Setting a new standard

The K-12 school system in India is one of the largest in the world with over 250 million students enrolled in more than 1.4 million schools, according to a recent report.  

Though there has been an improvement in India’s literacy ranking over the years, one of the major concerns that still prevails in fast-tracking its growth is the ineffective and inconsistent implementation of several well-intended reforms. The challenge with our education system is that while it imparts theoretical knowledge — too much at times and on the surface mostly — there is not enough emphasis on real-world application of knowledge, which is critical for students to thrive in globalised work environments. To equip students with the skills they need for life, we need to establish better national benchmarks and make reforms that will impart quality education from the early years. This will help students to meet expectations both at university and in industry.

Students and parents are increasingly becoming aware of the benefits of choosing progressive, application and skills-based learning over the rote, traditional approach. Schools understand that there is a need to offer a balanced curriculum that combines development of knowledge with deep understanding of concepts; develops skills in independent learning, reasoning, critical thinking; and creates opportunities for students to become confident, innovative, reflective and resilient learners.

International curriculum

In recent times, many schools are being affiliated to international boards, which offer the following benefits:

Flexibility and choice: Students have an opportunity to choose subjects and subject combinations based on their interest, aptitude and career aspirations. They have the option to resit exams and there is comprehensive provision for students who have specific learning difficulties or need special consideration due to a sudden illness, for example.

Skill set: Schools associated with the international boards value deep subject knowledge as well as conceptual understanding that helps students make links between different aspects of a subject. This approach also encourages students to develop higher-order thinking skills — problem-solving, critical thinking, independent research, collaboration and argument presentation. These are transferable skills that will last a lifetime and help make learning enjoyable and rewarding.

University acceptance: Qualifications awarded by the international boards are accepted and valued by universities around the world, and within India. Universities value the independent research and critical thinking skills, as well as the deep subject knowledge that these qualifications bring.

Continuity for mobile families: International curriculum sets a global standard for education — students worldwide work towards the same assessment objectives and are graded to the same standard. International boards have a wide network of schools globally and this ensures that families that move between countries do not have to worry about the continuity of their children’s education.

Key challenges

While India has seen a greater uptake for international boards, some key challenges persist because of the lack of awareness about international curricula.

Parents and learners perceive that international boards are only for students who wish to study abroad. However, this is incorrect as most of the Indian students studying in schools affiliated with international boards are seeking admissions into Indian universities.

Another misconception is that international boards do not prepare students for entrance exams such as JEE, NEET etc. Students opting for international programmes are able to perform well in entrance tests because they develop deep subject knowledge and higher-order thinking skills.

The draft new education policy 2019 proposes a number of reforms and initiatives for the entire education system in India. The biggest challenge today is to ensure that young people leaving schools are equipped with the skills and tools they require to not only succeed, but also thrive in a world full of opportunities as well as several uncertainties. In order to make this happen, some tactical changes in one area alone will not suffice. A high-quality education system is one where curriculum, pedagogical approaches and assessment are well aligned with each other.

(The writer is with Cambridge International)

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