The purpose of education is to empower the individual to succeed in the future. Success is how the individual interprets it- maybe monetary, maybe respect at work. The model of the education system in ancient civilizations like Greece empowered citizens to contribute positively to the society. At that time, the greatest concerns for a state were security and literature. Hence, military education and philosophy schools flourished, and the era produced greatest examples of military strategies and literature works. However, the education system today, especially in India, is anachronous with the current needs and times, and hence does not prepare us for the future.
Let’s look at this issue piecemeal, dividing education into time zones- school, college and post graduation.
School: The education system in India is extremely rigid, giving one no space to follow one’s heart. Let’s consider an instance- a child studying in the fourth grade. She loves clay modelling, and is extremely gifted at it. Although too young to consider it as a profession, she realizes one thing- she loves the activity. However, there is only one hour of special activities class in a week, which is a long shot away from how much time she wants to spend making models.
In the seventh grade, she expresses her desire to spend extra hours in school learning pottery. But her grades in school are not “satisfactory”, and her parents consider it more appropriate to send her to tuitions than some “silly” pottery class. As time passes, she falls prey to the catch 22 of school and tuitions, and voila! We have lost another potential artist to engineering, or medicine, where she spends the rest of her life in mediocrity.
How does such a system, in any way, prepare us for the future? Why should one study science in high school when what one really wants to major in literature and theatre? Although the onus can be transferred to parents for actually pushing their kids into “safe” careers, it is also because our education system does not have the bandwidth to support students’ aspirations. Juxtaposing this with the American education system, one realizes that Indians just do not have the choice of doing anything other than “confirm” to the system.
College: Over to college. Let’s see what happens in a college. At the beginning of first year, ‘A’ dreams of being an economist; ‘B’ wants to take up a career in organic chemistry; ‘C’ wants to attend linguistic classes under Noam Chomsky. At the end of third year, A writes an MBA exam; B writes an MBA exam; C writes an MBA exam. Why? Because they have been disillusioned by the education they received in college. They are sick of subjects that are strictly confined to classrooms and teach things written 130 years ago. They want to escape their professors, who hate their job, the college, their students and mankind. After having studied hard and mugged hundreds of pages of text, students still do not know anything in their streams of graduation. And they know that it will be impossible to make a living with their skills and knowledge. Hence they take the conventional path- and become managers!
A few more words about “skills” here. When a person wishes to step into a professional life, she is gauged by the skills she possesses, and relevant work experience. Our colleges devote their entire time and resources teaching syllabus, but never concentrate on departing skills to students. Moreover, how many colleges actually offer internships as a part of the curriculum? Compare this to the Western education model, where the quality of your degree is determined not only by coursework, but also research, internships and papers published. Unless this huge deficit in our educational system is met, it will never be able to bridge the gap between an educational and professional life.
Post graduation: Soon, a post graduation in India will start meaning “MBA”. Now, I have nothing against an MBA. It sure is a valuable, rigorous and enriching course. But how many people take it up from a perspective of learning and personal enrichment? Very few, because for most of us, it is simply an easy escape route to better pay packages.
What is the rationale behind a post graduation? It is to empower a graduate with greater knowledge in her line of study, or enable professionals perform better at their jobs by gaining greater skills that would help them maximize efficiency at their jobs. Obviously, going for a higher course, a person naturally expects a positive deviation from her college classroom- more interaction, real life learning, and concentration on practical implementation rather than theoretical learning. But unfortunately, post graduation in India is not even close to how it should be. More often than not, it is a boring extension of the college classroom, with no value added. This is the very reason that of late, our country has not made a significant mark in science and culture, in spite of our revered intellectual prowess.
Many aspects of the current educational setup demand review and change. Until concrete steps are taken to reformulate our methodology of imparting education, we shall continue to underutilize, even waste our youth, and this could have serious consequences in the future. To conclude I would like to draw an analogy between our education system and the theory of evolution which states that whenever members fail to modify their reaction in response to the variation in the stimuli, that species is set on the way to extinction.