If we were to ask you a simple question – Have you ever hired an electrician, a plumber or a carpenter and why? For almost all of you, the answer will be yes and you would think we are the foolish ones here for asking you why because clearly the answer is to fix the electrical, plumbing or wood work issue, right? Of course it is! But let us check the underlying theme of the statement. You had a problem; you hired a specialist who used his skillset to solve a problem. Through this article we will look to explore the future of Indian educational system producing problem solvers who can compete at a global level. We will be taking into account the New Education Policy (NEP 2020) elements that specifically target this area.
The basic reason for hiring the services of a person, whether we are hiring as an individual or as a big organization, remains the same “solving the problem”. In the case of organizations the quality and quantity of problems are varied and therefore it requires a range of problem solvers. Let’s take an example of a car manufacturer; it has many questions to be answered like -which car to manufacture? What would be the design? What kind of upholstery to use? Which material to use? What is the most efficient way of sourcing materials? How will it be assembled? Where will it be assembled? Who will buy the cars? How will the cars be serviced? How to insure the quality? How to manage the finances? And many more.
Answers to these questions come in a wide variety of solutions, including technology, processes, best practices and above all well “Human Resource”. Humans in the context of organizations are categorized as “resources”, probably because of our unique gift “the mind”, which can think and create.
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Throughout the history of industrial revolutions, we have seen that the human interface for repetitive tasks has been gradually reduced, and advancements in technology have efficiently answered the simpler questions and some complex one as well. For the car manufacturer, Humans are not required anymore to answer “how to assemble the car”? it is more efficiently done by robots now. Having said this, organizations still have multiple business questions to be answered by the humans. The problems left for humans to answer are getting more and more complex in nature.
50% of the skills listed in ‘top 10 skills of 2025” by the world economic forum are categorized as “problem-solving”, be it analytical thinking and innovation, complex problem-solving, critical thinking and analysis, creative originality and initiative or reasoning, problem-solving and ideation. 1 India under current leadership has envisioned becoming the ‘Skill Capital of the World’. This is a noble idea considering the demographic dividend we have. However, to realize this dream we have to develop ‘problem-solvers’, a critical 21st century skill.
Unfortunately, the current Indian education system, with its inherent problems, doesn’t support in developing this critical 21st century cognitive skill. Right from the primary to higher education, the focus is on rote learning. Cognitive skills, like problem solving develop throughout the learning years of an individual, with a supportive education system, which is completely lacking. National Education Policy, 2020 (NEP) recognizes the importance of 21st century skills including problem solving. It rightly links this critical skill with every stage of education be it Early Childhood, Schooling, Higher or professional education. It further puts emphasis on inclusion of 21st century skills within the curriculum and teachers training, this is a substantial and welcome shift in policy. It looks to explore ways to create ‘problem solvers’ to cater to the future market demands. Keeping this in mind, suggestions have been made towards overhauling the entire educational structure and learning outcomes, from foundational till professional education, in a way that it produces critical thinkers and problem solvers.
In a great start, the foundational education has been envisioned as a 5 year setup (consisting of primary schooling up to class 2). Earlier, government schools relied on anganwadis for pre- primary education and only inducted students from class 1 onwards. The new framework looks for focus on early childhood care and education (ECCE). The ECCE will have a larger aim to develop critical thinking, problem solving abilities, social, emotional and soft skills like empathy, leadership, teamwork in the child from early education days. While structurally remaining the same, the new policy looks to develop anganwadis as model ECCE learning centres. To tackle the lack of training and ill equipped staff at these anganwadis, skilling programs ranging from 6 months to 1 year will also be launched to create better educators who can in turn mold the child’s mind at an early stage.
Another great development is the changing of secondary education from only 11 th and 12 th to 9 th –
12 th standards. If implemented as is, the draft proposes students pick subjects of choice for the entirety of the 4 years of schooling as opposed to only 2 earlier. During the course of these 4 years, the students will have options to choose from a vast range of subjects including co- curricular and sports as graded alternatives. Even the choice of academic subjects will not be limited to science, arts or commerce as streams. One could in theory study physics with literature and music. This will be reinforced by multiple board exam attempts (best out of two) with the option to pick basic and advanced levels for appearing in examinations. All of the above mentioned points will help the student get out of the cycle of rote learning and focus on overall development of the student. These structural changes will lead to the increased critical thinking abilities along with deeper learning outcomes, teamwork and communication skills besides general engagement and enjoyment of learning.
To create better human capital that most companies desire, while foundational and secondary education can develop the aptitude and cognitive skills in a student, professional degrees are the final stepping stone towards achieving the larger goal. The changes proposed in the NEP regarding this also look very promising when it compares to creating a better skilled workforce. The shift of bachelor’s degrees from 3 to 4 years with multiple exit options is a great start towards building that pool of problem solving individuals who will be part of the workforce. A student getting into a program but not finding it a fit may choose to quit the program after the first year and still get a certification in the subject, not labelling the lost time and effort as a sunk cost. There are also similar options of leaving a course in two or three years diplomas, completing four years and even going into research directly.
All of this sounds good right? But we still have to answer the major question which may arise in any rational person’s mind – How will the teachers who have implemented rote learning for years adapt to new changes? This is also answered in the NEP. In fact, the draft proposes that teachers too become critical thinkers and problem solvers in their own way. Right from providing bridge courses to anganwadi workers and trainers to getting better and more experiential teaching tools and teacher eligibility tests from school to college levels is a priority of the draft NEP policy. It also provides an alternative of a 4 year integrated B.Ed. degree right after class 12th as opposed to the widely followed 5 year process of B.A and B.Ed. All in all, the NEP looks to create a pool of talented educators, who are problem solving individuals themselves and can impart those skills to their students to become critical thinkers and doers.
Alas, not everything is sunshine and rainbows. While on paper the NEP looks to be creating a paradigm shift in policy leading to creation of a structural system that is creating problem solvers, the major point of concern is the budget. Currently India contributes less than 3% of its GDP on education 2 and the NEP aspires to increase it to 6% of the GDP. While it sounds like a steep increase, the reality is that the last two policy changes in education way back in 1968 and 1986-1992, both had a target of 6% GDP spends which were never achieved.
The recipe for developing the ‘problem solvers’ is well written in NEP, only question remains is, do we have the state capacity and willingness for this tectonic shift in our education system to produce the ‘human resource’ capable of solving the organizational problems.
*Reference: The Future of Jobs Report 2020 | World…” 20 Oct. 2020, https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-future-of-jobs-report-2020. Accessed 11 Mar. 2021.
Important Information: This editorial is original contribution of Mr. Atishai Kumar Saxena, International Skill Development Expert and Advisor for Skill Development to Government of Oman and Mr. Manan Silawat, Policy Advocacy Expert