The alternative learning concept is catching up fast. Your thoughts on the same.
Right to Education (RTE) entails that all students in the age group 6 to 14 must get education as per the national curriculum framework, and must have the minimum capabilities in mathematics, language and social sciences. So, this is a non-negotiable territory. I believe in experimentation—there are many formats that people can use, and are using. What many schools are doing today is—after the CBSE or state board attendance—they take three hours extra, and give additional inputs to the students. Up to class 5, they can teach anything and build capacities, but ultimately the child has to be admitted in a formal school. Alternative school has the alternative concept of imparting education, content, pedagogy, and everything. But, today we are taking cue from all this. We are also giving five dimensions to education to add value to our education system. We had this national workshop—the chintan shivir—where five groups had worked on digital education, physical education, value education, life skill education, and experiential learning. All these are important dimensions of education, and we know that many alternative schools have done this successfully.
Whether we can incorporate the good outcomes of alternative schooling into the mainstream is an open idea. Education needs to be improved every day. Students have enormous capacity, but teachers must be trained properly. If motivated, they can bring in a revolution, and it is already happening. In Maharashtra, more than 1,20,000 teachers from government schools are actively connected to each other through the digital medium, and are making their own videos. They communicate through Skype. That is also an alternative form of education. In India, we have had a tradition of gurukuls and ved paatashalas. Jaggi Vasudev has a different kind of school, but as I said, all of them have to align to the state board or the CBSE.
Is there an alternative learning school or concept that has impressed you?
In Maharashtra, I have seen there are many agricultural labourers who move from one place to another. So, their kids find it difficult to get schooling. But, there used to be schools in areas where there was sugarcane cultivation—not a very formal structure with buildings, but there are two teachers, and the kids can continue with their learning for the four months. That is also an important aspect of alternative education—it has to tackle the problem of students on the move. But, these kind of schools were declared illegal after RTE. Their numbers are in thousands, and they were doing a valuable job.
As you mentioned, are you looking to include some of these alternative learning concepts into the mainstream?
Yes, if they are good, feasible, and can be incorporated. We have to be open. That is why we have organised this brainstorming in the form of chintan shivir. After this, we will take whatever is feasible. I have not gone through the law—how, where and what can be changed, but there is a need for continuous education, community participation, participation of motivated teachers, different content, and there has to be experimentation in education. I understand that alternative education is quite big because we have five lakh students giving exams through open school every year.
Are you doing anything particularly for alternate schools through National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS)?
NIOS framework is already in place; so, I am not tinkering there. But, I do believe that there is a scope for alternative thinking, alternative education and experimentation. That is why everybody is coming to mainstream. They have found out their way. The practical form of alternative education in India is some form of experimentation done by keeping the students engaged in mainstream education, but after additional inputs are given.
Many alternative schools have IITians and even doctors as teachers... They teach because they have a passion for education. But, they may not be having a regular BEd, which is now compulsory under the RTE Act. Is there any plan to address this anomaly?
There is nothing called voluntary teaching. It can be an information lecture, but you can not call it teaching. Teaching is an art and science. Having said that, we are revamping the whole teacher education system, bringing the concept of integrated BEd, where one can do BA BEd, or BSc BEd as a four-year course. Those who want to become teachers can opt for such courses. Pedagogical training in all teacher training modules is very essential. Apart from that, I want community participation. In Maharashtra, teachers’ movements have resulted is society contributing towards digital boards, and digital education, to the extent of 0600 crore. This entire amount was contributed by the community, so you can understand the impact of community participation. In higher education, we are encouraging industry experts with experience of 10-15 years, to become professors after a small course.
Alternative schools have high hopes from the new education policy (NEP). Is it going to be a part of the new policy?
Dr Kasturirangan [head, panel on NEP] can answer that better. The draft that comes to us will be discussed, and we will decide on the course. The NEP will take into account future challenges for one generation, particularly next 20 years, and see what are the challenges, developments, opportunities and how we can optimise. And, this [alternative education] should get incorporated into the NEP.