Education Agenda – Can Goa Take the Lead

I may have been looking through prejudiced eyes, but it seemed as if education was a factor in most speakers' talks at the Goa Agenda. The problems mentioned related to both quality and quantity. IT and IT Enabled Services(ITES) are manpower intensive. If we project the expected growth and translate that into manpower needs, we conclude that we are headed for trouble and should examine the role of education urgently.

Prof. Dijkstra, one of the original computer scientists, once remarked that it is not the job of the University to give what the society wants; it is the job of the University to give what the society needs. If we find our universities too slow to react to the obvious changes, we need to have a fresh look at the entire system.

Goa could be an ideal place to experiment with new ideas. It is small, literate and cosmopolitan. Mr. F C Kohli talked about the education efforts of TCS to spread adult literacy. As he pointed out, given the magitude of the problem, conventional systems were hopeless. How could we ever find enough teachers to meet the needs? Hence, a method had to be found by which the need for formal teachers was greatly reduced.

It often sounds ironical that in India, given the number of our people and the need for jobs for the people, we need solutions which do not require people. We can increase the seats in IT but where are the teachers? Should we stop expanding? Should we continue using conventional classes in colleges with few teachers, producing 'professionals' whom the industry finds inappropriate? This problem may not be noticeable in Goa but it is accute in some states where the colleges have mushroomed.

We need to find a solution which breaks conventional wisdom. It requires risk taking. If we want our youngsters to be enterpreneurs, can an education system cosy in its cocoon be the source of the spark which triggers a new creation?

Creativity requires freedom. It needs innovation. It needs to nurture teachers who will innovate. I have frequently seen young teachers making up for their lack of experience with a passionate enthusiasm. Can we encourage their passion – or at least, not kill it.

While in Delhi a month or so ago, I read a news item that CBSE wants to introduce grading system. Why can't Goa take the lead. We could become the first state to convert our entire system from KG to Professional Colleges to a grading system in one go. There are bound to be problems in the first six months or a year. That is a part of the risk of change.

We are not talking about just replacing marks with a conversion formula, rather about a philosophical change which involving continuing assessment. It is about a philosophy which is concerned not about judging how much a student has learnt, but about ensuring that he has learnt. It is about a teacher getting a regular feedback about whether his efforts are producing the desired results. It is about a transparent system in which examinations have a limited role. The focus remains on learning.

The philosophy is about a system which is flexible and versatile. We should be able to introduce a course even if we are not confident about our ability to teach it provided we are confident about the ability of the students to learn it. A teacher can guide and, at times, struggle with understanding a new concept along with his students. Such courses and efforts are, in fact, desirable if we are to move our education to new horizons, introduce 'state of the knowledge' courses, and create an environment which encourages research.

We are not just talking about IT engineers only. The expectations of one of the speakers was that the number of people employed in the ITES area will exeed those in the conventional IT area. The skills required of these people will not be engineering but varied. Domain knowledge, whether accounts, finance, hospitality, insurance, will invevitably be a part of it. All this is expected in less than 8 years.

This is an opportunity for Goa to take the lead and accept the challenge of creating a new educational system which will meet the societal needs in times to come. There is no reason why we can't.