Friday, April 17, 2009

On Education Reforms

Life has suddenly gotten busy and nerve wracking, thanks to the semester winding down and all the scores of deadlines staring at me in the face with an evil laugh that I'm behind most. Friday afternoons lend themselves well to a beautiful nap, especially when the weather chooses to be good. So in order to get myself a short break I thought I'd post something. But since I can't spend time writing one, I thought why not recycle my old writings that I recently uncovered :).

Since in the previous post on Capital Punishments, we touched upon the subject of education as a primary means of reformation, I'm pasting my thoughts on education reforms in India.

From December 2004

The fundamental framework and thinking of people all over India still remains stringent. Lets think on the following
1. why are there still Indian software engineers(and the like), working abroad, who still demand or never question dowry? These people take it as yet another fact of life--I’m a guy earning well in a country away from my homeland. I’m just worth so much of dowry.
2. why is the birth of a second girl child into a family(no no I’m not talking abt the so called lower or down trodden section. I’m talking abt the so called upper middle class), bring about the reply----“Ah, it would have been better otherwise. better start saving up dear fellow.”
3. why do eyebrows raise when you demand to get into a profession other than medicine/ engineering?
4. why do comfortable commuters in a train, flinch with disgust on seeing a haggard man/woman/child(a fellow being of their nation), begging for money and food?
5. finally………the cream of it!
Why is it that 75% of final year engineering students never know how to fix a simple failed brake, a leaking faucet, a dimming monitor, change a fuse, fix a fan, when all through four rigorous years they were taught and made to pass far more complex stuff.
Now all these above said people are educated…well-educated as a matter of fact(hey engineering is no joke :-)). So how exactly has education served its purpose? An educated mind is supposed to cross the petty fences laid out by society to think beyond the horizons to implement positive reformations. It is to cull out the old and rusted principles and customs and to replace them with bright polished ones. A broader perspective, an open mind amicable to changes and suggestions……well I could go on.

‘Educating’ the masses alone isn’t enough. The real sense of that word is long buried deep. It is imperative to infuse ethics with learning. Our system of education has to evolve into a more healthier version where
· morals and ethics are not rhetorically told to be mugged up and reproduced
· the teacher is no monster near the black board and the students are no subjects. A more impersonal atmosphere encourages learning and more interaction.
· Corporal punishments, such as caning, beating, kneeling, verbal abuse, etc need to stop.
· Textbooks should not be encouraged as sole bibles without knowing whose every line and verse, the student is made to dread a mortal fear of ‘failing’.
· There’s freedom to explore and learn on a higher plane. There’s no stifling of potentials because of societal norms
· Its not mere numbers that determine a person’s ‘success’ in life, but it is the wholesome knowledge and personality gained out of schooling.

All these are easier said than done. But what I’m driving at is, the art of imparting education has lost its true sense. People are neither taught to gain knowledge, nor to survive. Its all on a short term basis--- how to get good marks in this particular test/semester, how to get into those companies, how to improve the pass percentage of the school. The aim has become shallow and fails to look beyond the present.

If we want our future generations to carry on with our struggle, we need to pass on the torch to people who truly understand the crux of our problems with an astute mind driving towards progress in its wholesome sense. These qualities need to be inculcated in the young. As they grow, schools have the responsibility of pruning their tangential characteristics and fine tuning their latent talents. All these cant be accomplished with a cane in hand and a rigid inflexible mindless rigmarole of memorizing and spitting out Newtonian theories.

One thing I glaringly find missing is---the dignity of labor. I still remember a documentary on the discovery channel that was a three hour session wholly dedicated to the study of sea-weeds. I really admired the professionalism and seriousness with which any topic or study is handled without being discarded as useless. Anything started on, is delved into its core and deepest trench and depths. I’m not advocating the study of weeds. But its that kind of passion and enthusiasm for learning and experimentation that needs to be developed. In simple words--teach the brain to think, appreciate the mind to explore, make mistakes and learn, while holding stiff the reins of discipline.

The Chinese saying--“teach a man to fish”, speaks well. It can be extended to teach a man to hunt. I say why restrict with fishing? What if the river dries up? It is essential he knows to explore his surroundings to survive.

Once there are bright ‘educated’ minds out to strive for the nation, social evils would diminish and erode away, as every generation passes, leaving behind healthier and more wise remnants(or shall we say leaders), who would flourish the nation with progress.
After a little more than 4 years, I still would hope for such reforms in Education. How exactly, and what tangible steps to take, I don't know. This requires a change in attitude, scratching the syllabus and starting from scratch. Some schools have started exploring such things, but today, with engineering colleges still mushrooming in every street corner, and job opportunities getting more stringent, I'm sure it will take a good 2-3 decades before we can expect changes.


Anonymous said...

every single word still makes sense as if it has been written just yesterday. that could mean only one thing..

we haven't evolved yet. we are still there stuck in the past.

with the latest news of the girl who was beaten to death on not being able to recite the alphabets.. the tale continues.

Posts like this will come and go.. but are we really getting anywhere..?

nicely written.

SUMI said...

I think education should be focused equally on practical and theoretical aspects. That's a huge problem with the Indian style of education.

Regarding engineering/medical school being preferred to anything else, it's just an artifact of a developing economy. Once the basic needs of the majority of the population is met, the country as a whole can move on to finer things, like art and the humanities, philosophy etc. That said, I think these could even be incorporated as electives or such in other major fields, so that students develop their thinking and understanding in multiple dimensions.

Priya said...

Dowry, hmmm, isn’t it usually woman against woman or is it just one more of the stereotypes created by media? Man in this case simply nods his head, which I agree he can nod a “no” to.

Rote learning is a hard problem, especially if you don’t have someone at home to help you make “sense” of what you learnt. We get the details, and miss the essence. Rote teaching also hinders the stimulation of interest or passion in any subject, which I think is crucial for knowing what one would really love to do in future, and to gain the kind of practical knowledge you mention. We simply listen as mechanized brains with a tape recorder on.

Regarding integrating ethics into education, the problem is, we are often “told” not to do something, both by teachers and parents. We are seldom told, why we shouldn’t do it and why it is ethically wrong. Only instructions are given, rarely explanations.

SecondSight said...

As Oorja put it, a little scary to think that these ideas are still pertinent!
The medicine/engineering paradigm is no longer valid in several parts of the country, I think.. As for 'well-educated' people clinging to concepts like dowry- It depends on what they were educated in ! If they were taught to be good accountants, does that necessarily imply that they know how to be good human beings? The answer does lie, in part, in a more holistic education- But that would need the focus of society as a whole to shift from grades and payscales to defining what makes a good human being :)

This is a lovely thought- "The Chinese saying--“teach a man to fish”, speaks well. It can be extended to teach a man to hunt. I say why restrict with fishing? What if the river dries up? It is essential he knows to explore his surroundings to survive." .. If you had to start a school, or teach a group of people, how would you implement that?

Neeraja said...

Oorja - It truly is shocking that even today corporal punishments are brutally meted out to even young children. Very very sad. I agree, we keep harping on these ideal changes in our system of education, but who is taking the right initiatives and where are we headed?

Sumi - Unfortunately, yes, the country cannot currently support all forms of studies and promise job opportunities for all. My friend said something very humbling, when I whined to him about this -"Don't blame the country for not giving you an opportunity in the field you like. You create one for yourself. Don't wait for others and your country to just magically offer it on a platter. Work for it". And it's true, people like Abdul Kalaam have stood by it. And this ties in with SecondSight's question on what I would do about it...very pertinent.

Priya - Quite true, if schools don't offer holistic learning and families offer even less, how can people learn? In our culture, discipline and respect, especially to elders and teachers/gurus is taken to a ridiculous extent. To question *anything* is wrong. IMPLICIT obedience, bordering on subservient behavior with total lack of independent thinking is what is appreciated and accepted. The blind then lead the blind.

SecondSight - You have touched upon the fundamental difference between being "literate" and "educated". One can have multiple degrees, but education has failed in it's true sense if all he got out of it was means to make money. It is utterly shocking when I have seen professors with a PhD in India, with totally appalling personalities and ways of thinking. If PhD doesn't serve as a prodding tool to refine thought processes, rational thinking, questioning biases...and people still continue to be petty and closed on social issues, then something is terribly wrong somewhere.

How would I implement holistic education? Scratch off rote learning, focus on creativity, and ways to teach the mind to think. The syllabus for KG classes has to go way beyond reciting alphabets - have discussions with them, encourage them to come up with creative stories, question them on rights and wrongs in stories, dont just state "moral of the story", make their minds think in terms of morality right have so many beautiful thoughts that could be shaped. Well I may have crazy and lofty ideas, but implementing them and setting the stage for it is the real challenge.

SecondSight said...

In some ways, I think holistic education as it exists is a good thing- kept to the minority that seeks it out actively and chooses to nurture it (Like this group of people- After all, thinking for oneself is a lot more work and responsibility than just following instructions- How many people in the world are really ready for that responsibility to be handed to them on a silver platter, without any choice in the matter? (Think Animal farm/Lord of the flies)

Neeraja said...

SecondSight - Thanks for sharing the link, what a lovely school! I don't think we should lose hope and resign that only a small section of the population realize the need for such education. I can't imagine how anyone would oppose such a liberating form of learning. And despite cases like the Milgram experiment, our only hope in empowering people to think and reason on their own, is through such means of learning. The fundamental step to make the world a reasonable place to live.

Perception said...

Dowry, Reservation, Education when will it all change I ask. I loved art but still pursued Engineering, I often ask myself why? Did I enjoy my 4 yrs of education, well I really dont know. I recently read in TOI which I dont often do and there was an article of a teacher who hit a girl, by banging her head on the desk (she either wasnt paying attention or didnt complete her homework), then he made her stand in the sun for over 2 hrs. This girl fainted, slipped in coma, 2 days later she passed away. And all this in the so called progressive/developing society which churns 100's of S/W Engineers who fly abroad.

How and when will all this change?

SecondSight said...

Why such ideas are more likely to work only on small groups of society- Because they rely, to an extremely large extent, on human altruism. The link I sent you, and several similar schools, face a very depressing scenario in reality- Their students are wonderful examples of human beings- empathetic, curious, creative- But lack the competitiveness required for mainstream society. As small groups, the altruism pays off- when you infuse that group with enough 'cheaters', the dynamics are no longer sustainable..