Holding a Mirror on India’s Education. We Need a Revolution!

Difficult to believe. But this is a classroom in Mewat (near shining Gurugram) where math is taught.

Difficult to believe. But this is a classroom in Mewat (near shining Gurugram) where math is taught.

By Bhamy V. Shenoy

HOUSTON: Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts in India have the maximum number of professional colleges per capita in India. In addition to being the cradle of banking, these districts are a cradle of private professional colleges (17 engineering and 8 medical). However when it comes to standard of education, they cannot claim excellence.

My interactions with students at Aloysius Institute of Management (AIM), and with teachers at Besant and Nitte educational institutions, confirmed that India’s education system is in grave need of intensive care. My purpose was to persuade students and teachers that we must think outside the box to usher in a new era in India’s education. This is supported by the survey results of Pratham’s Annual Status of Education Report 2017 (ASER 2017) released January 16, 2018. ASER found that rural youths, ages 14 to 18, do not have foundational skills in reading or basic arithmetic. About 25% cannot read basic text, and more than 50% struggle with simple division. More shocking was the indifference of the media, which failed to draw the nation’s attention to this disturbing reality.

Almost all students at AIM thought they received a quality education. We discussed various metrics to assess education standards. Is it scoring high marks? High ranks? Maximum percentage of pass? In discussing the creation of an environment of learning, igniting critical thinking, and encouraging students to ask questions, it became obvious to everyone that their schools could have done a better job.

Only three students had read Ramayana and Mahabharatha, which was the case in hundreds of schools I have visited in recent years. Shouldn’t this shock our educationists? No student in the West can graduate from high school without having read Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, their classics. Only two students I met had any interest in entering politics. I pointed out that our constitution says that our leaders are chosen based on elections, and asked them how can any of us afford to be indifferent to taking part in elections? That question did not elicit any reaction from the students.

Not one student had read ten books during the last twelve months. Only four had read a few books. When students were urged to ask questions on topics of their interest, none were ready. If these students had a solid foundation in elementary and high school, and were encouraged to think creatively, they would surely have been better prepared to do so in college.  

Teachers at Besant College was more encouraging as seventy percent thought they had a good education. But, by the end of our interaction, all changed their opinion and agreed that their education was below par and that they were not imparting a quality education to their students. No one came up with any good reasons for such a sorry state of affairs.

Some teachers argued that students do not respect them, and it was difficult to motivate them to take studies seriously as their laptops, iPads, and smartphones are more important than books.

Only three teachers said they have gone “beyond the call of duty” to take special interest in students after class hours or during holidays. On the declining ethical standards in education sector, all agreed that no one can become a vice chancellor of any university these days without paying a huge bribe, which only reinforces a cycle of corruption from the top.

At the end, most teachers agreed that they would attempt to mentor students after school hours, motivate them to read books, discuss ethics and moral values. Even if a small percentage of teachers did so, significant change in the educational environment in the college is possible.  The most exciting interactions were with the professors of Nitte Engineering College. They were liberal in thinking and interested in contributing to the betterment of students. All of were fully aware of the limitations of the current educational system, which is driven by rote learning to clear exams. They readily agreed to mentor students and motivate them to read books other than their text books.

I discussed my innovative program to ignite students’ critical thinking, “True Education,” which has been implemented by a college in Mysore. The program consists of 20 discussion sessions on various topics. All the professors agreed to experiment with it.

I learned again that when management takes interest, and teachers are exposed to new ideas, some will be motivated to go beyond the call of duty to guide their students. While students may have lost the habit of reading books, if teachers take an interest and mentor them, a beginning can be made to promote reading books.

To usher in a new era, we need a revolution in education. Evolutionary changes attempted by hundreds of NGOs by demonstrating success of their pedagogy or outstanding schools or application of information technology are not enough. It is time that Pratham, with well-established credibility, attempts to bring about such revolutionary changes. Unless compelled by society, our political leaders are unlikely to bring about much-needed reforms. The destiny of a nation is shaped in classrooms by dedicated teachers.