It’s education, stupid!

Even the political parties in Kerala have accepted the need for education reform. The Times of India reports, “For the first time, political parties have accepted that education sector in the state is facing quality erosion” (The steep learning curve, May 8, 2016). It is a welcome sign, as admission of a problem is the first step for finding a solution.

Former vice chancellor of M G University A Sukumaran Nair correctly says, “the practice of blindly aping one system or other should be discouraged.” However, the problems facing education in Kerala are deeper than a matter of curriculum development and eliminating political interference. The whole education system in Kerala needs an overhaul.

The current education model is as follows. Teachers with the correct credentials teach approved syllabus conforming to the authorized curriculum. Students are expected to become knowledgeable at least to a minimum level of the prescribed syllabus, verified through gating examinations. Those passing the examinations are declared qualified and are granted certificates making them eligible to apply for different job categories and other education opportunities. This model worked and was sufficient when the British were ruling India, and wanted the graduates to function only in supporting roles.

Current system is obsolete and we need people who excel and have leadership capabilities in all fields. For this the education system needs both structural and content changes.

Internet makes easy access to information, knowledge and experts globally. Individual skills required now are different from what what was needed when economy was operating in geographically bound silo-ed economies. People now need a broad understanding of all areas of human activities, and specialized skill in areas of their choosing to have successful careers. Education systems need change to help people achieve these goals.

In Kerala, rather than the current monolithic structure there should be two tracks. First track for those with an aptitude for knowledge for its own sake, or for self fulfillment. This track can be developed to fill the research and academic roles in the economy. The second track is for those interested in learning skills and acquiring knowledge to have a successful career in business/ industry. This track fulfills the need of both business and technical jobs in the economy. Students should have the freedom to pick and choose courses from either of these tracks.

Instead of the current gating examinations, the education institutions need to implement continuous evaluations, to have assurance that the graduates have a minimum knowledge and skills in the relevant field/ area. These evaluations have to be more granular than the current degree programs such as science, arts, engineering, etc. For example, basic programming, network administration, social media marketing, graphical design for advertising, bookkeeping, etc. These training/ education also need to be available a la carte so that students do not have to complete two/ three year degree/ diploma to obtain skills/ knowledge they are interested in.

The Kerala education overhaul will be successful, if it is implemented as part of an industrial development initiative. No education reform can be successful if the students do not have job opportunities in the state and have to migrate for jobs. With a viable industrial development plan, apprenticeships, internships and teacher enrichment programs can be implemented to provide feedback for necessary changes and defining/ refining education requirements.

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