Proponent of education policies and curriculum

Rustom Kerawalla Chairman AMPERSAND GROUP is a renowned educationist, an edu-tech entrepreneur and a veteran expert in global and Indian education policy landscape. He has over three decades of experience in working with diverse policymakers and Government institutions in the areas of early childcare learning, skill development and continuous professional development for creating vast knowledge resources in developing nations across the globe – from India to Africa and beyond.
Mr. Kerawalla is also a strong proponent of developing relevant policies and curriculum which leverage advancements in Information Technology (IT) and modern digital platforms for transforming India from a mere literate nation to a country with a vast knowledge resource base and skilled talent pool, across socio-economic demographics. It is because of his vision that the Ampersand Group also strongly relies on digital tools and technology platforms to democratise education and skill development, bringing it within reach of all, through Government and private sector education institutions. Due to this reason and his proven expertise, Mr. Kerawalla is often invited to work closely with the public sector for transforming early childcare centres and schools operated by the Government and Municipal bodies and other similar projects.
Recently, he was invited by the Government of Jammu and Kashmir for an online teaching programme. In an exclusive interview with the Daily Excelsior Correspondent, he shares his views on a spectrum of educational issue.
i) You were invited by the Government of Jammu and Kashmir to collaborate in an online Teacher programme. What were the terms and conditions for such a collaboration?
Answer: Ampersand Group collaborated with the Samgra Shiksha, Government of Jammu & Kashmir for conducting teacher training in the Early Child Care & Education (ECCE) as a pilot project under the Public-Private Partnership model to train 40 teachers across 40 schools. The successful completion of the pilot project has showcased the capability of the group to scale the project across the state at any given point of time.
ii) How were the teachers selected for the programme? Were these selected on any test or they were sponsored by the Government or by the Education Department on its own?
Answer: The government had identified a select group of teachers across schools to participate in the pilot project.
iii) What were long and short term objectives of such a programme?
Answer: The immediate objective was capacity building among teachers through the curriculum provided by Ampersand Group which would help them gain a modern perspective of ECCE. A quality programme, in the long run, will be achieved when all stakeholders along with the government take ECCE to another level. This can be done by extending our services in continuous teacher training and with Ampersand Group sharing its curriculum with the entire teaching fraternity across the state. With the training and certification, teachers with entrepreneurship aspirations in Jammu & Kashmir can set up their own local ECCE centres, leading to further growth of pre-primary education and employment opportunities.
iv) How far is this course going to benefit schools spread across the UT?
Answer: This course will help to generate relevance of child development by developing appropriate practices of early learning. In addition, a scripted curriculum will bring all academic learning at par and instill a scientific methodology of learning for teachers. This will be fruitful by imparting 21st century skills to the teachers and by grooming them into professionals.
v) At a time when there are issues relating to internet access in the UT, poor communication network in rural areas, lack of electronic devices like laptops, android based mobiles among students community, how is online teaching programme going to benefit students Community?
Answer: The COVID-19 pandemic has brought most of these issues to the fore. However, various measures are been implemented to bridge this divide. Parents are understanding the importance of education amidst lockdown and hence are encouraging their children to opt for online learning to maintain continuity in education with whatever means available. A number of measures have been taken to boost online education through television, radio sets, Edtech applications, and messaging services, etc. where academic material is shared with the students, and regular updates are been given to them.
vi) Do you think online teaching is going to stay here when Covid Pandemic is over?
Answer: Online education during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a boon for the education sector. It has maintained continuity in education and prevented millions of students from missing out on an academic year. The post-COVID world will have online learning as part of its regular curriculum as the world has learned its benefits. While there is no supplementing classroom education, the future of academics will be in a blended form.
vii) There is no face to face interaction between teachers and students during online classes. Do you think that it can replace the traditional classroom ambiance?
Answer: The benefit of online learning is that it can reach out to masses beyond the geographical divide. It helps in creating a level playing field for students as well as teachers and bridge the urban-rural gap. It will bring learning at par for all and teachers can opt for upskilling courses just like their counterparts in the cities.
viii) Though teaching can be conducted through online mode, there is no way you can conduct exams online given the present circumstances. Is there any suitable way out?
Answer: Exams can definitely be conducted online and for all grades. In pre-primary, teachers can assess the qualitative and quantitative scores and then upload them for parents as a report card. There are effective summations of successful competitive examinations that are conducted online – For e.g., GRE, GMAT among others can be taken from any place. Similar models can be applicable for school and college examinations where students can take examinations confined to their home/locally assigned centres. Malpractices can be avoided through effective Artificial Intelligence programmed platforms to conduct examinations. Cameras in the laptop, mobile phone, or a computer can detect abnormality or anomalies and initiate action just like an exam hall. Pilot projects should be initiated at the earliest and models should be created to make it more robust before rolling out across the spectrum. Such a system can at present be rolled out within months and ensure that this academic year isn’t lost.
ix) Is not online teaching a privilege for the elite section of society only? Has not it created class distinctions in society?
Answer: With the disruptions caused by COVID-19 in education, online education has bridged the divide through time zones and geography. It has ensured that irrespective of the hindrance caused by social, political, health, or ecology – students can sit in the confines of their dwelling and continue their academics. It has eradicated class distinctions across boundaries as education is not restricted to brick and mortar landscape and it has become accessible through a non-partisan platform. In the span of 3-4 months, the world has witnessed those changes in education which it hasn’t for the past two decades. Even the government has been professing the use of various broadcast mediums to ensure education is delivered by making several course materials accessible to launching various education-based programmes on radio and television. In addition, they along with the private sector should create new models to ensure that all children have access to devices and connectivity for education. Over the past few months, private educational enterprises have made education freely accessible on their applications and scores of students have benefitted from it. Smartphones have become affordable and even families belonging to the Economically Weaker Sections can afford a mobile phone. They too realise that education for them is an investment that will reap dividends in the future.
x) How do you see education sector in Jammu and Kashmir? Is it keeping pace with other states of the country?
Answer: There are lots of opportunities and potential for investments Jammu & Kashmir which are needed for developing a robust education system. While it is lagging behind from the rest of the country, there many positive changes that are taking place in the state. Private-Public Partnership will assist in the transformation of education sector in the state. The government should give topmost priority to strengthen the foundations of ECCE. Ampersand Group through its experience in ECCE, K12 Education, teacher training, curriculum management, formulating education policies, and skill development can contribute immensely towards the development of education in Jammu & Kashmir.