Smart Classroom, Internet of Things (IoT), mobile apps for learning and talk of progressive education is now changing our very thought process on how to improve our learning process in schools and colleges. Fatima Agarkar, renowned educationist and Co-Founder, KA EduAssociates, feels that today’s children are wired differently to adopt to multiple strategies of learning but our parents need to orient themselves to new-age learning.
Fatima who holds an MBA from England,was adjudged Education World’s top 50 young educators in 2014 and also the recipient of several awards for outstanding contribution to education. Wife of Ajit Agarkar, former international cricketer, she was involved in the setting up of three premier K-12 national and international schools in Mumbai. KA EduAssociates is involved in improving the quality of teachers, training and educating the parents and ensuring that best global practices are implemented in India.
She tells Sreekumar Raghavan of Corporate Ethos that her aim is to bring back the joy of learning into the lives of children.
1) Indian education system whether in schools or colleges are said to be a legacy of the British raj or other western education models and focussed on memorizing, passive learning with students forced to accumulate knowledge than skills. Having been educated abroad and India, do you see this distinction in our style of education compared to global institutions?
It’s been 25 years that I have passed out from school,so things are different now than what they were back then. But fundamentally we haven’t changed too many things. This is because we largely work with an assessment pattern that has been endorsed by the National Board Of Education and takes you towards concentrating on checking whether children know facts. So,the changes are been brought about now but that remains the big facet of our education system where we are very knowledge based. There is nothing to do with the accessibility, practicality or relevance. This has nothing to do with the fact that this was adopted from abroad or this was home-grown by Indians. I think as educators we borrow from each other’s learnings. Fundamentally our assessment patterns in the country are what they are which is, ‘Asking for facts’and the system follows it. Changes are taking place and some of the newer schools are leading the way. They are talking about ‘Project based learning’ and ‘ Inquiry based learning’. I did see the difference personally between India and overseas. One of the first thing I struggled with was, it took me time to participate in a case study because I was never exposed to it. This is a vital facet that was missing back then. But I think that is changing now!
2) The Union HRD Minister has stated that NCERT Syllabus will be reduced by half from academic year 2019 onwards and it will be replaced with activity- oriented learning? How do you respond to this initiative and what are your thoughts on how this could be implemented?
As an educator I don’t welcome content being reduced because I think knowledge is still the most crucial aspect. The move is towards saying that children need to learn and understand more as opposed to just memorizing. I think it’s a welcome move which demonstrates that we are more focused now on activity-based learning and projects, giving teachers more time to come up with a hands-on way to educate the children. I think more or less the focus should be on how to teach and I am glad that is the focus now.
3)There have been several experiments, innovations in education such as setting up of Rishi Valley schools by J Krishnamurti Foundation and Jawahar Navodaya Public schools by India Government. You have also guided the setting up three premier international schools in Mumbai. In your view, how are these schools different from the traditional schools and how can it be replicated across the nation?
– Very simply all the progressive schools are focused on the fact that ‘Every child matters and every child learns differently’. I can’t walk into a classroom and expect my teacher to have only one strategy. All progressive schools talk the same language i.e., how we were able to bring in a differentiated attitude in how each child receives information. With some cases I may need to come up with group work to ensure that the non-verbal students are taking to their next level while the verbal students are stimulated enough. So the customization of the curriculum is a big aspect of progressive schools to focus on upgrading teacher skills. I also strongly feel there has to be an improvement in parental communication. A lot more investment should be done in orienting parents to new-age learning, thinking, moving away from getting excited about getting a 100/100. I think the focus of progressive schools should be on enhancing communication skills.
4)You have had extensive experience in teacher training. How do you rate their proficiency and skills in teaching? Could you specify the areas where they need to focus on to be on par with global benchmarks?
– The fact here is, if you’re a 21st century teacher, you are responsible for the generation that is going to graduate in the next 13 or 14 years. For the generations beyond, teachers need to focus on enhancing the end product. In our country, there are very few progressive schools as compared to traditional educational institutions who are very comfortable teaching not facilitating. When we speak about teachers we need to comprehend their strength areas and understand the fact that everybody can’t be an all-rounder.Like in sports, some specialise in batting,while some are good at bowling and then there are a few all-rounders. So, there is a customization in teacher training modules and that has been our biggest success.
5) Parents are the first teachers and guide of any child. In India, parents have a very big role to play from what kids learn from Kindergarten stage to post graduation and even influence the careers they opt for. In your interactions with parents which are the key issues that you address and do you think they need to indulge less on the studies and more about their behavior, attitudes and manners or coping with adversities?
Honestly, parents play an equal role to educators. It is their responsibility towards the children and somewhere parent’s mind set’s also needs to recognize that perhaps, in our era 100/100 in a subject like Math was our greatest achievement. Today although kids score a 100/100, something more is expected out of them when they go in for reputed universities, placements or jobs. Therefore, the parents need to recognize that the shift is more towards the softer skills. Talking to parents I have realized that they invest very little time in appropriate communication with their children. They are also exhibiting different strategies that are sometimes conflicting and all this reflects on the children. So,for educators, this is what we are focusing on apart from academics. We are also focusing on the grooming, etiquettes, how to come across conflict resolution, self-motivation and independence. Some of the parents need to be guided with the strategies they adopt and inspire. Parents need to recognize the importance of what the global world is now about.
6) Students go through a stressful life from KG to PG and perhaps that takes away the joy of being a child at different stages of growth due to comparison, grading, not enough time for creative activities or sports. Does your organisation KA EduAssociates work with schools, parents and teachers and reduce this trauma?
So, this is the thought behind our passion. This is why our company was founded, because we wanted to bring back the joy into the lives of these children. These kids are more wired than we were, they are more informed than we ever were, they think differently, they act quickly and they adopt to multiple strategies while we were okay with one strategy. To make them motivated to constantly work on their energy levels, you have to deploy different strategies which is why we plan workshops that are fun such as DIY, hands-on. Through these sessions we are still motivating the children to remain on task without having them to drop academics while embracing only play. There definitely has to be a balance, for which they need to be guided. We specialize in children workshops where we receive active participation from the parent community, we are also invited by schools to come and talk to the parents about the areas they can focus on and contribute and perhaps give less emphasis on just performance alone. Parents need to understand that comparison is killing the kid and should respect the personal intellect of every kid.
7.How far can the use of Smart Classrooms, Mobile Apps and interactive technology help in improving the quality of education? Is the huge investment in technology in education justified in terms of knowledge, skills and creative skills imparted to students?
The technology debate needs to end for once and for all. We spent one decade just talking about technology, its use and overuse. We get confused with technology and screen time. In the next 20 years perhaps there’s going to be only technology. By not equipping this generation to dealwith that world, they’ll have problems like wefaced. So I think we need to recognize that technology is here to make lives easier, simpler, it does not mean screen time and kids must definitely be imparted with these creative skills. The way forward is to teach them to use technology within the boundaries.