Education is what moulds an individual and builds nations. In India today, the state of education is rather a mixed bag with glorious IITs and IIMs on one hand and comparably rather rampant illiteracy on the other. Not only this, primary education suffers from high dropout rates and secondary education lacks the creativity and infrastructure needed for a world-class education system. Looking at the global perspective as well, a lot of countries have problems with their education systems. At times, it is too formal, stifling creativity and at others, the standards are too low for the students to remain globally competitive. It may seem a wise idea to reconsider the role that education plays and why formal education may also be harming students.
In the 19th century, two British educators, Andrew Bell and Joseph Lancaster, developed a “monitorial system” in light of the shortage of teachers and resources. The idea was to gather a large number of students, 100 perhaps, and then teach a smaller number of monitors that could then cascade the knowledge to their peers. Another quite idealistic theory called “Learning by discovery” was proposed by Rousseau in the 18th century that called on for letting students explore and learn themselves rather than being taught. Unfortunately both attempts were futile and had to be abandoned.
The Present State
In today’s schools and universities, it seems like the true essence of learning and knowledge is being lost to pragmatism and expediency. Students are no longer interested in learning things, they just want to “mug” up facts and then just regurgitate all out on the exam day. There is little curiosity or creativity and in some cases, very little questioning the teacher or the textbook. This leads to little understanding of underlying ideas and concepts. These practices not only make students dull and mechanic, it hinders innovation and new ideas. Education is increasingly becoming a sort of brainwashing whereby students are made to realise that in order to live well, they need to memorise book facts and get good grades so that they can get good jobs in turn. Colleges and schools are being “vocationalised” into being job-training centres and employment agencies rather than institutes of learning. Students are looked at by educational institutes as prospective investments and sometimes even commoditised in a degrading sense. Education and perhaps even society, is rather closing the students instead of opening them up by indoctrinating them with ideas of the practicalities of learning.
Undoubtedly, one needs to earn to survive but is money the only reason one needs to be educated? It is becoming hard to find genuine passion in students these days which should of growing concern to the educators. It has been passion that has changed the way we live. From the greats of Einstein, Van Gogh, Dickens and John Nash, it has been the passion that has driven them to achieve what they did and revolutionise their own fields.
What Needs to be Done
One thing is for sure, that if we want the scientific and technological advancements continue to transform the way we live, the arts to continue to enrich our lives, and the humanities to let us understand ourselves better, the impetus has to be on proper ideals of education. Young students need to be inculcated with a sense of passion and loving what one does. Certainly, society has to play its part as well. Schools need to fundamentally change the way things are taught by including interaction, exploration and creation in the student’s curriculums. Universities have an even bigger onus of producing genuine talent that is ready to challenge the preconceptions in their own fields. Opportunities need to be made available to the deserving ones and meritocracy needs to be encouraged in society.
The development of humanity critically depends on the way our youth is educated. As Agatha Christie rightly said, “I suppose it is because nearly all children go to school nowadays, and have things arranged for them, that they seem so forlornly unable to produce their own ideas.” The focus has to be shifted and the educators need to learn this fast.