Raising educational standard through personalised teaching
Rajeev Pathak, July 11. 2013 DHNS
Discovering the reason for the steady decline in arithmetic learning levels across India, Rajeev Pathak proposes measures that can stabilize the system.
A farmer from a quaint village in Madhya Pradesh, with less than a 1000 USD of lifetime savings, no health insurance, and multiple loans, worked for more than 15 hours every day of his life – all for a single aspiration – his desire to educate his son in the best of schools and colleges.
In the course of my entrepreneurial journey, I came across the archetype of this farmer often. This is the kind of morphing society we are living in. Irrespective of economic status, every Indian parent has a deep aspiration that their kids must do better than themselves in their careers. This is the most important factor that drives the demand for high quality education services in the country today.
Declining educational status
Our education system, needless to say, is far from delivering this aspiration. According to a recent ASER national survey, 46.3% of children in Std V could not read a Std II level text, in 2010. This proportion increased to 51.8% in 2011 and further to 53.2% in 2012. In 2010, of all children enrolled in Std V, 29.1% could not solve simple two-digit subtraction problems. This proportion increased to 39% in 2011 and further to 46.5% in 2012. Barring Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala, every major state shows signs of a substantial drop in arithmetic learning levels.`
Unable to accept such decline in basic reading and arithmetic levels across India we tried to discover the root cause for this decline ourselves. While visiting over a hundred schools (across tier one to tier three cities in both northern and southern India) to understand the modern schooling system, interviewing teachers, principals and students, we discovered a fundamental issue with our teaching methods – homogenous nature of teaching in classrooms.
To every student irrespective of his / her capability, interest, IQ, attention span, speed of learning, issues and difficulties, we teach the same thing. And we do it using same examples, same questions, and same illustrations, with same speed and time frame. This has led to what is called learning deficit in every student.
What exactly is learning deficit? Let us take an example of four students in the same grade in the same school, being taught mathematics. Though in the same class, all of them have different inherent potential and speed of learning. But our current classroom teaching assumes every student to be at the same level. And that results in a huge gap called “learning deficit”. Irony is that even most intelligent kids are not able to realize their full potential, so also the least intelligent.
Tackling learning deficit
Eliminating or even reducing this learning deficit is an impossible task to achieve until we provide one personal teacher for every learner. While an ideal solution, it is not really practical. However, there are many midway possible solutions to tackle this challenge which can work in conjunction with existing schooling systems;
n Better student-teacher ratio: It is impossible to achieve 1:1 personalized learning.
n Work sheets based on learning levels: This still groups students in buckets and is not individualized.
n Private Tuitions: While a growing industry in India, it is still not personalized and there is no quality control.
n Home schooling: It is not very prevalent in India and prevents kids from learning soft skills.
n Flip-classroom: The child learns the concepts at home through interactive videos and does activities and brainstorming in class. Currently, it is not supported by policies in India.
n Time independent curriculums: Herein, classes are not dependent on age but learning levels. This needs a fundamental change in policies and teaching methods.
n Intelligent machines: These enable personalized and adaptive learning through software. Intelligent machines which a student can access from anywhere and which are personalized to each individual according to his / her pace of learning can be the most effective solution to homogeneous learning. These intelligent machines can lead to improved outcomes, lower learning deficit and increased concentration and interest in the subject.
These are still early days, but the universe of personalized teaching is very exciting and full of possibilities to actually make a difference in the lives of children. We are at the cusp of education revolution across the world. And we will witness this more and more in the coming years.
And, by the way, the son of the farmer from the quaint town in Madhya Pradesh graduated from IIT and is now in US, working with the makers of the world’s leading search engine.
(The writer is the CEO and founder of an educational services company.)