There is a Global Education Meet (GEM) currently underway in the Kerala state capital of Thiruvananthapuram. I had been meaning to write on the education system in India for some time now. The meet coupled with yesterday’s incident was a sudden fillip to pen my thoughts.
India has been known as a country which produced several notable intellectuals from all walks of life. We had Aryabhata and Brahmagupta in the early Christian Era to twentieth century giants as Ramanujan, C V Raman and Tagore. Unsurprisingly, the contribution by Indians to any field of knowledge is dwindling today. I believe this is a direct function of the education system in India. We were people who excelled in teaching as well as learning – but not any more.
Ideally, as a nation progresses, its education system should also show tremendous momentum. In fact, growth and education are intertwined. While the early universities like Nalanda and Takshashila are proud remnants of our educational heritage, can we single out any university or institution in present day India which is worthy of mention among the illustrious institutions of the world? India is a curious case of an inversely proportional educational growth when compared to the rise that the nation has made, particularly in the last 65 years.
What should be the objective of education? It should be to drive students to achieve higher levels of knowledge, utilize that knowledge to purposes that are constructive to nation building and above all, be model individuals. However, what has happened is students, goaded by their parents, are after high marks because they cannot stand their neighbor’s son or daughter scoring more marks than their dear ones! This ‘marks’ circus has resulted in kids who are burnt out by the time they reach their teens and do not have even the slightest inclination to pursue studies further. But they need to eke out a living for which they need a job and to get a job they need to earn a degree – so education becomes a charade to get a job. Somebody who could have gone on to become an Einstein or a Marie Curie with the proper nurture and guidance is forced to do menial jobs because he or she burned out early in life. Is there anything sadder than that?
I remember my grandfather, father and mother talking about the high quality of teaching from the 30s to the 70s. It’s probably true because there have been some really erudite minds from those times and they are the kind of models that the system should generate. I cannot say the same about the system in the 80s and 90s though there were a few brilliant exceptions. It is evident then that for a quite a while now, the quality of teaching has become substandard that it is reflected not just in the level of knowledge a student possesses (and I’m not talking about marks here) but also in the way they carry themselves. Teachers have failed to evolve; they have failed miserably to ride the tide of education happening elsewhere; they have failed to make valuable human beings out of students.
With umpteen syllabuses and crowded students in classrooms, it’s no wonder that teachers are under tremendous pressure. They dictate notes to students which were in fact dictated to them by their teachers! That is a big evil – I don’t understand how a view of Shakespeare in 1975 could be the same in 2015 or how a technical subject like Physics or Chemistry could be taught by reciting notes from 50 years back! The system needs to change big time. Teachers should have mandatory continuous education programs and assessment tests – both written and oral – to be even considered to be retained in schools or colleges. Unless we filter out the incompetent among the teaching staff, there will be no hope that our students can actually learn.
While strengthening the teachers, the syllabus should also get focus. Today we ram everything into textbooks without really analyzing how much of it could be useful to the students. In an era where success is defined by the skills you have and the originality you have, our textbooks should be guiding lights on these. One should not plagiarize Robert Frost; rather one should come up with one’s own original work – that should be what the system should encourage. Unfortunately, we are nowhere near that.
We all have values and those values are developed by the kind of upbringing we have and more importantly, by the kind of education we receive. I do not know if the concept of student unions is prevalent everywhere in the world. But with the kind of rampant unionism in India, it’s hardly a surprise if kids are attracted to politics rather than studies. I’m not saying politics is bad; but I do know the politics we have in India is really bad. The objective of a student union should be to facilitate learning and push for students’ rights. If a student union leader strikes a former diplomat on the face and pushes him to the ground, what kind of values does he have? And what is the message that he conveys to the student community? The truth is that all the student unions are just playgrounds for youths to enter active politics at a later stage in life. There is nothing more harmful than a youth with a distorted political agenda. We should ban student unions from being affiliated to any political party simply because we are today churning out the wrong kind of individuals.
Another ill-effect has been drugs. There was a time in the 60s, 70s and even 80s when cigarettes, ganja and the like were doled out in campuses like ice-creams or chocolates. Luckily, there was a generation who abhorred these and quite magically, these stuff disappeared from campuses for a while. That was due to the moral values that the education system as well as the teachers taught and drilled. Of course, there were the stray incidents. Recently, we are reading about several instances where campus drug abuse has shot up. Today’s youth ‘learn’ to consume drugs faster than they can master the multiplication table.
This is the education system of a country which boasts of a history of 5,000 years. If we do not look to address the inadequacies of a system which is constantly failing, then we will be left with ordinary individuals whose intellectual growth remains stunted and whose values bring nothing but shame to be talked about. How did it ever come to this situation? I can only shudder to think about the generation that is growing up.