#365DaysOfWriting Day 24: The Problem with Education in India

Today, I held a study-circle with a handful of eleventh-graders who had just begun studying Psychology. Today was meant to be an introductory session where students would share their initial understanding of the subject, and what they had learnt in the first few classes at school.

I had barely recovered from the shock of glancing through the text-book which was written in a rather dull, unappealing manner when the students enlightened me to some more issues that plague our education system even today.

I don’t know if anyone relevant to the field is even going to read my post, but I am being optimistic and hoping to seek answers or hear relevant views on this matter.

I studied Psychology at the I.S.C. level. I have also taught Psychology at the IBDP level. Today, I was oriented to the C.B.S.E. pattern of Psychology. I am not going to comment on the syllabus designed by the different boards — even if I feel the national curriculum is lagging behind and a lot of content is outdated, I feel it is still not that grave a crime. My issue is with the manner of presentation. How do you expect students to be interested in reading their text-book if the prescribed book is so dull and lack-lustre that even an expert dreads picking it up because it looks foreboding?

There is also the stress on reproducing content in the same words as those written in the book. Why is there so much emphasis given on the length of the answer and on checking if the person is able to quote straight from the book? Why is memorization given so much importance? Don’t we want our children to learn the skills of summarizing and paraphrasing? Isn’t it more helpful if a child is able to read the text and explain it in their own words? It is one thing to penalize a child for not using appropriate vocabulary pertinent to the subject, it is another matter to cut marks because a child has written “is called” instead of “is known as”. Seriously, why are we interested in turning human beings having capacity to think into parrots?

I may be sounding like Rancho from 3 Idiots here but, seriously, when was the last time children thought learning was fun? Parents are interested in sending children for tuitions where all the teacher does is take a reference book, and make the child copy notes from possible questions that can be asked in the examination, and then helps the child memorize. Would you, as a parent, be open to sending your child to a space where the child is given hands-on knowledge of the subject, and is engaged as a learner, or would you prefer the former? Marks are important but in the end, do you want your child to only participate in the rat race? I know many students who secure top marks in the final examination due to last minute studying, but are unable to reproduce any content later. After the exam, they are just slates that have been wiped. Memorization and rote learning helps an individual gain information; gaining information is not equal to gaining knowledge. It is high time we were able to distinguish between the two.

Marks are important because they help you get into good colleges. But would you judge your child’s understanding of the subject purely on the basis of marks, especially in a country with a flawed marking system that applauds rote learning and, to some extent, punishes creativity and critical thinking. What is the point of storing so much information if you are unable to apply it practically in your daily life?

We put Science as a discipline on a pedestal and feel that if the child is alright in Science and Mathematics, he or she is a “good” student. We pressurize children to study Science even if they don’t have the aptitude for that stream. Our educational system encourages funds in the form of donations — so instead of encouraging students to strive for excellence in fields they could be wonderful at, the system allows them to take admission in the stream of their parents’ and relatives’ choice in exchange of a lot of money. The end result — we produce substandard engineers and doctors who get jobs and play with the lives of others as a result of their sub-standard skillset. I remember having an argument with a relative over this, and her answer was, “So what is the problem? They have only one son and they have so much money. If giving money can make their son a doctor, how does it matter?” To me, it matters. As a doctor, he is in a powerful position to make a difference in someone’s life. It is no playing matter. The fact that we, as a society, see nothing wrong with this kind of malpractice is where the problem begins.

Another problem, specifically in the case of higher education, is the way the system is designed to encourage an individual to be a good employee. The focus is not on making the individual capable of becoming a good entrepreneur.

I understand the matter is not as simple as the way I’ve put over here. One needs to dig deep to uncover the complexities. But, we need to begin somewhere and this post is a start to that.

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