03 March, 2009

Judging Schools in the 21st century

By C. Radhakrishnan

Throughout history people make criteria to evaluate and find good schools. Whenever such classification and parameters appear today, I used to think, what skills should a good school impart to students and society? Good infrastructure, well crafted yearly plans and programme schedules, systematic maintenance of records, advertisements given in reputed magazines, management brand, polished English speaking students etc - can these be the important criteria to decide and judge good schools in the 21st century? There are many schools in our villages which cater to the needs of our students and impart quality learning without these lavish, western-ape shows. Such schools never come to the picture because they do it as a divine duty in a selfless way. They impart learning in the mother tongue which the child can understand easily and make the child a critical thinker. For creative thinking, understanding the concept is more important than language in which the child thinks or learns. However, how many are ready to accept this basic principle of ‘real learning’?

Globalisation has brought about widespread use of English and all run behind English. Have you ever thought of the fate of millions of children who are creative, intelligent, critical thinkers, curious and innovative but fail to understand and grasp English? Due to ‘adult ignorance’ these children are forced to learn English and finally they can’t cope - we brand them as ‘under achievers’ or ‘weak scholars’. With this stereotyping we, ‘the educated’ (ignorant of basic learning theories) nail their curiosity and natural instinct to learn. No one in this world can prove with data that all great scientists, mathematicians, administrators, philosophers, men of great artistic talents were with excellent multi-linguistic skills/intelligence. But one fact every one can accept and prove is that they were all excellent learners, observers, critical thinkers and innovators. Thus I argue that the most important criteria to judge a good school must be the skills that a school imparts, considering what the students need, not today, but when they come out of the schools after twelve or fourteen years of education. Schools which can visualise the changes after twelve or fourteen years and design their curriculum to suit the needs of that time can only claim that they are providing quality education.

So, what are the skills good schools should inculcate among learners? The answer is here – skills that students need in the work place after their education. And I believe these would be the broad academic and workplace skills needed by our students in the time to come.

Basic Skills (Language Skill – Any one language)
1. Reading:
Identify relevant facts; locate information in books/manuals; find meanings of unknown words; judge accuracy of reports; use computers to find information.
2. Writing:
Write ideas completely and accurately in letters and reports with proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation, use computers to communicate information.
3. Mathematics:
Use numbers, fractions, and percentages to solve problems; use tables, graphs, and charts; use computers to enter, retrieve, change, and communicate numerical information.
4. Speaking:
Speak clearly; select language, tone of voice, and gestures appropriate to an audience.
5. Listening:
Listen carefully to what a person says, noting the tone of voice and body language; respond in a way that shows understanding of what is said.

Note: I advocate any one language skill because within the next ten years in whatever language we speak or write can be translated in letters and voice (with original modulations) just by the click of a mouse to any language we wish and most of the communication will take place through information technology. This is one of my personal opinions; you may have your own opinions and counter points. Those who disagree with me can read language skills as English Language.

Interpersonal Skills
1. Social:
show understanding, friendliness, and respect for feelings of others; assert oneself when appropriate; take an interest in what people say and why they think and act as they do.
2. Negotiation:
Identify common goals among different parties; clearly present one's position; understand party's position; examine possible options; make reasonable compromises. Online negotiation skill should be given importance.
3. Leadership:
Communicate thoughts and feelings to justify a position; encourage or convince; make positive use of rules or values; demonstrate ability to have others believe in and trust you because of competence and honesty.
4. Teamwork:
Contribute to group with ideas and effort; do own share of work; encourage team members; resolve differences for the benefit of the team; responsibly challenge existing procedures, policies, or authorities.
5. Cultural Diversity:
Work well with people having different ethnic, social, or educational backgrounds; understand the cultural differences of different groups; help the people in these groups make cultural adjustments when necessary.

Personal Qualities
1. Self-Esteem:
Understand how beliefs affect how a person feels and acts; listen and identify irrational or harmful beliefs you may have; and understand how to change them when they occur.
2. Self-Management:
Assess one's own knowledge and skills accurately; set specific, realistic, personal goals; monitor progress towards goal.
3. Responsibility:
Work hard to reach goals, even if task is unpleasant; do quality work; display high standard of attendance, honesty, energy, and optimism.

Thinking Skills (the most important)
1. Creative Thinking:
Use imagination freely combining ideas or information in new ways; make connections between ideas that seem unrelated.
2. Problem-Solving:
Recognize problem; identify why it is a problem; create and implement a solution; watch to see how well solution works; revise as needed.
3. Decision Making:
Identify goals; generate alternatives and gather information about them; weigh pros and cons; choose best alternative; plan how to carry out choice.
4. Visualisation:
Imagine building, object or system by looking at a blueprint or drawing.