Education researchers from Kerala, national and international speakers, teachers, NGOs and media
gather to discuss research to strengthen Kerala’s education system during a seminar held on 6-7,
December 2023 in Thiruvananthapuram, jointly organized by VMFT, Centre for Development Studies and Tata Institute of Social Sciences.
Despite its tremendous advances in universalizing participation in school education, Kerala does
surprisingly little research on education in general, and on emerging challenges, such as teaching about
climate change and environmental sustainability. This important finding was presented in the opening
session, by Dr. Sajitha Bashir, Vice-Chairperson of VMFT, based on a review of thousands of research
articles published in peer reviewed journals and Indian Ph.D theses. She emphasized that high
performing education systems also do continuous research to improve pedagogy and curriculum, as well
as the management of the education system. This is all the more important as our education system
faces new challenges.
An impressive array of speakers addressed a multi-disciplinary audience of researchers, teachers,
students and media. The keynote speaker, G.M. Pillai, provided a compelling overview of the factors
behind climate change and its impacts at the global and local levels. Prof. V.K. Damodaran, President of
VMFT, Dr. Padma Sarangapani of TISS and Prof. C. Veeramani, Director of CDS addressed the audience in
the welcome session.
International presentations included those from researchers at the University of Jyväskylä, Global
Partnership for Education, the Earth Institute of Columbia University and UNESCO, India office.
Sajitha Bashir provided an overview of the evolution of Kerala’s school education system, with an
analysis of large scale quantitative datasets such as UDISE Plus, the National Sample Surveys on
education and the Periodic Labour Force Surveys. She highlighted the segmentation in the school
system, with different socio-economic groups attending different types of schools (government,
government aided and unaided schools) and with different languages of instruction.
In her analysis of Kerala’s school curriculum and science textbooks, Dr. Anu Joy , Assistant Professor at
TISS Hyderabad, emphasized that not much has changed in the way in which science has been taught
over the years. Climate change does not figure prominently in the curriculum as yet, but environmental
education has been taught for at least two decades. Developing curricula for climate change focused on
local impacts and adaptation needs of local communities, as well as using project based learning to
address real life problems are required strategies.
Prof. J. Devika spoke about the need to place the teaching of climate change and environmental
sustainability within the context of different “child protection” regimes that have characterized the state
over the last century. These shape the modes of engagement between the state, teachers, parents and
Teachers highlighted the lack of teacher training, the need to incorporate children’s lived experiences to
develop locally relevant curricula and the need to address both children’s understanding of science and
language needs. Media personalities spoke about the paucity of education research in Kerala and the
lack of systematic and investigative reporting on the challenges facing the education system.
The seminar concluded with concrete recommendations for deepening the research that was presented
and identifying priorities for the future.