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The education system must foster empathy and innovation

It is not the market that drives what people learn, but rather the other way around.
BY BrainGain Magazine Staff Writer |   22-01-2018
Principals of 21 schools in Delhi and other cities participated in the breakfast roundtable discussion
Principals of 21 schools in Delhi and other cities participated in the breakfast roundtable discussion. Representatives from Knowledge@Wharton, the University of Cambridge, New York University, and St. Mary's University also participated.

BrainGain Magazine is gearing up for the annual Principals’ Breakfast Roundtable, scheduled for February 10, 2018, at the One Globe Forum in Delhi. The event brings together school principals from Delhi and other cities, as well as top professionals in education from around the world. The inevitably animated discussion typically centers on current issues in secondary education, and the theme for this year will be “Failure as a Step Forward in the Learning Process”.

At last year’s Forum, on February 10, 2017, the principals of 21 schools, along with other top education professionals, participated in a freewheeling discussion. Forum convener and BrainGain Magazine founder Harjiv Singh welcomed the participants, expressing delight at the fact that gathering grew bigger each year. A quarter of the world’s population lived in this part of the world, he said, so it was important for education leaders to think about what future generations should be like.

The discussion turned to “hardening borders and boundaries”, as Dr. Shalini Advani, Director of Pathways School Noida, put it. Just two weeks prior, US President Donald Trump’s executive order barring people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the US, had resulted in chaos at airports and fear among immigrants and students. Dr. Advani raised the question of how we define the 21st century. “How do we get young people to engage?” she asked.

She underscored the need for greater emphasis on literature and the social sciences, and for children to understand that science is not a static truth, but is evolving. Dr. Usha Ram, Associate Director of DPS World Foundation, added that it was important to prepare students for lifelong learning, and to enable them to be innovative.

Ms. Vanita Uppal, Director of The British School, Delhi, said this goal would be better fulfilled by training teachers to provide a new perspective, than by simply changing the curriculum. Capt. Rohit Bajaj, Director of Pathways School Gurgaon, added that the curriculum should place greater emphasis on an interdisciplinary approach.

Ms. Vanita Sehgal, Principal of DPS, R.K. Puram, noted that teachers were one part of the picture, and that the involvement of parents was another very important part. When children take decisions, parents must be aware of what is going on, she said.

Ms. Lata Vaidyanathan, Director, TERI Prakriti School, Gurgaon, noted that education played a large role in determining the future of our world. Children needed to have abilities such as risk-taking and critical analysis. Mr. Ashok Pandey, Principal of Ahlcon International School, noted that a good education would indeed guarantee that children would indeed develop skills and traits needed in the future. He said educators should aim for their students to have poise, grace, and technical and professional fitness, rather than to have job stability.

Ms. Gowri Ishwaran, CEO of the Global Education & Leadership Foundation and Founder Principal of Sanskriti School, New Delhi, said we need to equip our children to innovate, and to deal with pressing issues such as the threats to the planet, and global conflicts. She asked how educators can work globally as a team, to stem the tide of nationalism. One of the tasks of educators, she noted, is to teach children how to define success, something many equate with power or image, to the detriment of self-knowledge.

Ms. Kaye Jacob, Principal of The Heritage School, Gurgaon, highlighted the importance of differentiating between self-knowledge and “inwardness” which had spurred a huge reaction in the US, with a rise in civic education and engagement. She said a grounding in the liberal arts could help promote diversity (seeking out others) and inclusiveness (drawing people in). Children should take humanities and science subjects until college, rather than being forced early in into choosing a stream.

Principals of 21 schools in Delhi and other cities participated in the breakfast roundtable discussion

Dr. Mahesh Prasad, Principal of Step By Step School, Noida, said he believed children were naturally empathetic, but the competitive education system was dehumanizing. Thus there was a need to nurture empathy, he said. But these skills could not be taught – children needed to be immersed in a conducive environment.

Ms. Vaidyanathan cited the concept of Gross National Happiness, calling it a “culturization” of the process. Educators could create a conducive culture through a domino effect, she said.

Lt. Gen. (retd) Surendra Kulkarni, Director of Mayo College, Ajmer, raised the question of whether excessive emphasis on academics made for a culture that fostered work-life balance. Parents were also sometimes too focused on academics he noted.

Dr. Zafeena Suresh, Senior Advisor, Education USA, suggested that educators hold workshops for parents, as socialization starts in the family and is not the responsibility of only the school.

Dr. Advani noted that in India there was little tolerance for being wrong, and schools should allow children to experiment. Dr. Robert Duncan, international recruitment officer at St Mary’s University, London, concurred, saying that it was important to accept failure as part of the learning process.

Dr. Siddharth Saxena, anthropologist, historian and physicist at University of Cambridge, noted that 40% of physics students at his university ended up working in the financial sector in London – and also 40% of history students. What mattered was not just quantitative but problem-solving skills. “It’s not the market that drives what people learn – it’s the other way around,” he said.

Ms. Diana Drake, Managing Editor of Knowledge@Wharton High School, noted that it was important to teach teens how to listen. Mr. Dominic Johnson, Director of Business Operations at Knowledge@Wharton, brought the discussion back full circle when he pointed out that the inability to listen was one of the factors in the surge of nationalism worldwide.

Dr. Basilio Monteiro, Director of the Graduate Program in International Communication at St. John’s University, New York, said too often people measured the worth of education in terms of what students earn after graduation. As a result, the value of humanities got decimated. “We are training people not to be good citizens but to be human resources for industry,” he said.

The discussion was still going strong when it was time to end – a testimony to the need for more such gatherings in the future.


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