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Education and the Budget

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

By Ian Davies, Head of School, Garodia International Centre for Learning, Mumbai

‘India is doing very nicely’ is a theme of this year’s budget. Her economy is now the seventh largest in the world: a ‘2.5 trillion-dollar economy’. Likewise, there is a signaled GDP growth of 7.2% to 7.55 for the second half of the year. This is not a complacent budget as there is one telling comment which states that: ‘the quality of education is still a cause of serious concern’. Whilst there is a recognition that the ‘quality of teachers can improve the quality of education’ the main action suggested is that ‘technology will be the biggest driver in improving the quality of education’.

As an educator, this is a dilemma that is constantly debated: the human elements of learning against the technological ones. Which is more effective in producing results? Is one more cost effective than another? I am not someone who is like an ostrich with their head stuck in the sand trying to ignore the impact of technology. Rather, as educationalists we have embraced the good aspects of technology which enables students to develop 21st century skills of research and communication to greater levels. However, technology is a tool that must be utilized carefully in learning only at the right time and in the right context. It is not a replacement for the good teaching and learning initiated and conducted by teachers. Beautiful rows of computers in school, the proliferation of touchpads and laptops amongst students and schools that have so called 1:1 environments are not necessarily better schools or in actual fact actually achieving better results. On the contrary, some high achieving schools in Australia are withdrawing technology from the classroom claiming that the distraction away from learning is hindering progress.

What this emphasizes is that you cannot replace the human element in learning: the key role of good, highly trained teachers. Agreed, the budget recognizes this, but sees technology as the answer to improving teacher quality moving gradually from the ‘black board to the digital board’. Let me comment: a ‘digital board’ is in my opinion simply a glorified and more expensive ‘black board’. The point is that the student is still drawn to a central ‘learning board’ in the classroom. So what? Well, modern understandings about learning suggest that the revolution in classrooms comes more from creating an ‘active environment’: one where students collaborate and where data of all kinds are subjected to higher order critical thinking skills. The biggest issues in learning today are about transfer, about how to incorporate metacognitive practice and about how to foster better social skills in students so that their learning is improved. Simply, it is about how to improve the human elements and understandings in learning. Technology cannot do that easily.

The Government’s recognition about improving teacher education is definitely to be applauded. But, perhaps it is with a caveat that this training should enable our future teachers to understand the nature of learning from a human perspective and, by perhaps creating a mentorship scheme using recognized teachers of excellence nationwide, we actually do have the human resources to fund this. Technology may be another methodology of bringing these people together. So, behind the technology must come the clarity of thought about what is its purpose?

Finally, as a relative newcomer to India I can only speak with a certain amount of trepidation and realization that I have much to learn. Personally, I think we should be positive and support the government’s declared aim for improvement and try our very best as educators to influence the spending in the right manner.  As the honorable Minister of Finance Arun Jaitley said: ‘The New India which we aspire to create now will emerge’.

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