Thursday, January 29, 2009

On “Quality of Education”

“Quality of Education” has been the topic of intense debate among educationalists, policy makers, teachers and general public for years now. The debate occurred in the scared halls of national assembly, educational conferences, online forums and day-to-day gossips. The general consensus is that the “quality of education” has deteriorated in recent years. Fortunately for policy makers and unfortunately for teachers, every little blames is put on teachers.

Firstly, we will have to agree on what “quality of education” really means. Is it how much materials have the students memorized? Is it how well the students can read, write and speak English or Dzongkha? Or is it about what percentage of students fails or passes the board examinations? Perhaps could it be the variety of talents that the student possesses? Or is it about how well prepared the students are in the job market? May be it’s a combination of all of the above qualities. We will have to come to a common consensus on what is “quality of education” to debate about it. If we consider above mentioned entities as “quality of education”, it is illogical to say that the “quality of education” has declined in recent years. While some of them might have been worse; some of those qualities are better off now than they were years ago.

The main objective of education is to question and search for the higher truth. Hence “quality of education” is how well prepared the students (youths) are to tackle the present and future challenges. The youths of today are faced with a completely different reality than our parents did years ago. Competition has drastically increased, expectations are high and demands for excellence in specialized fields are soaring ever more. On the other hand, apathetic parents and elders are still comparing and contrasting what they could do years ago to what the youths can do today in total disregard to the environment. Therefore it is totally unfair to claim that the “quality of education” that today’s youth are receiving is not as good as the ones received during “good” old times.

Our education system is still based on “Traditional Learning System” which basically does not allow creativity and innovation in the curriculum. Discussions and debates on topics of academic interest are nonexistent. Teachers read exactly what is written in the textbook and declares “syllabus covered” once they finish reading the book. Even creative writings like poems are taught only for the sake of literal meaning. Most of the examinations are “recall memory” test where the students are asked dates and names rather than the actual context of events and practical applications of theories. This teaching and learning system can never prepare our youths to face the challenges in an information age. These are signs of failing curriculum which in turn is the result of failed policies. In fact, our elder generations should have foreseen those changing trends and adapted our system to the changing world if they really did receive better education. Unfortunately, prudence happened to be a meager resource.

Some people argue that the quality of education cannot be any better or worse than quality of teacher. This argument underestimates the importance of “system” itself. If the system doesn’t facilitate in the creation of an academic environment where creativity and innovation is encouraged, good teachers will not serve any purpose. Students will have to be taught about the importance of independent thinking, so that the present trend of borrowing each others' notebook is seen as something unworthy. Teachers should try to act as a catalyst for students to participate in active discussions and exchange their budding ideas rather than being a source of idea. The distribution of teachers should be uniform. At present, some schools have three different teacher to teach some subjects (like a teacher each for organic, inorganic and physical chemistry) while some schools have no teachers at all. This is morally unfair since all students have to take the same exams. The development of infrastructures like libraries will have to be given utmost importance. At the very least, we need books and journals (if not Internet facilities) so that our young minds will be able to explore for ideas.

Just creating an interactive curriculum in classrooms will not have much impact on the society. What use will the knowledge gained in classrooms have if it can’t help the people who are in need? In order to make the new ideas practical, we will have to create a space where practical applications of theories can be made possible. Perhaps it will not be hard to come up with an annual “Innovation” festival where youths from different parts of country can build connections and collaborations. This festival can serve as a space where they can show their artistic and scientific talents. Let it serve as a space where they can show the fruits of their hard work. Let it serve as an environment where talents lying on the extremes of spectrum can be “fusioned”.

With the advancement of technology, our youths will face tougher competition and challenges. They will not be able to march along with the world without an environment in which creativity and innovation is encouraged. If we create a learning environment of dynamism and competition, our youths will be able to face the hard challenges of present and future without difficulty and our elders will not have to worry about the deteriorating “quality of education.”

[ Note: An edited version of this article has been published by BhutanObserver - a private news paper based in Thimphu, Bhutan. Click here read it.]

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