Pedagogy - South Asia wants some of what Scotland's having

17th January 2014 at 00:00
British Council highlights 'great appetite' to build bonds

The appetite for education in South Asia is growing at a phenomenal rate. There is demand for 500 million vocational training places, but only 4 million are available; nearly a third of the 1.6 billion population is under 24; and 2,000 new universities are expected to appear in the next 10 years.

Now, in an interview with TESS, British Council directors on the subcontinent have revealed that reform in Scotland is helping to guide educational innovation in countries such as India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

"We think we know South Asia," said Stephen Roman, the British Council's director for the region. "We have images about India with a lot of poverty, or Sri Lanka with the civil war. But the region is changing in very dramatic ways. These are some of the fastest-growing economies in the world.

"In India, 400 million people are coming out of poverty into the new middle classes, with aspirations for consumer goods but also education."

However, the educational models coming to the fore do not rely on the drilled, rote learning that has long prevailed in other parts of Asia. "What governments are saying is, 'Actually, we need a balance,' " said Peter Upton, director of the British Council in Pakistan. "Soft skills - learning to think, solving problems - are seen as just as important as the hard edge of facts."

With that in mind, the British Council has drawn the attention of several South Asian countries to what is happening in Scotland. Its education system has long been "very highly regarded" in South Asia, Mr Roman said, and Curriculum for Excellence and other innovations are now garnering even more interest.

"The Scottish curriculum, and the way it's been designed and reformed, is of particular interest in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, because it is that fusion of child-centred learning, holistic learning, teachers being empowered and collaborative working, which is where many of the state (education) systems want to go," Mr Upton said.

"That whole idea of holistic, creative education has a resonance in many provinces, including Gujarat and Punjab," he added. "What they're saying is, 'We need our young people to excel not only in the basics.' If they want to be socially and economically mobile, they've got to have the soft skills - the creativity, the teamwork - which is very much at the heart of the approach in Scotland."

Mr Roman said there was a "great appetite" in South Asia to build stronger educational bonds with Scotland. He and Mr Upton travelled to Scotland late last year to meet key players in the sector, including Education Scotland, and discuss qualifications, curricular reform and potential collaboration.

"The one area we need to do a lot more thinking about is skills," Mr Roman said. "As economies begin to pick up and industrialise, they need skills in big numbers."

"Scotland has an outstanding tradition in terms of skills," Mr Upton added. "With bodies such as the Scottish Qualifications Authority, I think there's a real opportunity for partnership, collaboration and a range of activities together."

The British Council, which describes itself as an "educational opportunities and cultural relations organisation", is playing its part in meeting the unprecedented demand for education in Asia. It is running a seven-year programme to help 1.5 million Indian teachers to raise standards of English in secondary schools, and a "very intensive" leadership scheme for senior teachers and school leaders in 1,300 Afghan schools.

"There is a huge hunger in South Asia for connections abroad," Mr Roman said. Both directors said Scottish teachers could play a role, whether from within Scotland - for example, through the British Council's Connecting Classrooms project, which helps to forge links with foreign schools - or by seeking work as English teachers in South Asia.

The British Council directors argued that heavy coverage of China's economic growth often obscured the more dramatic - and more important - story taking place in South Asia, and the opportunities it afforded.

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