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 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.
I have always held that to bring about meaningful change, it is imperative to make state run schools centres of excellence. Only then will every child have the opportunity to change her morrows. Sadly we seem to have taken the other route: privatisation of education.
In a recent article entitled Rethink Education, Uday Balakrishnan writes: The shift to private education is not good. Government schools ought to be the drivers of change. I cannot but agree.
70 years after independence our track record in education is abysmal. To quote a few figures: only half of all students who enter primary school make it to the upper primary level and less than half that — around 25 million — get into the 9-12 class cycle. We have around a million primary schools and only half that number at the upper primary level. The number of secondary schools is less than 150,000 for a country of 1.3 billion, and even this comes down to just 100,000 at the higher secondary level. While there are around five million primary school teachers, at the secondary level the number is just 1.5 million.
You do not have to be a rocket scientist to see that the equations is skewed: 1 million primary schools and only 100 000 higher secondary schools!
Education is what can bring about the social transformation we seek. It is a vital investment that requires immediate intervention. Education today is moribund. It is a rote based mark oriented beast that smothers all creativity and self development. It needs a radical and immediate overhaul. There is no scope for band aid solutions or cosmetic tweaking. The obsession on marks is killing children’s creativity and uniqueness. Our kids deserve better!
I recently saw big hoardings stating that thousands of classrooms had been constructed in Delhi. This is laudable but without stellar teachers classrooms are of little use!There are over 15000 vacancies for teachers in State run schools in Delhi. Wonder why these are not filled.
We need to take education seriously. To view it as an investment in the country’s future. Teaching has to be given a respectable status and should be the first choice on the employment ladder and not the last.
State run schools have to be the best and become the first option for parents of all strata of society. Schools have to be a playing level field. Only then will things change.
Education is sine-qua-non to growth and development. We seem to have forgotten this.
Two horrific tragedies occurred last week in the capital city. In the first one a 5 year old sexually assaulted his 4 year old class mate in an upmarket school and in the other, 4 school students slit the throat of a young man over an altercation over a phone. The boys were aged from 13 to 16. The victim succumbed to the injury.
These two terrible tragedies left me stunned. The first question that came to mind was where did we as a society go wrong? Then a host of other questions, each begging for an answer.
What compelled the 5 year old to assault his classmate in such as a violent manner? Was he a victim of sexual abuse simply reenacting what he was made to suffer? Or was he mirroring something he had seen? In this case he too is as much a victim as the girl and needs counselling and a sensitive approach. Will he get it? I do not know. Are we not the society that ‘blames’ a child for being the ’cause’ of her rape?
And what makes 4 teenagers happily boarding a bus first ‘steal’ a phone from another co-traveller and when challenged whip out a knife and slit the throat of a fellow being? Why did the children carry a knife? Where did such violence come form?
And the biggest question that begs to be asked: How responsible are we as a society for such terrible acts?
What is this society we have created and nurtured? Is it not time to accept part of the responsibility.
What are we teaching our children? What role models do they have? The answer is there for all to see. Be it the news, the movies, the idiot box shows, all are replete with violence and more. There is violence in homes, violence in schools. Children are abused in homes where the code of silence reigns with impunity. Sexual education is off the curriculum because it goes against ‘tradition’. People are judged on what they possess. So steal if you cannot get it otherwise.
And if we do not pull the brakes and slam on them hard, more is on the way! We cannot sit with blinkers on. No one is safe. No one. It is time to redefine education, parenting. It is time to speak loud and clear against anything that one feels wrong.
Our children deserve better morrows. We have to give them back the childhood we hijacked.
Will we is the real question.