Future of Education in the New Normal
Schools will gradually open. Students will return to school. Would they return to the same school they left a year ago?
Are situations getting normal? Yes, but it's going to be a new normal.
What's this new normal?
We need to look at two major developments of the previous year; unprecedented recession in the global economy and phenomenal advancement/encroachment made by technology particularly in the field of education. What it could not achieve in a decade it achieved in a year. Oh, I forgot to mention, Covid. It has brought devastating experience in the lives of people. So covid has facilitated the two major developments, I am talking about. But, I am concentrating on education here.
These two phenomena are going to set a new normal in education.
Now a question!
What do you think is the central concern of the policymakers when they draft policy for education?
Guess the right answer!
Children, isn’t it? Maybe the nation, Maybe society? Teachers(Don’t joke)
Though I have not given the correct option here. It’s primarily-’The Resource’. I was recently a part of a 7 members committee of a high-level planning body to deliberate upon the improvement of education in Government School. 5 out of 7 members were presenting the model where ‘children should learn’ was a concern but how to cut the expenditure was a far greater concern.
I recently read an EPW article- Contract Teachers of India. The writer has argued that It’s the financial constraints and administrative convenience which encouraged the Govt to hire teachers on contractual basis.
In a state of dilapidated economic condition, It’s not difficult to predict that there are going to be further resource constraints for the education sector.
Recently passed Union budget has already proposed for a massive cut on education. Central allocation for education has been reduced to 2% of the GDP. It has lessened the amount by 6088 crores.
So where would it reflect in our education sector?
I think certain trends would continue
1.Not hiring enough number of teachers and school staff
2.Hiring on a contractual basis.
3.School closure, which is nicely named as a merger.
4.No investment in school buildings
5.Massive investment in technology.
Now we will have the technology to overshadow the distress which may appear in case of a resource cut. It's like replacing a green natural grass with carpet grass. Government school education has already been deprived of proper budgetary allocation across the country. Some state governments have been doing extraordinary work. But, how long can they be able to survive, we have to see it in future.
The plan is to ensure learning through volunteers, technology and low paid teachers. I was recently listening to a talk by Prof. Abhijeet Pathak, he mentioned that in a techno-managerial set-up, students and teachers are a product. To me even learning, appears to be a product which anyhow needs to be delivered to the students completely devoid of its epistemic values. If you look at the advertisement of some of the online business ventures like Byju's and Whitehatjr, it will bring clarity.
In a democratic society, providing good quality education has been seen as one of the obligations of the government. But in the age of neoliberalism and particularly after the 1990s in India, governments across the country have appeared to be desperate to withdraw from this sector and the withdrawal continues. One can see it in many forms; not appointing teachers, appointment on a contractual basis, not repairing school buildings, closure of schools and all these developments coincide with the mushrooming of low budget private schools across the country.
Our policy seems to believe more in 'choice' than in equity. This is the choice which market imposes. This is the equity, which the government school system could create. We have been on a crossroad to choose between equity and choice and it appears that we have embraced 'choice'.
Is it a choice?
Only parents can answer this question!
How much choice do they have in selecting a school for their wards?... And forget about the choice of curriculum and learning environment!
How would School look like in the New Normal?
In a recent conversation with one of the panellists from the Netherland, Jelmer Ever, during the Delhi Education Conference, I used a word-Paradigm Shift. He disagreed and said it's not a Paradigm shift. There are certain trends which are going to be strengthened.
I revised my understanding and agreed that this is not a Paradigm shift. There were already some trends which are going to be strengthened. Governments already wanted to withdraw from the domain of public education and they will withdraw completely. Tech giants already wanted to establish a monopoly in education; they will do it aggressively.
For a long time, In most parts of North India, private tuitions became mainstream education and school education is only meant for certification. In the new normal, with all probability, it appears that online education will soon be the mainstream education for the poor and disadvantaged. However, the school premises would continue to exist for the privileged class. But even within the school premise the role, agency and identity of a teacher will see a fundamental change. It might get marginalised further.
For the government, it will be resource probity to give mobile handsets to all the members of a community and provide internet connections. Constructing schools and hiring teachers have always been an expensive affair. Carpet grass is far easier to maintain than maintaining natural grass.
Recently Haryana Government has announced that it would distribute Tablets to students of higher secondary classes. You can find this news from the local newspapers. Sooner or later, this announcement would be made across the country.
Isn’t it a welcome move?
It is. But, also search for corresponding news...construction of new school buildings, hiring of teachers. If you find it disproportionate, there is a crisis in making. We can name it as a new normal in education.
And as it has been a case in India, corresponding to our social hierarchy, we have a stratified school system. In the new normal, for poor and disadvantaged, the school would shift to mobile phone and TV channels. Privileged will get a hybrid school-mixed of the school building and swanky corporate offices.
Teachers in the New Normal.
If anyone is going to be on the receiving end of a new normal, it’s the TEACHERs.
The case against them is very solid.
Imagine! You are studying math in your class and you know that there is a better teacher next door and you can access her teaching through a mobile screen. Would you continue with the math lesson in your class?
Perhaps not! And you should not.
Through a mobile screen, you can not just have access to a better teacher next door, it could be a better teacher in another city, in another country. Online courses by one teacher could be accessed by millions from across the globe.
Isn’t it better for students? After all, why should they comply with boring and less efficient teachers?
With all probability, this is going to be a case. We will have a superstar type teacher and then the rest of the teachers in the role of supporting staff. Gradually, the question may emerge, why to call supporting staff, a teacher. And the moment this question would be settled, there won’t be any professional requirements to become a supporting staff. This would end the professional identity of the teachers. There would be software which will eventually fulfil the work required to be done by the supporting staffs.
Even for the superstar teachers, their access to larger mass would be in the hands of the tech giants. And for the tech giants, changing a superstar would be like replacing a poster from their giant advertising stands.
Do you know the superstar teacher of BYJU?
You can probably still remember the name of a teacher from your neighbourhood school.
Is everything lost for the teachers?
I think they cannot find a voice as long as they will fight to save the job. They have to come together to redefine and re-establish the epistemic meaning of learning and how it is related to human life and the human value system. They have to argue that a quality lecture on a mobile screen is just a set of contents. It’s teachers who set the process of learning. And learning is hidden in the enabling process, which Dewey calls an enabling environment. They will have to get back to the books to read, understand and argue their positions. They need the company of Friere and Gramsci like never before. I am quoting Jelmer "They have to move beyond the classroom to understand the system, limiting them to pedagogy would not serve the purpose."
Their understanding of the system and their knowledge of critical pedagogy would give them the courage to collaborate and resist for the sake of our children, for the sake of our future, for the sake of our collective human values. The new normal makes it essential for them to move from the domain of soft pedagogy to the critical pedagogy.
Students in the New Normal
This is not a homogeneous group. We can broadly categorise them into rural and urban and further as rural poor and urban poor. Though there are various factors of intersectionalities that play a crucial role in determining the identity of students such as gender, disability, class, caste, religion, language, etc. As the trend is, for poor and deprived, online education will take the formal route to be a mainstream education. It means it may no longer be a responsibility of the government to open a school and hire teachers. Online video lessons would be appropriated as the more effective mode of teaching and learning for them. (See an article in the comment box)
In the educational debate, children have been in the centre, in reality, they have never been. It’s a resource and administrative convenience which has always been in the centre. So is true about The great learning revolution as argued by the tech giants. This time, the central theme would be ‘profit’ which goes beyond the initial considerations of resource and administrative convenience.
For the other group i.e Middle-Class Urban students, it’s not going to be easier.
Learning in the new normal would be designed around the monopolising idea of ‘profit’ and it dehumanises the person involved in the process. In a profit-driven process, people involved are not more than an aid to achieve the ultimate goal of i.e PROFIT.
What would happen to critical understanding?
Neither market nor authoritative governments are interested in it. Understand it better in Dewey’s word
“... Knowing the definitions, rules, formulae, etc., is like knowing the names of a part of a machine without knowing what they do”
This is exactly what is expected in a profit-driven, technologically assisted state. In all probability, we will move towards it with great vigour. At the same time, we also need to know that this will be a departure from our endeavour of nurturing a democratic society. And obviously, democratic principles will lose its steam in the new normal.
Are we ready for such a price to pay to seek education for our children in the new normal? Do we even have a choice? Remember! The market always promises you a choice. Isn’t it ironic?
Is everything wrong with the new normal?
In 2001, to buy an NCERT book I had to travel 200km from my village to Patna. In 2021, all you need is to click to get an NCERT book downloaded on your phone. In terms of access to quality educational materials, It’s going to be a great enabling experience. For instance, one needs not to stay limited to classroom lectures to understand history. Youtube can give you access to Ram Chandra Guha and Yuval Noha Harari. Students and teachers have the opportunity to Discuss the 2nd world war after watching it in colour on Netflix. ‘A life on the planet’ of David Attenborough will take them beyond the boring memorisation of the word 'Biodiversity'
The question is not about what technology can do, it is about who controls it. It’s like nuclear energy which can be used to generate electricity and the same can be used to destroy a generation. Teachers, students and parents will have to come together to fight for control over it. A decentralised control over the content accompanied by great teachers may truly bring a revolution in learning. But monopoly over its control and its tendency to minimise the role of a teacher might prove catastrophic.
Why am I apprehensive about it?
The scientific revolution of the 17 century led to the industrial revolution, it didn’t bring a quality change in the life of the mass. Rather it enabled a handful of people to own the machines. This further led them to establish a monopoly in production. Excess production led to the search of the market and that culminated in colonisation. It’s the democratic movements of the 20th century that brought the benefit of the scientific revolution to the people. Technological advancement has no meaning unless it promotes democratic principles. In her books surveillance capitalism, Shoshana Zuboff writes...'The goal is to automate us'.
I think the technological advancement that we have made in the recent past can only serve our purpose if we put them for use under strict democratic principles.
What can we do?
Return to the classic!
We need to deepen our understanding of Friere, Dewey, Gandhi, and so on. We may no longer be in a position to be in a state of ignorance. Technology induced changes take place with lightning speed.
If we continue with what we have been doing...A mechanical process of teaching and learning, technology will expedite our extinction. Each one of us needs to engage with the fundamental question- What education is?
The divide between the two; one who thinks and others who execute has to be eliminated. As teachers, we have to claim back our fundamental work of thinking which we have outsourced to Development Sectors and Universities. Of course, thinking requires, enabling environment. We have to redesign our school environment to accommodate it.
We can no longer remain a teacher, we have to be a learner. The only way to survive is to teach and learn simultaneously. Don’t take your learning task as side work. Teach for a wage but learn for survival. This shall become a slogan.
As teachers, the responsibility to communicate the danger and opportunity of new normal also lies on our shoulders. Limiting learning to oneself would not serve the purpose, we have to communicate it to people. We have to make people aware that technological advancements can only serve our purpose if we bend them as per our democratic principles, otherwise, soon, it has the potential to incapacitate a large number of teachers.
All of these are not possible unless we reaffirm our faith in democratic principles.