For the purpose of this article, I would like to break down the Indian school-going student population into two groups with the understanding that it is not representative of the entire nation. The majority of students who enroll in various public education systems and the small percentage who enroll in a spectrum of international/private based schools. In India, the public education system is largely still based on national testing, and a standardized curriculum rewarding rote memorization with little to no differentiated learning. Despite the rigidity and inflexibility in approach to teaching and learning pedagogy, I believe students these days are protean thinkers who can create opportunities for themselves and brighten their future, while improving the society overall. With internet and technology, students are increasingly more informed and aware of local and global issues affecting them and others around them. For example, about a year ago, students were engaged in discussions regarding ‘net neutrality’ and its impact on our daily lives, and expressed excitement when President Modi announced the Startup India initiative.
I think that education should focus on real-life applications and practical solutions, which is best done through project/concept based learning. I’ve been fortunate to work at an international school in the large metropolitan area of Mumbai, which offers a combination of International Baccalaureate (IB) and Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) curriculum, and thus exploration, problem-solving and hands-on learning are embedded in the syllabus. We have a small teacher to student ratio that provides space and flexibility for differentiated and experiential learning opportunities. The IB mission at its core is ‘to create a better world through education.’ IB requires students to take a course in Theory of Knowledge and fulfil the Creativity, Action and Service component. Both of these are designed to help students enhance their understanding of the world around them and the ways they can contribute to it. I believe our role as educators extends beyond any specific subject matter to the character building of our students in order to nurture caring and compassionate leaders with inner qualities of resilience, acceptance, concern for humanity and passion for lifelong learning. These ‘soft skills’ are perhaps better acquired at a younger age, and instilling these values is our greater task as educators.
Grounded in the IB learner profile is the “inquiry” based approach so the students are inherently forced to express their thoughts and reactions starting from the primary years. Along with this, students are trained to be “open-minded” and “principled” in their approach making them aware of their perceptions and attitudes. Our school offers co-curricular programs such as Round Square, International Award for Young People (IAYP) and Model United Nations, which encourages students’ to think beyond themselves. Both Round Square and IAYP are founded by Kurt Hahn, whose value and experiential based education for the youth I believe is fundamental in creating leaders for the future. I want to share two student examples that represent these ideals: one of our Grade 10 students created a website (eshikayat.com) that provides an electronic platform to file a complaint regarding grievances in remote villages of Uttar Pradesh. This has provided a bridge between regional government authorities and local villagers who often struggle to get their voices heard in a reasonable manner and time. And, I have another student who identified a need for recycling waste in a small village on the foothills of the Himalayas while camping on a hike. He later sought to convince the villagers to create and use barrel compost for a sustainable solution. Our students will need to have both the soft and the hard skills required to communicate across borders, work and think dynamically to solve problems of tomorrow and make a positive impact.
Maria Bibler is a College Counselor at Singapore International School, Mumbai