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Pursuit of Excellence

Pursuit of Excellence

We shall look upon pursuit of excellence, not as something relevant to a small minority of the gifted, but as an endeavour expected of every individual member of society. For we must demand best effort and performance from every one, whether gifted or average or disadvantaged or handicapped.

Pursuit of excellence means deployment of effort on the limits of individual ability in ways that test personal boundaries and pushback those boundaries. We must ensure that the agencies of human resource development are designed, organised and operated in such a manner that they stimulate in each individual the maximum effort to reach and transcend his or her present limitations.

In the ultimate analysis, all human effort is an effort at learning, at internalising, at embodying, at realising what is still ideal or what is still remote from the actual. In education as in culture, in studies and in arts and crafts, and in activities of physical exercise and sports, our aim should be to stimulate learning at topmost point and this will mean providing suitable atmosphere, material, inspiration, help, expectations and contents of education, standards and teachers.

We have in India several important problems related to contents of education or curriculum. In the first place, our curricula are limited to academic studies and do not normally highlight other areas relevant to human resource development, viz., cultural activities, physical education, sports, value education, character formation, hobbies, vocational activities, etc. Important aspects of national integration and international understanding also do not receive due attention. In the second place, curricula are more or less linear, proceeding from a starting point leading up to three major alternative professions, medicine, law and engineering, with a little sprinkling of vocational education and scholarship or pedagogy. A few programmes such as those of "work experience" are a half-hearted concession to some major demands that stem from a larger perspective of education that cares for a more relevant education in terms of the needs of the country and of the needs of a balanced development of personality. As a result, the curriculum is directly relevant only to a small minority of students who want to be turned out as doctors, lawyers, engineers, executives, clerks and teachers. For all the rest, those who want or need to come out of the stream at earlier stages and to fit themselves as agricultural workers, masons, carpenters, etc., they have to take the best advantage of the “system” and find out or miss out the opportunities. In the third place, there are strong pressures to add on to the general school curriculum studies of emerging areas, such as population education, environmental education, etc., and it is extremely difficult for our present curriculum to absorb these pressures. Over burdening the mind of the child has become a very disturbing phenomenon of the recent years.

Pursuit of Excellence

Pursuit of Excellence

Moreover, our National Policy on Education (1986) has underlined the goal of child-centered education. There are momentous implications. Our present curriculum is subject-centered, examination-centered, and teacher-centered. It does not centre on the psychological needs of the growth of children, nor does it make room for differentiations among children or groups of children. Child-centered education implies evolutionary and alternative curricula that takes into account the differentiated evolution of students' needs and goals. The National Policy also advocates module-based and application-oriented curricula, in order to facilitate freedom of choice and emphasis on a proper blending of theoretical studies with practical application. Child-centered education also implies employment of new methods of teaching-learning, which have also consequences for the framing of curricula.

It is also obvious that curricula must be constantly updated so that the frontiers of knowledge are brought nearer to the boundaries of students' learning programmes. Finally, curricula have also to be remodeled in the context of the emerging needs of life-long education.

Upgrading the curricula will not be enough, we shall have also to prune what is obsolete or irrelevant. Needs of specialisation have to be taken into account, and yet a more complex situation has to be reckoned where a harmonious blending of general and specialised development at various levels and suitable terminal points have to be ensured. A larger synthesis is the supreme need of our times, and in the making of the future, ancient and modern, eastern and western will need to acknowledge each other meaningfully so as to make a way for dynamic progress.

Ad hoc or piecemeal measures will not yield solution to these difficult and complex problems. There are in our country only two national bodies which have some kind of authority or responsibility to evolve curricula which would have or could have impact at the national level. These are the National council of Educational Research and Training and the University Grants Commission. In such a brief statement as this, it is not possible to bring out their limitations so as to show how and why they have not been able to evolve the needed curricula. These limitations will stand in the way again. What is needed is to involve the best minds and teachers who are capable of adopting an approach that is at once radical and holistic, who are deeply conscious of the pressing needs of today and tomorrow, and who have themselves endeavoured to develop their faculties to their increasing fullness and integration.

This is an urgent need and necessary steps require to be initiated without delay.

Pursuit of Excellence

Pursuit of Excellence

We have so far built only half way houses; they do not work, and we begin to build some other half-houses. This is because there is a dread of ‘radical solutions’, for these solutions demand a dire battle with inertia and established order of things. We give up working for excellence and perfection because it means too much labour and a more intricate and complex and subtle invention.

Let us take, for instance, the question of the examination system. If there is one single obstacle to the pursuit of excellence, or for that matter, to true education, it is the present examination system. Admitting this fact, we turn round and round, and we prepare a half-way house, viz., semester system and continuous evaluation, without realising adequately that in exchange of a few advantages, we are multiplying examinations and the evil thereof manifold. We shall realise this sooner than later; in fact, the realisation of inadequacies has already begun to grow; and some conscientious educationists have again begun to turn round and round. But let us hope that we shall now make no half-way houses, but come forth with some real solutions, even though they may be 'radical' and thorough-going.

Without going into details, we may suggest three important principles which should guide us in reforming the examination system. First, we may underline that the real purpose of a test is to indicate to the student his present achievement and deficiencies and the lines on which he should plan his further progress. Secondly, the student should be tested when he feels that he is truly ready for the test. And, thirdly, the test, when it is given, is a true test, and it should be so designed that it tests and thus encourages all that we expect in regard to the pursuit of excellence, without allowing the student any real scope for pretence. The test must test knowledge, skills, motives, values, and not merely — as is the case today — half-baked information, and nothing else. Tests must oblige students to meet high standards of excellence.

There have been, during the past few decades, a number of experiments all over the world, and it seems that if a major effort is made to pool together the results of these experiments, we shall be able to propose and evolve a truly workable system that would embody all the above mentioned principles.

This will, indeed, mean not only a reform of the examination system but even of the entire system of education. It will mean, in fact, an invention of new system or even an extremely flexible, but at the same time an extremely efficient, way of teaching, learning and testing. And we can be more certain than ever that the candidates passing through these new "gates" will be more capable and more honest individuals. In their hands, the needs of the future will have a greater chance of fulfilment, and we can hope more confidently that students will not only continue to pursue excellence in their own lines and activities but will also insist on the pursuit of excellence in the structures and systems in which they will be engaged.

But before we reach this happy condition, we must take into account one more factor, viz., the factor of teaching. We must ensure high degree of performance of teaching, high degree of quality of information and guidance imparted to the students, and high degree of capability of employing varieties of instruments and methods of teaching in accordance with the needs and capacities of students.

Pursuit of Excellence

Pursuit of Excellence

Theoretically, who will dispute this? In fact, this has never been disputed, and efforts have been made to realise the desirable ends. But, again, we have turned round and round and built up half-way houses. For instance, we created the NCERT as a national centre of research and training, and NCERT built up six regional colleges of teachers' training ‒ but tied them up with the universities over which NCERT has no power or authority. For we did not take a more radical step, viz., to buildup in the country an entirely autonomous system of teachers' training which can be free from the universities for whom teachers' training is only a marginal activity and who have no time or inclination to give that much attention to the preparation of teachers which we, from an over-arching point of view, consider its Supreme importance. Not only the colleges of the NCERT, but all colleges of teachers' training are tied up with their respective universities where it is impossible to expect any such radical change that will favour the development of nurseries of living souls which alone can ensure higher excellence of teachers' training.

Among the new efforts that have recently been undertaken, we are trying to go farther − but again to build up another half-way house. We are trying to ensure 'autonomy' to every college that deserves or desires the freedom for innovation and pursuit of excellence. But this is half-way house, because what is needed is not merely freedom, but a much more full-blooded system or structure where all the institutions of teachers' training could be stimulated, organised and coordinated in such a way that they receive the highest national care, recognition and financial aid and moral support.

Again, without going into details, we may suggest the following steps that would shake the present system of teachers' training and would give way to the new that is imperatively and urgently required. In the first place, we must reconsider the unintelligent idea that is the major premise of our present system of teachers' training. It is that teachers can be trained within a period of nine months (the duration of the B.Ed course) or within a period of four to six weeks (the duration of the staff college’s courses meant for college lecturers.) There is no doubt that there are born teachers and they perhaps need no training. There is also no doubt that the present contents and methods of teachers' training produce bad teachers rather than good ones, and, in that sense, one would wish a complete abolition of teachers' training altogether. But let us consider only one aspect of a true and desirable course of teachers' training. We all agree that students should have all-round development of personality. But we do not equally realise that their teachers should have even a more strict and rigorous and opulent development of personality. And if we insist on this idea, it seems clear that we have to rethink the entire basis, structure, methods, pattern, and aims of the teachers' training programme.

Pursuit of Excellence

Pursuit of Excellence

We shall realise, at the minimum, that these programmes have to be much more wide-based and sound pedagogy will counsel us that a much longer duration will be required to produce teachers of the right quality. We shall realise that teachers will need to have a high degree of knowledge and expertise in their subject of specialisation than what is obtained or obtainable in the present system, and that, in addition, we shall expect them to have healthy and strong physique, refined tastes capable, at the minimum, of aesthetic appreciation, and dedication to the search of truth, beauty and goodness and of all those ideals that are urgently required to be realised to ensure progress of the nation and the world in the desirable direction.

In the second place, while granting autonomy to the colleges of teachers' training, we need to do a series of things so that the freedom given to them will be stimulated to achieve higher and higher peaks of excellence. Just to mention a few, teachers of teachers will need massive programmes of training, particularly, in regard to the new methods of education, new ideas and bold experiments, as also in the art and science of the value-oriented integral development of personality. This programme of training cannot be one-time crash programme; in order that it is fruitful, it must be a much slower but surer process, involving periodic in-service programmes. New books and manuals will need to be brought out, which should be in harmony with the latest educational thought, practice and methodology − and these will have to be given to trainers and trainees in the right manner. These new books and manuals should correspond with the new educational technology, and inputs will need to be made to make this technology and its instruments available in the training institutions. Since educational research is involved in any fruitful autonomy of the educational institution, trainers and trainees will need to be acquainted with the frontiers and methods of contemporary research in education.

In the third place, as is implicit in all the above suggestions, there will be a need of an organisation to coordinate and support the efforts of the teachers' training institutions. This organisation will itself need to be innovative, a store house and clearing house of information on innovations providing network facilities to all the concerned institutions, a facilitator of innovative experiments through seminars, workshops, conferences, international exchange and high level research, and a determiner and maintainer of standards of teachers' training programmes.

If three factors ‒ curriculum, standards and teaching ‒ are combined together and set on the path of ever-increasing excellence, we shall have created a proper environment in which children can properly be nurtured providing to them the required stimulation, inspiration and guidance to climb higher and higher hills and peaks of self-culture and self- perfection.

We may add one last word. Normally, our educational thought and action are limited to the formal channels of education, and we do not think easily of non-formal or informal strategies of education. And, if we think closely, we shall find that the latter strategies deserve much greater consideration and attention than hitherto.

Pursuit of Excellence

Pursuit of Excellence

Let us take the power of suggestion. The normal environment of children is packed with a battery of suggestions, and most of them are disabling or discouraging ones. Wrong attitudes and wrong ideas fill the atmosphere in which children breathe and live. Most of them pertain to the old world which is striving to survive in spite of the crushing onslaught of the march of progress. We notice that the contemporary children are extra-ordinary in many respects: they are highly intelligent, highly pitiless in their judgment, and highly quick and mobile. We notice that thousands of children are vibrating with a new consciousness, but how painful it is to see that they are walking in a perilous world, for that world is ruled by recurring spell of the old. These children are running the risk of being smothered or thwarted before they can affirm themselves and their new consciousness.

There is an urgent need to combat this world of suggestions, this world that acts as a spell of the old and the obsolete. And here we find that while the formal methods of education are important, they are not enough. Powerful non-formal and informal methods need to be employed. Massive movements need to be initiated that will aim at generating and circulating ideas and attitudes that are appropriate to the new world. Massive movements need to be initiated that will aim at generating and circulating ideas and attitudes that are appropriate to the new world. Massive movements need to be initiated that will aim at fostering and inspiring children and youths in their dreams and aspirations. Massive movements need to be initiated that aim at creating solidarity of children and youths through various means of exchange, communicating and participatory activities. We need to tap and nurture latent talents ‒ linguistic, musical, logical, mathematical, spatial, aesthetic, ethical, spiritual  and provide larger and vast networks through which excellence is identified, acknowledged, supported and encouraged. Smaller efforts which are afoot at present need to be enlarged and lifted from their peripheral place to a more central place. Some of these efforts need to be linked with the highest and most powerful seats of power at the state and national level. A special machinery needs to be created whose very function would be to co-ordinate efforts of tapping and nurturing talents and to strengthen them by providing them the required aid of local, regional and national agencies and organisations.

Human history shows that there are golden reaches of consciousness and from there have descended numerous forms and events, and if these can be brought nearer to the dreams and imaginations of children and youths, they can be inspired to actualise them once again and even led to go beyond to newer and more glorious realisations.

This can be done by formal means of education, but there can be incalculable results if non-formal and informal strategies are evolved and if they can be made a part of a deliberate plan of action that aims, not at mere instruction, but at fostering, encouraging and inspiring children and youths.

In concrete terms, there should be at least one national agency whose fundamental aim should be to −

  • identify among children and youths those who have a natural turn or talent for all-round development and excellence;
  • foster, encourage and inspire them, not only by awarding in an impersonal manner prizes or scholarships, but by pursuing their career and to secure them help and encouragement as and when necessary;
  • organise various non-formal and informal means to interact with the concerned children and youths;
  • utilise services for pursuit of excellence not merely for a few but in an increasing manner for all; and
  • create a general climate in the country for the promotion of high quality in aspiration, in performance, and in fulfilment.

The proposed national agency may, in due course, build up grass-root agencies and, with the collaboration of a number of state or voluntary organisations, create a national network that can establish an ideal but realisable sovereignty of the upward aspiration for excellence of the child and the youth.

Pursuit of Excellence

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