Kids want an education; degree is irrelevant

I have been a humanities student and studied Political Science for my class XII board exams. I was very happy with my ‘high sixties’ score. Imagine my incredulity when I heard that my niece had scored 95 in the same subject in the Board exams. Proudly, I boasted to everyone I knew about this seemingly undoable feat. I shut up when another friend said that her niece had scored 100 in Political Science!
What has changed over the past two decades? How has a humanities subject suddenly become as scoring as a pure science subject? Someone said that the subject may not have changed but the method and purpose of testing has. Meaning, the aim of the exam is not to test what the kids DO NOT know, but rather to test HOW MUCH they know. I did not quite follow the argument, but decided to retreat from the numbers debate.

Instead, I now focused on what next? College, obviously! Not really. Despite the fact that on the very first day that applications were distributed, St Stephen’s college received as many as 800 completed applications with a whopping 2,000 applying online, there is a growing  number of students who are completely bypassing the conventional college route.
My niece, who is actually my touchstone for most of my observations about her generation, does not want to go to regular college. She wants to study photography and maybe complete her graduation through correspondence. That is if she does not get into a good B.Sc Photography course somewhere.

A friend of mine, who is teaching in one of the public schools of Delhi, says some of her brightest students are doing the same thing. These are not kids who are in the lower marks category – when we were in school, there was a kind of stigma attached to the ‘vocational’ section, being something chosen only by those who were unlikely to pass with regular subjects. She finds that among her top scorers, are students who are applying for creative, non-conventional courses, like photography, to international colleges.

Going to an international college is another trend. A friend’s daughter, who studied commerce in XII, is going to Canada. She has got admission but has still to decide which courses to take. That is the beauty of the international college system – you can address your varied interests before settling down on what you want your career to be. Delhi University is busy fighting over three-year BA or four-year BA when they should really be trying to address the changing aspirations of the newer generations and bringing more contemporary areas of study into the curriculum.

Even more important, what DU needs to look at is the method of teaching. An eye-opener, or rather an alarm bell, was an article written by an exchange student about his time at St Stephen’s college. He totally exposed the system of education where the lecturers and professors in one of the most sought after colleges in India were teaching simply by reading out from prepared notes, not coming to class at all and completely disregarding the role of debate and discussion in learning. I studied at Hindu College and have memories of a similar professor who read out from his prepared notes and took all the fun out of even raunchy reads like Joseph Andrews by Henry Fielding. Another professor, a man of the cloth, no less, had forgone bifocals and would keep alternating between his reading glasses and distance vision glasses. And in between, one smart cookie would manage to freshen up her nail polish and lipstick and coolly walk out of class. The professor remained blissfully unaware.

Soni Sangwan has reported on Delhi-warts and all- for several years. She is now a Journalist-in-Retirement, dividing her time between watching her two-year-old daughter grow and seeing the city she loves evolve.
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