Sunday, March 12, 2006

Education - A legitimate field of study?

The cover story of latest issue (March 19) of The Week is "Best Degrees" with President Kalam's "exclusive" on The Mission of Education. The irony is that Education itself does not feature anywhere in the surveys as a program of study in India - not in the undergraduate or graduate degrees; not even as a diploma program where courses such as 'Technical Writing', 'Digital Designing', 'Hotel Management', 'Fashion Technology', 'Medical Laboratory Technology' and 'Nursing' make the cut. Is it even considered a legitimate field of study in India?

Dr. Kalam has obviously given much thought to several issues that plague the system of education in the country and he has suggested several workable solutions that policymakers would do well to pay heed to. But when the President waxes eloquent about the what could and should be done to lay the "foundation for best students and best pre-primary, primary and secondary education" does he or anyone else stop to think how the nation is building its workforce of teachers, principals, administrators, policymakers and leaders in the field of education? Or are these all areas of expertise that do not merit any formal education and training? When he states that "the teacher has to be equipped with all the knowledge required for effective teaching", should he not also suggest bettering the lot of formal programs in teacher education?

With customary vision, the President espouses the benefits of leveraging technology in education. He commends the use of "computer aids" in Karnataka where children "have a creative learning with the tools of creative animation through the use of computers." He dedicates a whole paragraph to Technology Enhanced Education. His thrust is on using technology for distance learning and digital libraries. He anticipates falling prices of computers and communications bandwidth driving increased use of technology in education, and envisions "virtual classrooms of the future." Amen to that.

Much can be done in real classrooms and schools too, even today, with existing infrastructure - if only people decided to acquire some expertise in teaching - the kind of expertise that will come from engaging with the subject in an undergraduate program of worth, wrestling deeply with such issues at the graduate level, heck, even just becoming aware of them in a diploma course. The recently instituted Masters in Education at TISS (in collaboration with NIAS, Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, Eklavya, Vidya Bhawan Society, and Digantar) certainly gives reason to cheer...

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