‘Leaving no one behind’ has been at the center of UNESCO’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) with its emphasis on equitable and inclusive education. Anchoring his keynote speech at Quest2Learn Summit 2019 around this theme, Dr Anantha Duraiappah – Director of the UNESCO MGIEP – spoke about the problems plaguing the education sector and the structural changes needed to promote equity and inclusion.
Dr Duraiappah opens with some startling facts that shed light on the level of extremism and intolerance prevalent among the youth in India and the sense of anxiety and depression common among this subset of the population today.
“A survey was conducted by a Bangalore-based NGO in 2015 with a sample size of 1,000 young people between the ages of 15-25 across different fields of education,” Dr Duraiappah had said. “The level of intolerance among them was shocking,” he added.
According to the survey, while more than 60% felt that there was a fixed place for women – and men – in this world, many also felt that violence should be used when necessary. Furthermore, a sizeable chunk of the respondants were not supportive of democracy and many felt that interracial marriages should not be encouraged.
“When we talk about the 21st century, the conversations should be progressive and centered around liberal ideas. But the truth is that anxiety, depression and suicide has been spiking among youth. For all our conversations around technology and education, if this is the new reality, it needs to be urgently prioritised.”
He feels that it is a travesty that the impact of education around peace, sustainability and human rights has been very little. In fact, a lot of these are not going through the education system – as it exists today – making institutional changes imperative.
“Education should not be predatorial in nature. Assessments are essentially a zero-sum game where students are pitted against each other. We need a new approach – one which is based on evidence and science.”
‘The most flawed system’
A recent World Health Organisation (WHO) study states that 8,00,000 young people between the ages pf 15 and 29 die by suicide every year globally and Duraiappa firmly believes that the the primary driver of this is the present education system.
“The education sector has not changed over the last 300 years,” he said. “The current education system is regimented and has undergone little change over this time. It is instrumentalist by nature, that is, it has become a system for human capital. Instead, education should be for human flourishing. It should be about enabling people with the competencies to lead a meaningful life. As it stands today, it is the most flawed system we have,” he added.
According to him, the current education system advocates rote memorization and does not encourage creativity or seek to indulge a curious mind. It follows a one-size-fits-all approach, which does not make sense given that most people learn very differently as they are neuro-biologically wired in a unique way.
How do we provide a system that accounts for this?
“We need to get rid of standard assessment – that is, exams,” opined Dr Duraiappah. “Education should not be predatorial. The whole idea is to learn – do exams serve that purpose? No. It is a zero-sum game because students are pitted against each other. The digital world will offer another alternative to this,” he added.