Education in the Country: Old Wine in New Bottle


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Sonia Dogra

Education is a powerful tool. In fact it is the most powerful one. With the onset of technology, education has evolved from the simpleton it was to something more encompassing and real. Also, unlike in the past, more and more people are now drawn to the idea of education and it has finally found its roots in school campuses, colleges and universities, etc. Even though education is suitably placed, the same cannot be said about the system of education that seems rather obsolete and outdated and must gear up to meet the demands of present day society.

In this piece, let us take a closer look at how the system needs a rehashing to sync with the demands of our changing times.

Impetus on creating an atmosphere for competition — Yes, the system continues to focus on creating an environment where the focus is more on competition and less on education. Marks are used as a yardstick to gauge performance. When we speak of holistic development of children, we tend to limit it to marks and marks alone.

No scope for ingenuity — Sadly, children are not taught to think. You learn to write before you learn to read. You memorise everything. From history to science to mathematics. The idea should be to allow children to think, imagine, design. Rather than mug up the critical analysis of a play, students must write one themselves; rather than memorise dates or structures of temples, there is a need to understand why certain historical events took place and be able to connect them to present. When I hear grown up professionals ask why we study history at all, I am surprised. Because they completed an entire round of schooling without ever knowing the relevance of the subject they studied. Such is our education system which introduces a subject but never talks of it practically. Worse still, if a child presents his own ideas they are often rejected because they do not fit into the “examination” system. Thus killing ingenuity for life.

Chalk and talk system of teaching — We may claim to have moved ahead with smart boards adorning our classrooms but the ground reality is that the old and traditional system of chalk and talk is right there. In fact technology fails to find a mention in our various boards of school education. There are no special attempts to modernise assessment methods or teaching. Only a few schools that have phenomenal fee structures that cater to creative sensibilities of students. For others, it’s the regular run of the mill situation. Reason being they are burdened by the demands of board examinations and making every promising singer, actor, sportsperson perform well at mathematics and economics. That instantly kills whatever initiative a school may think of taking to make education more adventurous and of imparting practical knowledge.

Teaching the ability to take risks Education must help to develop the ability to take risks. Question, ask, challenge. The idea of conforming to a set of rules and regulations and following a pattern of teaching may have worked in the past but times have changed and our system requires to meet this demand. As long as we do not encourage our children to come up with innovative ideas and try and research new things, we will fail to produce enlightened, analytical minds.

A three sixty degree world viewOur screens have shifted focus to 3Ds and 4Ds. However, our education system continues to be single dimensional. Studying history from a single point of view makes it lopsided. Hence, we grow up having learnt the facts but only half. And it is no secret that a half baked cake does not taste good. We need to include all aspects of a subject and offer a broader view to our children. We need to inculcate a complete panoramic view of education that is more wholesome. Manish Sisodia, Minister of Education in the Delhi Government, once correctly pointed this out. Quoting from his speech I would like to give the example of the word “Gentleman”. When the word is introduced to young children via a picture book we often spot a man who is well suited in a coat and a hat accompanying the word. As a result children perceive that every man who is dressed as such is a gentleman and every other who is plainly dressed is not. We all know how untrue it is. And that is how we constrict the worldview of the next generation. Therefore, the need of the hour is to make education all encompassing and providing a three sixty degree view to students.

Up the ante — No longer are the students wholly and solely dependent on their teachers or parents for information. They have access to the vast world of the Internet. Therefore, it is time that we up the ante and prepare ourselves to do more than just follow our tried and tested methods of teaching. In fact there is lots and lots of teaching happening in schools but is there proportional learning also taking place? Let us quote another example in this series. A lesson on traffic rules in EVS is explained well to the students of class three maybe. Now even as the teacher may have taught the lesson with utmost proficiency, we cannot be sure whether an equally proficient learning has taken place in the classroom. Students may cram all the traffic rules and write them down in their papers but we cannot be sure whether they will actually follow those rules. Hence, despite teaching well, learning has not taken place. And this is exactly where we reach a deadlock. The only solution is to offer practical, value based education here. Not simply to enlist the traffic rules but to organise a field visit and help learn the fallouts of not being disciplined about traffic. A lesson on cleanliness cannot be delivered in a classroom that is not dusted well!

Revolution must begin in classrooms Day in and day out we teach children of revolutions that rocked the world. We forget that the need of the hour is to start revolutions in our classrooms. Aryabhatta, the great Indian mathematician gifted the number “0” to the world. Unfortunately, centuries after he is gone, we continue to revel in this feat. The world has moved ahead by using this very zero in a myriad ways but in our classrooms we have failed to move beyond this. We have failed to encourage our children to make something new, to come up with new inventions which is the need of the hour. Only and only 5 per cent of our student population grows to think out of the box. For the remaining 95 per cent only learn in classrooms to follow ancient ways and methods. We forget that those methods were for that age and today we need new beginnings, new methodologies, new inventions, new discoveries, new questions and we need to seek new answers to them. Sadly, our classrooms are unable to give this new vision to children. And so, an overhauling of the system is a must. At individual levels, if taken up by teachers and schools, who can set an example for the boards to include such ideas in the overall system.

The Story of Sonam Wangchuk  Sonam Wandchuk is an Indian engineer and education reformist. He founded the SECMOL (Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh). He introduced a reform in education. Winner of several awards, he runs an institute in Ladakh that teaches in an innovative way those students who, he terms, are a victim of our alienated system of education. He believes that an education system that produces only 5 per cent eligible students and does not cater to the remaining 95 per cent is detrimental to society as well as the nation. His campus runs on solar energy and uses no fossil fuels for cooking, lighting or heating. He works to bring reforms in the government school system of Ladakh. He engages the local villagers in this task and has given a new lease to the government schools of the region. His case must be set as an example and replicated in other parts of the country to bring about a major reformation in our system of education. The fellow came into prominence when he became the motivation for the character of Amir Khan in the movie Three Idiots though he refuses to identify with the character.

The twenty first century is nothing like the nineteenth or even the twentieth century. It is time to move out of the shadows of the past and adopt a new approach to teaching and learning. At the micro level, it can be an effort of a teacher or a school and at the macro level educationists must come together to make education more challenging, more experimental, more encompassing for our children. Unless we change our system and our mindset we cannot hope to bring about a change in our children, our youth who continue to fight to be the best in a class of forty; who have learnt to quash a million questions and accept whatever has been passed on over centuries. And we must remember that these children are the ones who will form society, nations and a world community in years to come. We cannot continue to offer old wine in new bottles — that is how our system of education works. Its time we change the wine as well!

(This piece is inspired by the speech of Education Minister of Delhi, Manish Sisodia and largely takes its inputs from there.)


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