In this post, I would like to propose some new models/directions for Indian Education by addressing some core problem areas that I have been able to identify. I would like to focus on, in particular how some strategic new models could change the way we are addressing the huge scale and diversity in India.
The underlying realization is since we are a nation with huge disparities and diversity, there is no one size fits all solution, despite vast proclamations for the following (witness strategies like lets build the network and the content and we should have addressed the equity issue, look anyone can access and learn from high quality content prepared by the best minds). And the scale of issues is magnified many times as compared to any other country with perhaps the exception of China.
In such a situation, let us think of a model that truly democratizes education. By democratizing, I mean make it by the people, for the people and of the people.
I know that one of the ways to handle scale is technology. Another is a weighty institutional structure designed top down by the government. But I think a powerful way, is to meet scale with scale – to empower local communities to meet educational needs while at the same time being connected to national and global networks of practice. This is a sustainable strategy. But it means that power needs to be devolved in a strategic manner. Loosen some control and let local communities do the job – however, make sure we empower them with the skills and the perspectives of the planners. Use technology and bureaucratic structures to engender creation spaces (as John Seely Brown and co-authors argue in The Power of Pull) or Learnscapes (as Jay Cross would suggest).
The model will scale. It will recognize local constraints, indigenous capability and meet the aspirations of local communities. It will be sustainable since it is bottom up instead of top down. It will adapt faster to national planning needs. It will create opportunities for innovation and growth.
The motivation for this model arises from the fact that we have an over-weight bureaucracy and fragmented educational intelligentsia and polity. It also arises from that fact that people are disenfranchised from the policy-making or educational planning or quality assurance dimensions.
What will this take? Firstly it will take awareness building. Secondly, it will take capability building (not only leadership for the community, but also the vital skills deemed fit to make education a high quality practice). Thirdly, it will take creation of formal structures or spaces where communities can be facilitated, trained and supported. Fourthly, it will take a shift of control and a corresponding alteration of the power structures. Fifthly, it will take the loosening of barriers – legal or procedural – to promote freer flow of resources through the local systems.
This would be a strategic shift in policy. From being responsible for implementation, to being responsible for coordinating, supporting and training local communities to support the national needs and vision.
Make Education a social business
By social business, I mean the kind of change brought about by Muhammad Yunus (Nobel Peace Prize winner for 2006) and the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. Yunus showed that it is possible to lend to the poor and in doing so, he managed to create a new way of doing business – a kind of “not-for-shareholder capitalism”.
The social business would be one that is a partner to the local needs of the region. Maybe defined outside the legal frameworks that are in use today for profit and non-profit organizational forms, the social business, for example like Grameen Bank, could be owned by its customers. Of course, it would need to be supported (and there is plenty of scope for private and public partnership to make this work) by R&D, finance, support centers etc.
Its an intriguing idea. Can we make students, parents, teachers, educationists and administrators actual stakeholders in a social enterprise? Can we think of a network of such businesses working together to meet national level planning goals? I think we can, but it will require a major shift in perspective.
Such a model will leverage local resources to the maximum, thus alleviating the need for massive and centralized planning and execution of schemes for scholarships, disadvantaged sections, setting up infrastructure etc. The opening up of scale would render these businesses attractive for not only social investment but also for private capital and R&D.
Bring down barriers
For these to be successful, we must bring down a lot of barriers. Let us take, for example, the issue of having enough skilled teachers (not only new recruitment, but also in-service teachers). Models which can leverage existing skills such as the Teach For India movement or the Teach India movement by the Times of India are important movements that seek to break down the barriers with clear empowerment of a specific class of people. I think we are ignoring the informal coaching/tuition sector massively too. What if we strategically empowered this segment, which has a lot of skill and experience and reach, to be counted as regular teachers in our system through a process of certification and training?
Could we lower barriers elsewhere? John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid suggest an interesting model in The Social Life of Information. They suggest that we democratize the degree granting function itself. Typically universities and special institutions are degree granting bodies (DGBs). Suppose we were to enable the local art and craft guild to also take on a degree granting role? Further these DGBs could empanel local scholars/formal teachers certified to teach students as per the needs of the guild.
Faculty could find their own facilities, whether for teaching or for research. Technology, libraries, LABs and classrooms could all be pressed into service with this model. Further, private investment could be welcomed to set up, say, 2000 K5 libraries in a specific region. And remote scholars could become consultants for students, teachers or the DGB itself.
The other lowering of barriers is in the flow of information and the connectedness of communities. In India, the networks of practice do not have a strong digital presence. As a result, thinking at all levels cannot leverage collective insight, serendipitous combustion of ideas and all the other benefits of social media.
This kind of a distributed and democratic system will benefit from the lowering of traditional barriers in accreditation, teacher certification, number and type of certifications/degrees etc.
Models such as these could be made to work in my opinion and more effectively than we are doing today. As always, would invite critical opinion.