Schooling vs Education

Visiting schools and interacting with students fills one with conflicting feelings. Hope – at the tremendous potential that today’s children have and alarm – that our education system is designed to try and snuff that potential out!

The children that make it to that ‘creamy layer’ that creates our much vaunted IT and engineering story, our entrepreneurial hero class, our industry achievers – they have ‘made it’ inspite of, rather than because of the education system. In some cases, they have benefited from the few exceptions - good schools led by forward thinking leaders and teachers who have taken the time and effort to provide their students with the values and skills that will aid their success tomorrow. But they are clearly a minority.

Most schools are happy churning out ‘memory machines’ – with the only goal of making the cut off marks necessary to get into the higher education course and institution of their choice. Getting children to be ‘curious, confident, creative’ – to learn to communicate well, problem solve, get ‘real life ready’, to work in teams – often takes place through chance rather than by design. Most often those goals aren’t even on the curriculum map.

More and more senior executives lament how from the hordes of candidates that line up for jobs they can barely find the employable few. Impressive certificates, awesome marks do not translate into competence and preparedness for the ‘world at work’ today. Companies spend fortunes running training programmes hoping to repair the damage that fifteen to nineteen years of so called education has inflicted. But that’s a lot of time and money splurged at the wrong end of the talent pipeline.

Isn’t it time to shift the focus from ‘repair’ to ‘prepare’? To do the work of value and skill building where it stands the best chance of being sustained – right at the start. At schools.

This isn’t necessarily popular. It is too far behind in the talent pipeline to be attractive to corporate India. For parents – it is graduation, the IIT or medical college seat – the immediate milestone after schooling that matters most. Real life skills seem too unreal to be spending time on now. But this must change. If we have to tap that famous ‘demographic dividend’ – India having over half its population in the productive 15-64 age group and a fifth in the launch pad 18-24 group – we have to ensure we substitute schooling for ‘real’ education.

A system that allows today’s students to imbibe the values, attitudes, skills and habits that will make them as future Indians not only employment and entrepreneurship ready, but leadership ready. For aren’t much of today’s problems a symptom of that – a lack of leadership? Poverty, corruption, social inequality, the status of women – all the result of a lack of will and resolve to take a stand, and the skills to make a difference.

For this change to happen, tinkering won’t do. A re-haul is in order. Parents have to start with different expectations. School leadership has to be prepared to challenge the status quo. Teaching has to evolve to meet the new needs. Education ministries and departments have to ask themselves what is required to ensure that we move from ‘just covering ground, to cultivating something in it”.

And for students – well – Carpe Diem – seize the day. Tomorrow is yours, prepare well for it today.