Founder, Council for Global Education, USA, Global Education & Training Institute, India, DEVI Sansthan: Dignity, Education, Vision International, India, and Education Society of Iceland.
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Dr Sunita Gandhi is Educationist of the Year 2014 and Visionary of Uttar Pradesh 2017. She is Founder, Council for Global Education, USA, Global Education & Training Institute, and DEVI Sansthan: Dignity, Education Vision International, India. She is also founder, Education Society of Iceland (Islensku menntasamtokin ses).
Her efforts in education have expanded a vast range, from the bottom up grassroots level in Indian slums and villages through her NGO, to top-down policy work with the World Bank in Washington, DC, where she was selected as a Young Professional and completed a ten-year tenure as an Economist. Sunita Gandhi has also established her own schools, starting with her first school at the age of 14. She has established Iceland’s first two charter schools, an experimental school in the Czech Republic, and 19 schools in India. She has travelled to and studied education systems in 39 countries. She has spoken at several conferences on five continents including recently in BETT Asia. Dr Gandhi was invited to Finland as the Keynote to the largest gathering of their educators by the Finnish National Board of Education.
Her research work in Iceland, UK and India mainstreams the principle of ‘compete with yourself’ as versus ‘compete with others’, published in a 2017 book by Palgrave Macmillan, UK. Today, over 500 schools in India and overseas have adopted her curriculum and assessments based on this principle. With this large scale pilot, she is fine-tuning an education more suited to the needs of children living in the 21st century. The foundation of her education is constructed on Four Building Blocks of Education: Universal Values, Global Understanding, Excellence in All Things and Service to Humanity.

TARGETplus Education, a company founded by Dr. Gandhi in 2016 focuses on reducing stress and improving results of students taking high stakes examinations. It has been selected by IIM Lucknow’s L-Incubator.

Her latest project, Global Dream, aims at providing functional literacy to the illiterate masses. The results from the pilot are startling and 3.2 lakh students from 11 Indian States have participated in this campaign so far. New focus is on improving literacy and numeracy in government schools. The unique Global Dream Toolkits allow a person to become reading capable within 1 to 2 months with just 15-30 minute sessions per day.

Dr Sunita Gandhi has a Ph.D. in Physics from Cambridge University, UK, where she received three merit-based scholarships (Trinity College Scholarship, Cambridge Commonwealth Trust Scholarship and the Overseas Student Award). She returned back to India after 26 years abroad to help her family with their City Montessori School, Lucknow, the world’s largest school (with over 56,000 students on roll in 2018, a Guinness World Record Holder, and recipient of the UNESCO Prize for Peace Education. She serves as their Hon. Chief Academic Advisor.

Articles/Blogs about Dr. Sunita Gandhi Bank Report / Sunita Gandhi is the Task Manager for the Economics and Sector Work: Enhancing the Participation of Women in Development.
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I am going to speak about re-imagining education and in particular about how assessment can be a very powerful mechanism for driving change in education.

Education is the most complex issue of our time, and I think we will all agree on that. Worldwide there is a concern that the present-day education, derived as it is to satisfy the needs of a 19th century society, has been simply inadequate to address the needs of the present-day children. Education today is perhaps like an injection whose expiry date has long since gone. But we are administering that old education to our children and at best it has had uncertain results.

Let’s look at innovation. Historically, of course, the renaissance in education occurred at the turn of the last century, almost exactly 100 years ago, with the likes of Dr. Maria Montessori, ward of Dr. Ross Siner, and some of the great thinkers in India – Rabindra Nath Tagore and others – changing the very framework of the discourse in education. A hundred years later what has happened in education since is very little, actually. Of course, we’ve had a lot of good thinkers – John Horse, Lawrence Coleberg, Benjamin Bloom, Dr. Gardner, and many others who have helped our thinking along the way. But a lot of innovation has focused on how you fix the classroom, make learning easier, put technology to use– and that seems to be a big thing in the last century – create space for multiple intelligences as different gateways to learning, constructivism, enquiry-based learning, you name it. When we look at all that, we say, “What am I going to do, what is going to be my roadmap to lead my children to success in the 21st century?” and you wonder what to do next. So, really, innovation has focused more on ‘how’ rather than on the ‘why’ and the ‘what’, and I think the time has come to really go back to the question ‘why’ – Why are we educating our children in the first place? So, we need to pose some really good questions.

There is a Chinese proverb which says that if you do not change direction, you are likely to end up where you are headed. And we know we are not headed to a comfortable place, because if the 20th century that has just passed has been the most brutal and most murderous in human history, how can we ensure that the 21st century will be more humane, and do we not know that nothing can make this possible except if we change direction? However, we continue in the direction we have set, we are going to continue to move in those directions. So, change is not the watchword; perhaps what we are looking for is change in direction. I think we are lost in Wonderland, like Alice. She writes that there were two roads in front of her. She wondered which of these to take. She sees a shy cat sitting on a tree and she asks: “Well, which of these roads shall I take?”, and the wise cat says: “Well, Alice, where do you want to go?” Alice says: “I do not know.” So, what does the wise cat say? The wise cat says: “Well, Alice, if you do not know where you want to go, then it does not matter which road you take.”

Okay, now, you select books, whichever books you like. Every year we go through a big process of book selection. In fact, in India, I think we have the publishers defining the education agenda because they give you the books and we pay homage to those books. Every year we say, we are innovating, we think we are innovating, but is that real innovation? Publishers are there to help. We can definitely ask them. It is not that they are culprits or anything. It is just that we have to think a litter harder as to what it is that we want in the first place before we go out and ask them and others for their help. By implication, unfortunately, such discussions do not take place and we need to have more of those discussions on where do we want to take our children.

So, we need to re-imagine education and its goals. Change will come from the recognition that there is something wrong. If we think that everything is fine and all we need to do is reduce the size of the school bag, well, it may be too early to say that. I do not think that is enough. And we should not be talking about changes in the margins of education, little tinkering changes, those little changes, they are not going to stop. But what we are talking about is much much more fundamental, and we need to really go back to such questions as what is the purpose of education, what is the purpose of life, what changes are therefore most urgently needed to make education more meaningful for the individual child and for society? So, profound change can come only when we challenge the goals to which current education is geared. Fundamentally, we need to look at the starting point – what are we really getting in our efforts to teach, what are the goals, what is the premise on which we are basing our future education?

Presently, education is quite inadequate. If you look at it, old education is geared to materialistic goals. We are saying, okay, you are an IITian, you will get a very good, fat pay package, you get a good job. The entire education paradigm we inherited from the British is about jobs. Even in career guidance, a lot of it is about jobs and seeking jobs, it is not about job providers or becoming job providers, it creates followers, not leaders; it says, compete with others, it does not matter how you get there, get good marks and get a good job, whatever it might be. It says, if you are less than good, if you get less marks than another, and if you do not earn as much as somebody else, then you are not very successful; it weighs success by external factors, regardless of means. We allow so much cheating. In fact, in our own examination system, the moment you start marking the child from this age on, what you are saying is nothing matters but your marks? So, the child is going to invariably cheat because he knows the teacher is going to value the marks. I think we have to get away from those cultures and think very subtly and very deeply about those issues. Our current system says: Class dynamics is more important simply because we cater to class dynamics first and then to the needs of the individual child. I think you can fix education in a different way: Start focusing more on the individual child.

Our current education pattern says: Higher education is more important than pre-primary education. We pay our higher education teachers more. We have better facilities. Look at this particular place. It says that patience for exams is important than patience for life because that is what we do. It is not what we want, it is what we do. And I think we need to again go back to the drawing-board.

New education in a new and enlightened century is a must. It seems, though, that we have an opposite formula. Perhaps it could be called an upside down education. The new education says: Pre-primary education is the most important period of preparation for life; therefore, we should put most of our resources, the best paid teachers in the pre-primary sections. They should be well-trained in psychology and early learning. New education says spiritual education is more important than material education. We say we want values – and as Sir, Prof. Chaudhry, so beautifully said, they are so very important –yet we find that we are not living the reality we talk about. Values are not what we are creating. We need to make spiritual education more real, and we need to be more clear about our standards. The new education says competition with oneself is more important than competition with others. So, in the new paradigm, we will say, “Compete with yourself, not with others.” We will say process is more important than the end result. It matters, for example, that children learn to do everything with a sense of beauty and perfection. We are rushing them so much. Their handwriting is so bad. They do things in a slipshod way because we rush – we rush through the syllabus, we rush through everything. So, we are not teaching them the fundamental life skills, such as appreciating beauty and appreciating perfection, all wonders. Children must become leaders.

Quality work requires both, of course, competition and cooperation: competition with oneself and cooperation with others. This creates an intrinsic motivation to strive to do one’s best always. It does not matter what your God-given potential is, but you do your best. And what is the parameter, what is the measure of knowing that a child has done his or her best? A+ or A is not for getting full marks, but for putting full effort into the process. If a child has done his best, he deserves an A, no matter what the end result is. And this is something of a paradigm shift we need to think about.

The new education says, children must develop a sense of empathy and kindness towards all peoples of the world and show reverence to all forms of life and things. It says that every child is special, every child matters. It says, education must be worshipped as work is worship. Service is not an occasionally act of charity we do; instead, it is a way of life.

How then do we go beyond the old ethics in education to the new upside down model? What are the factors that have the potential to create a change in education? Where can one begin a process of change? So, from a random development of education in the 20th century with many diverse objectives we can go to an enlightened education in the 21st century with perhaps these four main objectives. These are the four building blocks of the Council of Education.

  1. Universal values, making sure that the values are real
  2. Global understanding that we are part of one human family. This reality does not get adequately covered by the old multi-cultural programmes in the West and elsewhere. Food festivals and knowledge of local costumes and ways of dressing are not enough to create love of human beings. So, there is need to go beyond tolerance to really developing that love and seeing the universe from the ethos above.
  3. The third building block is the building block of excellence in all things. Let me define what we mean by excellence. Ultimately excellence is not about doing well in the exams. Of course, children will do well in exams if we set the parameters in the right way from the very beginning, if we plan things more systematically, if we accelerate learning techniques, if we create active classrooms, if we make learning more fun and joyful, if we allow the children to become partners in their learning process; undoubtedly, there will be excellence in all things.
  4. Service to humanity is another goal to which a 21st century education must gear itself. You can check for yourself, for your own school community, to what extent do you meet the four building blocks of education. For example, are you doing enough to create service as a way of life? From very little children on, they have a desire to serve but we do not give them the opportunity. The Casa de Bambini of Dr. Maria Montessori is a wonderful way to teach little children how to help each other and how to re-create the home in the school, that a school must be a place where help is readily available from everyone. As they grow into teenagers, they really want to do great things, but we do not provide them the opportunity for such interactions.

So, check for yourself whether you are doing enough for the heart to love, the body to do, the mind to know and the spirit to be, and the spiritual, human, social, material, physical aspects of development at a school will be taken care of.

This is, I guess, a report card for yourself.

Excellence in all things

We take that particular building block of education – excellence – in the 21st century and look at it. Where does one begin the process of change? And this is where I shall discuss issues of assessment. First, when we look at the national Boards, we wait for change to come from the top. We just wait for policy-makers to sort it out. I think the private sector has already given up on that. If you read the National Curriculum Framework, 2005, it is an excellent document. Nobody can disagree with the content of such a profoundly written curricular mandate for all of us. But the reality falls far short. So, we cannot look at the Boards as being able to necessarily create change on the ground.

Government policy

If you look at B.Ed. colleges where we are producing teachers, we find that the policies have become almost a gatekeeper to the old. For example, you have to have a B.Ed. and it does not matter what goes into a B.Ed. course. But you go through the motions because you are stuck with that Government policy. Maybe, we need more private colleges, but there is a great need to really train our teachers and principals well.


Materials are where quickest action is possible, of course. Maybe change can be incorporated through materials. What we do with the materials, by which of course we mean the teaching methods, can matter a lot as well. In-service training and new modes of training our teachers to use new methods and issues of why and which methods could be considered too. All of these will have an impact, but perhaps more immediately than macro policy issues.

Classroom structural policies

We need to look at the class size. Research shows that it does not matter. If you are going to give a lecture, it does not matter whether it is a bigger hall like this or a group of 20 kids. Frankly, if you are going to use the old methods, class size does not matter. So, if we are going to change our methods, classroom structures have to be looked into.

Seating arrangements, perhaps even considering mixed ages

I think this is a very profound idea. We have to get away from age dynamics to looking at stages of skill development in every child, looking at every child as an individual.

Then, there are curriculum issues. Why are we so sold on, and what is so sacrosanct about, having one-year cycles, exam-to-exam cycles, 40-minute periods, and doing it for 13 years in a row. I think there is something not so nice about having to do that again and again and children get very bored. We could think of many more flexible ways in which we can reach to the ultimate goal without having to be stuck by those old processes and the way we deliver our curriculum.

Finally, assessments to be profoundly impacting our new education have to be based on a new premise, not the old. I think we are still in the box of the old and trying to invent as fast as possible, but the reality is that no matter how much you try, a steam engine can never take you to the new century where children are already in a spacecraft maximizing their potential. So, assessments can actually drive more change and faster change than anything else in education. This is natural because every one sings to the tune of assessments. We have our Boards determining the future of the child; there are comparative examinations for the children are prepared, where assessments do matter.

If we change assessments, we change everything in a way. Teachers start playing to a different tune once the assessments get changed. In particular, why do I believe that the assessments have to be based not on the old ethics of “compete with others” but on the more powerful ethic of “compete with oneself or yourself”.

In particular, take the case of Roger Bannister. Some of you might have heard of Roger Bannister. He was a medical student in Oxford University and in 1954 he became the first man in human history to have run one mile in under four minutes. He had been told, like many others before him, that if he tried to run a mile in under four minutes, he would die in the attempt, but he knew that he could do it. He knew that he could compete with himself and make that mark possible. So, he was willing to die. And this is what happened. In 1954, when he broke the record, which was thought humanly impossible, the world stood up because it was a hair-raising experience for everyone. And when he was finally conscious after waking up from the finish line, and people asked him “How do you feel?” he said, “I must be dead” because he had been told so often that he will be dying. We expect children to not do beyond their class levels because we say they will die in the attempt. So, they do not even try. But actually they can. A new ethic brings with it a lot of new changes.

The old ethic, the old steam-engine approach says, begin numeracy for a kid and take it up and up and up to high-school, A-level mathematics. Yet the class is all over the place and we cannot handle that. This is the old structure. We cannot handle it because it says that the class dynamics matter, not the child. So, we need to convert that.

Why compete with yourself? The year Roger Bannister managed to make history, that same year, after he did it, 16 others did it worldwide. And what is also fascinating is that in the next three years, over 200 people managed to break that record. Why? Because competition with oneself is the more powerful ethic. It brings about more intrinsic motivation to succeed. People feel, I can, instead of I cannot. They are not looking sideways. All inventions, all progress has come because people have competed with themselves and not with others. And I think, therefore, it is a more powerful ethic that we need to implant in our educational system for the 21st century.

It addresses every child as an individual, capable of better mastery and beyond that of being a successful human being. Tare school mein hi to hain.


In the present assessment structure, we define educational outcome too narrowly. We need to broaden our definition of success. We need to broaden our assessment processes or what we value in assessment. Qualitative aspects, such as a positive attitude, matter so much in life. Cooperative team spirit, critical thinking skills, these ought to be properly measured because they matter more in life. We expect little of human potential to become great. We are not consistent with our concerns for children and the world’s future because the assessments are too narrowly focused.

There are a vast number of issues when you look at assessments, e.g, what is tested, how it is tested, the types of assessments, how often it is tested, feelings testing generates – fear and anxiety or whatever – the quality of questions that are asked, rhymes that are allocated for a test, marking schemes, how we tick one mark here and two marks there and put together a 70-mark paper. That is a real stop-short deal; and how are the corrections done? Standardisation is never followed. We put so much faith in our assessment, but actually there is a huge reliability issue that goes along with those corrections. And most importantly, we do not report correctly, we report in a way that undermines the maturity of our children, their self-confidence, and makes them feel they are not good enough in comparison to others. We need to drop those old ethics.

Data from the U.K. for KS-I and KS-II, which is the Indian class II equivalent, and class V level and class VIII level show that at 0.7 reliability level, which is standard, up to 50 per cent of children can be mis-classified. So, really we cannot say “Oh, 94.52 per cent has no meaning at all”; even 94 per cent has no meaning. In that context, the child who gets 50, may well get 70 or 30 because our tests are not reliable, our correction is not reliable, we have not standardised our tests.

The roads of assessment.

I am not going to focus on the roads of assessment; you know them all, possibly learnt them in B.Ed. college as well. The most important one that is holding humanity back is No.25 of the list – submitted evaluation – and I think we need to definitely get it out of our systems.

In summative, it says, a child says, “Oh, I have got 6.9 out of 10, I am a nearly 70 percenter”, but because I do not have information to compete with myself, I invariably compare myself with other children. The formative assessment says – which is the one we have got going in Iceland initially and now in India many schools have taken this up – look, you are good in so many things, you are moderately good in so many things and you are poor in certain things. So, now your assessment strategy is giving you a roadmap to your own success. If you get a roadmap like this, you can really graduate very fast, and we have seen that again and again. Teachers normally say, oh, work harder, focus on your weaknesses; they do not really tell you why, and year after year and after, a child never graduates from remedial classes.

I am sure there are some schools here that are in the process of doing creating new ways of assessing students. Worldwide there are many different kinds of assessment processes, children being special, and a lot of data supporting what I am saying. Teachers must become facilitators.

Huge impact

Finally, are you ready for a new premise on education, which is: Compete with Yourself?
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