One of the very first lessons while pursuing my Masters in Development Studies started with Amartya Sen’s Capability approach. The approach’s constituent is simple. It advocates investing in people, thereby enabling growth and empowerment of people to pursue many different life paths, thus developing human capabilities. The more humans have capabilities, the more choices he/she can make affecting the wellbeing of his/her life. It was no doubt to me that education has always stood to be the levers of equality. However, reflecting with my present work in rural government schools, with my own schooling from an English-medium Convent school, where one studies plays of Julius Caesar as early as class 7, while other children from public schools I observe struggle to write their names in English in class 7. The question from this reflection I often battle is whether education indeed provides the same opportunity and equal access to life?
A report shows that the urban-rich in India spend 29 times more on education than households in the middle of rural income distribution. The broader question remains - whose education aims are we speaking of? Over the last twenty years, India’s education has gone through massive reforms starting from the Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan (SSA,2002) to the recently debated Draft National Education Policy (NEP,2019). The focus on quality of education (public schooling) over access has dawned very late in India. Education has been identified as significant in human lives with quality education accorded as Goal 4 in SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). However, the quality of education and learning outcomes paints a grim picture in India since even after eight years of schooling, only 43% of 14 to 18 year-olds could do simple division; slightly less than half could not add weights in kilograms; more than 40% couldn’t tell hours and minutes from a clock (ASER,2018). If education aims to provide people with a skill-set so that they are able to make choices, are we on the right trajectory?
Education has always strived to make us more humane. It is therefore important that we understand the more basic aims of education in our human lives. The present pandemic crisis has but reasserted the need of humanity and moral fabric. One of the major pivots of educational aims should be on skills in the 21st century context. Life skills, vocational skills and other soft-skills should be one of the core outcomes of knowledge. A person should be able use his/her skills and lead a life of choice. At the other end of the spectrum when discussing these objectives remains the values imbibed from education. Our changing world today lacks apathy and empathy or the basic fundamentals of what makes us human. Beyond moral science classes and curriculums, our teaching learning practices and way children interact with knowledge should form the basis of imbibing values within our children. Values like inclusion, within our classrooms and beyond, lead to creation of safe spaces which encompasses several disabilities and vulnerabilities a child faces. Such spaces are also important in our institutions to build critical-thinking within students. Margaret Mead’s words - “Children must be taught how to think, not what to think” stand strong even today, especially today, as the true purpose of education is to build ‘minds’ and not just ‘careers’. Therefore skills, values, critical-thinking are a few but important purposes when education is looked upon as an enabler of human development and freedom in the 21st century world.
Today’s world with its sharp class and social divides that constantly change their forms and the ways all of it affect lives, it is essential to delve deep into the question when we look at the aims of education, as ‘pursuit of knowledge’ or ’meeting the needs of country’s workforce or perhaps both and where do we start from?