January 17, 2010

Hey, stop defending the education system. Even our universities don't do that. :)

Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal’s education reforms for Class 10 board exams are indeed visionary. But caution has to be exercised that urban middle class children are not pampered into thinking that anything that causes ‘stress’ is evil and should be attacked and, worse, not be even attempted.

Encouraging students to abuse their teachers, hate their books, throw metaphorical tomatoes at all centres of excellence is to encourage an illiterate lumpen rage against anything that isn’t dumbed down to the shocking level of intellectual nothingness that we seem to be comforted by these days. If our children cannot use proper grammar, if they cannot spell, if they are unable to sit for examinations, if they are unable to speak a language correctly, if they are unable to study because they are turned off by stress, if they are led to believe that all effort is a waste of time, is this the kind of generation we want to rear as future citizens? Saraswati is a gentle goddess. Maybe we need to change our mode of worship, but let's not disrespect her.

Yet, at the core of the film is a dark and troubling cynicism about the future of India’s young. The technicolour fun and games conceals a destructive anger and a condescending disdain for all those across India who may be aspiring to join centres of excellence or study or teach in them. The incredible popularity of the film shows that as a nation we are in no mood to study and are delighted that idiocy is at last legitimate.

(Read the full article - it's about 3 Idiots - here.)

What troubles me about this is that the opinion is saying, "Yes the education system needs reforms but as students you shouldn't be asking for them."
Or "Ask for them, but nicely"? I'm a little foggy about what the article is supposed to mean.

Several points here:

1. Anything that causes stress in children is evil. (I'm not talking about kids who've left school, but younger ones definitely.) Because at that age it isn't about how stress is a good teacher, or how it teaches you to cope with life, yada yada. Don't be ridiculous. Munnu wants to play.

2. "Encouraging students..."? :) With or without encouragement, most of us are abusing teachers, hating books and throwing tomatoes at those so-called centres of excellence. Maybe it's time to stop treating us like little kids and just get the fact that if something makes millions of young people unhappy and frustrated, it can't be right? Or is that a privilege that is restricted only to adults?

Also, these centres of excellence of yours - many of their students hate them. And these students are supposedly some of the best minds of the country - can they all be wrong?

3. What's so "illiterate" and "lumpen" about the rage against the system? Most students, if you probe, will be only too happy to tell you what changes they want. Yes, we know that many are not possible in a country of this size, but even a beginning will do. There's nothing inarticulate about that.

4. "...is this the kind of generation we want to rear as future citizens?" Probably not. But since when do children (irrespective of generation) turn out to be what their parents wanted to rear them into? :P Frankly, dear woman, what you wish to rear us into is immaterial. Save yourself the worry of what will happen to this nation when we join the workforce. Worry about the number that'll be too burnt out or too narrow-minded or too rule-book-ish when it joins the workforce. More real concerns. It happens every year, in fact.

5. Saraswati is a gentle goddess? Let's not disrespect her? Touching indeed. :D So now, I take it, my beloved Mumbai University is Saraswati? :D

6. What, by the way, is this obsession with centres of excellence? Quite starstruck we are.

7. We're delighted that idiocy is at last legitimate? What's to be delighted - doesn't the existence of our education system prove it? :) It's idiotic and it's been around for generations.

8. This isn't destructive anger. It's more helpless anger. Because the same students who rant against the system and hate the system are still in the system. I am. You are. What's destructive, Ms. Ghose? We're still in this system that you seem so keen to defend. No one's rebelling. No one knows how. And we all assume that it's just for the next year, or two. Then we'll be done with our education, and glad to be rid of it.

Nope, there's nothing destructive. But what's sad is just this - that there's nothing constructive about our anger either. :)


Just as a general aside - when you want reforms in public health, you'd ask doctors and patients. Infrastructure, industrialists and junta. (Ideally at least). And so on and so forth. How is it, then, that when it comes to education, it's always Kapil Sibal, and school teachers, and PTA members, and child psychiatrists? Why do we forget the people who make up the largest portion of education - students?

Is it because students are expected to hate the system? Do you assume that no matter how good the system is, we'll still hate it? Or do you just not credit us with the maturity to talk about this? What is it?

Because I'm dying to find out why universal student requests (update the syllabus, make it practical, reduce the workloads, focus on extra-currics) - all of which are legitimate and feasible requests - are ignored year after year, while our politicians continue to discuss if there should be 90% quotas for SSC students in Junior Colleges.


arayans said...

i can't help but exclaim, "finally!"

and mainly, thanks for this:
"these centres of excellence of yours - many of their students hate them ... can they all be wrong?"

actually, those 'centres of excellence' are not hated in absolution. what is hateful about them, however, is the fact that they can (potentially) serve as platforms for so much more, and yet, the government's obsession with multiplying the present state of average-excellence ends up stagnating any sparks of creative brilliance.

our education is not fuelled by good policy changes - it is merely driven by the sheer volume of those who get an opportunity to get educated, and everyone knows that when you push 50 million kids into schools, the upper echelons among them will be good (yes!), but the general mass will be shitty. and then, when those masses are confronted with a system that stems vocational growth, and effectively stunts creative growth, the stress creeps in. the lack of performance is simply replicated en-masse. and this fuels policy change into making an already hollow system easier for the masses - thus making it easier for more people to follow a path that leads further away from vocational and creative progress.. the same thing happened in the americas a few decades ago, and even after all that, we see mr sibal walking up to us, and throwing mucky policy at us. he's simply applying band-aid at a wound, without realizing that there's a haemorrhage elsewhere, that he (and his sucky predecessors) never bothered to, or had the skill, to look into.

sure, students will support his move. who are they to know how it makes their individual lives easier, and at the same time, screws up their collective futures?

what is needed is a simple system that tests students at each progressive level, allows vocational freedom along-side. pressure is good. no one need be explained that. we hate it, yes, but wiser men know that IT IS GOOD!
and at the same time, allow for a few centres of excellence - those will fuel the creative minds into innovating for the future (genius, alas, is limited, and we shouldn't try multiplying such centres needlessly) - and meanwhile, the general public will be capable enough to use what those centres create, to move ahead in unison.

Rohit said...

so true...im glad i stumbled onto ure blog...so wassup gal...njoyin vacations :P

Spaz Kumari said...

not the main theme of the post, but i disagree with what seems to be a universal assumption, that of sibal's cancellation of the class 10 boards. I fail to understand why everyone assumes that the class 10 Boards are the Devil incarnate; why not see them as a way to learn to constructively handle pressure? A way to learn to always keep perspective? I am no genius, but I both had fun and did well in class 10. I also believe that 15 years of age is quite old enough to take the first step to being grown up. And you know the only rule of adulthood - When shit happens, you wear your big girl panties and deal with it :D

I think the point the article is trying to make is not against informed criticism, but against the hordes of students who have no clue what exactly they are opposing but join the OMG indian schoolz r soooo gross DX bandwagon anyway, to come across as jaded and cool. Informed criticism is never bad, but most students are not truly informed, and a vague disdain for education systems in general will only create a stupider population.

Which brings me to the movie; i forgot to mention this, but I thought the blanket condescension shown to hard work was stupid and simplistic. There are degrees and degrees of talent.. some people may have an inclination to a subject, but not be geniuses. What are they supposed to do? And what about R S Chanchad? Was he planning on re-discovering 2000 years of science by himself? Like Newton said, 'standing on the shoulders of giants' is no bad thing.

Aside from the above niggling issues, I completely agree with your analysis. You even came up with a bunch of things I didn't think of :D

Avantika A. said...

Hear hear! Now i need to cool down coz reading that has made me all angry and brought back all the frustrations of trying to teach while in this system!

123 123 said...

Interesting article as for me. It would be great to read something more about that topic. Thnx for posting that material.
Joan Stepsen
Pharmaceutical tech

Pratz said...

agree with everything u said...

spruhal said...

Hey, that's so true.

You know what the real difference is between education reforms and other reforms. Its the very premise on which the 'education system' exists.

It exists on the value of 'teaching' as against 'learning'. Teaching is initiated by parents/teachers and they determine what is to be taught. 'Genuine Learning' in life is initiated by the person who wants to learn something. It is the student who determines what he/she wants to learn.

The problem is not with the education system. It is with the 'assumption' that the education system gives you and should give you everything you need in life. That's an assumption that most parents and teachers have - one that frustrates the kids and makes them commit suicide.

Oh and 'Institutions of excellence' is a ridiculous phrase. How can 'Excellence' be institutionalized?

Its an endless debate. But the good thing is that people can get the learning that they really from want outside the system and do well in life.

And what's the point of it all ultimately? They make you believe that education is something noble and stuff. But the ONLY THING that doing well in studies is leading you to is earning more money than your peer group - which is not noble in any way. So wtf is the 'centre of excellence'?


Asterix said...

A late comment, but I will make it nonetheless. I am mostly interested in this line:

Also, these centres of excellence of yours - many of their students hate them. And these students are supposedly some of the best minds of the country - can they all be wrong?

My take is that these "centers of excellence" are only as good as their students and faculty. Even IITs and IIMs suffer from a terrible shortage of good faculty, so that half doesn't look good.

Regarding students, well the picture doesn't look any better because our entrance exams (especially IITs) have become petered down versions of their old selves, completely mastered by the coaching institutes. For post-grads, the situation is even bleaker because the 'best' undergrads leave the country and we get a 'andhon mein kaana raaja syndrome'. So yes, these are just "supposedly the best" students.

So given that mediocrity dominates these centers, it is even more important that the institutes do not bow to any arbitrary demand of the aam junta. It will only dilute whatever is left of the institute's image.

I have already seen the grading policy being adjusted so that the mediocre do not suffer. The research output is also increasingly becoming average at an alarming rate.

So to answer your line, if these centers have to maintain their elite status, they cannot afford to listen to every quibble raised by every "average-but-supposedly-the-best" student. Mass hatred be damned!

Sharanya said...

dude, kinda find myself agreeing with what she says and also with Asterix above. I thought that the movie was critical of hardwork, disrespectful to the general teaching community and dismissive of the few 'centres of excellence' that we have. Agree with ur other points thou...The film is good fun to watch and makes fun of the education system but nothing more.