Right to Education or Right to the right education?

Is it wise to always Toe the Line ?

Growing up in India, we are always surrounded by people who are exemplar in education, it could be that distant cousin who got into an IVY league school or the next door neighbor whose hobby was first-aid who later went on to become a Doctor or that colleague who cracked the civil services, there is no dearth of talented people who were exceptional when it came to academics. But did the educational institutions they emerged out of shape their educational trajectory or was it their grit and passion, was it because of their school or in-spite of their school they are where they are today?

Indian parents are presented with two options when it comes to choosing a school for their kids, they could either go with a government school or go for a private school, although the fee structure of Private School is much higher than a government school, majority of Indians prefer Private schools due to the quality of education it promises to offer

When I asked people who were struggling to make ends meet, as to why they chose the pricey private school over government they say “We were denied several opportunities because of our lack of education, we don’t want the same fate for our kids, we want to go all in when it comes to their education”

But even private schools have their set of challenges, in my school there was a Teacher-Student Ratio of 1:50, I didn’t even know that it wasn’t a great ratio until I went to college and spoke to kids from elite schools. My school teachers were friendly and nice to us but there wasn’t a lot of encouragement to think differently, there was no system of Feed-back and any feed-back would hardly be taken in the right way. I remember in class 8 we had to give a feed-back for our Hindi teacher. Back then although we had Hindi as a subject none of us could speak Hindi fluently, we could read and write because we were great at learning things by rote (Mugging up as we would call it). We were asked to give an honest feed-back, I remember taking the initiative and speaking up. I pointed out that hardly any of us could speak the language and the teacher didn’t help much in making us understand the nuances of the language, she strictly struck to the Text-Book and discouraged doubts. It was a tough thing for me to do back then because personally I liked the teacher, but I was also apprehensive that we would be out of school in two years without being able to speak the language.

The Feed-Back became public info (Thanks to a snitch in our class) and I was asked by the teacher to get out of her class. Back then I felt so angry that I was at the receiving end, and nothing was being done to address the issue.

In time all of us learned to play by the rules, and we also forgot to question authority. The worst nightmare was junior college. In then Andhra Pradesh there were two famous colleges whose only focus was making kids study for insane hours. We went in at 8:00 and were made to sit through classes and study hours, till 6:30, then there was insane amount of Home-work and tests that had to be completed. I remember going to an all-girls college and they were very strict with the dress code, I remember they made my friend go back home once and change her clothes because she was wearing a sleeveless Kurtha, they also used to lock the washrooms during class hours, so all of us had to wait in insanely long lines during breaks to pee. Anyone who would try to flout the rules would be reprimanded by floor in charge. We equated her to a prison warden and each class was thought of as a prison cell.

The junior college was a 3 storey building with nothing except for poorly ventilated rooms and stinky washrooms. There was no ground, no canteen. One day one of the girls fell sick, and she had to go home, her parents had come to pick her up and the floor in charge/Prison Warden refused to let her go. She insisted she would take care of her. We knew that it was unfair but by then we became experts in playing by the rules and would never raise an eyebrow against authority.

We were always told that we were lucky to get what everyone was just dreaming of. In the process we lost the art of questioning, interrupting a lecture when things weren’t clear and being bold to disagree with someone even if it was a teacher.

Playing by the rules secured your grades, ensured you get a recommendation letter if you wanted to study abroad. Years later when I see the same behaviour replicated at an office I can see that there is a training given at young age of listening to authority and fitting in. And this model of education finds a replica in several parts of India especially in the non-elite schools.

The outliers are totally curbed in this process. There was a girl in Junior college who used to make designs for apparel (Sketch them) but she would always hide them. In that junior college there wasn’t place for anything except for Science and Mathematics. Years later a brilliant professor at a B-School said “Inventions happen at intersection points “so by eliminating the possibility of anything except science, the junior college had made us very limited in our ability to invent.

College and the internet, brought a sea-change in what we thought was right and what wasn’t. I remember watching movies like Easy-A, Twilight (Guilty) and I was amazed that a school could be like that. There is a scene in Twilight where Bella and Edward are observing Meiosis and Mitosis on a telescope (Of course there is also a lot of romance in the air), but I hadn’t ever imagined that it was something you could see. I always thought that it was something that a scientist (Oscar Hertwig) imagined in his head and since there was nothing to disprove his thought it was accepted as common reality.

Put a 15-year-old in a cramped room and dump her with Physics, she is going to have a tough time comprehending things she cannot see, only practical demonstration for me was a projectile, when a friend ate a fruit which had a seed in it and spat it yelling “Projectile “, we all played along, and all of us understood what a projectile was that day. (We also had to clean-up after that)

When I met a friend who had an education outside India she told me how hands-on her experience was, despite the challenges in the Indian Education system it produces some of the pioneers in academics, but these people were some of the brightest ones in their class, what about the rest?

Everyday thousands of Indian schools and junior college which aims to produce the smartest and the brightest, while there are a hand-full of kids who pass through there are several others who give up on the system, choosing instead to accept that they are mediocre, as they grow up there is a lot of self-doubt that creeps in and they attach an undue importance to academic success

The internet is an amazing tool with online courses and DIY videos that have a brought a fundamental shift in the way kids think, but it’s time for schools to ramp up. Maybe focus on Quality over Quantity of education and give all kids a right education instead of a mere right to education.

It is a not as simple as getting kids to school and having the basic infra and teachers for every subject, it is a multidimensional, it involves children growing up with perspective and problem solving ability, while having environmental concerns, and it is about exposing them to a world of opportunities early on , and brewing curiosity.