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New Social Compact

Understanding the Efficacy of Learning Organizations in Contemporary Indian Education

Swaleha Sindhi Ph.D.

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In the present era of globalization, organizations are expected to work with a creative rather than a reactive perspective and grow to be flexible, responsive and capable organizations in order to survive. In the existing scenario people are exposed to diverse knowledge through internet, there is much to learn and more to assimilate.

Senge’s (1990) model of the five disciplines of a learning organization emphasizes on the concept of systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, building shared vision and team learning. This points on continuous learning for individuals and organizations, with a great stress on the idea of bringing change with innovation and creativity. If the future organizations are driven by individual and collaborative learning, it is advisable to transform schools also into learning organizations, instead of school education being restricted merely to the process of acquiring facts and loads of numerical information to reproduce in examination using rote learning methodologies (current scenario in Indian schools).

In line with the needs of education system in India, schools should become more effective learning organizations that ultimately increase the leadership capacity and support the personal development of every individual at the institution. In chalking out the aims of education in India, Kothari commission report (1964-66) stressed that ‘education has to be used as powerful instrument of social economic and political change. The blending of conservative trend and progress is the basic characteristics of a healthy society. In a modern society individuals learn about intricate changes that are occurring around them. School of course is an important agency to usher in the changes’. However, years after these recommendations, the Indian schools are still perceived as institutions; transferring knowledge, fulfilling educational tasks and realizing educational objectives. They reflect upon syllabus, and follow a set of educational objectives framed to show them direction of activity at particular stages of education. There is hardly any effort to bring change in the system of education. Our education system is not governed with new educational tasks and essential new ideas for the educational organizations. Instead schools in their effort to become learning organizations are already feeling the tidal wave of change in many ways and this has resulted in confused, exhausted and disappointed school leaders who are unable develop the capacity of the school and every individual therein to manage change.

Indian Schools and Challenges

As educator Roland Barth has said, “Relationships among educators within a school range from vigorously healthy to dangerously competitive. Strengthen those relationships, and you improve professional practice.” Indian schools fail to develop themselves into true learning organizations due to; the existing school culture, amount of competition and working in isolation. In our schools there is little or no resistance against isolation and unproductive school competitions. Teachers teach in isolation, rarely does a teacher have the opportunity to go beyond her classroom to visit the pedagogic worlds of her peers, to learn from their classrooms. Improving school and community cooperation is another important area for learning organization. There is hardly any interaction between our schools and community. Little efforts are seen from schools to encourage children to get an access to learning resources in the community, to meet outstanding members of the community or involving parents in actively organizing extracurricular activities. One way of building connect with community is involving community elders in developing curriculum, but hardly our schools take suggestions from community elders on the topics to be included in the curriculum. There are negligible efforts to remove traditional education boundaries. It is becoming clear that schools can be re-created, made vital, and sustainably renewed not by fiat or command, and not by regulation, but by taking a learning orientation. This means involving everyone in the system in expressing their aspirations, building their awareness, and developing their capabilities together. Senge calls this the rudder that can keep the organization on course during times of stress. Not to mention, stress among teachers and leaders is a common scenario in majority of Indian schools today.

The way forward

The learning organization approach is capable of making an organization more competitive and adaptive in response to change in a school context. Thus, existence of teacher practices conducive to environment of strong learning environment supported by transformational leaders will enable schools to achieve continuous improvement and excellence in terms of student and teacher learning. The powerful pathway to becoming a better practitioner is to observe an expert peer in action, to reflect and improve upon one’s own practice as a result. When professionals like doctors, engineers or architects can do it then why not our teachers? Why can’t we bring teachers’ rich ‘knowledge-in-practice’ from the confines of their classrooms into the public domain? The reason that we are unable bring this change is because our teachers do not have the opportunity to go beyond classrooms to visit the pedagogic worlds of their peers or learn from their classrooms. Neither do the schools organize regular on the job staff development programs for teachers to promote shared vision. On the positive side, today, majority of school teachers and Principals are finding themselves involved in professional learning activities. School and curriculum reforms have necessitated regular review of practices and attitudes. This is for the reason that schools are finding it difficult to resist the pressures of change and improvement especially in response to the demands of professionalism and accountability. It is high time our schools realize that the goal of learning organizations is not the occasional burst of professional activity each time new demands are made of the school, curriculum or practices. Schools and their staff need to be ahead of the change game. Thus, the philosophy of a learning organization must be that learning is a way of working just as it is a way of living.

Last word

The ‘learning organization’ management approach is capable of making an organization more competitive and adaptive in response to change. The unit of innovation in Indian schools has usually been the individual teacher, the individual classroom, or a new curriculum to be implemented individually by teachers. But the larger environment in which innovation is supposed to occur is neglected. So few innovations occur and in the meantime either the innovative teacher is siphoned for few more bucks by other schools or a teacher who successfully innovates becomes threatening to those around him or her. Thus our fundamental challenges in education involve cultural changes that will require collective learning. By involving people at multiple levels and thinking together about significant and enduring solutions we can bring a positive change in the system. However, the role of our schools as learning organization can only be furthered when the school leadership is committed to transform schools by getting engaged with the learning process themselves. At the same time our teachers also must make effort to develop themselves and be updated before they show high expectations from students. All these constraints have apparently become a hindrance to the transformation of schools into strong learning organizations.

Dr.Swaleha Sindhi is Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Administration, the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, India. Dr. Sindhi is a frequent columnist on related topics, too. She is the Vice President of Indian Ocean Comparative Education Society (IOCES). Contact: swaleha sindhi[at]gmail.com

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New Social Compact

COVID-19: More than a Biological Weapon

Sabah Aslam

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While the biological virus is a common enemy of humankind, the political virus born out of certain American politicians is equally detestable, for it has damaged the global anti-epidemic cooperation and impeded the long-term development and progress of human society. The virus in the political world has done even more damages than the virus from the natural world.

What are the sources of this political virus then? It is rooted in the selfish interests of a handful of American politicians. Not long ago, the American media revealed that senior US officials had handed down documents to a number of federal agencies requesting all federal employees to speak consistently about the pandemic and blame China for everything. The document was practically a confession of the US government on how it implemented the buck-passing. As 2020 is America’s election year, some American politicians are so crazily intent on fabricating all kinds of fallacies about “holding China accountable,” attacking the WHO for being too “China-centric,” and even criticizing some state governors for poor epidemic response, all to keep the epidemic from affecting the election. Such unscrupulous “political shows” reflect how desperate these politicians are to cover up their misconduct both in the decision and execution of their response, with a purpose of deflecting the public grumble.

The political virus is a tumor stemming from racism. After the WHO and the scientific circle named the novel coronavirus COVID-19, some American politicians deliberately ignored the new nomenclature and insisted on calling it the “Chinese virus”. It is an international consensus not to label a virus with a region, state, or nation, which is also a universal principle that the international community should uphold. Yet these American politicians are determined to defy the world by intentionally steering public opinions in the direction of racism and xenophobia, and practicing racial discrimination. The use of the term “Chinese virus” for coronavirus laid bare the absolute absence of common sense, conscience, cooperative spirit, and morality in those politicians infected with the “political virus”.

The political virus derives from the Cold War mentality. A small group of American politicians have been obsessed with political maneuver and slandering China, especially the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has been busy fanning flames and spreading rumors. The “political virus” ingrained in their mind is the hotbed of all their vicious intentions. They have the wishful thinking that accusing China of the so-called “mask diplomacy” would offset its influence; vilifying China’s aid to help build the African Center for Disease Prevention and Control as an attempt to “steal genome data” would drive a wedge between China and Africa; and egging other countries to claim reparations from China would pin the “original sin” of the virus on the country…. These whimsical whoppers are nothing but Washington’s attempts to curb China’s development.

The political virus is rooted in the obsession with “great-power competition.” The US government labeled China and Russia as the biggest challenges to US national security in its latest National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy, and declared the reemergence of great-power competition. During this global crisis of COVID-19, certain American politicians, going out of their way to make “ammunition to win the great-power competition,” have gone all out to oppose China in every possible way and tried hard to cover up America’s embarrassment of ineffective epidemic control measures by smearing China, rather than focus on preventing the virus spread. As we can never wake up someone pretending to be asleep, perhaps the best way is to leave him alone and “not even turn our eyes in his direction,” as the famous Chinese writer Lu Xun once said.

The disease has seeped down into the skin and should be treated before it gets worse. The world is still struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic, and all countries need to join hands in defeating it. We advise the American politicians with ulterior motives to stop the misdeed and change course before its too late. We also call on the international community to stay on high alert and take strong measures to prevent the American political virus from spreading to do more harm to the global anti-epidemic efforts and the normal international order.

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New Social Compact

Spanish Flu and COVID-19 – are there lessons for the world of work?

Dorothea Hoehtker

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In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, many look to the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918/19, which killed an estimated 50 million people, or 2,5 per cent of the global population. Are there lessons to be learned from the world of work perspective?

The Spanish flu did not start in Spain but was called that because Spanish newspapers were the first to report about it. From its presumed origins in a World War I military camp in the state of Kansas, United States, it washed over the world in three waves. The first, mild one in spring 1918, was followed by a second, more deadly outbreak between September and December 1918 and a third one at the beginning of 1919.

All countries were hit, although unequally. Samoa lost 22 per cent of its population, Spain 12,3 per cent and the US 6,5 per cent. In colonial India, the flu killed 6 per cent of the population, amounting to 18 million, roughly the number of victims of the First World War.

Similar patterns, similar measures

COVID-19 and the Spanish Flu both have struck a highly globalized and interconnected world where viruses easily travel on ships, carriers and trains, or – today – on airplanes. As 1918 was the last year of the First World War, the movement of troops and refugees was a significant factor in spreading the virus. In 2019/20, business and leisure travellers have been the main carriers.

The only measures to control the spread of the disease back in 1918 just as in 2020 were better hygiene, quarantine of the infected, “social distancing” and shutting down much of public life. This implied massive restrictions of civil liberties and paralysis and disruption of the economy.

In 1918/19 as well as today, the poorest and most vulnerable, who often lived in crowded conditions, with low paid work and little or no access to health care, were much more exposed to infection. They also suffered most immediately from drastic lock down measures, and were at a particularly high risk of losing their lives and their livelihoods.

Different impacts

The Spanish Flu happened at the tail end of the First World War, in a context of widespread chaos. The response to the crisis was uncoordinated, mostly local, with a high mobilization of civil society groups.

In industrialized nations, the economic impact was rather short lived. Eventually, the economic boom of the “Roaring Twenties” got many people back to work.

In other parts of the world, such as India and sub-Saharan Africa, the consequences were deeper and longer lasting. A shortfall in labour affected harvest and sowing. Food prices spiked, causing widespread famine and an increased flow of migrants into urban centres. This led to social unrest, strikes and rebellion against colonial powers.

What we can learn

Although the world is very different today, we can learn from the events in 1918/19 that a pandemic increases poverty and inequalities; this carries a social and human cost, which can have long term destabilizing effects.

Today, states have more possibilities to react, including through fiscal and labour market policies and tools, and the opportunity for international cooperation through the United Nations and their international partners.

Policies in response to the COVID-19 crisis need to address inequalities and ensure that poor, rural and marginalized communities are not forgotten. ILO’s labour standards such as Recommendation No. 205, on employment and decent work for peace and resilience, provide the necessary framework.

The global economic and labour market problems arising out of the COVID-19 crisis suggest looking also at the economic crisis of the 1930s and reconstruction policies after World War II.

As a response to massive unemployment and destruction, the ILO promoted comprehensive social protection, including health care, and a variety of employment promotion policies based on the conviction that poverty anywhere constitutes a danger to prosperity everywhere.

These past responses can be an inspiration for recovery policies which have to be fair and – compared to the past – much more sustainable.

ILO

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New Social Compact

COVID-19 crisis: Older persons are the pillars of our society – we cannot leave them behind

Kaveh Zahedi

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Authors: Kaveh Zahedi and Eduardo Klien*

COVID-19 is turning our world upside down, especially for those at the end of the age spectrum. The virus and its rapid spread are challenging science, economy and society—as well as how we care for older persons.  

We know that the risk of dying from COVID-19 increases significantly with age. Evidence from Asia and the Pacific shows that case fatality rates rise markedly by decade for persons between the ages of 50 to 80.  Due to public health measures, many older persons will die alone, without family and friends. COVID-19 has stripped them of their fundamental human rights – including the right to live and die with dignity. 

In Asia and the Pacific, there are 630 million older persons aged 60 years or over. However, it is not only age that poses a higher risk. Older persons tend to be more affected by chronic and non-communicable diseases, making them more vulnerable to succumbing to COVID-19. Those with disabilities are at a particularly high risk since they are often poor, in vulnerable employment without adequate social protection and dependent on others. 

Personal distancing has also had a heavy impact on older persons. Those living alone, particularly older women, may become lonelier and more vulnerable to abuse. Persons with disabilities will be unable to receive assistance. Gatherings of older persons’ associations – an effective tool for their empowerment – are no longer possible. Those confined in care homes remain without the safeguards afforded by regular contact with the outside world. These factors can undermine an older person’s mental and physical health and exacerbate social exclusion. 

Weak social protection and limited access to affordable health care in the region make it less likely for older persons to seek care when showing symptoms of COVID-19.  Informal workers without social protection –which includes most working older persons- cannot afford to self-isolate as it threatens their sources of income. ESCAP and HelpAge International have promoted social protection through universal schemes, including social pensions, as well as access to Universal Health Care. 

Early detection and testing of COVID-19 has led to effective and timely policy interventions. We must ensure immediately that all older persons with symptoms get tested and treated. For those who cannot afford testing, we must provide adequate health care and social protection.   

Although many cases require us to avoid personal contact with older persons, we must reach out to our parents, grandparents, older neighbors and friends to ensure that their basic needs are met. We must engage with them socially, show our respect and assure them how much they matter to all of us, especially in times of crisis. In our interactions with older persons we must be more risk-averse, but not discriminatory.

The post-COVID-19 world will not be the same as before. We know that times ahead will be difficult, unemployment will be high and poverty widespread. While governments in many countries, including in Asia and the Pacific, have announced cash transfers and support to small and medium enterprises (SME) to mitigate the impacts of the crisis, it is imperative that they reach everyone.
 
We must also reduce the digital divide. Access to information and communications technology (ICT) can play a crucial mitigating role during crises, and it must be made available to older persons. ICT can help them manage aspects of their chronic diseases independently, which saves costs and reduces exposure to diseases from visiting hospitals and clinics. Using ICT to diagnose diseases can also help with early detection of disease and in turn early treatment and warning of developing disease hotspots. ESCAP is implementing a project exploring the feasibility of using ICT to support older persons in coping with chronic diseases. HelpAge is also integrating ICT in home and community care projects in the region. 

Timely, reliable and age-disaggregated data are crucial to supporting targeted interventions among older persons. As they face unique challenges, tailored data can help devise more effective responses and longer-term solutions. 

Older persons are crucial pillars of our societies, and their voice must be heard. They are the pioneers who have made the region prosper. It is our responsibility to reduce their vulnerabilities and ensure that older persons live without discrimination.

COVID-19 is challenging our commitment and capacity to leave no one behind. ESCAP and HelpAge work together and stand ready to support member States in responding to challenges, while aiming at policies for ageing societies based on the fundamentals of human rights: equality and dignity for all.

*Eduardo Klien. Regional Director for Asia – HelpAge International

UN ESCAP

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