Sunday, April 4, 2010

Literacy or education ?

Nothing comes close to my heart more than education and children. I really love observing young kids - how they learn, unlearn and relearn the ever more amazing world around them? How they adopt and evolve from whimsical kids to trail blazing adults in their society? In short, I have always been searching whether there exists a perfect formula which when applied could explain why we are who we are, and why we cant be who we want to be and also help form a creative, intelligent and open minded society. And the answer I have so far is -"No!! its not instant coffee. There can be nothing like a one syllabus fits all educational system. Such an approach will do to society what fake currencies do to a nation's economy".

In my notion, a child's mind is the best manager of information overflow. Imagine a new life peeping into this world with so much of a heck to learn from so little of time that is available.  Their memory and experience are a wiped clean slate, more like the protangonist of Ghajini. Its kind of like getting stuck in the middle of a "microwave propagation and its properties" class after skipping the initial few - "pure hell" - trust me. Yet the child's brain does an amazing job of programming its neurons, a major part of cognitive development  (remember that a child's brain is only half complete when its born, the vital neural networks are formed later after birth) the better networking, the more smart they turn out to be, just like in linkedin. It just amazes me how they never grow tired of anything around them. If only we could only half as curious as when we were 10 year olds our world would be mch happier and better.

Though I long believed a major part of our intelligence and acumen comes from genes, many observations have caused me to rethink my idea. I have had the unique opportunity to observe identical twins growing in totally discrete families. The child which grew up in the more educated family inherited the skills of it's pedigree like insanely witty sayings, super good math and science combined with a flair for extra curricular activities. While the other child which grew up in  a large family of not so bright people turned out to be the not so brilliant variety acquiring traits like bullying (an aspect of a large family situation where survival of the fittest holds true best) and poor academics. There are countless other examples I can recollect that reaffirm this faith of mine.

So the principles of the French revolution are here to stay- that all life are created equal, its only their society and milieus that decide whether they will be normal trees or bonsai trees. Its only because the less unfortunate(not exactly in financial terms) are not given enough opportunities to explore. Duck the genes as of now, though I believe it still has a small part to play. Intelligence being so diverse and dynamic, it pains me to think of the current state of education in our country. This was a system designed from the scratch up by the British, for the British but very unlike the British. With a meagre population of 20 million and their hands all over the world map, the british needed a system that would enable them to turn their colonies into bee hives, with them being the drones and queens and the majority of the native population the worker bees. They needed workers who wont think twice and do the job they were told to do - from accounting to clerical and numerous other inane, sycophantic tasks. Schools were created with the sole intent of feeding the massive machinery called the Indian civil, rail and postal services, while the British  also simultaneously established schools in hill stations for their own kids with more emphasis on creative, emphirical and observational learning.

So what was created for the British should have been done away along with the british in 1947. But sadly, our founding fathers were not so sagacious as those of western countries and we still hold on to this rotten system like an overboard man clinging to his lifeline in a raging sea. Physical education is completely ignored. Creative learning is totally stifled and art has been relegated to a level of honour worthy of cockroaches. The kids are told very clear about what matters in their life - MARKS! Mug more! regurgitate more! score more! survive or else. Within the first or second grade every child is segregated into its appropriate group based on its ability to backup and retrieve data. I feel sorry for those other kids of my age who were put into separate species classes- like in Aushwitz or Dachau detention centers- and told that they were not similar to those high rank scorers and that it was the end of their life unless they emulated their high scoring peers. Every child's fate is decided in his/her first grade itself.  Even the elite group is allowed to pick only amongst two cards - medicine / engineering with more emphasis on the former. I, am one like amarthya sen, who proposes that no exams should be conducted for children till the age of ten, inorder to weed out this harmful practice of segregation, so coveted and touted by schools across India.

I provide you an anecdote which still pangs my heart everytime I think about it. I had this extremely smart guy who joined my class in seventh grade I think. He came from an unlikely school of thought -the montessori method(similar to the one used by british to educate their kids). He was like a wunderkid -singing, dancing, atheletics, u name it he did it. Yet  he managed to trump all the exams with top grades. Girls would just go weak kneed over his intelligence and charm. He looked set like a man ready to take the world on this stride. But the moment he entered his tenth grade he was brainwashed to belive that he would shine like the north star on a dark night if he chose a medical career over others. He infact got into a top medical college in my state with excellent grades. But later I learned that he was more interested in stuff other than biology and to vent this frustration he regularly took to his former hobbies, which dint bode well with the professors who failed him in a final year lab exam (or so i was told). He had to redo the whole year again. Its been 7 years out of school and he isnt a doctor yet. His life is a mess and his hopes about future a ramshackle. A man who could have been the next @vgovindarajan or  @aravindadiga or who knows the next @aplusk was consigned to a mundane life just because some wiseass school teacher thought he looked good in white overalls than in a perty shirt. If such is the situation of verstaile high talented children, imagine the situation of those branded at kindergardens as les incompetents.

To think that such a detrimental system is the backbone of our 1 billion strong human resource conglomerate is very depressing. Its really heartening to see ministers like Mr. Kapil Sibal really put their heart in to reforming education in india, unlike others who are more interested in putting together IPL teams. But success doesnt come with one man's ambitions. A radical rethink is necessary in the way we perceive education. Schools should be completely revamped to foster talent and creativity in addition to rote memory skills. But as the world's wisest man said,

 " Ideas dont move mountains. Its the machines that move them. The ideas just say where the machines should go to work"

For people more passionate about this topic and also to get better views, I strongly recommend you to watch this incredibly persuasive and brilliant TED video (Do schools kill creativity?) by Sir Ken Robinson. I think if we could somehow make the educational planners of our planet esp india (ministers, teachers, school heads) watch this video they would think twice before doing whatever bullsh*t they are doing right now. It seems that people fail to see the difference between literacy and education and even worse that our leaders have failed to deliver even on the former. The best time to start understanding this is - as with all good things - NOW.

P.S: A bright neighbourhood kid tells me that my old school has destroyed the last of the remaining play grounds it has, the one in which yours truly scored the highest soccer goals of his class for an academic year, to make way for more class rooms. Physical education has been completely scrapped off the syllabus.

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