Since the dawn of thought, humans have tried to advance themselves. Whether crude cave paintings or the funny looking hieroglyphics, the millions of languages or our reach for the stars, we’ve tried evolved and how. As a society or individual, our growth was only possible because of sharing of knowledge.
We have cultivated this over the millennia, if I borrow from the theory of evolution. From passing on basic biological traits and instincts, to active passing on of knowledge in terms of academies, schools, colleges etc., education is the cornerstone of the modern age in ways much more subtle than most would like to believe.
India especially, has a long history of holding education in high regard, with places of learning coming up across the land and famed destinations like Taxila (in modern day Pakistan) and Nalanda (in Bihar, India). Scholars have held high ranks here; Valmiki, Chanakaya, Kalidasa, Tulsidas are revered even after hundreds or even thousands of years. Specialists of all fields have had great exposure and learning, going on to earn laurels around the globe.
At the same time, we have news of the Bihar Topper Scandal. A scandal where someone thought of interviewing school toppers from the state of Bihar only to find out they don’t know the fundamentals of the subjects they came out on top in. While one student understood Political Science to be a subject which dealt with cooking, another understood aluminium to be the most reactive element. The storm which came was a sight to behold. Allegations flying around and a demand for a second examination by a panel for all the toppers while stings of officials ready to get the desired results for the right amount of money appear on the web.
Amidst all this, we have a student, who admits she asked her father to get her passed in the examination. A young adult, no older than 18, who will step out into the big bad world on the basis of a school certification which was bought because she couldn’t (or wouldn’t) study. Officials have cross examined her, her family has tried to hide her, the media has tried to publicise her and the police has tried to arrest her.
But is it her fault? For all the fame she has received, Ruby Rai is only one student. A product of the system already criticised for ignoring relevant knowledge (financial literacy, legal literacy, basic conduct in society being few subjects now nearly forgotten), which handicaps students by quantifying their worth based on marks. Now, to top it all off, in the race for the so called merit based system, punishing the child who’s only fault was to look up to her elders (parents, family, teachers, government) is a crime in itself.
The fault of these students, it seems, was to put their faith in the dark nexus which has silently cropped up in the last couple of decades. Already we know of irregularities in the results of nearly all education boards in the country. While one board is openly known for cheating, another board is famous for awarding marks which a student can’t possibly achieve due to the mark distribution, while yet one other board is (in)famous for allowing a student to check his own paper.
From where I stand, the illiterate are not the cause for worry. The more worrisome aspect is that we may well have a population who, while knowing how to sign their names in three different languages will not understand the nature of a document they stand to sign. While we produce engineers and doctors at an unprecedented rate (Dental Council of India has put a stop on new dental colleges because of a surplus of dentists in the country), it could well be that none of them know how to file their own taxes with full knowledge.
In the media, we can blame colleges and government bodies. But the real fault lies with each and every one of us – for having given the education system in our country such laxity and absence of quality control that is now slowly rearing its ugly head. While we look for teachers for the plethora of institutes coming up, we select the people on the basis of an exam which they clear in the hopes of prestige and a comfortable job.
This is not to say that all those vying to be teachers are of the same stock. But in the din of chaos which is a common situation these days, those who come to actually teach are lost. Amidst all this, they manage to do some good, a small attempt at keeping the system which fails thousands every day in some order or resemblance of it.
We can play this blame game for years to come, and many will. But this is a call to the people of this nation – to stop trashing whatever little is left in terms of the education of the youth. Each and every child deserves an education, a fair education which will help serve him or her and not bound them in the manacles of ignorance which the politics and other negative aspects of our society would use as leverage to further their own stand.
Ranveer Raj Bhatnagar