Schools, Skills, Teachers, and the Taught
Let me dive into the heart of the word ‘skills’ to clarify that it is not necessarily about being able to use whatsapp to communicate nor is it about being able to play chess with multiple competitors simultaneously. However, if proficiency in chess leads to enhancing critical thinking or creative thinking, then yes the game is indeed having an umbilical connection to skill learning. If the ability to message sensibly on whatsapp helps a person understand the finer nuances of interpersonal relationship, then yes even this qualifies as a skill catalyst.
Now that we are clear on the way I perceive the connection of life with skills, let me add that it is the job of a teacher to connect students with skills that are ultimately going to impact life. I was rather happy to stumble upon a list of ten basic life skills that was probably compiled by a group of thinkers in the UNICEF. They consider self-awareness, empathy, problem solving, decision making, effective communication, interpersonal relations, creative thinking, critical thinking, coping with emotions and coping with stress as the base for an academic as well as a pragmatic appreciation of life. The truth is that without able guidance there is no way anyone can even understand the significance of the listed skills and they shall then be nothing more than a set of wild and whirling concepts that politicians so often use to remain in the headlines of newspapers.
Each of the skills mentioned is an abstract concept that needs to be connected to some activity that will end up making living and earning a livelihood easier. Without this connection the concepts will be nothing but a bunch of words that a teacher may write on a black-board and the students may or may not copy. Even memorising this list is going to be of no use. Only a pragmatic connect is what helps. Are our school teachers really geared up to do this?
A leading daily from India talks about the low accountability among teachers and quotes a UNESCO survey mentioning the dismissal of just one teacher by one headmaster in over 3000 government schools in contrast to 35 headmasters from just 600 private schools asking teachers from their schools to find an alternative job. I have picked up these figures to show how vital it is to have trained and motivated teachers in our schools… particularly the government schools. This is because it is the government schools that take education nearer the masses for whom private schools are almost inaccessible.
There is definite link between skills taught to children and the preparedness of our teachers. There are steps that the government is keen to initiate and which involves both those teachers who are yet considering taking up a school teaching job, as well as those who are already in service. NGOs and world bodies like UNICEF have taken the lead and are attempting to mould the mind-set of teachers as a first step. After all, it is only an inspired and motivated teacher who can lead students towards a holistic understanding of what are really abstract concepts.
Right to education needs to be supported by Right to Skills… and this right isn’t possible unless it is linked to the duties of a teacher where accountability is naturally woven in. Look at the state of our government schools in smaller towns and the rural belts… there are cases of missing teachers reported almost every day. The truth is that these reports are only the tip of the iceberg and what this means is that there is hardly any meaningful teaching going on. Only mid-day meals cannot be the fore-runner of life-skills… because all that it teaches is to say yes to something for the sake of food.
It is teachers who need to be trained in the concept of life-skills and then there should be enough motivation for them to go and teach even in places that are far away from cities and towns. They need to go and teach every day because they love doing this and not just to escape administrative crack-downs or the ire of village folk.
Education can be the key to success in life only if it linked to actions that lead to prosperity. It is these little links that the teachers can subtly weave into daily learning. This is one action that has the power to improve the gross-enrolment rate or GER of children in primary, upper-primary, secondary and senior secondary levels. From 2008-09 to 2010-11, state-wise, year-wise and gender-wise surveys have indicated that a lot needs to be done. In response to a Lok Sabha unstarred question no. 2296 on 18 December 2013, the figures quoted for GER were 116.7 at the Primary level (Class I-V), 83.1 at the Upper Primary level (Class VI-VIII), 60.8 at the Secondary level (Class IX-X) and36.1 at the Senior Secondary Level (Class XI-XII).
A pertinent query of any right thinking individual can be: How do we teach the teacher? Well, I looked within myself and discovered that over the years I have been following the way technology moves and keeping up with it gave me a definite edge. Reading fiction has helped me. Interacting with people from varied professions has given me a lot of insights. And I have also ensured that I do not shirk from expressing myself even on subjects that I do not know much about… this gives me an opportunity to explore, diversify my base of information, and remain meaningful. Reinventing my goals has helped me. Now, if I as an individual can do this, why can’t our teachers follow this simple path?
A simpler solution is to have our government encourage teachers to adopt technology, have libraries set up, and integrate discussions and debates into a normal day at school. Schools, skills, teachers, and the taught need to not only absorb but also learn to communicate the good, bad, and ugly conclusions without any fear. We have a lot of infrastructure… all we need is to walk the right way.
About the author:
Arvind Passey began his professional life marching up and down the drill square of the Indian Military Academy as a gentleman cadet and ended his job-era playing hide-&-seek with media teams as the Head of Corporate Communications. A few of the 1800+ poems written by him are published in journals in India & UK but the rest still in notebooks, loose sheets, penned on napkins, and in computer files. He has had short-stories published in anthologies and articles in The Education Post, The Huffington Post, Business Insider, InsightBuzzar, & MarketingBuzzar. He dreams of travelling to every country in the world… and of finally completing his first novel. On the social media he is /arvindpassey everywhere. Blog: http://passey.info