We are taking curriculum rather too seriously, be it CBSE or IB: Narayanan Ramaswamy, Head of Education at KPM
Amita Jain, 13 Mar 2019

India runs one of the biggest education programs in the world. Who can be better than a seasoned consultant and educationist Narayanan Ramaswamy, Partner & Head- Education and Skill Development at a global consultancy major, KPMG, to give a critical outlook of Indian school and higher education scenario!

In terms of quantity and sheer numbers of institutions and to some extent even in terms of reach, I think we have progressed. But a lot needs to be done in terms of quality,” he says. Education has the largest market capital amongst the industries, where most money has been and is being invested compared to any other sector. Assessing school education in India, Ramaswamy gives his views from both global and domestic standpoints at DIDAC India event. Given below is the full excerpt of his interview.

Careers360: Your views on the school education system in India.

Narayanan Ramaswamy: We have a massive education programme. Nowhere in the history of mankind has the world seen such a huge need for educating youngsters. We are talking of 300 odd million people in schools and close to 40 million people in higher education which is by far the largest in terms of volume. This is also a good part. I think our ability to do 1.4 million schools is mind boggling, no other country has done it. So, in terms of quantity and sheer numbers of institutions and to some extent even in terms of reach, I think we have progressed. But a lot needs to be done in terms of quality. What is the output we are getting? There is enough push towards input parameters, but in output, as in the kind of people we are getting is where we lack. It’s because I think the entire sector is disjointed. Schools don't want to have feedbacks, they don't know what is happening with others and over a period of time they have grown to think that what they are doing is appropriate. In school education, I think we are taking curriculum rather too seriously. I am following CBSE, I am an IB, etc. It doesn't matter as long as you ask yourself; Are you relevant to the society? I need to know what is the outcome of students, but we stick to curriculum.

Careers360: What about higher education? What is the biggest challenge there?

Narayanan Ramaswamy: For higher education, there is a need for institutions to be relevant to the society, to industry and even civil society, but then there again exists the same cocoon. They seem to be doing what they think is right. Specifically in higher education, I think the practice of so many colleges affiliated to universities has outlived its purpose. Earlier when you couldn’t set up so many universities, it made sense to have affiliating colleges so that more people could set up educational institutions. Not anymore. Now, you don't need so much real estate, infrastructure, etc. Why are we still having 400 colleges affiliated to universities? It is killing creativity and something new they could do. They are following set patterns, there is no autonomy, no originality and there is no meeting the demands of local market.

Careers360: Ever since the publication of CII-KPMG report on Right to Education (RTE), the importance of focussing on outcome based education has been time and again emphasized. What are learning outcomes and how can educational institutions employ them in reality?

Narayanan Ramaswamy: At one level, learning outcomes is a very simple and commonsensical concept which ask- what is the purpose of education? As a parent, teacher, as a part of civil society, what do you expect out of children? If you can define that and measure if the schools are providing them to children, they are your learning outcomes. It is as simple as defining; Can a kid add a few numbers and get the result, can one read a paragraph and comprehend that, etc. Learning outcomes is all about first defining the kind of outcomes one should get at a particular stage, employing certain measure to make sure that learning outcomes are happening, measuring them, giving a feedback and helping students to converge towards those outcomes. First is you define the learning outcomes.

Second area is assessment. It should be changed in accordance to learning outcomes. Assessment in boards and other exams should be in terms of learning outcomes. Similarly, the admissions taken through entrance tests like JEE, is no so much about whether you have learnt a lesson. It is where governments should intervene to employ them through policy, may be through accreditation of schools hence declaring these schools do better.

Careers360: Why did KPMG decide to move deeper into the Indian education sector?

Narayanan Ramaswamy: We have been in education sector from about a decade. The reason we believe is that this is a sector that needs quality the most. Education has the largest market capital. It is a sector where most money has been and is being invested compared to any other. When a sector consumes so much of investment, you would naturally see advisors and consultants getting there as you need consultants to make it better.

Careers360: What exactly is the role of KPMG in assisting this sector? Can you highlight some important past and ongoing projects in education?

Narayanan Ramaswamy: We have been undertaking projects since long. We are consultants, so one of the natural areas we thought we could make a big difference are sector-based universities. So we started with IIIT universities, then we worked with Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Petroleum Technology, Pt. Deendayal Petroleum University and all other petroleum universities. Right now we are working in aviation universities. We worked with schools for introducing animation, graphics, virtual reality and other things. We have also worked with existing universities like IITs to improve their ranking, to be more globally competitive.
We look at these sector-based institutions and see how can we develop them. Recently, we have also started work on curriculum of the universities, what should be taught, the pedagogy, etc. and also the measures to improve the quality of faculty. We have gone massively into faculty improvement plans. We sit with them, bring in subject-matter experts from around the globe, pitch in for restructuring of organizational, behavioural, and other aspects. We also have a team which helps in admission process. There is an university in Amravati, where we helped right from deciding a new campus, getting the right kind of architects, recruiting right faculty, working on tech, collaborations with other universities, etc. We also work with foreign universities to help them come to india. Most of the universities who have their presence in India, have been in one way or the other have been associated with us. We even work in pre schools. For a client in Chennai, we set up and ran a preschool for one year and then handed it over to them. We have worked with UN for smooth rollout of their plans.

Careers360: In schools, does skill development form a part of KPMG work agenda?

Narayanan Ramaswamy: In schools we are majorly focussing on helping them develop learning outcomes and improve the existing ones. Skills is a big agenda for us. In that domain, we have been associated with National Skill Development Corporation ever since they have been around. For past 4 odd years we have been a monitoring agency for them. We have worked with multiple state governments in their state skill development missions. We have close to 500 engagements in education space and a team of about 120 people focussed exclusively on education and skill development.

Careers360: Your advice to students.

Narayanan Ramaswamy: Have fun. When you have fun, you will automatically learn. Don’t take things very seriously, but at the same time keep asking a lot of questions and keep doing value addition to your surroundings and yourself when undertake anything.

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