By Sneha Priya, CEO & Co-founder of SPRW
A cursory look at the list of the largest companies in the world, or the most valuable startups serves as a reminder that we live in the knowledge era. The most valuable assets in this era are not giant factories, warehouses or land banks. Where scientific discoveries, research and creativity are the engines that run the system, the knowledge of the workers participating in it and intellectual property are the non-finite resource of fuel. Financial capital can be used up but knowledge is not limited and can be shared without the fear of depletion.
According to the World Bank, a knowledge economy rests on four pillars.
- Institutional structures that incentivize entrepreneurship and the use of knowledge
- Availability of skilled labour.
- Access to information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure
- A vibrant innovation landscape that includes academia, private sector, and civil society
Other than infrastructure, every other pillar in itself rests on the foundations of a robust education system that produces human capital of a very high order. Which is why the New Education Policy (NEP), announced by the government last month is perhaps one of the most important reform measures and a necessary condition for achieving any of the ambitious targets be it, Aatmanirbhar Bharat, Make in India or making India a $5 trillion economy.
India’s education system has been crying out loud for a reboot. The symptoms are in plain sight at every level of the system. Just about one in four Grade 3 students can read their textbooks and only 50% of Grade 5 are able to read a Grade 2 text. This learning deficit proves almost impossible to bridge in subsequent years and produces terrible outcomes at the other end of the education spectrum. While some 12 million young Indians enter the workforce every year, and the country has the largest pool of university graduates worldwide and it produces more women graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) than anywhere else, the quality of the end product is often poor. A whopping 75% of the technical graduates and 90% with a graduate degree in sciences, humanities and commerce are not employment worthy.
In the NEP, there is a welcome recognition that the leak has to be plugged right at the source that is elementary education. The proposals will bring the much-required change to the education system which was otherwise tethered to textbooks and prioritised rote learning and exams. The NEP’s recommendations will give freedom to both students and teachers to step beyond the defined boundary and explore new forms of learning.
Success in the knowledge era is contingent upon a strong STEM base. To address that, the NEP rightly stresses the importance of the inclusion of experiential learning by focussing on how maths and science ought to be taught in schools.
A recent survey we conducted showed that falling interest in math and science among children has a strong correlation to how the subjects are taught. Drilling down formulae and arithmetic shortcuts without a firm conceptual grounding can only be counterproductive. According to researchers, three fields of learning are desirable when children are in school: Conceptual knowledge (say in chemistry, physics or biology about the flow of blood or gravity), procedural knowledge or skills such as fixing a light bulb or making a cup of tea of varying strengths, and higher-order reasoning skills.
It is quite heartening that the NEP focuses on all three in different ways. Creating clubs and subject-related interest group communities can make learning fun and competitively playful, like playing a game with peers. The emphasis on open-ended questions, that the NEP tries to promote, will help build curiosity amongst students to understand the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ instead of just the ‘whats’. A better conceptual understanding and experiential learning abets creativity and encourages children to think up elegant solutions to everyday problems using a multidisciplinary approach.
Another important recommendation of the NEP is about making coding compulsory in middle school. Our economy is heavily dependent on IT, especially in times of an unprecedented crisis that we are currently facing. This experience demands that it’s time we take this to the next step and prepare our children for the future.
The NEP is on point to highlight the importance of coding right at the early schooling stage as robotics and automation is the next big thing, even after the spectre of the pandemic eventually fades away. If today’s generation adapts their skills in STEM education, they will be trained by the time they grow up saving all their time for research rather than learning it all over again. In the long run, this will help give birth to a host of entrepreneurs across sectors giving a boost to Start-up India and Aatmanirbhar Bharat.