Driving along the first ten kilometres of the beautiful, six-lane expressway that links the popular Delhi suburb of Noida with the immaculately planned Greater Noida, swanky office buildings, hotel developments and upscale condominiums vie for valuable real estate with newly-built, sprawling schools with names peppered with words like ‘international’, ‘global’ and ‘world.’
Gaia, a playschool for children aged two to five, is tucked away on a plot of land just off the expressway, its red-brick classroom huts looking relatively quaint next to the ‘major’ schools nearby.
But the unassuming nature of the buildings belie the grander plan schools like Gaia have in mind—to help reshape primary education in India. The shift away from conventional concrete is a carefully thought out one. Gaia has three huts for classrooms, an aquarium, an aviary, a duck pond and intricately carved stone and wood sculptures of animals including snails and caterpillars. A typical school day begins with a nature walk for students around its verdant campus, and children are encouraged to learn about colours, shapes and sizes outdoors.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
‘We don’t want our children to learn by rote. We’ve done that for too long in this country,’ says Aditi Jain, the school’s founder. ‘Nature is the biggest teacher. Children need to discover, they need to be curious. Telling them isn’t enough.’
Jain’s school may be small, with only about 100 pre-primary students, but the challenges that the school is trying to help tackle are immense in a country struggling to revamp its shackled and creaking learning infrastructure.
The bulk of education in India is managed by the state and only the urban, upper middle class elites have access to more expensive private education options. Although surveys aren’t really needed to highlight the mess the education system is in, they do help illustrate how consuming the rot has become. According to a recent study by ASSOCHAM, the country’s highest body for its chambers of commerce, India came in a shameful second from last among seven developing countries in terms of education quality, scoring minimum points in primary, secondary, tertiary and demographic parameters when compared with Russia, Brazil, China, South Africa, Mexico and Indonesia.
Primary education in India was found to be most underdeveloped, while the quality of tertiary education in India also scored the lowest in the survey. On a scale of 2, India managed a meagre 0.1. Meanwhile, only 12 percent of school graduates were enrolled in tertiary education in India, again the lowest among the 7 nations.
Last year’s Indian Education Report had even more startling findings. Only 36 percent of Year Five students, it said, can actually do division sums correctly, while around 40 percent of all rural children in the same grade were at least 3 full grades behind in terms of education.
India desperately needs to put more children in school, educate them better and ensure its college graduates are employable global workers if it is to maintain its current economic growth rates and bring tens of millions out of poverty.