In urban India, particularly in the metros and cities, we have always built large, monolithic school structures — typically, a large campus for several thousand students and several hundred classrooms, and all the enabling facilities to support these large numbers. Such campuses require several other parts that are not trivial, to make the school complete for delivering school Education from K-12.
Some of these better schools are not necessarily in the central part of the city. Children and parents have to go through the rigmarole of getting their children ready, and preparing lunch boxes, in case they don’t serve lunch at school. All the key stakeholders have to be transported from different locations to the school, and transported back. There are many more complex tasks to make the ‘city’s big school’ a really good school where real world learning happens, and world-class teaching practices, pedagogical approaches, and good and fair assessment methodologies are implemented.
Clearly the main and foremost responsibility of a school is to deliver best-in-class education, and develop wholesome personalities who would become world citizens, and make us all proud. So, most parents would aspire for their children to study at this school.
The cardinal questions to answer here are particularly in the context of an elaborate and extended period of the pandemic, and what have we done. We switched to online learning. Not even 50% effective as classroom and peer group real world learning where it learning is of experiential nature — particularly grade 4 and later.
When everything was normal, pre-COVID, it was education as usual, and this great school with a fantastic edifice, implementing all great teaching-learning, facilities, extra-curricular activities, and innovation centres were all available.
During the past 18 months, and for another, foreseeable year, not much is going to change. The effectiveness of online learning is only incrementally improved despite being well supplemented by age group appropriate learning kits. The children do get restless, and it is difficult for elders in the family to help children pay attention to the online learning programs. The curriculum is still sacrosanct and the exams are also sacrosanct. The exam grades would eventually enable them to enter the portals of the colleges or universities of their liking.
My question is, due to the extended pandemic, will the heavy overheads of running these monolith K-12 classes in one place be viable and practical post the COVID pandemic for a long time?
As we are aware, numerous neighbourhood schools — small schools to pre-schools to Upper KG schools — are closed for more than 18 months. And we know there are numerous such facilities in each neighbourhood.
My proposed model is, if the schools with a good brand agree with the facility owners and set up a well equipped facility, the students from the neighbourhood, with minimum commute and preferably walking distance from their homes, could be benefited immensely.
The capacity should be about 40 students, and 2 teachers and 2 supporting teachers, if required (could even be parent volunteers – with flexible timings). If the number of people per centre is minimized, the quality of education would be even better, as it can be personalized, and parent engagement would be higher. The risk would be much lower, as the number of students would be much lesser. The activities and recreation for that age group will generally be available already; if not, they can be easily created.
Your Neighbourhood Learning Centre! Imagine clusters of such NLCs getting established near your homes, and all the benefits.
I still strongly believe in the Big School model for 5th Grade and onwards, as social skills development, competition, access to laboratories, equipment, models, real world learning centres, innovation laboratories, makerspaces, playgrounds, and more would be integral to them. When the pandemic is gone, I strongly doubt that the children will prefer to go to neighbourhood schools than to a far away ‘good school’.
The extra space that becomes available at the main schools, meanwhile, can be used creatively to improve the teaching-learning processes, teacher-training, and a more experiential and real world learning. It can also house all modern equipment and lab upgrades, competitive exam coaching, counseling, integration of more interesting programs in visual arts, humanities, entrepreneurship & business studies, design, thinking etc.