I fit the ‘ideal middle-class Indian boy’ image. I was a topper in school, played a little sport, but focused on studies, got into a top-tier engineering college, then got a dream job with a six-figure salary. I have travelled to Amrika, and six other countries. But, Amrika. Now my parents are looking to get me married, they tell me, “Shaadi karlo, fir life set hai (Get married and then your life is set).”
Being entitled so, I’ll give you advice. As already explicitly mentioned in the title, it’s really bad advice. You should not be reading this. But then, if you’re a teenager reading publications like these, things aren’t going great for you anyway. On the upside though, you can read English.
I have one advice to give to kids in school: DO NOT PAY ATTENTION TO THE CLASSES. Why? Because our education system is not just bad, it actually makes you stupider. Please note, I’m not saying don’t go to school. You must go to school, but try not to pay attention to the classes.
As my parent’s income rose, I went to two types of schools. First, where speaking English was the focus and a big thing. Second, where maths and science were a big thing.
I do give credit partially to my school, more to my parents and mostly to my privilege for teaching me how to read and write at a very young age. I was writing sentences in two languages and had learned basic maths. So all said and done, I’d still give credit to the classes till about 5th standard. After that, it’s all <insert f-word>. In my first school, pseudonym English-Makes-Me-Climax Public School, I was hailed as a hero for my ability to speak English so fluently at a young age. Well, school had nothing to do with it, “Titanic” did.
One afternoon, while watching TV at home I stumbled onto “Titanic”. Two things immediately followed: I started trying to sketch, and I found a whole new world of English movies. The sketching didn’t go very far (or anywhere at all), but watching English movies every afternoon for one academic year was enough for a young kid to pick up very good conversational English. One year, some real inspiration, good content, that’s it. From there, it became a virtuous cycle of confidence, opportunities, curiosity and learning.
But how much did the actual English class contribute? My grammar isn’t that perfect, as the more sharp-eyed readers reading this will perhaps realise. The movies covered pronunciation, vocabulary, and sentence structures. Guess the one thing that the English class is supposed to teach? Yup, grammar. After all these, I still keep learning that the grammar taught was not only inadequate, but very often outright wrong. Had I not paid attention to Kundu Ma’am for those three years, my grammar would have perhaps been better.
But my bigger problem is not with how languages are taught, but how other fields aren’t.
Starting in my first school, but growing exponentially in the second, supposedly “better” school, pseudonym: Engineer-Doctor-Dharti ka Bojh Public School, the overvaluation of maths and science can only be explained by the startup people who come from such schools. For eight years, from class 6th to 12th, you are taught but one thing, ‘how to solve the question’, nothing more.
Take science for example. If you are reading this article, it’s likely that you studied it as a separate subject for a minimum of five years in school.
How many people who do go through this same system do you think confidently can answer that question? Scientific method is not a fact, it is never asked as a question in exams, yet it is the very basic foundation of science. It is arguably as basic as knowing addition in mathematics. Yet, most students are never taught this. Far more problematic is the fact that they’re never taught how to practice it, not just to answer the question but as a way of thinking about anything in life. It stings even more because if you actually study science further, everything you ever studied early was either actually wrong or in most cases, an astounding oversimplification.
My science classes taught me that there’s one right answer. And I must learn that answer. Period. I never questioned if what I reading was true, The way I was taught to answer questions was to erase all other questions from my head. Believe what’s written there, learn it. Do not question. If you want to understand how dangerous that is, ask WhatsApp how much it costs to have a full page advertisement in every newspaper in India, just to tell them that what they are reading might be wrong.
Another good example is math classes. I never struggled with maths, thankfully, though it took me a long time to understand why my friends did. For most, mathematics was not about learning problem-solving, but pattern recognition. All you’re taught are 60-80 odd patterns of questions that are asked in exams, and how to solve them. If you recognise a pattern, you follow a set of fixed steps, and as long as you’re okay with basic calculations, you’ll get the answer. I remember my disenfranchised friend asking me what’s the point of ever learning trigonometry while playing a computer game. It was neither of our faults that we realised the irony of the situation only several years later.
However, my #FirstWorldProblems in maths were an interesting perspective later in life. Again, for four years of my high school and intermediate, my maths teacher struggled to teach me three things:
There was no room for creativity in maths, which in perspective, is both tragic and hilarious. Mathematics is nothing if not creative. There was no idea of different perspectives to the same goal. I was just taught to answer the question.
So, all things considered, the more attention I paid to the classes in school, the more damage I incurred. I wish I had spent more time talking to girls, playing in teams, picking up fights, understanding emotions, listening to music and above all, value the 60 confused souls sitting around me more than the book in my hands.