In June of last year, I tutored a Class 5 kid in English and Social Science for about eight weeks (If the first thought in your mind is why does a Class 5 kid need tutoring, then I am relieved that there is some sanity left in the world). Anyway, she was a smart kid and eager to learn. I wasn’t complaining, I was getting paid after all.
I did what came to me most organically. I taught her how I wished I was taught when I was her age. I gave her books to read from my bookshelf — Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl and an occasional Tinkle. We would discuss these books incessantly and gush over their characters. I would narrate to her simplified versions of world wars and the feudal system and give her little facts on world politics. We even played hot-cold on world maps for lessons in geography.
Two months later, when my contract ended, it did not get renewed. I got to know later that I was fired because that kid’s mother wanted someone who would scold her daughter for talking too much in class instead of answering her silly questions.
The idea of education in our country is seriously ill. It’s supposed to be a machine churning out identical boxes of information instead of students with knowledge and opinions.
The Board results for Class 10 and 12 came out a few weeks ago and I have been feeling nostalgic ever since. I, too, was a clown in that circus once. Yesterday, I dug up the daily to-do lists from my school days that I had written in a tiny spiral-bound notebook. It was carefully tucked inside the drawer of my study table — “Memorise Chapter 8 till Zamindari system” dated 25th January, “Revise Vector NCERT examples” ticked off two days before the exam and “Solve 2017 question paper for English” left unticked.
What an accomplishment it was, having an entire paragraph memorised by heart. I knew which countries the world wars were fought between and how many lives were lost. I knew the name of the cavalries and what instigated the revolts. But what did I think about it? Did I get to pick sides? Well, it didn’t really matter because no one asked for my opinion.
I barely passed in Math in my first term and pre-board exams. I did pretty well in Boards because by then, I had fallen in line and done exactly what I was supposed to.
I used to come home after an exam or a class test and easily solve the paper with a little extra time. All I needed was some time to think over the sum, try out the formulas by trial and error and see which one fit. To apply my brain and reach the answer. But the number of questions and the time allotted in the exam are measured to perfection.
You need 20 minutes for section A, 30 for section B, an hour each for sections C and D and 10 minutes for revision. You better know the trick to each sum from beforehand, you are already losing if you spend more than the allotted time on a particular sum, “Start answering from section D”, “If you can’t solve a sum, then move to the next, don’t waste your time.” They don’t want to see your aptitude, they are testing to see how well you oil their machinery.
We had an English teacher who dictated the answers to important questions from each chapter. We had over two long registers filled with dictations to study from before our Board exam. It was incredible to see Silas Marner’s character described the same way in every answer script. Not so surprising to hear that people scored 99 in English literature.
Why did my opinion have to be identical to that of the invigilators?
Yes, I know a lot more about the world now. I know what comes from where and how things were discovered. But what do I do with this information?
After 12 years of hoarding information, one fine day, I am suddenly supposed to go and practically implement it? How? I was never taught to use my head.
My whys are seen as disrespectful and there is no place for my what ifs. My college applications are supposed to exhibit my unique point of view and in my interviews, I am supposed to be me. Who the fuck is that?
It’s been two years since I graduated from school. I will not lie and say that Board marks don’t matter, because they do. After all, they decide which college you go to. But it certainly doesn’t decide your future. Nor is it a reflection of you. If you didn’t hit that century in your Boards, then congratulations, you failed. You failed to conform to mediocrity.