October 27, 2010

[Education] Laments about us, the Learned Lads and Lasses!

After spending some hours digesting certain really shocking material, I feel compelled to share my understanding of how the unborn potential in most of us, was poisoned prematurely.

"Now, what is that revolutionary stuff you seem to be reading, is it some banned manuals, some blasphemous novels?" Hardly! far, far from it. It's just some textbooks on education. "You are really one to exaggerate. What, on earth, could be so startling of all things, in a textbook?", I hear that. Turns out that there is so much that I can hardly do justice in this one article. May take a lifetime and this is the first stone in the water.

On asking friends on Facebook [http://www.facebook.com/Karkys/posts/141544872559258], the meaning of education, their kind replies range from specifics like 'knowledge imparted/shared' to the all-encompassing "appreciation of the purpose of life" and "awareness". To be very honest, I never expected to get such a wide range of responses . The truth, though, lies in the broader version of this word, to which only life and harsh experiences exposed us, rather than our education system. To me, education is finding your true self and learning to live it, in all that you do, all your life. It doesn't end with the school or college or even a Ph.D, there are some very moving lessons to be learnt on the deathbed, I am sure.

There was another thing I asked friends - About the one thing they wish they learnt in the school-college set-up. In this case, all the divergence of the previous replies converged at a singular point - A wish to have some real-life learning. The Edu-Geeks would call that "situated learning" and I am sure google and wiki would enlighten you much more than I ever can. This is again an illustration of what most of us now accept that Education should do: To give us the skills of "Learning to Learn" (http://www.campaign-for learning.org.uk/cfl/learninginschools/l2l/5rs.asp). How absolutely useful it would have been to have researched like scientists or taken a Tamilnadu tour to learn about the types of soil or be given access to some real-life reference, tools and guidance to program rather memorize line-by-line, semi-colon-by-semicolon, "program to determine if a number is odd/even!" Why don't we hear our managers laughing their heads-off!

[Img Src - http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_sW6aU1VZKJY/Rmy4O_aeVFI/AAAAAAAAAAo/dMA4RYy13b0/s320/ch_ilai_sapaadu.jpg]

Having said all this, what have we got out of all these years of school and college? One facet. Memory! We can read and reproduce. The question of the moment is "when data-transfer is done so seamlessly by some cute-looking robots, why should we as humans compete and lose against them, trying still only to master memory and recall?" May be these scholarly(!) concepts were not evident when we were studying. But why still, in this age of knowledge explosion are students here, still mugging for their 12 th Standard exams? Why is knowledge tested, instead of skill/aptitude? The really funny thing is , I have seen people memorizing answers for the so-called "Aptitude" tests given in IT Companies. Totally defeats the purpose, I would say! There is a real surprising cultural element here. Just take a look at our wedding meals. There is one whole sequence of things starting from Idli, Dosa , Veg biriyani, Bisi-Bela Bath, Kadai Paneer, Mushroom Masala, Aloo Gobi, Rice and more Rice, Vatha Kulambu, Rasam, Curd Rice, Rasamalai, Ice-cream and so on, whereas the education system just serves you a urughaai. That's right, we are filled up with the whole-meal pickle!

This is not to say, we gained nothing out of our education system. Some of us picked up a lot of things along the way. All this is mostly a coincidence, not knowing if these were right/wrong. There is no attempt to instill in us, in a realistic way, skills to face life, awareness of respecting fellow humans, a caring attitude towards nature, abilities to make sure that this world does not explode with all the harsh things we seem to be inflicting on it and simply, the understanding of who we are and what we are best at.

Feeling Depressed?! Just think, If there are so many problems, that should only excite us of all the possibilities and solutions, just waiting around the corner. All it takes, is to move forward, a step at a time. Here's wishing that these Laments become Movements in the right direction, in our life-time!


  1. True .. Education needs much improvement. It needs to be much different. But, I've seen many such laments, even I have lamented many times, but what's that which is going to change it all?

    Unless someone with enough power - may be a politician or an academician does it, I don think we can achieve anything here. I guess, we (all lamenters from this generation) should aspire to become empowered enough (be it coming to 'power' or just feel empowered enough to do things) to make it all happen!

  2. This is a pet theme, sorry looong comment coming up!

    I agree with all that you have said. What conventional schools provide is literacy, not education.
    The good thing is that there is definite change. There are a whole lot of alternative schools that provide exactly the kind of education that we would have liked to have, and now want for our children. In Bangalore - GEAR (Gifted Education And Research), HeadStart, Prakriya Green Wisdom school, KFI's Valley School, Shibumi, Center for Learning.
    Talk to parents and the reaction is - these schools must be expensive. Fact is, they are not.

    The children who go to these schools are able to THINK. The kind of stuff they read is impressive, to say the least.

    And now, the bad. Most parents, even those who are cribbing about the system and rote-learning, do not want to exercise the option of letting their child go to one of these schools. As one parent put it, hopefully there will be a change in a few years. So he wants everyone to change, before he does!
    Unfortunately, things do not change until you do.

    The other fear expressed is that the child may be a budding genius and may miss out on a fab career because of this decision. Made me think, we don't mind if the world loses a chess champion, a scientist, or a creative genius, but the world minus an IIT engineer - what a loss! ;-)

    Contrary to general perception, these alternative schools are academic - just that the method of learning is not the usual rote. My son goes to such a school and at 3.5 years knows about continents - children of his age who go to conventional schools only write out pages of A-B-C/1-2-3. How boring! And imagine spending years learning to write, a skill that most of us do not find any use for anymore.

    One parent thought the child would grow up to be a rockstar - unfortunately these parents don't do any groundwork before forming these opinions. If they had, they wold have known that a Nobel Laureate's child goes to one of these schools, and many IIT alumni send their children too.

    The most shocking comment was from a parent whose older child goes to a reputed purely-acad school (factory?) in B'lore. She was complaining about the system but was looking to admit her younger one in the same school. She said 'children really like going to this school. For the first few years they cry when there is writing, but afterwards they enjoy it'. So parents are fine with children spending the first few years of their life crying because they have to go to school, instead of enjoying learning and having fun! After a few years, the child probably loses whatever spark he/she had, accepts the system and falls in line.

    I studied in a school like this more than two decades ago - http://arundhativ.blogspot.com/2010/08/memories-in-pictures-and-words.html, unfortunately only for a couple of years

  3. For me, it is not about what I wish was taught, but how I wish I was taught. I was never told to apply any of what I was taught.

    When I was taught letter writing in English class, I wish I was encouraged to write to my local representative. When I was taught Physics, I wish I was taught how to perform a real experiment and discover some Physics law, rather than drive my "experiments" towards an expected result. I wish the Civics class simulated a legislature that debated fiercely and came up with a new Constitution and new laws.

    I could go on and on, but I will stop with a pointer to an experiment by a high school kid in Illinois. Jillian Clarke investigated the 5-second rule: how dropping food on the floor and picking it up affects the food. A simple experiment, but it teaches her how to do research and what discovery feels like.


  4. Dear Nandhini,
    Your words "skills to face life" is very very crucial. The goal of education has sadly deviated from this path. I wish our collective thinking would give rise to better future for the coming generations.
    Thanks for making us think as well.


  5. I recall a Woodrow Wilson quote:
    The use of Universities is to make young gentlemen as unlike their parents as possible.
    Coupled with another quote:
    My father used to say he had 40 years of experience, but what he really had was one year of experience repeated 39 years.
    Education should first make us think, and then change the way we think, as compared to the previous generation. For this to happen, I feel, first teachers and educationists should learn to think. At least at higher education level.
    I understand many American Universities are setting up shop in India. Let us see what influence they have in changing the style of teaching and learning.

  6. This is an amazing post, if everyone of us start applying our thoughts this way, sure one day we would learn the "Purpose". We will find that "MEANING", that "PURPOSE" of "EDUCATION".
    Many times we forget the purpose, we also forget the source. We need someone to remind us on two things
    1. Who we are
    2. Why are we doing this (could be anything for that matter).

    If we train our brains to answer these two basic questions, we get that answer, that meaning that purpose of Education.

    Reminds me of Mahatma's saying ..
    "Be the change you Want to See"

    Lets be the Change we want to see.
    Lets teach ourselves the "Purpose". Lets teach our Kids the "Purpose". Lets teach our friends the "Purpose".
    The journey of thousand miles starts with a small step. This post of you makes me think of the "Purpose".

    !!!!!Thanks Nandini !!!!!

  7. Nandini,

    Hmm..As a person who has been thro' the school and college system in India and then grad school in the US, I have my two cents of opinion on this issue. In the US, creativity is largely embraced and inculcated from pre-school and extra curricular and other aspects such as confidence, presentation skills, the ability to think, concept of learning to love, kindness etc. are all part of the system, mostly. In India, as we all are aware of, engineering, medicine, CA etc are all professions that we would like our kids to take and the system and schools are geared towards grilling those text book knowledge and learning is never a fun experience. I hate to draw parallels and its not correct to do so also, but it will be really nice if the netire curriculum gets changed to prepare a child for entering the real world. Language is another issue- regional languages in every state, unfortunately, little do folks realize that in today's global environment and tomorrow's world, learning hindi/tamil/kannada etc. as mandatory is not going to help you fetch a career, unless you are interested in learning your langugage. I guess some of my opinions may be colored by the fact that I have been away from the Indian system for a long time, as well. Apologize for the rambling comment...but you had a great post that raises many questions.

  8. First and foremost Nandini instead of musing about our education system we should at first provide education compulsorily to all.I was part of an NGO (HUGS)help us go to school we were primarily working in Thellai region near Vellore a hilltribe domain.There they say it is against their deity to send grown-up girls to school.No amount of coercion worked then we gave-up.Actually in our system we do not identify students who are intelligent average dyslexic etc.We should categorise them and provide education accordingly.Only the rich can afford special education.We do not have government run schools for the disabled.These are the basic needs to be met before revamping our education system.

  9. Thanks all for your very detailed, varied and clear perspectives in response to my blog.

    @Siddarth - Your 'power' point is an excellent one. I sincerely hope for empowerment from within. All it takes is a spark and to keep that alive.

    @Arundhati - I am so glad for your son. You learnt from your mistakes and didn't go mindlessly into the same system. Guess you have to keep talking to parents. They need not all join their kids in unconventional schools but they can at least participate more in their children's education. Question and demand for more, for all the money they are shelling out.

    @Suriya - Saw your blog, your interests in future of children and in policy issues. Guess, we, the lucky few, are able to look within and fill the gaps in our education system by our continuing learning process. I wish this for all of us. "Don't forget what you cared about when you were young. Learn it now if you missed it then!"

    @Ragothaman - There is no power like 'together power' . Why do you think people are so dogmatic about their places of worship - The power of believing in something positive just fills those places with all that energy. It is for us to tap the same energy with our social nets.

    @MohanUncle - I only hope the American universities also don't go the 'corrupt' way here! :-)

    @Suchithra - Thanks for your warm appreciation.

    @Mitr - I disagree with you on one point. I do believe learning languages and your regional language is of great significance, not just for petty local interests. Being well-versed in a couple/ more languages does things for your brain that no amount of cognitive training can, it seems. I do hope the same importance is given to English learning too, to equip children for this global village.

    @AnonymousHUGSVolunteer - Thanks so much for your response. I am extremely glad for your volunteering work. More of us must get involved like you. At the same time, I would like to point out my understanding of your situation. A lot of well meaning NGOs try to get the tribe children involved in schools. But did you know that the main reason for their resistance is that the curriculum, learning, concepts are all so removed from their day-to-day life. The children feel such a divide from their community living and the school learning that it makes no sense. I believe this problem should be addressed culturally. Involve the elders in the tribe community to teach their invaluable lessons along with the Physics ,Chemistry and Global History. Bring something meaningful to their slates! Then, I am sure the deities will no longer object to girls going to school!

    The other point about categorizing children. I guess, I am not for it. I believe there must be more tolerance, more understanding inculcated in schools and these children must be allowed to join the mainstream at their pace. They may lack a skill, but why deprive them and others of other rich & varied social interactions.

    As for all problems in life, the true solution is in getting to the root cause instead of only addressing the symptoms.

    Thanks again to all. You are helping me and indeed, all of us, to refine the thoughts.

  10. Knowledge may penetrate the unknown however far science may extend her frontiers a boundless expanse of the unexplored will still stretch beyond our ken.human wisdom is finite whatever be subtracted from the infinite the remainder is still infinity

  11. i actually randomly saw your post on exam experiences ,and started reading the blog. Then i started reading the archives and "my goodness"..such wonderful way of expressing the idea in ur mind...jus love the way you write and bring in extra special words and phrases..!! would love to read more form you...and often from you...(now that ur exams are over:)

  12. @maha, Thanks for your encouraging words. Your positive comments makes a world of difference. Hope to write much more in the days ahead.