said in the context of managing human resources: “Train people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough so they don’t have to.” Yes, educate your teachers well, and treat them as the Most Important Persons. It would work.
(The author works in education and social cohesion. The views expressed are personal.)