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Moving away from competitive to collaborative education

The Problem

Education systems worldwide have been modeled based on their culture and have been one of the most dynamic modern human history practices. Take the example of the educational systems during the Vedic age. The gurukul system’s underlying principle was “Matha, Pitha, Guru, Daivam” or Mother, Father, and the Guru were above God. The children were instilled with the idea of respecting elders, and anyone who provides you knowledge was a guru. The students were asked to do all sorts of activities like cleaning the house and toilets, collecting wood for the fire from the forest, and look after the cattle in the guru’s abode. They were trained to face the intricacies of life no matter what their background was. Krishna (the incarnation of Lord Vishnu) and Kuchela (a commoner from a humble background) became best friends at Sudama’s gurukul. Their story of friendship is one of the most celebrated ones in history. A gurukul was a place where culture was practiced and carried on to the next generation. Similar parallels can be drawn from the Chinese, Japanese and Western models of schooling. In fact, Japan still follows a unique education system, and it is one of the reasons why the Japanese have a better sense of culture and values.

Gurukul system of education practiced in ancient India.

But culture is a broad term and has been changing faster than ever. With the advent of modern technology, boundaries are diminishing, and the world is becoming a global village. In the past 50 years, we have seen most of the workforce leaving their homeland searching for jobs. The Middle East’s oil revolution resulted in millions of people’s migration to find a better standard of life. Most of them would’ve been educated in their homeland and embraced by their culture. How would they have adjusted to the nuances of their new land?

Life in the modern world is not about learning but can be translated to the process of learning, unlearning, and relearning. Anyone who cannot do this will be side-lined and be a burden for everyone. In areas that rely heavily on technology, changes are rapid. Thousands of programming languages pop up every year. All the companies want to provide the best experience for their customers and invest heavily in Research and Development. But the question is, has our education system adapted to accommodate these rapid changes that have been happening?

Current Scenario

In our country, the education system followed currently in schools is predominantly influenced by western culture. Children are compared to each other based on a grading system that covers a broad range of subjects. In India, the study of science is given undue importance, and most children are forced to pursue a career in engineering and medicine. India has around 6,214 engineering colleges where almost 3 million students are enrolled every year. The grim reality is that not even 50% of them graduate in an academic year. The educational system has been flawed in identifying the skill most children possess and offering the necessary support. It has become a rat race where students concentrate on the material benefits and not on what they actually want. This is the result of the competitive model of education.

What is competitive education?

A cartoon depiction of competitive education. Courtesy

Competitive education compares the qualitative aspects of subjects and the ability of the students to imbibe them. Tests and assessments are frequently done, and a grading system is enabled to rank one student over the other. This model does not promote much creativity and prefers to stick to a particular syllabus. Due to the rigid form of content delivery, students find it challenging to adapt to the rapid changes occurring in the world. Students who excelled in their school often do not end up bagging the best career opportunities. The imbalanced importance given to particular subjects is the primary reason for the lack of creativity. Competitive education is an effective tool in assessing the quantitative ability of a child. But the main disadvantage of it is that, due to the comparison levels, students in the lower quartile might suffer from issues like lack of confidence and being out of place, which would lead to mental health issues. In India, parents often compare their child’s ability based on the marks they obtain in school. Both of these factors, coupled together, affect the child considerably. In 2018 alone, around 10,159 students committed suicides in India. Currently, it is estimated that almost 28 students suicide in our country every day. A significant factor for this was the pressure of the educational system on the students.

Statewise statistics of student suicides in India. Courtesy:

Another disadvantage that competitive education has is that it favors the privileged class in society. As we know, India is a land of differences. The top 10% of the richest in India control almost 77% of the total wealth. So competitive education tests everyone based on the same parameters, whereas all the students do not come from identical backgrounds. With almost 60% of the population residing in rural areas, many people still do not have access to basic amenities in life. Under these circumstances, how can one expect children from rural and impoverished backgrounds excel in national-level competitive examinations?

Collaborative education

India is home to the largest number of young population. So giving them the proper training will affect the global scale. What all changes can be made in the current scenario?

Collaborative education is a novel model where students are made into groups where tasks are assigned to them as part of the curriculum. This model’s advantage is that students understand the basics of team-building, leadership, organizational management, public speaking, and listening skills. These are the skills that are required the most in any career today. The importance of teams is more significant than ever. The model breeds understanding among students and creates a sense of belongingness no matter what their background is. It is an ideal way of preparing the children for the world outside. The tutors can focus on all areas of education equally. Several studies have proven that this pedagogy enables the children to remember the concepts better and improve their real-life applicability.

The method of teaching is a practical application of the theories proposed by Lev Vygotsky. The Vygotsky theory of social development states that “individual development does not happen without being informed by social and cultural contexts.” His approach is based on the history of human development, where communication played a significant role in transforming humans into the superior species on earth. The theory proposes the Zone of proximal development. It means that the human brain demarcates activities into can do and cannot do zones. In between the two zones lies a third zone of proximal development. With the proper guidance, activities that lie in the Zone can be mastered by any individual, and the role of the peer group role is quite significant in helping a student achieve it.

Way Forward

We are living in an era that is witnessing massive technological disruption. It has found its way into education through EdTech platforms. But a large section of our society has not been able to make use of this. NGOs like Vidyakansha have been striving to bridge the gap between children in rural and urban backgrounds through innovative ideas. Our educational system cannot bid farewell to competitive examination and grading. But we can create a culture where NGOs like Vidyakansha can help children in rural settings through collaborative learning techniques to brighten their future. The state governments should promote initiatives like this to improve the educational sector’s condition in our country. Most of the students cannot compute basic math and science problems. It is high time that we indulge in techniques that can transform the lives of these children. A combination of competitive, collaborative, and immersive learning can help create the ideal workforce for the future.

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