Indian education's future hinges on teamwork

Indian education

When I asked some of my former students whom I met recently in Washington about one of the foremost...

chukka ramaiahWhen I asked some of my former students whom I met recently in Washington about one of the foremost requirements for success in the 21st century, they were unanimous in stating 'team work' as the essential key component. What is so special about working in teams? Is it a new skill unknown in the past centuries? It set me thinking and I realized that it has been vital ever since man started evolving. Through time there have been countless examples of high performing teams which have achieved amazing results. For example, one of the original 'Seven Wonders of the World,' the Great Pyramid of Giza which was constructed around 2,650 BC, represents a clear example of sustained high performance teamwork by an estimated 100,000 workers over a span of 20 years.

It might probably have been designed by a single priest or engineer but the sheer scale and scope of the project strongly suggests a universally "shared vision" of the end result and wide-scale cooperation of planners in developing the methods to implement the vision and sustain the effort.

One more striking example which came to my mind was that the Royal Society of London, formed in 1660 A.D, promoted free exchange of ideas and "truth in scientific matters". Some of its prominent members were Sir Isaac Newton, Christopher Wren (Architect of St. Paul's Cathedral), Gottfried Leibniz (inventor of calculus), Edmund Haley (astronomer) and Robert Hooke (steam engine), regardless of their nationality and the political relationships between the member countries.

The findings were shared freely and in that fertile environment, in a mere 70 years, the sciences of anatomy, zoology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, and botany were formed. Moreover , it was this free flow of shared information between Royal Society members that led directly to the Industrial Revolution, embryonic evolution theory, mechanical computation, the understanding of planetary gravity, and much more.

It is not an exaggeration that in no other period of history has science moved so far, so quickly. It stands out as a glowing example of exemplary team spirit. The level of trust seen in their commitment to truth, respect, understanding, support, and accountability and shared vision as in their goal to advance science, surely validates the members' entry to the "High performance team hall of fame."

Team work and team spirit are not limited to any historic moments in politics, science or statesmanship, but are, in fact, an innate part of all successful families, organizations and societies in any century. It is anybody's guess that it is the chinks in this armor, poor team spirit, lack of coordination and collaboration, dominance of personal goals over collective goals, failure in trust and empathy, poor communication and the like that are behind the failure of any family, society or nation in any aspect .

It is not surprising that we need this unified effort not only to save our planet but to save every individual because psychologists now see the family as an emotional unit. Families are systems of interconnected and interdependent individuals, none of whom can be understood in isolation from the system. When this 'system' fails, things fall apart. Sometimes even the best players in life don't reach their zenith because of poor teams.

Interdependence and mutual appreciation, sharing of knowledge and skills, recognizing one's own as well as others' competence levels, winning trust through enhanced communication skills, having a clear vision and a common goal �the list of attributes may be further expanded and they may seem like specialized jargon to the layman, but if converted into simpler words everyone would grasp the spirit unquestioningly.

Then why this overemphasis on this ability in this 21st century? Is it because we have missed the spirit or is it also because in this knowledge era and stronger global networking and extensive as well as rapid specialization, the boundaries of teams have virtually vanished ?Or is it because it is a different thing to work as teams under a leader, work by compulsion in varied forms and not by choice and it is just the opposite of work voluntarily , by conscious choices and give up some favorite motivators like 'ego/self' 'individual achievement' 'personal recognition and reward'?

On the surface, there is nothing much new in this idea of 'team work' which my former students stressed. They gave me something like a checklist to demarcate and identify as well as develop the good teams for all academic institutions for effective education : Capable processes with efficient flow; focus to deliver consistently on critical students' requirements; visual and available data for immediate decision-making; right staffing and resources for sustainable capability of the school; strong personal skills and knowledge supported by long term development; plans, standards and accountabilities for individual performances; team goals and incentives for teams' success; fluid form of organization with norms to support collaboration; strong yet engaging leadership that lets the team own the execution.

Apart from the above list, I identified something interesting which may truly help our youth in developing the skill. Right from the school level, assessment and ranking of team members is done here not only by teachers or supervisors but by the team members involved and its leader as well as by other teams as units. This ranking depends on the individual contribution of each member, the area of contribution, the overall collaboration and coordination as exhibited in the final output etc.,

Our teachers are yet to learn the benefits of working as teams in planning their lessons and related activities, designing hot questions and sharing both their successes and their fears and failures with fellow teachers within the school and across the globe. Here are two suggestions given by my friends : Providing the latest technological support and other devices for effective teaching will serve the purpose only when periodic training of our human resources in working as teams and benefiting from the collective knowledge of the 'hub' is realized. At another level, for global citizens, simple but clear information on different cultures, habits or customs, preferences and their positive aspects can be fed in the form of stories right from the primary level.

Then they would happily integrate into the virtual teams of the future without any false prestige and other barriers. This information must not be drab and forbidding like a conventional History or Social Studies lesson with dry data, but full of life and appropriate examples which get etched on the child's memory.

In schools we encourage team work but why is it not seeping in so that it reflects in real life actions and decisions outside the school ?Our evaluation is unidirectional as the outcomes from social service, sports, summer programs, apprenticeship and any other activities are not whole- heartedly included in our assessment processes. But in the US, right from class 2, a one-hour paper with 5 or 6 questions is assigned to a group to work out. The group leader notes the contribution of every group member.

In our country also, we encourage students to work as teams in science exhibitions, while conducting experiments and quiz programs; it is not who steals the limelight but how well they share the limelight that matters. Can we plan a similar activity with kids from other schools? Some NGOs are carrying out this experiment in their special coaching programs successfully. Why not we try it more often in our 'inter- school' activity too? Do we need government intervention and a G.O for everything?

The average Indian parent is more focused on knowing his ward's individual performance and does not encourage collaborative learning, team projects, summer programs with team assignments, etc., as he sees them as a mere waste of his child's talent and time. It is up to our educationists to change this outlook .Even our engineering students who complete a project in industries as a compulsory part of their degree-earning process can be made to do it in teams so that they can reap the dual benefits. This only makes us aware more than ever that though 'team spirit' and 'team work' are as old as the Himalayas, we need to make a Himalayan effort to catch the 'team spirit' in earnest for our own good.

Poor team spirit, lack of coordination and collaboration, dominance of personal goals over collective goals, failure in trust and empathy, poor communication and the like are behind the failure of any family, society or nation in any aspect

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