Nilesh passed out of school in 2002 with 97 percent marks, was feted as a board topper and was looking forward to a successful life and career as a software engineer. 21 years later, Nilesh says ruefully, “My schooling prepared me to score in exams, but did not prepare me well enough to succeed in the exam of life.”
This is not just Nilesh’s story. This is the story of school education in India. Our narrow focus on rote learning and cracking exams is creating generations of Indians who are good at memorizing and following orders, but do not possess the skills to succeed in life. And since school, where a child spends 7 hours a day for 12 years of their life, is the place where foundations are built, it is critical that we build essential skills for life success in school.
This needs to get done in the short window of the next 15 years when India still has the advantage of a young population and can hope to reap the much-talked-about demographic dividend.
Just to be clear, skill-based learning doesn’t mean a different syllabus or separate subjects. It just means learning the current subjects differently. The goal of learning shifts from knowledge accumulation to knowledge application.
The content of the syllabus is not just to be memorised. It is used to think, collaborate, create and communicate. This requires a paradigm shift in our approach to schooling. However, it is a critical paradigm shift that we need to make if we need to enable our students to succeed in life.
Students today need a comprehensive set of skills to thrive in an ever-evolving world. The CEO and Co-Founder of LEAD identify five crucial skills that Indian schools should prioritise to prepare their students for the future:
1. Language and communication as a skill
Reading is different from reading with comprehension. Deep comprehension means the ability to interpret, make connections with your life and read between the lines. Writing is different from handwriting. It involves being able to put down your own thoughts coherently in readable form.
Similarly, listening and speaking are skills that are barely taught in our schools. This issue is exacerbated in schools where the medium of instruction is different from a child’s native language. The solution is to help students pick up language as a skill, whether it is English, Hindi or any other language.
2. Thinking as a skill
Because of our insistence on memorisation, we rob our students of the important life skill of thinking. Thinking is an active skill. We must use our curriculum to develop different thinking dispositions among students – the ability to think deeply about something; the ability to connect seemingly disconnected thoughts; the ability to think from two different perspectives; and the ability to analyse and evaluate opinions based on evidence.
These are skills most successful people use to their advantage and they can be learnt in school!
3. Collaboration skills
They say that if you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, take your team along. The ability to work productively with other people is a massive asset. Because we only test our students for their knowledge and reward them for their test scores, there is hardly any incentive to learn collaboration while growing up.
But we need to help students learn the skill to sometimes lead and sometimes follow; the skill to take turns; the skill to be objective when evaluating options as a team and not get stuck to their idea, and the skill to disagree without being disagreeable. We see such skills in successful leaders and they can be built in school.
4. Self-regulation skills
In a world where distractions and over-consumption are becoming the norm, self-regulation is becoming increasingly important. The skill to discern what to do and when. The skill to focus when needed and not compulsively multi-task. The skill to manage one’s emotions and moods. These are life skills that are much more important than exams.
5. Computational thinking as a skill
With machines and technology increasingly becoming an integral part of our lives, we have to help our children to grow up as more than mere consumers of technology or worse, a cog in the immense data mining endeavour that AI is becoming.
They need to develop computational and algorithmic thinking. They need to learn the language by which they can exercise influence over machines. That’s why they need to have coding skills. India is expected to add 183 million persons in the working age group (15 – 64 years) by 2050 – a huge demographic opportunity for our nation. The question is – are India’s schools adequately equipped to bring this opportunity to life?