The dreaded Boards and final exams are around the corner and everyone is busy studying. It is a race for marks, as marks is what can make you or break you. If you do not perform well on one particular day, your entire life can be changed. It is rather unfair to say the least.
How many of us remember much of what we were made to learn in school? From log tables to multiplication tables, how many hours did we not spend learning them by heart. Today if we need to calculate anything we open our smart phone and go to the required app and voilà you have the result.
In India the race for marks is worse than anywhere else in the world. A different a half a percentile decides whether you will become the doctor you dreamt to be as a little girl or not. Choices are not yours to make but are decided by the marks you get. The grading system is also skewed. To ‘pass’ an exam you need a paltry 33%, to accede to a good college you need 95+!
Kids from poorer homes run the race with many handicaps. Poorly run schools, illiterate parents, economic challenges that make after school tuition a a chimera and tiny overcrowded homes where it is quasi impossible to study. I am in awe of these kids who manage to pass with respectable scores!
The question that begs to be answered is how relevant is this style of education? To be considered a ‘good’ student, you need to spend hours mugging. The child who topped her class XII, and I use the word child for a reason, stated with great pride that she had learnt every page of every school book by heart. My heart went out to her as I asked myself when had she let go of her childhood; had she been out in the park, seen a movie, laughed with her friends. Probably not. Had she had time to ‘learn’ beyond her school books, to read, to meet people, to widen her horizons. Certainly not. She had been too busy mugging every line to get to the coveted position of being a topper.
Do higher marks make you more intelligent? I do not think so. I always go back to Delors’s Four Pillars of Education: Learning to learn, to be, to do and to live with others. In idea we stop at the first one: learning to learn. A child needs to have an all round education and unfortunately in India we have missed the boat completely.
Will any one ever look at education in the light of the needs of tomorrow?
Not for a long time.
“While millions suffer from hunger and ignorance, I hold every person a traitor who, having been educated at their expense, pays not the slightest attention to them” Swami Vivekananda.
This quote was part of a play that Utpal’s school put up for the Republic Day Celebrations. It reiterated what I have alway held: that each one of us are responsible for the poverty and misery around us.
The same evening I was heading to an eatery when the car stopped at a red light. It was one of the coldest days of the season. A little child in a tattered shirt and shorts, barefoot was weaving in between the cars in the hope that someone would roll down his window and drop a coin in the proffered palm. When the light turned green the child would go and sit on the divider and wait for the light to turn red again
Traitor was the word that came to mind. The traitor of the quote I had heard in the morning. Each one of us that ‘did not pay the slightest attention’ to the child was indeed a traitor.
And the same goes for the collective silence that occurs each time we of someone dying of hunger, a child being raped and so on. We have become inured. Nothing moves us. At best we raise our brows in horror for the time it takes the read the news item. An 8 month baby was raped; will it outrage us as it should
Some of us do react and feel the collective shame. Some of us move out of our comfort zones to do something, brushing aside the many ‘how can you change anything and make a difference!’ I heard that too almost two decades ago when I decided to do something as the plight of the child that knocked at the window of my car actually managed to knock at my heart. Many of you may not know that the first programme of Project Why was to urge people to distribute biscuits and not money each time a child knocked at their car window. Sadly the programme did not take off. I had then believed naively that time was not right and things would change but twenty years down the line the number of children begging seems to have increased.
My promise to myself to one day do something for beggar children could only be redeemed last year when we opened our Kalka Mandir programme. The children in this picture are all ‘beggars’ or children of beggars. They come and study with the same eagerness as our other children and I hope that some of them will continue and maybe break away from the horror of begging. Makes me feel a little less of a ‘traitor’!
I have been screaming hoarse for the past 18 years that education needs to be reinvented in India if we aspire to become a leading nation in the future and if we want our youth to find employment. Sadly no political dispensation has made education reforms a part of their manifestos and so our children continue to follow a system where only marks are important and rote learning is the best tool to attain high grades.
Recently I have had many complaints about Utpal from his school. They mainly center upon his lack of seriousness in his studies. At the same time his teachers do not doubt his intelligence and even laud his problem solving and creative abilities. The child is just not interested in rote learning. He would rather be given a challenge to overcome.
This year ACER chose to survey secondary students in rural areas. The results are depressing to say the least. The article makes interesting reading. 50% of students interviewed could not solve a simple math problem. As for their general knowledge let me share the quote of one of the surveyors: “We were shocked when we spoke to some of the children. Asked to name the capital of India, one of them said Pakistan while another mentioned China. These were Class 12 students who could not even mark their states on a map of India,”
So what is this education we are doling out to children year after year and what is it meant to achieve. It is a relic of the education the British had conceived and aimed at making ‘babus’ or low rank officials that would obey and never ask any question. 70 years down the line this does not work!
I stumbled upon an article from the world economic forum entitled What are the 21st-century skills every student needs? Sixteen skills have been identifies.
I do not think any of these are desired let alone taught in our system. In 2020 the three most important skills are : complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity.
Our education system does not impart any of these. Children are busy learning by rote to regurgitate at the exam to get high marks and then forget. I cannot forget a young girl who has topped her class XII some years back saying proudly on national TV that she has mugged up every book by heart.
Kids like Utpal who love problem solving and are creative will not get high percentiles and yet they are best suited to the new demands of the employment market of tomorrow.
It is time to thrash the education system which is a legacy of colonial times and replace it by a new education policy in line with the future.
Is anyone listening?
I challenge anyone to tell me who in this picture was to the manor born and who was not. It is quasi impossible. And yet some in the pictures come from one side of the social fence and the some from the other. Let me elucidate: this is a picture of teachers from CSKM and Project WHY, taken on the CSKM basket ball court after a spirited and engaging workshop.
The workshop was meant to bring new and innovative teaching methods to our team!
They were many similarities between the two groups: both were teaching school children the same curriculum and many had done so for more than a decade. The CSKM teachers shared their experience and knowledge. There were many new ideas that I am sure our teachers liked and will include in their work. A little prompting did initiate a Q&A session that was most interesting. And by the end and much to my delight, Project WHY teachers were sharing their experience and the methods they used.
I sat and watched the proceedings with a little apprehension at the beginning. It was short lived. It did not take long for me to realise that the idea was a winner both ways. As stories were shared, I realised that the CSKM teachers has no idea of the constraints and limitations our teachers had to face. They were a world apart from the facilities the CSKM staff enjoyed. If one had spacious classrooms with big blackboards, well endowed labs and access to virtual classes, our teachers had to ‘teach’ on cold floors, in a cramped space they shared with other classes. Whereas the CSKM teacher had hour long periods per subject. mine had 90 minutes to teach ALL subjects. I found my heart swelling with pride at the yeoman task my incredible staff had performed for the past 16 years with passion and commitment and not a single complaint. And year after year every single Project WHY child had passed her/his exams and the dreaded boards. Wow! Chapeau Bas to them. I felt compelled to share this and I did. The learning had to be mutual and the next step was to invite te CSKM teachers to visit our centres!
I have always held that India will truly change when all invisible barriers are shattered, as they were in this workshop. What will transpire is mutual respect and bonding.
I hope this is the first step to just that.
I recently stumbled upon an interesting article entitled: When success leads to failure! It was an eye opener in more ways than one. Th article is about a parent and a teacher discussing a well performing child. The words that caught my eyes were: Above all else, we taught her to fear failure. That fear is what has destroyed her love of learning. In fearing failure and thus pushing herself harder the child had to sacrifice natural curiosity and love of learning.
Do read the article. It fits like a glove to what education has become in India: a made race for marks where children aspire to a perfect 10 no matter what the cost. The very valid point the article makes is how this fear of failure takes away from the child any desire to learn new things as it may lead to failure. No one gives marks for trying, diligence, perseverance and the learning to get from ‘failing’ and trying again. Better to stick to the minimum and the charted course. Forget uncharted ones.
I was aghast when I heard a child say on TV that she had learnt by heart every single text book and was wondering why she fell short of the perfect 10. You guessed right: she was the year’s topper in high school. My heart went out to this child who had spent a year with her nose in her book. When was he time for playing, laughing, walking in the rain, feeling the warmth of the winter sun, hearing the morning bird sing: simply being a child.
Is this what we want for our kids. To make them well performing robots and killing their creativity and uniqueness.
Sadly that is what all of us are doing to our beautiful and unique children.