Millennium Post

Studying is not mugging!

It is the children of any nation that are the biggest resource of the future and India is no exception. The population of India is around 1.22 billion and more than 50 per cent of the population falls under the age of 25 and around 65 per cent under the age of 35. Among the hundreds of millions of children in our country, some could be the next Einstein, Leonardo Da Vinci, Gandhi, Newton, Bill Gates or Abraham Lincoln. Somebody out there amongst the children of today are the national leaders of tomorrow. But what are we as a nation and as a society doing to gear them up for the challenges and opportunities ahead?

What kind of education system are we giving them? And how much of a priority is education to the national leaders and governments of the day? The education ministers and education secretaries of all Indian states may not be the most powerful or even well known amongst their peers, but one thing is for sure – for the long term welfare of the Indian Republic, they are the most important people in this country. For in their hands lie the future development and growth of India’s most precious and important asset – its youth. They also have the power to formulate and implement new policies that will improve the quality and quantity of educational institutions. So now we are in 2013, 66 years after the British left our shores and left us with the responsibility and destiny of governing our own land and preparing our own youth for the challenges of the future. But let us examine our own selves and ask how have we really changed the education system that the British left us with? It has been said often that the British system of education was designed to create a nation of clerks amongst the Indians and perhaps that is true. All of us remember the anxious nights we had cramming for an examination the next day. We all remember trying to memorise dates in History, formulae in Physics, Chemistry and Maths, trying to remember important latitudes and longitudes in Geography, trying to remember all the Latin associated with Biology and so on. But is that the right way for youngsters to learn?

The system needs an overhaul and fast. We have to move far away from the system of clerk creation that the British left us with and introduce a much more interesting, fun approach to education and we also need a totally new approach towards examinations.
Education in India needs too be more learning-centric and less examination-centric. At the very least, it needs to have a completely different approach to examinations. Instead of having voluminous textbooks that are meant for purely cramming information into the minds of our youth so that they can go and take an exam, there needs to be a much more practical research based approach to education. Children at a certain age need to be able to choose their subjects according to their interest and capability instead of according to a pre-defined curriculum.

We live in a rapidly accelerating Information Age. Can we possibly keep stuffing all this information into our brains? And why should we? The very term Information Age implies that we have access to information of all kinds accessible instantly through the Internet and other digital forms, yes also physical books and papers as well. But in such an Age, is it not more important to know how to access that information quickly and easily and to be able to use it as and when needed. Research needs to be encouraged where children will be encouraged to actually research something and use whatever information tools are available for the task. This is how our youth will learn how to learn and think. Education is about learning and thinking and not memorising! When are we going to understand this simple fact. Examinations should also be such that children can have access to their research materials and use them so that their answers will be more accurate. But of course within a prescribed time limit. Evidence of this lack of thinking and innovativeness is seen around us. Just think of how many Indian products or brands are available globally. Products that were invented in India. How many inventions and discoveries in general are made in India? Very few. This is because of this lack of research approach in education and a lack of research and development of science and technology in general.

Children will learn more when they experience things and do things on their own. In the US, schools regularly take their students to zoos, museums, planetariums, aquariums and such places. They have outdoor excursions to the forests where kids can experience plants and certain animals face to face. I remember as a child (I studied in the US as a kid) in class 2, we were taught about the Mayan civilisation. I remember that we hardly read anything in a textbook. We were shown a Discovery channel type documentary in our classroom and were shown and physically held artifacts of the Mayans. We were explained things through maps, diagrams, etc. Generally, the information was portrayed in a very interesting and meaningful way, so much so, that I remember everything clearly even now 34 years later!

But there is another thing that needs to be highlighted. Education is not only about science, social studies, etc. It is also about morals, ethics, civics and ideas. Imagine a subject called ‘Ideas’ where children are encouraged to think and try to discover and invent new concepts. This is how a nation will grow into a great nation. Our children are tomorrow’s leaders. They are the only hope for this country. If they learn to have respect for society, for country, for women, for environment, for rule of law, for research, for entrepreneurship, for poverty reduction, for education, for lofty and noble thoughts and ideas, for honesty, for truth – then we have an education system that is worth it.
We need more schools, colleges, adult schools and adult colleges, more museums, more libraries, etc. The private sector’s participation is needed more. Allow schools, colleges, museums, libraries, etc. to be profit making bodies. Let them be run by companies listed on stock markets and pay teachers well. Why not? Which is better – that a company provides quality education and makes a profit in the process? Or that governments continue to allocate budgets to education and yet not be able to provide quality classrooms, teachers or teaching. Just like we had an economic liberalisation process that started in 1991, we need an education revolution starting now!
The author is a freelance journalist and businessman
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