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India@75: Celebrating schools and schooling must be part of New India

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For a majority of the post-independence generation Indians, the first immersive experience, learning and engagement with National Flag and National Anthem has been at school. In fact, schools are a great reason for spreading patriotic fervor in India as National fests are a must calendar activity. Schools are essentially the temples of modern society.  Like singing and saluting National Flag for the first time in their life, a lot of voters too have cast their first vote in a nearby school. Schools in the post-independence period were grassroots lampposts and played a pivotal role in spreading awareness on all mission campaigns of national importance as the foundations for nation building were being laid.  Schools continue to play a larger role in creating enabling mindsets for unity in diversity and social harmony. Schools also turn into emergency shelters for taking refugee during natural disasters.

Schools are very much like extensions of our families and immediate neighborhood. From Gurukuls of Vedic education times to Lord Macaulay’s educational policy and maktabs and other forms in between, schools are essentially cornerstones of passing knowledge and values to new generations. And will continue to in this role for future as well.

Schooling is needed to root a child to the basic principles of human living and future citizenship. Schools and schooling have a profound effect on a child and essentially conditions and grows you into a person you are to a large extent.  Therefore, schools and schooling both remain significant from view point of national development.  We should remember, the base of success of all missions, schemes, records is educational institutes, which begin from a primary school.

With advances in technology, processes and progressive thinking both schools and schooling has changed a lot. It is but natural. However, the centrality of school system to a society and its progress is as crucial as it were when the school system birthed.

For the past several years, schools and schooling has gone big transformation in the Indian context.  And, unfortunately not for the better!  We have become a marks oriented society. Children are trolled for not getting good marks. There is an unhealthy competition amongst the students, as also schools. Students hate school, but because they don’t want to let down their parents, they continue attending, even though they learn nothing except how to hate learning. Schools more so private schools of all hues are engaging in surrogate advertising and promotion through student achievements and other distractions.

Teachers as gurus, mentors, coaches, facilitators and educators are losing space in society.  There is deficit of respect and trust for the teaching profession. Lack of lateral entry, low salaries in bulk of schools, non-conducive environment/culture, lack of resources and motivation is creating shortage of teachers.  The teacher capacity is also a big question mark, so is the availability of school leaders, specialist and subject teachers.

If the already crisis ridden schools and schooling had everything against them, removing emphasis from school by ill-conceived entrance tests like CUET, JEE and NEET, has only added to this crisis. Schools are virtually battling their survival as from the space India is turning into a big entrance centre according to a former Vice-chancellor. This mad rush has taken students out of classrooms and laboratories to coaching centres.  Schools have now started hiring “teachers” for entrance exam coaching. Parents are choosing coaching centres over schools. If coaching industry is not regulated soon, it will wash away the beauty of formal schooling which includes play and fun children have with their peers. Moreover it will be at the expense of developing critical thinking; problem-solving and creative thinking skills and children will not be able to develop a love for learning, or a discipline.

The school is needed to provide them with an environment where they do much beyond; from the resources they have access to and from the life situations, games, and co-curricular activities.

We need to act now to move our children to state of happy engagement and reform the system for its inefficiencies. NEP 2020 is a dream and it needs to be realized together on well laid processes as it’s about education and our children. Schools and schooling are there to be celebrated…Autar Nehru

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