[ To Express, To Reflect, To Give Back ]

Will idiots revive the Indian educational system?

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

Anju Musafir writes in Ahmadabad Monitor that Indian education system was far sophisticated 1300 years ago than it is now. While rote learning of a series of subjects is the norm today, she points out to l-tsing’s extensive notes indicating how 7th century Indian children were trained to be superior thinkers and creative individuals. By age 15, children seemed to have grasped grammar, logic, medicine, arts and philosophy too! Whats interesting to note is that all reading and possibly writing were in the form of Shlokas. That perhaps is the missing link between why we still mug up? How else do you recite Shlokas? Today’s Children look at Shlokas as a painful exercise of mandatory recital. Ah! Shlokas were the lessons to begin with!

I am having a hard time figuring how children can learn to “heal their spirits” but I do agree with Anju that almost everything has been reduced to “conditioned learning”. In an art class, they are “conditioned to draw the statutory scene of mountains, a hut, a river, birds flying, a sun and the mandatory river!”

Speaking at the Indian Science Congress, the Prime Minister kicked off a new ‘Decade of Innovation’, and wants to “liberate Indian science from the shackles and deadweight of bureaucratism and in-house favouritism.” Elsewhere, IBN Live took advantage of the roaring success of ‘3 Idiots’ to pull together a panel to debate if the movie in fact depicts reality of Indian higher education.

I haven’t seen the movie, but I assume it makes sense to very many people. I do agree with Parasuram (Karadi Tales) that it’s not that higher institutions are the sole culprit but the system before that, as in secondary school and higher secondary schools have inculcated those habits anyway. Ranking students from 1-100 based on performance is questionable. I can speak from my experience that it was painful but I am not quite sure if that has stopped my learning abilities, at least not significantly. Used appropriately, it does tell you where you stand so you can improve.

Chetan Bhagat (on whose book 3 idiots is based off) ends by citing that our system simply stifles innovation. I think innovation is overloaded term here. What the system does stifle is independent thinking and encourages conformance and copy culture. I would even argue that India is far better in just replicating US than building a unique identity and position for ourselves. Most average Indians, (I would include myself too), don’t really pursue critical thinking. Is that because of how I was taught and experienced learning in school? Unless it’s genetically inherited or a male-thing, I got to say yes!

There are other factors too. Most children just don’t know enough. They can’t be blamed. The system and the society doesn’t expose to them very many things in a structured, meaningful, contextual fashion. What they learn is merely through informal and formal exposures in school, home, neighborhood and of course, TV and Movies. One area I am particularly interested is in building awareness within younger children about possibilities in life. Be it education or careers or living in general.

How many children know that if they really like oceans and the living beings in the sea, they could some day become a marine biologist? Even if that connection is somehow introduced early, how many children really have a marine biologist that they can relate to, as in – see, talk and believe they can be like them? Even if we get that far with a kid meeting and talking with her friends cousin’s father who is a marine biologist, the kid is left to struggle for themselves (or struggle with mostly naïve parents) piecing together how they should take up science route at high school and possibly a biology route at college. Leave aside the financial aspects and the societal pressure to “study something that guarantees a job”

I do think this problem is super real. If addressed in a sensible way, this has the potential to fundamentally shift the thinking and attitude at a younger age, so they grow up to be independent, critical thinkers. Unlike very many who just went with flow, only to realize they are still not sure what to do with life.