Memoirs of a Drop out teacher — Part II

Gautam Khandelwal
Mar 15, 2016 · 6 min read

Bane of schools

Schools were established to prepare children for their adult life and thus benefit society. Because of this, many countries, including India and the US, spend billions of dollars providing free / subsidized education. However, unknowingly, they are causing more harm.

1. Schools are simply manufacturing vanilla ice creams. What about the pineapples, the strawberries and better still the cocktails? Since schools are so detached from the real world, they provide no perspective to the cocktail types. If you want to be a Chartered Accountant or want to be an engineer, it’s okay. But what if you want to be a scuba diver, or an intelligence officer, or let us say a music conductor, you will get no taste of that in school. Instead of encouraging these passions, you will always be told that you need to ‘study’, get good grades, so that you can find yourself a good job.

2. The sole benchmark of good performance is marks in tests / exams. Many ‘progressive’ schools these days would say that they focus on all round performance. However, they very well know that their ‘business model’ will fail if children do not do well in exams. Parents pressure their children into getting as high grades as possible. This has various negative consequences:

a. With marks as a clear incentive, children tend to take the shorter way out. While schools espouse honesty as a virtue, the incentive structure clearly will never facilitate this.

b. With marks as a sole or a very important barometer of success, children tend to study only for the exams. This in turn has the following ramifications:

i. Students learn by rote. It is now widely accepted that this in no way furthers work effectiveness in adult life.

ii. When study is done for the purpose of an exam, it is comfortably forgotten with the ‘mission achieved’.

iii. Possibly, the biggest bane of exams is that the students tend to fish for the answers that the teacher / markscheme wants, since that is what will fetch them marks. This in turn kills all creativity and takes away all the fun and adventure of developing something original. I know this to be true since I have personally deducted marks for answers not being (strictly) in line with the markscheme (unfortunately, as a part of the system, I had to comply and thus committed this sin) and I have seen all my colleagues do the same. For instance, children could lose 25% of the marks if the graph was not labeled. What a sin!!! How on Earth does labeling the graph further learning and how demotivating is that?

c. Those who do well in exams are heroes. The rest are chastised and insulted by both the school authorities and their parents. The problem is that the school system has no mechanism to develop the talents of the cocktail types. Child centric learning is a buzzword in the education ‘industry’. I can assure you that it is nothing but academic gobbledygook.

d. If you weigh 150 kilos but are good at academics, it is all okay. However, you might be a superstar in soccer but yet you are looked down upon simply because you do not have the ability to put pen on paper. Again, the ‘progressive’ schools would not admit this but this is done in a very subtle way. “You might be a great at soccer, but you ‘have’ to score well in exams”, is usually the way it is put. The other boy on the other hand is never told that he ‘has’ to be good at soccer.

e. Lastly (and there is a reason why I am putting this right at the end, lest people accuse me of some propaganda), exams are leading to suicides and suicidal tendencies in our children. The coaching industry in Kota, India, was recently pulled up by the city administration for this. Even if you think that this is very extreme, marks and exams build feelings of animosity and jealousy. Psychological studies have shown that such feelings get ingrained in the sub-conscious and manifest themselves in the form of a “me first” attitude. On the contrary, children should be taught that the reference point of success is internal and not external. Only then can we have everlasting peace.

3. Schools divide children based on their age. This has the following negative ramifications:

a. Younger children do not get the opportunity to learn from the elders.

b. The older children lose the opportunity of developing love and empathy for the younger lot. On the contrary, this only leads to bullying.

4. Exploring, finding new things / knowledge should be such an Aha! thing. However, schools have made education ‘work’ and therefore a major burden, rather than something that is fun.

5. As Mariah Carey said, “Save the best for last”. Since schools are so detached from the real world, they fail to a give a real life perspective to the students. As a result, most of them have no inkling of what they want to do in life. All that they are told is that they must study, get good grades, and find a good job. And therefore, most or at least many get into professions which they have no interest in and then spend their lifetime ‘earning money’, while leading dull and fruitless lives.

To put the above in one line, I think that it is the need of the hour that we save children from schools. The witty Mark Twain once said, “I have never let schooling interfere with my education”.

Possible solutions

So then what really is the solution? How will our children learn? How will they earn their livelihood? These are questions that are often thrown at me.

The point is that children have immense amounts of curiosity. Given a proper environment, they can learn on their own. And this is more so in the age of the internet. Various experiments (Hole In The Wall being one of them) have shown that this model works beautifully. All that we need to do is to facilitate the whole process of education while allowing the children to take charge. The word ‘facilitate’ here simply means the availability of knowledgeable people (who shall help only when asked for), books, computers, equipment, spaces to play and a safe physical environment.

I am often told that such a model would never work. Given the freedom, children will go astray. They will never study on their own.

Well, we often start with this false notion that children are immature and cannot direct their own activities. On the contrary, by taking away their freedom and directing every single step of theirs, we create a self fulfilling prophecy. Children learn a lot through free ‘play’. Our children are far more proficient than us on the computer and the smartphone. Nobody taught them how to use these devices. Out of sheer interest, they learnt to use these gadgets. Likewise, each child could realize their own interests and passions through ‘play’. And then work life would be nothing but a simple extension of childhood interests. Work life then would no longer be a burdensome ‘responsibility’ but a fun filled journey.

By play, I don’t just mean all that happens on the playground. It could be any activity that is done for fun. A cousin who did not go to school after Grade 6 once told me how she loved the economics textbooks, which she would read like a story book. By my definition, that was play for her. Given this definition, if we allowed children to play freely, and discover their interests and passions, each child could realize his / her dream. Further, this model of education would come at a far lower cost. I am often told that I am oversimplifying things or I am an idealistic dreamer. Though I am nowhere as great as the legendary Sir Paul McCartney, but even he sang “Imagine”.

Gautam Khandelwal

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A passionate teacher, looking to go into rural India and teach