Sometime during the mid-1980s, Asman silently entered the academic world of India. They have been effective agents of change. Over the years, they have introduced the nation to postmodern ways of speaking. In its homes and hearts, the state at the time was still struggling to cope with the demands of modernity.
The two nouns are ‘innovation’ and ‘narrative’. Administrators and teachers took their time to learn how to introduce these nouns into everyday grammar. Politicians and business leaders were investing in education faster. Journalists noticed the change and did their expected part in spreading the word(s). The Program of Action (1992) awakened and urged the elderly deputies to realize how important the role ‘innovation’ would play in the imminent dawn of the new century. The curriculum had to be revamped to make it able to inspire the innovative spirit of young people whose imaginations were stifled by nursery teachers. Universities thoughtlessly accepted the challenge of repairing what was damaged during the fun kindergarten years. A new novel of educational reform was born.
A few years ago, I met a young man who designed a five-day training unit to instil a spirit of innovation among school teachers. A whole host of VIPs have endorsed this effective unity. When I met its Maker, the remarkable loneliness of nearly half a million teachers had already been administered, diverting them from their established pedagogical ways. Among the teachers he trained, a few dozen were selected to be recognized as leaders. State governments were vying with each other to arrange a five-day batch of innovation among their lethargic teachers.
According to a recent report in this newspaper, an American innovator has attracted a record number of major investors in a new device capable of detecting a wide range of potential diseases from just a few drops of blood. The device drastically reduced the price and hassle of a standard blood test. This devastating health technology dominated the US market for several years before it was revealed as a scam.
The success of this project helps us see the intimate relationship between ‘innovation’ and ‘narrative’. Both achieved keyword status. Together, they marked the arrival of a new culture. However, one was more important than the other. While the narrative had a fixed weight, in the final analysis it was subordinated to its verbal companion, that is, innovation. This is where the new goal of teaching and research lies – to sculpt a mind that can habitually innovate in any field of choice, including the art of narrative creation.
Thus innovation became the paramount goal of the humble teacher’s work. Universities have set up pooled resource centers where exam-weary kids may turn to assemble a new device or devise a solution to an annoying old problem. The task of creating such a space in schools had to wait some time, but now that wait is over. Entrepreneurship eventually became a ‘topic’ and teachers were trained to deal with it effectively. Their focus is on nurturing young people who are not eager to work; Instead, they create employment opportunities for others. Innovation lies in the narrative.
The old educational theory was vaguely aware of the importance of “innovation”. The origins of the ambiguity were many, but the main reason was grammatical. Innovation was caught in a web of similar ideas whose ancestors have enjoyed respect for a long time in the history of science and the arts. Verbs such as “create” and “invent”, and nouns such as “realize” and “stalk” formed an ambiguous whole. Masonry has dominated educational philosophy and pedagogy for a very long time. This ancient tradition did not allow “innovation” to come into its own, or to become an end in itself. The teachers had to educate young minds in the slow and passionate haze of daily attendance. The ability to do something differently sprouts in a few at the end, but is unpredictable, let alone tested with the help of a few drops of saliva. The new educational era began when “innovation” became an independent goal. From then on, the teacher did not have to worry about the general development. Listing specific goals would eliminate old fears such as inclusive growth. Teacher can now sit down and plan her lesson in time using an app purchased from Pedagogy Market.
What started with words is slowly becoming a reality. Once, a consultant in the mid-1980s explained the future by flashing a small pill tucked into the palm of his hand. He said that a time would come soon, when you could drop a pill like this into a filthy stagnant pool, and watch its water turn blue and clean enough to drink. Those words were power. Everyone in attendance realized that clean water was no longer a systemic challenge.
An evolving capacity for innovation tops the list of “21st century skills” to be taught in higher education institutions. This title also dates back to the mid-1980s. Apparently, there was something magical in the air in that period. Narrative capture has become a political art. Education is usually a sector that is slow to respond to pressure, but it now appears ready. The speed and volume of research production are the main factors supporting the university’s position in the ranking lists. The old-fashioned courses that allowed for leisure thinking were no longer needed.
Some rare advice for rethinking came a few years ago from a book called The Slow Professor by Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Saber. Although there is little evidence that he made anyone look carefully at the reality the students face, the book makes his diagnosis crystal clear. You probably don’t have to worry about the effect of the book because the evidence is everywhere. It lies in the speed with which innovations are claimed in research papers that are produced and published overnight. Education has gone through a transformation where there is no longer a need to cultivate patience to understand things.
The writer is a former director of NCERT. His most recent book is “Younger Citizens”.