It is a well known fact that the current education system in India is a derivative of the education system put in place by the British during their rule. The system put in place by the British was mainly to reduce their administrative costs by producing low to mid level government officials. Unfortunately we still follow a similar style of education today. All it aims at doing is to produce job ready professionals. Below are a couple of the main features of the British education system that is prevalent even today.
- Our curriculum evaluates people on individual basis. There is no stress on doing things in a team and building confidence and trust in others.
- Examination and grading system seeks to evaluate students based on a single template. Evaluating students based on only few subjects in an individualistic way through the template of examinations is never good for the confidence level of a student. Moreover the down to 2 decimal places grades are also used by parents to compare and contrast and put undue pressure on students which further hampers their self esteem. This reminds me of a quote by Einstein, which goes like this. “Every person is a born genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to swim, it will live its life believing itself to be a fool”.
These are just a few issues in our education system which has been there since the British rule. But there is a plethora of other evils which have plagued the education system in India. The reasons for this degradation are manifold. In the following sections this will be discussed. Our education system has degraded to machinery which only aims at producing individualistic conformist working class society, aspiring to make their lives better by earning more and more. It does not encourage independent thinking, inward gaze, creativity and intellectual development and many other things needed to build better individuals and a better society.
The Drawbacks of Current Education System
When India became independent education was seen as a tool of empowerment, which would bring about societal changes and find solution to problems in the country. And during that era education system probably did fulfill its purpose. But if we look at the situation today can we really say that the societal change envisioned at the time of independence has really occurred? Has poverty been eradicated? Has the rich poor gap been closed? In fact it has increased if numbers are to be believed; 26% of India’s wealth is held by a few elites. Few here does not refer to thousands. Not even hundreds. It refers to tens of people.
Even if education system has failed to bring about societal changes, does it really serve the purpose for which it has come to exist? Does it really produce high quality employable youth?
- A report from an independent survey claims that at least 47% of the Indian graduates were unemployable.
- 90% of the engineering graduates were deemed unemployable.
- Roughly 84% of the graduates did not have the cognitive ability to get jobs.
- 90% lacked fundamental English proficiency and basic communication skills to get jobs.
So our education does not solve societal problems. Neither does it produce high quality employable professionals. What are the reasons? Before finding functional and structural flaws lets look at the intent behind the dispersion and reception of education to understand this issue.
The stakeholders in the education machinery are students, parents, teachers, schools, society and the state. Lets examine education from each of their contexts.
- Student –In primary education level as higher marks and academic achievements are encouraged, getting higher marks or passing exams ends up becoming whole purpose of receiving education. In higher education level the intent is to score good marks to get a better job or clear tests so that one is not stuck behind.
- Parents – Most parents send their children to school so that education can secure their future. They look at education as a means of income, social status, security, better marriage prospect and a better material life. Parents send their children to expensive schools by spending a significant part of their earnings, so that their kids can get a better exposure. But again the idea behind getting better exposure is to keep ahead in the race and not necessarily become a better individual.
- School Administration –In case of government schools, running a school is about finishing paperwork, keeping things under control during school hours, acting only to keep things mostly functional. In case of private schools, it is about profits, marketing and keeping the numbers (results, achievements etc) right. Private schools in some instances have threatened to disown students with lower scores to keep the average scores of the school looking healthy.
- Teacher – Most of the teachers are teachers because they did not find a better job. So naturally teaching is just another job for them. It is not like there are no passionate teachers in India, but their number is very low.
- State –The policy makers lay down the law and common man just follows it. There is no two way flow between policy makers and the end users. Hence policy makers are really not accountable in our system. And then you also have the politically motivated syllabus in school to make matters even worse.
- Society – Indian society consists largely of the middle class. The middle class in general is a conformist one which like status quo. However it does expects revolutionaries and innovators to be churned out of the system. But not from their own homes.
None of the stakeholders except the state (probably) looks at education as a tool to build better individuals, better society and a better country. It is not thought of as a system to enable individuals realize their potential, build character, develop sensitivity to the world around them, develop a sense of responsibility, passion and ownership. Even state does not really look to improve the system continuously. And that has caused the system to become what it is; a rate race. Here are some of the manifestations of the misplaced purpose of education in Indian society.
- Everything and everywhere it is about rote memorization. Attitude to explore and learn is suppressed.
- Standardized tests with limited scope evaluate students. Hence the true potential of students is never explored.
- As education is seen as a means of financial security, it has become the major social yardstick.
- Extreme pressure on students to be in top bracket is also leading to increase in rate of student suicides. Limited seats in top education institutes have added to this pressure.
- Increasing dissatisfaction in students and job sector as most people are going through things and doing jobs that they do not like or do not have aptitude for.
- Poor standard of teachers and teaching methods.
- Extremely unhealthy competition among students.
- Development of very individualistic and opportunist environment.
- There is no scope for failure in the system as learning is not the real aim, but grades are.
- Knowledge gathered is bookish and hence inability to apply it in real life.
- Lack of critical thinking.
- Lack of broader worldview among students and hence inability to take decisions.
- Lack of ownership and apathy towards taking up responsibilities.
- Lack of emotional and intellectual development in students
- Lack of confidence and independence.
In addition to the issues that we have in our education system we also need to examine what are other major gaps in it. Below are a few concerns that need to be raised.
- In recent times there has been a increase in the rate of farmer suicides. The number of registered farmers in the country is on a rapid decline. Youth is moving away from agriculture in search of ‘greener pastures’. Clearly majority of people do not want to take up agriculture as a profession. Unfortunately it all starts with the schooling system. The subjects that are taught at school never really give an exposure to student on agriculture. Neither does the system inspire anyone to become a farmer.
- On the similar lines the system is not designed to inspire people to become naturalists or soldiers or artists or social activists. The list of such professions is endless.
- Our education system is completely focused on the outside. The gaze is always outward. There is hardly anything in the curriculum that enables students to turn their gaze inwards.
- Only number and language based learning seems to be in curriculum. Experiential learning, Visual learning etc do not get any importance.
- Creativity is not nurtured. The grading system and template based evaluation tends to suppress creativity.
Can there be a solution!
Even if the way education is imparted is improved upon; lets say grades are abolished and focus is on learning, will students develop an attitude of understanding rather than mugging? Will parental and societal demands of ensuring a better future not drive them to innovate and find short-cuts. And if education becomes more understanding oriented and not job oriented will society still be interested in education?
Unless there is a change of attitude towards education, it becomes very difficult to bring in any change. The attitude of all stakeholders is in question here. So we end up with a chicken and egg problem here, for which there may not be any right answers. One thing that is known for sure that change can not be brought about overnight. In this case especially it will be excruciatingly slow. As quantification of the effect of change will be difficult and initial changes will be minimal it will always be under scrutiny by the cynics.
Here are a few suggestions on how the loop can slowly be broken.
- School years are the formative years and hence the best time to instill values and aspirations. So carry out different programs in schools to
- Expose students to agriculture, gardening, nature, animals, wildlife
- Pick up some reflective activity like sketching, theater, music or dance
- Do team and collaborative activities
- Carry out make and learn (instead of read and learn) activities (esp for science subjects)
- Help students realize their potential and aptitude through an environment of continuous open and intimate conversations (We already have numerous names for it like Adda, Bhat, Khatti etc).
- Discussion and Dialogue based learning of abstract subjects
- All the above and such activities will need to have an output that is tangible, which should be celebrated as an achievement.
- Schools must have a homogeneous mix of students from cities, villages and small towns.
My solution to revamp the education system in India is to follow a holistic approach to education, which is aimed at developing creativity and intuition, values, critical thinking and positive attitude, ability to take decisions, inward gaze and an attitude of continuous learning among students. Education should inspire. There are a very few schools in India that are having a similar approach to education. If they are brought under one umbrella and more such schools are built it will become a movement and will open up the way to achieve the dream. Secondly education should not only be restricted to schools. Home education is equally important if not more. Awareness among parents and guardians and few tools to enable them to guide and inspire their wards in the right direction would close the loop.
Here are a few areas of focus and the activities related to them. All areas are quite open ended and not specific and exact like maths and science. The learning is mostly visual, experiential and intuitive. It encourages creativity and innovation. A lot of group activities also build trust and camaraderie among children. These are also aimed at inspiring students to take up agriculture, nature wildlife conservation, arts as their profession.
- Nature Awareness and agricultural activities – We protect only that which we love. And a person who has not grown up in the lap of nature would find it difficult to really love nature.
- Setting up water holes and food bowls for birds in schools. As birds come down to have a bite or quench their thirst kids keep getting used to them and develop interest in them.
- Adoption of stray dogs and abandoned cats by school
- Maintenance of school garden by students
- Growing few fruits, vegetables, grains, pulses etc in school campus through natural farming method which also may sometime need maintaining a cow shed in school.
- Inclusion of these animals in school rituals and traditions. A school in Michigan provides a sanctuary to a mother duck who returns every year to lay eggs in the school. When the ducklings are old enough they walk through the hallway and led to a nearby water body with the help of students and staff. This now is a yearly ritual of the school.
- Every student being assigned to plant and maintain at least one tree through his schooling time.
- Students involved in growing food at home with their parents (again as a lifetime project).
- Students themselves spreading awareness about community farming, forestation to local communities and helping them setup community farms.
- Guided forest tours and camping. Not just a day affair, but spending a good week or so in the forests.
- Organic waste management training for parents and students.
- Art Education – No everyone can or should become artists. But everyone can and should practice and appreciate art. There are places in India which have this culture of learning, practicing and appreciating all forms of art and that reflects in the life style and outlook towards life of the people in those places. Such a culture must be nurtured from childhood.
- Visual art, Music, Dance and theater should be made compulsory subjects in schools and there must be enough time assigned for it.
- Art exhibitions, music and dance concerts, theater productions should be taken to schools or kids should be brought to such places on regular basis.
- A couple of theater, music, dance productions each and art shows must become compulsory output of every school on a yearly or half yearly basis
- Inter school competitions should be done on a regular basis and a lot of prestige should get attached to such competitions.
- Students to maintain sketchbooks as a visual journal. Sketchbook sharing sessions to be held in schools and among schools.
- Idols need to be created in these fields for students so that they can be inspired. Big names in these fields should be brought to schools and interact with kids.
- Group art projects and community art projects and installations.
- Storytelling and story writing
- Story book illustrations
- Schools or classes getting their own annual original story book published with illustrations, all done by students.
For specific and exact sciences here are a few suggestions that come to my mind.
- Labs should be setup in all schools. If there is no space for labs, class room can be converted to labs.
- Education should happen in labs. People should make first and then learn from it rather than the other way round.
- Labs work should carry more weight than theoretical evaluation in learning process.
- There should be team project works in lab and students should be evaluated as a team and as individual.
- For teaching theory there should be discussions and dialogues and the teacher should act as a guide and moderator.
- A form of teaching whereby absorbing knowledge rather than dissipating knowledge should be encouraged. Meaning the students proactively must question each other and the teacher instead of teacher pushing things down their throat.
I made this painting titled ‘Childhood’s End’ way back in 2011 and wrote the above piece more than a year earlier. Children are intuitive, creative and inquisitive by nature in varying degrees. Instead of nurturing that we have been suppressing it for a very long period of time now. But there are a few who have been doing their best to bring about a change. But a change is not possible here unless majority believe in it. Because the change here is a psychological one. Its a change in our value system. Hence a continuous dialogue is necessary. Support to those who are trying to bring changes is necessary. Even the smallest of actions is necessary. Otherwise our society will continue to chase it shadow be stuck in an infinite loop for ever.