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From West to East: Educational Insights from USA and Sweden to India

As an educator with seven years of experience in India, coupled with firsthand exposure to the education systems in the United States and Sweden, I am keenly interested in the contrasts and similarities among these different approaches to learning. My journey in understanding these diverse education systems began in India, extended to the Sweden, and most recently, to US. This blend of experiences has provided me with a unique lens through which to view and understand the global landscape of education.

Before I moved out of India, I was under the impression that Indian education system is better than the west. This simplistic understanding was build through reports of west politicians trying to learn from India and China. While, we do have lots to share but there is a lot to learn too and thats the focus on this article.

Global Innovation Index: A Comparative Snapshot

Before diving into the intricacies of each system, let’s look at a macro-level measure that indirectly reflects the output of a country’s education system – the Global Innovation Index (GII). The GII ranks economies based on their innovation capacity and output, which inherently involves the quality and nature of education in these countries.

In the 2022 GII, India made significant strides, entering the top 40 for the first time, and now holds the 40th position globally. While this is an achievement in itself, there is still considerable ground to cover when compared to the United States and Sweden, which hold the second and third positions respectively. The results are similar in other innovation and creativity comparison matrices.

Indian Education: From Gurukuls to Modern Classrooms

The Indian education system has its roots in the ancient ‘Gurukul’ system. The Gurukuls imparted not just academic knowledge but a wide variety of life skills, spiritual and moral upbringing, inculcating thoughts about contributing to society at large. The evolution of this system over centuries, particularly from the 1980s to the 1990s, resulted in an education system designed to prepare individuals primarily for government jobs.

While the current system has made efforts to focus on all-round development, there remains an undue emphasis on academic performance and test scores. This academic-oriented approach often overshadows the need for entrepreneurship and innovation, which are crucial for the development and progress of the nation.

Lessons from the US and Swedish Education Systems

During my stay in Sweden and the US, I noticed a few remarkable aspects of their education system that could greatly benefit Indian education:

Team Assignments: Schools place great emphasis on teamwork, fostering collaboration and effective communication among students. Many Indian students who pursue higher education in the US share their struggles with team assignments as they have never been exposed to it in school.

Reading Culture: Students are encouraged to read extensively. In fact, the average American school kid reads a significantly higher number of books per year than an Indian kid. Schools assess students’ reading levels and assign books accordingly, promoting personalised learning. Another interesting observation here is about how kids have reading periods where they are allowed complete freedom to sit or lie down in any way they want while focussed on reading books. In most Indian schools, this is unthinkable.

Balanced Homework Load: Students are not overburdened with homework, which allows them the freedom to pursue their passions. Parents generally remain uninformed about the specific syllabus their children are studying, except during parent-teacher meetings. Generally to Indian parents, this bring anxiety but the system works as intended.

Group Learning: Students are treated as a cohesive group. The emphasis is on ensuring every learner understands the concepts before moving forward.

Focus on Sanskrit: Interestingly, many west schools are incorporating Sanskrit, understanding the benefits it offers in cognitive development (Read Sanskrit Effect), while Indian schools are increasingly focusing on teaching French, German, and other foreign languages and are replacing Sanskrit from curriculum.

Advanced Learning Opportunities: Exceptionally talented students are automatically enrolled for advanced courses in subjects like Maths and English, without burdening all students with the same level of complexity. The teachers judgement is not challenged and this is like the old Indian Gurukuls.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list but provides a glimpse of quick learnings which Indian schools can incorporate.

Final Thoughts

These observations present valuable lessons for the Indian education system. Adopting such practices can help Indian students compete on a global stage and foster entrepreneurial abilities. In addition, integrating foreign concepts with traditional Indian pedagogical methods can create a holistic education system that empowers students to achieve their highest potential.

Indian education system is also evolving. National Education Policy 2020 is a positive step which also includes focus on coding and AI, but the syllabus in coding is quite limited (Covering only basics) and does not cover recent advances like Generative AI. Education is a journey of discovery and growth. As we continue to learn from each other, let’s strive to create an environment that nurtures the leaders and entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

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