Dr Kathan Shukla, faculty member of IIM, Ahmedabad, speaks on educational innovations, gamification, project-based learning, the impact of artificial intelligence on education, and the National Education Policy (NEP), 2020
Dr Kathan Shukla is currently the chairperson of the Ravi J. Matthai Centre for Educational Innovation (RJMCEI) at IIM, Ahmedabad. After completing his graduation and postgraduation in physics in India, Dr Shukla pursued an MEd in Education Psychology followed by a PhD in Educational Research, Statistics & Evaluation, from the US. He joined IIM, Ahmedabad in 2016.
Some of the courses he teaches at IIM, Ahmedabad are ‘Enterprise and Innovations in Education’ ‘Gamification, Technology and Learning Motivation’ and ‘How to Motivate Students for Learning’.
He is involved in two significant research projects. One is on the ‘Influence of School Climate on Students’ Psychoeducational Outcomes’. It is based on a statewide study of around 33,000 primary schools. The second project is on ‘Helping School Students Deal with Gender and Adolescence Related Issues’.
We bring you an engaging interview with Dr Shukla.
- Could you give some examples of simple yet impactful educational innovations?
A.Educational innovations are usually solutions found by teachers or principals to problems that they identify. I will describe two simple innovations I have found impactful.
A Delhi government school principal,who wanted the students and parents to engage more with the school,has introduced a folder for every child from class 1. All the major events related to the child are put in this ‘Individual Learning Portfolio’. Test reports, photos of the child participating in co-curricular activities, video clips of the child speaking or reading in class, are all part of the folder. This is a small, low-cost innovation that is not very time-consuming, but makes a big impact. Parents and child can access this repository of information. This innovation creates a huge amount of emotional engagement for parents.
The second interesting innovation involves the gamification of physics learning by a teacher in a school in Vallabh Vidyanagar in Gujarat. The teacher felt that students were learning physics in a very superficial manner. He created ‘physics cricket’, a quiz game using the rules of cricket. He would announce the ‘match’ in advance based on particular chapters of the physics textbook so that students could prepare well. By capitalising on the interest of children in cricket, he made learning physics more interesting for them.
2. What are the best ways of motivating students for learning?
A.There are four things an educator can do to motivate learners:
Sense of belonging: A very important thing that can be done to trigger intrinsic motivation is to create an environment where children feel a sense of belonging. Schools which invest in engaging the students emotionally have better academic outcomes.
A degree of autonomy: While the learning objectives and timelines should be clear, there should be some degree of flexibility given to the learner. Autonomy brings mutual respect.
Competence building: There should be a constant focus on competence building. There should be clarity about where the learners are and where they have to get to in terms of competence.
Confidence building: The educator should build a child’s confidence. Feedback should be honest. But a fine balance has to be maintained between motivating a child to do better and ensuringthat the child’s confidence is not shaken.
3. How can gamification and technology be used to motivate students?
A.If education is thought of as just a content delivery mechanism, there is a problem. Gamification is one way to avoid this. Within education, gamification is a powerful tool to keep students engaged and enrich the learning experience. Educators can devise an engaging gamified experience with teams, rules, expectations, competition, points tables and bonuses. Technology is very useful in this regard.
4. What do you think of the impact of ChatGPT on education?
A.With AI, educators get concerned about how they will evaluate students. But they should stop testing memory and assess higher order thinking instead. They can frame questions such that students are forced to think. Again, there could be multi-component assessment. For instance, off-device assessments as well as open book exams.
ChatGPT can assist teachers as well. For instance, a teacher could ask the AI tool how calculus can be explained to class 3 students in an Indian context. This way AI can be used to make learning more interesting and relatable. Or, the teacher could ask ChatGPT how the ‘Chhota Bheem’ story can be used to explain the water cycle to young children. This will add creativity to the teaching process. ChatGPT can also be used to create quizzes and tests on a particular chapter.
5. What is your opinion on the recent focus on project-based learning?
A.Project-based learning is the way forward.It develops the critical thinking and problem-solving skills of a child. Children start thinking on their own. It also fosters peer engagement and learning as team work is an integral part of the system. But there is a lot of variation in schools that adopt this system. Good schools do many things right. The major one is to have highly skilled and motivated teachers/facilitators.
6. Where is India when it comes to inclusive education for the challenged?
A.We are becoming an aware society but if you look at global best practices we are lagging far behind. In our country, mainstream educational boards and good schools are also struggling to handle children with visual impairment, learning disability or cerebral palsy. You can imagine the plight of children studying in government schools. Among the Children With Special Needs (CWSN), those with physical challenges can be identified and their needs addressed more easily. But in the case of mental challenges, even diagnosis is a problem. But providing access and support systems for CWSN is an ongoing effort.
7. How can technology be leveraged to improve access to education?
A.To improve access to education in rural areas and among underprivileged children, most state governments have their own learning apps. Gujarat has ‘G-Shala’ through which all children in the state can get the curriculum, text and videos, assignments and assessments in Gujarati.
However, the usage of such apps is low for two reasons. One, the penetration of internet and smartphones is limited. Two, motivation of the child to use the phone as a tool for learning is low. Phones are seen as socialising and entertainment devices. Who is there to motivate the child to use the learning app?We have not cracked that yet. There is need for teachers who care and involvement of schools to make children accountable.
8. What are the aspects of the school climate you consider important?
A.We have identified some the dimensions of a school’s climate that are in the hands of principals and teachers. For instance, a disciplinary structure where the policies are clear, implementation is consistent and fairness to students is assured. The second thing a school can do to create a conducive learning environment is to be responsive to the students and give them a feeling of safety. Any child facing a problem should feel that he or she will be heard and efforts will be made to find a solution to the problem. Students should develop this confidence in the school. The third aspect is the academic climate which should be both demanding and supportive. It’s a fine balance.
9. How can educators help students deal with issues of gender and adolescence?
A.Various governments are trying different things on this issue. Understanding gender and other adolescent issues come under the non-academic outcomes of education. I will focus on three issues:
Bullying: Sensitising students against bullying and creating a safe and supportive climate in school is vital. Our centre has developed models on bullying prevention.
Gender sensitisation: Curriculum wise, the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) is paying a lot of attention to this matter. However, sometimes there is a hidden curriculum and,unknowingly, teachers may exhibit biases. While the textbook may say something, it can be interpreted differently by teachers.
We have to nudge children to think differently. A scientist need not be man. The decision maker at their home could be a woman. We have to expose children to diverse role models. Education can break reproduction of biases and stereotypes that exist in society. For this, teachers must be trained to be gender sensitive. Also, community awareness has to be built especially in rural areas.
Diversity and inclusivity: The third issue is to expose adolescents to the religious, caste and linguistic diversity in the country and promote inclusivity in all ways.We have prepared a series of small case studies. For instance, we had one case study on a boy who had a very shrill voice. Whenever he wanted to speak or perform before an audience of students, they would laugh at him. This case study is discussed with students to create a more inclusive classroom where everybody is respected and it is accepted that it is fine to be different.
10. What are your thoughts on NEP 2020?
A. NEP 2020 is well-intentioned, but the policy document is silent on several significant matters. I will highlight a few.
At the school level:
Private players: There is no clarity on the perception of the role of private players. About 30 per cent kids go to private schools. Do we think of private schools as profiteers? Or do we recognise, among the private players, the not-for-profit trusts who are doing genuine work. Directions for the regulatory mechanism for the role of private players in education are very superficial and vague.
Parallel education system: There is no discussion on the parallel education system, especially at the high school level – the presence of dummy schools and coaching centers. The NEP does mention that the coaching culture should be discouraged but there is no clarity on what should be done.
Focus on two cadres: There is focus only on two cadres in the education sector – teachers and teacher educators. To improve quality of education we need several kinds of experts. We need a cadre of curriculum experts, testing and measurement experts, educational statisticians, administrators, psychologists, and others. Our school system needs to create space for these specialized cadres at district and state levels and universities need to offer programmes for their development.
At the higher education level:
Leadership structure: As state universities are funded by state governments, appointments of vice chancellors are political in nature. In the US, an independent board appoints the head of a university from among the best available globally.
The candidate has to have a viable five-year plan and a clear road map to improve teaching and research across various disciplines and generate required resources. This creates a very different ecosystem in the universities in that country. It is unclear how our institutional leadership is held accountable for the quality of teaching and research.
Quality of institutions: At present, about 18 per cent of high school graduates get into the university system in India. The target is to increase this to 30 per cent by 2030. However, government on its own cannot facilitate this. Private players need to pitch in. But the quality of private institutions is often not as claimed. We need a robust regulatory mechanism. A highly reliable system of accreditation and assessment of higher education institutions is vital.