A key milestone in India’s march towards Education for All was the adoption of the National Policy on Education 1986 (revised in 1992) followed by the implementation of Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009. The Act confers a right to all students, upto Class 8, irrespective of caste, creed or gender, to have access to free compulsory education of a comparative quality. The integrated child development scheme (ICD scheme) aims at preschool education for children age 3-5 years at the Anganwadi Centres.
Universalisation of primary education addressed two major target groups, the out of school children during the primary school going age and the children who are forced to drop out even before completion of primary grade classes due to social and /or economic commitments. Government run schemes such as the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan were started to ensure retention of children in class rooms. The mid day meal scheme met with great success – it increased enrolment, retention and attendance of children and simultaneously addressed nutrition issues among school going children. Since 2001, every child in Government and Government aided primary schools continue to be served a Mid Day Meal.
India has made significant progress towards the goal of education for all. This is evidenced by a 93% Net enrolment indicator, the enhanced survival rate of students from Grade 1 to 5 and 92% youth literacy (ages 15-24 year olds).
There are compelling arguments that monitoring enrolment in schools cannot be the only measure for progress in education. Evaluating learning outcomes to understand the progress made is very vital. However, there are questions on what a relevant and effective learning outcome is, how to measure it and how to use the findings.
In May 2015, the World Education Forum in Incheon (Republic of Korea) brought together 1,600 participants from 160 countries with a single goal in mind: how to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all by 2030, which has now become the Sustainability goal for Education. A total of 17 Sustainability Development Goals (SDG’s) were adopted with Education at the heart of Sustainable Development. Education is critical and interlinked with all the 17 Goals.
How different are sustainability goals 2030 from the millennium goals for education? What are these goals trying to achieve? What does this mean in the Indian context? Do we have to make changes to our education system? What are the indicators for these goals? How will India monitor these goals and Indicators…..?
One of the key inclusions in the sustainability goal is ‘lifelong learning’, which begins at birth and carries through all stages of life, projects education as a journey rather a one-stop destination. It broadens the scope of education by introducing multiple and flexible learning pathways, entry and re-entry points at all ages, and strengthen links between formal and non-formal structures, including formal accreditation of the knowledge, skills and competencies acquired through non-formal education.
If Education is to continue to drive growth, it must keep up with the rapidly changing world of work. Technology has not only raised the demand for high-skill workers but has also reduced demand for medium-skill jobs, such as clerical and machine operations, where the tasks are more easily automated. This could affect millions in the future: evidence suggests that most education systems are not keeping pace with changing market dynamics. Skills and competences promoted by general, comprehensive education – critical thinking, problem solving, team and project work, and solid literacy, communication and presentation skills – are likely to remain valued in the labour market. Acquiring a range of transferable and foundation skills is therefore extremely important for future employment. The challenge for education systems is how to impart them to students most effectively.
One of the transformative aspirations of SDG’s is delving into the social, humanistic and moral purpose of education. For Education to be transformative in support of the new sustainable development agenda, education as usual will not suffice.
There is an urgent need to change our perception towards education and its role in human well-being and global development if we want to harness its full potential to catapult the world forward. Learning should foster thinking that is relational, integrative, empathetic, anticipatory and systemic.
India has to introduce fundamental changes in the education sector in order to achieve the Sustainability Goal for Education 2030. We need to move from a rote learning model to critical thinking and a problem solving method of learning. Shift focus from Net Enrollment Ratio (NER) to Net Retention Ratio (NRR). Create a pool of qualified teachers and provide them with in-service or refresher trainings on the advancements in education in order to upgrade their knowledge to produce quality results among children.
India should adopt suggestions of the Global Education Monitoring (GEM) report and take steps to make systemic changes, collect data and set up sound monitoring systems. Key areas would include:
- Data Mining – Education ministries and national statistical agencies should collaborate and use data to shed light on basic disparities and weak links in the system. A data revolution in education should involve agreement on basic concepts, investment in robust systems and coordination to ensure accessibility, openness and accountability of data.
- Quality – Need to monitor curricula, textbooks and teacher education programmes to ensure adequate commitment to the objectives. Common ground between different curricula needs to be found and levels of proficiency defined. Consensus on the content of the learning outcomes to be assessed, and benchmarks to be defined.
- Learning outcomes – To ensure that a robust sample-based national learning assessment is in place that can be used to monitor progress in learning over time.
- Lifelong learning – Students are introduced to sustainability and global citizenship issues not only in school but also through academic clubs, student associations, sport, debate clubs, theatre productions, music groups, volunteer work and other activities. Offer various professional courses in universities to upgrade skills of working individuals to enable a consistent learning process.
- Create Platforms– Create appropriate forums for exchange of information and ideas between countries on how advanced countries are working towards life long learning systems.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls on us to develop holistic and integrated responses to the many social, economic and environmental challenges we face. There is a need to reach beyond traditional boundaries and create effective, cross-sectoral partnerships.