Schools across the country along with all other professions have been ravaged last few years, with constant upheavals, demands of drastic change and more importantly an underlying discontent amongst all stakeholders. Education as a system appears to be grasping at lifeboat to be able to navigate these turbulent times.
Not only are there external demands, there is an internal quagmire of sorts with a need to be able to change quickly, but at the same time slowly without adding more stress to the existing system of teachers and pedagogy. WB Yates said “ Education is not the filling of a pail, it is the lighting of a fire.” In today’s context, its more about lighting the fire without setting the house on fire.
Institutes & teachers already feel burdened with routine school programs, parents want changes in pedagogy to take as fast as technology around is changing, Students the ultimate eventual beneficiaries of this are growingly getting disinterested in legacy subjects and teaching methods, this is also a consequence of an overflow of fast information and tools to pick at a click or swipe.
The government and industry are taking cognizant of the gap of skills being taught and needed in the real world, are getting increasingly worried about the creation of a vortex which can easily spin out of control in the realm of unemployment and employability.
Adding to the challenge, are some common factors which always, almost play an important role in making changes in the prevalent education system
1) Socio Economic differences — With over 1/4th of the population below the poverty line, there is a different requirement for education in Bharat and India. Education is provided for free until aged 14 but this age is arguably where one’s interests in their future career starts to build. To be able to expect free education to be all encompassing may be a far cry. Institutions in Bharat lack basic technological innovations and consequently cannot provide it to their students and this creates a divide
2) Infrastructural Shortcomings — This is a big one and got exposed in a big way during the Covid lockdown. With students in schools in urban cities had the luxury of having one or more devices to get access to basic education, rural India, basically lost 12- 18 months of the education and struggled for basic access. We know of schools in the interiors where 4–5 children used one normal phone over the speaker to just listen to the teacher give the lecture from the other side.
3) Costs — Resources for schools where even basic fees have been not forthcoming, further discretionary spend has been tough and this has had a cascading effect on the quality of teaching and learning. While India has increased its overall percentage vs other countries, it still has a long way to go, especially once you move away from the private schools and in the tier 2 -3 cities where the fees are meagre.
4) Skilled Trainers — Having visited over 30 different institutes across the past 10 days in different geographies, it is safe to say that lack of quality teachers who will be “passionate “ to embrace new programs / technologies and be able to let this trickle down to the students is one of the biggest hurdles in the apprehensions for decision makers to adapt new pedagogies for schools or colleges. This is not a unique problem, and has been taken cognizant across various levels including at government.
STEM the Silver Bullet ?
Silver Bullet as described in Webster’s “ a simple magical like solution to a long standing problem “ Further a silver bullet is a way that makes everything better quickly. In ancient Greek history there was belief in the magical power of a silver bullet as was the belief that a silver bullet was used to kill werewolves and witches.
There has been a paradigm shift in the past few years in the awareness of the word “ STEM Education “ . From becoming a buzz word or a fad for the elite, it has quickly become a mainstream pedagogy terminology across all learning centric zones.
Breaking the walls — Bullet by bullet –
Democratizing Education — STEM Education does not need to be “ elitist “ nor does it make someone overnight a millionaire entrepreneur, no matter what any celebrity says on any medium. Most of the resources are open source and freely available and can cut across socio economic barriers with ease. This also follows a more “ web2 — web3 “ mode of building , online sharing and open source dissemination of information & learning tools.
Relevant and Current — STEM Education is industry driven and the learning is inclusive, progressive and hands on — mind on. It promises to enhance creativity, spur innovative and lateral thinking and at best drive home an inclination towards further learning in STEM.
This is as relevant as education can get, generally made from industry inputs, prevalent needs and future ready skills and technologies.
Case being — There is enough data that STEM education linked jobs will dominate the industry in the years to come.
“ Job postings related to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) in India have increased by 44% in the past three years (November 2016 to November 2019), according to data from job site Indeed “ — Source Economic Times
Infrastructure — With nudge of mandatory CSR, “ benevolent “ organisations have done significant contribution in adding infrastructure for schools and most schools have computer labs access for their students. Internet penetration is growing at an extremely high rate and costs are probably lowest in the world, so barring few Tier 3–4 cities still are wanting in this regards, however with the costs going down and so many factors vying for it, it wont be long before these cities, schools and eventually the students get access to computer education, which adds more fillip for the learning of STEM Education as most of the programs require only computers and internet.
Government Support — Further there is a tremendous push from the government to upgrade the schools and the pedagogy. NEP which came in fore in 2020, is the first education policy change after 34 years. The policies and actions on schemes like Atal Innovation Mission, Atal Tinkering Labs, Skill India, Smart City, Digital India etc all have a common link and cause or effect of STEM Education.
Case Being — Tamil Nadu Govt aims to get 12000 schools onboarded with STEM Education
In a bid to encourage scientific thinking and increase interest in science and mathematics among students, government schools across the State will form ‘Vanavil Mandrams’ with a focus on STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) education
Policy Effect — NEP 2020 in itself has the potential to become a game changer in the long run. This will replace the prevailing dominant standard of 10+2. The main objectives of the education policy reform are achieving 100 percent youth and adult literacy. There is further impeteus and emphasis on use of technology, vocational subjects, teacher training, new programs like Coding / AI etc, professional education, multidisciplinary approach, digital and open education, etc.
The NEP 2020 is designed to transform the education sector, making it more experiential and flexible & STEM plays a massive role in this transformation.
Hedgehogs or Silver Bullets –
India recently become the fifth largest economy in the world during the last quarter of 2021. The country has a huge demographic advantage which has been talked about for years now, however this does not come without its fair share of challenges. The median age of 28–30 years will need to be skilled in a frenzy and the new generation in schools will need to have much more exposure to experiential learning and modern technologies. No wonder that Education plays a big factor in the Government’s plan to become one of the largest economies of the world.
As we saw above, STEM has some small silver bullets which help us leapfrog some legacy issues and also be able to scale to reach to a larger audience within a short span of time across geographies. The unique advantage is that this generation has not seen a world without technology at all and hence they are the fastest to adapt, explore and implement.
Investing in this ecosystem and promoting STEM Education will overcome some of the limitations on the anvil. In Good to Great, Jim Collins compares the fox to the hedgehog, the fox jumps from strategy to strategy while the hedgehog keeps at it every day, building each day and does it well, its not surprising who wins at the end.
Solving multiple problem with one solution almost sounds to be too good to be true, but it is just that good or is the Silver Bullet like all other fables, just that, a fable.
However if we have hedgehog who moves at the pace of a fox and consistently digs in the strategy, this may actually work.
STEM Education has a ring side view in the fast and dynamic world of technology, the best part is that STEM Education is frictionless, malleable and free flowing across borders and structures, language / gender and class agnostic. It can be built on and around any ecosystem and while it may appear to be unstructured at the moment, one is reminded of what Robin Sharma talked about when he said “ Change is hard at first, Messy in the middle & Gorgeous at the end. –
We iRobokid Mumbai are committed to “ Democratizing STEM “ and we think this is a good solid bullet (silver or not). It may seem messy now, but its going to get gorgeous very quickly.