As India struggles to keep its promise of free and compulsory education to its children, the issues that seem to have been pushed to a corner are the quality and effectiveness of our teaching system.

Ken Gnanakan, founder-chairman of the ACTS Group of Institutions, a non-governmental organisation working for social and environmental causes, has been out and about pointing out the flaws in the present education system and suggesting an alternative mode of learning that aims to make citizens employable while also preparing them for life.

ACTS, in association with the Global Challenges Forum, is hosting an international conference, Transformative Education Forum, in the city. The forum is being held with a mission to “define reforms in India’s education system that will transform older, obsolete models of human learning” and create citizens who have the ability to understand complex issues “for a better, more equitable and viable world.”

Dr. Gnanakan, the author of Integrated Learning, has been propagating the idea of a holistic, value-based approach to learning that includes social, environmental, cultural and spiritual elements so as to affect a child completely. Integrated education is the alternative he proposes to the present syllabus-oriented system.

At the many schools that his NGO runs, Dr. Gnanakan observes a need among parents to see results in the form of academic distinction. At several leading schools, teachers are constantly under pressure to finish the syllabus and show 100 per cent passes, regardless of whether real learning is taking place in the classroom or not. “We let children mug up without allowing them to think critically,” he rues.

With the right guidance, analytical thinking can begin at an early age, believes Dr. Gnanakan. “The teacher should be able to understand what a child does well, and then build on it,” he says.

Options aplenty

“What are you going to do with a society full of doctors and engineers?” he asks. “The world we live in today has a lot more options...there’s athletics, fashion, architecture, art...and integrated learning is all about looking at it as a whole in society.”

The Transformative Education Forum, which brings together leaders from varied sectors around the world, hopes to convince people on this need to make education holistic, and not merely academic.

“It’s a drop in the ocean, but we’re hoping it will be a significant drop,” says Dr. Gnanakan, who is also the president of the International Centre for Higher Education, Switzerland.

Convincing the teachers

The educationist believes that such a change can be triggered if institutional heads and managements are convinced first.

“We’re not taking away the emphasis on education, but only providing it in the right direction so that people can become useful in society.”

“Howard Gardner [the Harvard professor best known for his theory of multiple intelligences] is talking about being colour smart, number smart and word smart; but if I can handle a person who is street smart and develop them to be intelligent that way, that’s life then,” Dr. Gnanakan says.

The Transformative Education Forum will be held in the city from September 13 to 15 at the Alliance Francaise de Bangalore , from 9.30 a.m. to 1 p.m.