Education and pedagogy the world over have constantly evolved to serve the needs of human society. The first recorded models of teaching–be it in the gurukuls of India or the academies in Greece–had restricted attendance only to the children of the most fortunate and influential families, high teacher to student ratios, flexible schedules and syllabi that were highly personalized to every student’s (and their parents’) requirements, and a wide span of subjects from astronomy to zoology. The students most probably thrived in such a model, but this was far from scalable. Formal education remained the realm of the few for centuries, while the bulk of economic output was driven by human labour.
With the advent of the industrial age, we saw rapid technological transformations that reshaped the meaning of scale in human society–from the steam engine, the radio, the harvester, the satellite, and the internet, machines replaced human labour over all the brute force applications. Through this shift, we began to generate a real need for a lot more educated and trained people in the workforce to manage these machines and design better ones. This feedback gave rise to the modern education system as we know it–one that looks very much like an assembly line for the many bureaucracies we surround ourselves with today.
Today’s education systems have adopted the broadcast one-to-many model because that is the most straightforward way to communicate information to a large audience simultaneously. In India, given our challenge of 200+ million students, this factory model seemed the best solution as well. However, the time has come to revisit our fundamental priorities where education is concerned, and to set more ambitious goals for ourselves.
Over the past six decades, the priority in Indian education has clearly been to promote 100 per cent enrollment and rise against the inertia of drop out rates. With a massive slice of the budget (Rs 99,100 Cr between 2005-2012), large-scale policies like Operation Blackboard, the Mid Day Meal program, and Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, the national literacy rate is at 74.04 per cent (2011) for adult literacy and 90.2 per cent (2015) for youth literacy (between ages 15-24). Some states like Kerala are at 94 per cent literacy. Let’s consider this stage of mass onboarding as Education 2.0 – primary education has become a fundamental right and significant effort has been put into enforcing it.
Now, we need Education 3.0 to focus on quality and to make sure every enrolled student finds the most direct path to achieving their learning goals and job outcomes. Government spending must go into expanding the install base of fundamental layers of innovation – providing free wifi at all educational institutions, a tablet to every student in every school and college in the country, and enable every teacher and school administrator with a smart device. On top of this install base, public spending must invest in and establish incentives for the development of high-quality educational content that is multi-lingual and multi-format and create a free open national knowledge base. The role of teachers must go from information dissemination to content curation and the aiding of problem-solving.
With this intentional expansion of the install base of smart and connected devices, we can create the first universal platform for educational innovation in the world. Tech-enabled pedagogical models to enhance formal education can be unleashed at scale by our most innovative companies. Levers such as personalized and adaptive learning, multi-format simulations and practice environments, improved data-driven continuous assessments, and lifelong learning and training models will lead to a more capable and productive workforce.
Education is no longer the privilege of the few, and that is a good thing. We now need Education 3.0 to crank the flywheel and turn Indian education into the force multiplier it can be.
TV Mohandas Pai is the Chairman of Aarin Capital and the Chairman of Manipal Global Education. He previously served as a Board Member and CFO at Infosys. He has helped co-found over 10 funds that invest in areas like Deep Technology, Life Sciences, and Education.