Sunday, September 03, 2006

Education: Beyond boundaries of thought and instruction

Envision a world with no boundaries. All are free to move, to trade, to serve and to learn. Now guess where a student would go to get the highest standard of education in science, engineering, medicine or management. Her destination would most likely be somewhere in the United States.

America - the ultimate destination of that learner, is ironically struggling to find enough educators to teach her own young! Education experts have estimated that more than 2 million new teachers will be needed in the next decade and say demand will increase dramatically because the new law requires a highly qualified teacher in every classroom by 2006. Another major cause of concern is a declining and ageing population, which is seeing a lot more retiring teachers than ever before.

Take the case of India. According to a recent report in the Christian Science Monitor, India is short of engineering faculty by 10-30%. The reason: India’s economic success story has attracted these college teachers to the country’s rapidly growing high technology business sector.

There are linkages in these two seemingly unrelated stories. There have been reports about Indian and other foreign nationals migrating to the US as school teachers. Such is the severe crunch in the American education system, that quick one-year certification programs were designed to attract people from other professions - and even other countries. But with NCLB’s highly qualified teacher deadline fast approaching, public education is closing its doors to these alternate teachers as well.

In this situation, how can NCLB’s provision to provide Supplementary Education Services to all “needy” students in schools identified for improvement be fulfilled? Private tutoring establishments have been trying their best to hire tutors with the ability to help students achieve state standards.

Part of our “world with no boundaries” is the Internet. For example, a Canadian student of European history can now explore historical events through participation in a game-like website linking students around the world. This is surely more effective learning than simply reading a book. This is one example of how the Internet provides opportunities to redefine teaching and learning while keeping costs affordable. Another is the decision of American tutoring firms to turn to a land of abundance - India, and make Indian tutors available to U.S. students via the Internet.

To put it mildly, the experiment has been successful. It’s a win-win situation for the tutoring companies and the tutors. However, the biggest beneficiary has been the American student. For her, where the learning originates is immaterial. What is important to her is the availability of the best talent to groom her young mind.

Policymakers’ attention should shift from where tutoring originates to how we check the quality of teaching that happens on the Internet. This translates into developing stringent standards and processes that ensure consistently high quality. Organizations like National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC) and Commission on International and Trans-Regional Accreditation (CITA) would do well to formulate guidelines for online initiatives that do not pre-suppose any geographical limitations. Federal and state education agencies should focus on how to make this model work. Education companies trying to get into online education must establish operations that minimize cost and take advantage of the immense potential of the Internet.

Let learning happen at its best - unmindful of from where or by whom. The uppermost criterion is what and how. Education and health are the most basic of human needs and students deserve the open resource availability across the world. The rest of the stakeholders in this process are merely enablers.


-First Published in School Improvement Industry Weekly (www.siiwonline.com)

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