The country has been grappling with issues related to education. A report on the 12th edition of the National Summit on Quality in Education organised by the CII in Chennai last month.

One of the key parameters that indicate a nation’s progress and prosperity can be gauged by the quality of education that it imparts to the student community. The higher the quality of teaching standards, the higher is the talent pool that passes out after completing formal education.

One of the chief grouses often expressed by India Inc at every possible forum relates to this very parameter — a severe shortage of ‘employable youths’. Indian industry has been expressing this concern despite having a huge ‘literate’ pool. Somewhere down the teaching lane, there is a huge mismatch between what the student community has learnt and the actual requirement of the industry.

Experts have been pointing out that in the completely changed economic set-up with globalisation taking centrestage, there is an urgent need to connect the curriculum to that of the new competitive business dynamics and also narrow the gap between the rural and urban student community.

With this perspective in mind, the CII-Institute of Quality, Bangalore, organised its 12th edition of the National Summit on Quality in Education in Chennai on October 23 and 24. This year’s theme was Quality Education: Scalable with Inclusiveness.

Summit overview

Over 500 delegates comprising heads of institutions, principals, senior faculty and administrators from both school and higher education participated in the two-day National Summit. Each of the 40 speakers who shared their success stories felt that it is time to effect substantial and perceptible change by including all geo-parameters like socio-economic-politico, geographical, physical and psychologically disadvantaged sections so that all stakeholders, vis-à-vis, teachers, parents, students and managements together pursue education excellence with lot of passion and zeal.

The delegates who came from across India and abroad got a chance to hear these experts share their viewpoints on various hard pressing and contemporary topics like Inclusiveness with Excellence, Assuring Quality through Assessments Accreditations and Certifications, Learning from other sectors, Integrating Technology for reaching people and Innovations in Education.

In addition to the Summit briefings, the delegates got a hands-on feel at the exclusive exhibition centre where 15 NGOs and Service Providers like Educomp, Everonn, NIIT, Ebek and others working in the field of education showcased their successful models, contributions, products and services.

Inaugural observations

One of the prominent thoughts that literally set the tone for the two-day summit came from the chairman of National Skills Development Corporation, M.V. Subbaiah, who floated the idea of reintroducing the conventional Gurukul system of teaching and learning process. In his keynote address, Mr. Subbaiah said that this ancient system helped a child develop a holistic perspective towards life which the presentday curriculum severely lacked.

Another thought he proposed to educational institutions was the adoption of the German model. This model should be adopted after completion of Class 8, after which a student would be free to choose a vocational course that interested him. This basically “helps the student to excel in the field he pursues.” He said: “Any person who spends at least 10,000 hours pursuing her passion will become an expert in that chosen field.”

Just like leaders in business and industry, educators across the nation were now trying to meet the fast-changing needs and expectations of the student community and the industry. In order to develop capable, ‘thinking youth’ — the future force of the nation — the role of educators was now gaining immense credence. Improving access and quality at all levels of education was now the priority area not only with the Central and State governments, but also the onus now lay with private institutions as well.

Chairman of CII-Institute of Quality K. N. Shenoy who inaugurated the National Summit observed that educational institutions should look at every possible avenue, be it leveraging technology, getting high-end faculty or putting in place enabling infrastructure to reach out not only to the urban student community but also the rural and other disadvantaged sections. He said: “We at CII have made an earnest beginning to push the concept of holistic and quality education by promoting various ‘educational excellence’ initiatives over the last eleven years. These initiatives basically equip institutions with a set of quality tools to provide highly structured and seamless education processes to all its students and the other stakeholders involved.”

Successful models

Managing director and CEO of Manipal Education Anand Sudarshan said that as corporate India was all set to record phenomenal growth in the next coming years it was time the government along with educational institutions adopted multi-dimensional teaching processes so as to help student community to develop holistic skill sets by the time they graduated.

Attitudinal change was very much needed both at government and institutional levels to provide value and skill-oriented education to every citizen of the country, he said and urged educational institutions to adopt best practices across domains so as to help both the rural and urban student community integrate seamlessly with corporate India’s requirement. “Look at multi-dimensional teaching and learning perspectives so that we can make a difference,” Mr. Sudarshan said.

N. Nagaraju, Regional Officer, Central Board of Secondary School, who made his presentation on the subject ‘Scalable with inclusiveness’, said that the government body was looking at ways to make education process more meaningful by providing maximum autonomy to institutions. He said that over the last few years, the board had been proactively working with a cross-section of institutions to formulate appropriate curriculum that were on a par with global standards.

Sharing the concept of inclusiveness with quality, Director of Super 30 Institute (Bihar) Anand Kumar, said that there was an urgent need to bridge the gap between rural and urban students and give them equitable opportunities.

A similar sentiment was echoed by M.A. Balasubramanya, CEO, Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement. He said: “Provide and facilitate quality education, with focus on human values, literacy and vocational skills. Education is more than merely fulfilling a curriculum. It should nurture hidden capacities in every child and groom them into responsible citizens. It should not only be contemporary and contextually relevant but also accessible, affordable, appropriately leveraged with technology, inclusive, sustainable and constantly scalable.”

Making a point on how important education is and what it does for the nation and the family, Executive Director of Akshaya Patra Foundation Sridhar Venkat said that no child should be deprived of education because of hunger. He said: “You cannot teach a hungry child. Education is one of the important cycles to take the family away from poverty.”

Speaking on the topic ‘Learning from other sectors’, managing director of Chennai Petroleum Corporation Acharya K.K. said that a recent survey on the quality of education on a scale of 1 to 10 indicated that India’s placement was just 3.4, compared to China’s 7.5. He wondered how India would compete with China in the next decade with this pitiable standard.

In this backdrop, Mr. Acharya appealed to all educational institutions to equip themselves with the best of technology and other related teaching models that are available to groom students to take on the challenge head on. He said: “Today’s children are the future and how institutions are going to shape the student community to meet the challenge now lies with this sector.”

He also suggested that since the infrastructure sector in India is rapidly growing, institutions should also encourage the development of soft skills so that the marginalised and other disadvantaged sections are also integrated into the mainstream. “There is a huge demand for soft skills apart from Engineers and Software technicians to meet the growing demand the infrastructure sector will throw up now. It is the right time to include vocational skills in the curriculum post matriculation so that this sector is properly taken care.”

Speaking on the same topic, Senior Manager of HR at Arvind Eye Hospital, Preeti Pradhan, said that every institution should have a process of standardisation put in place as it is very important for any operation to reach out to a larger mass base. She said: “Intelligence and knowledge alone is not necessary to excel but there should also be an element of joy and passion in whatever one does. Only then the set goals and targets can be achieved in a set timeframe.”

Using technology

Educationists opined that over 170 million students are not receiving higher education today due to inadequate and uneven infrastructure across the country. The rural areas of the country, which represent about 65 percent of the total population, have just 20 percent of the total professional colleges. One of the viable options to reach out this mass base is through technology.

Shiva Prasath P., Managing Director, Virtuosity Skill Development, speaking on how technology innovation has changed the very landscape of education, said that e-learning is one of the important mass tools to reach out to a larger canvas. He said: “Through e-learning mode, rural and other disadvantaged sections of the society can be imparted the same learning skills as their urban counterparts.”

Speaking on the same vein, Puneet Jhingan, Senior Vice President, Interactive Distance Learning Division, Educomp Vocational Education, felt that there is a huge need to bridge the access gap and that can be done only with technology. He said that on an average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction as the content can be made up-to-date and easily distributed without compromising on quality.

Final takeaways

In his valedictory address, Sanmar Group Vice Chairman N. Kumar said that there is an urgent need to empower students with vocational skills.

“In our country, there are only the traditional few courses such as engineering, medicine, commerce, law and the like. Courses on carpentry, masonry, plumbing, watch repairing, shoe making, automobile repair, ceramics, pottery, horticulture and a host of other subjects could be offered for the benefit of millions of unemployed youth in the country,” he said. “How often are we stuck with a leaking tap for want of a qualified plumber to come in time to fix it, or stuck on the highway for want of a qualified car mechanic? Our education system has to get geared up to meet the needs of scores of such children.” He called upon industrial houses to give a helping hand by adopting schools, especially in the rural regions.

Chairman of the core group on School Education Reforms, Government of Maharashtra, Suman Karndikar, is actively scouting for successful models to be replicated in her state in order to raise the literacy rate there.

She said: “I am thankful to CII-IQ for having conducted this Summit, as through this interaction, I got to know of a wide array of education models and tools on a single platform. I will choose one of the models and recommend it to the government considering my state’s education requirement to promote quality education.”

Sheela Ramachandra, Principal, PSG College of Arts and Science, said that at every summit she has had important takeaways. She said: “During the last four Summits that CII-IQ has conducted, I have been taking home some learning which I apply in my institution. This year too, I have picked up a couple of tools that will further enrich my institution’s goal of pursuing quality education.”

Next summit

The CII Institute of Quality has already announced its 13th edition of the National Summit on Quality in Education. CII-IQ will be organising the next National Summit in the Western region. It is tentatively scheduled to be held on September 25 and 26, 2010.

The author is a Senior Counsellor for Education Excellence at the CII Institute of Quality.