By Parnika Agarwal:
How would we define our relationship with education? It is a means and ends relationship. We want to score 95% and secure our future. And how do we do this? Exams. Those three hours decide our fate. But can those three hours test our education and our capabilities? For one thing, we know that what comes in most useful during exams is our retention powers during those three hours for we do not get time to think. Once it’s over we tend to forget most of it.
But then, we learn so much beyond our syllabus as well. Are not the values we learn from our parents education? Are not our hobbies education? Is going out and experiencing the world not education? They are, but they do not get an official stamp and so do not count and do not matter. At least not in our selection for a job etc. Education indeed is a tricky concept.
So, after securing good marks we secure our future and become ‘intellectuals’. We enter college because of what is called ‘merit’. But then, is this not a very exclusionary process? Academicians have realised and said this, but I am restating it for we have forgotten it. We are doing fine in education because we know English and we write good English, what with all the fancy words, and therefore, we have ‘merit’. A mofussil educated person might be more knowledgeable than us but that doesn’t do him much good because he does not know English or, in other words, does not have merit!
In fact, has anyone ever thought how the best colleges become the ‘best’? To begin with, they take in the ‘best’ students (based on the current system of ‘merit’). No wonder these colleges get the tag of being the ‘best’!
Of course, I like to study and if that secures me a job, very well. But imagine that I have to get up at 7 in the morning and come back from formal education at around 4 in the afternoon. But the formal education does not stop for I have to do ‘self-study’ to keep up with the expectations of the system. That is not an issue for a person who wants to get educated. The problem arises when I have to sacrifice other activities simply because they will not receive the official stamp. Besides, there is anyway not much time to pursue them when classroom academics takes up much of my time.
When I say that I am sacrificing a lot for academics, I do not mean that I do not want to engage in academics. The point is that academics is as important to me as other things. Education is a life altering experience for everyone. At the same time, what we must not forget is that this life altering experience called education seeps into us through other means as well. For instance, reading newspapers and novels, watching movies, attending events, etc. can be equally educational.
But we also want as many official stamps as possible. So, we do internships, extracurricular activities, certificate courses, etc. to make our CV more impressive, to increase the number of things we’ve done along with academics. Yes, that is what people tell me. These are not blank statements. After all, that is what is desirable since that is what is taken into consideration. So, if I read thrillers, I do not have a competitive edge in terms of securing a job. If I listen to BBC’s informative podcasts, that does not give me an edge either. If I write in my diary my critical reflections of the world, it does not matter. However, if I am interning as a freelance writer I will get a certificate and that will add to my CV and give me an edge. If I join a ‘society’ in my college and become its president, I will have an official recognition of my talent. So, this is what I do and any other way of engaging my mind, well, that I do not think of.
It all boils down to one thing – pursuit of the official stamp! And when this happens, we must realise that there is something wrong. Education is for the sake of learning, for the sake of enlightenment, for the sake of education itself. That is its spirit.
Of course, I cannot talk about a problem without providing an alternative. But this is just one of the possibilities, one which will only contribute to a small part of the larger issue. Let’s look at a particular aspect of education to understand my argument. So take the semester system in colleges, for example. Actually, the problem is not so much with the semester system but in the manner of testing knowledge – through exams.
We can look at some foreign universities for instance in the United Kingdom. They have a trimester system but why that is not taxing for either the students or the teachers is because they do not necessarily have end-of-semester exams. They might have one at the end of the year. Some courses do not have even that. And in the semesters (sans exams), then, they have ample time to test students through essays and presentations which students prepare by going beyond the prescribed core syllabus. They refer to as many books as possible. They discuss their thoughts with their teachers. The idea is to have an open mind, to experiment with their approach and to engage in a conversation with the text.
Do you know what happens as a result? All students come up with different perspectives, which is exactly what our system seems to proscribe. Ask our teachers and they will tell you what a nice time they have checking our answer scripts! So, please, tax our thinking ability and not our memorising powers.
And there is no shame in adopting other countries’ ways of doing things. If Ambedkar embraced western clothes, the reason being given that it will mark the liberation of Dalits, we should realise that we will not be perched on a lower position if we adopt others’ systems by discarding ours. On the other hand, not all foreign systems are worth copying as is evident from the trajectory of the Four Year Undergraduate Programme in India. It is high time that we pause and reflect on what we are doing and where we are going with our ‘un-thought out’ decisions.
We have good core readings, good teachers, good students and better ways of educating ourselves apart from our classrooms. Then what do we need? To make them interact in a sensible way. Not that the current system is bad. The idea is to strive for betterment. And if that is possible, then why not? I can see that capacity in our education system.
Please do not dismiss this as an individual case or consider it madness. It is a social issue. Some people have realised this, some have not. It is our responsibility to break the spell that binds us. We have to find a place for our own thinking and engagement, which education should facilitate. Finally, all of this is not directed at any one particular individual. It is directed at the education system of India in general, and in particular. The idea is not to play the blame game but to play a part as a citizen of this country who is experiencing the system as an everyday reality. Otherwise, I would have just derived sadistic pleasure from the issue.