There is disproportionate emphasis on mathematics and sciences while indulgence in any arts is often seen as a waste of time.
India's economy is among the world's ten largest but when it comes to social capital, its rank falls to an inglorious 99 out 142. Social capital includes entrepreneurship and opportunity, governance, education, health, safety and security and social capital. There is ample evidence that the Indian child is as good a learner as any other in the world. However, the sheer lack of basic opportunity has kept the education of the average Indian child at very low standards - this is proof of apathy in governance. Chillingly, the highest rate of suicides is among people aged between 15 and 29, a phenomenon that peaks during exam season.
Suffocating education suffocates growth: Lazy teaching and a rote-based approach effectively cuts off channels to new ideas, imagination and new possibilities. And while the education system fails to deliver, students are faced with undue pressure from home. Thousands of children and young people die in India every year, as a result of the education system! The exam system continues to be based on winners and losers and ironically, robs them of the very essence of education - learning. Instead, they pour their self worth wholly into the numbers that appear beside their names on their mark sheets, which in turn stems from generations of being told that Engineering and Medicine are the only options.
There is disproportionate emphasis on mathematics and sciences while indulgence in any arts is often seen as a waste of time. The freedom to explore is perhaps the most important element of an education but in India, this is discouraged! Questions are discouraged, students challenging what is said to them is met with offense and hostility. Teachers are no longer the sole repositories of knowledge - they are facilitators and mentors and irreplaceable in those roles.
A failing system:
We have known for years that our education system is failing. Children go to school but don't learn much beyond "floor level tasks." Yet, there has been no big bang policy shift, very little sustained media scrutiny and indeed no parent uprising.Why does the bleak future of our young people not stoke our collective outrage? It takes years for good education policies to produce results, or for the bad ones to fail. Few in public office have the kind of patience that allows them to sow and wait. Fewer still have the gumption to take on entrenched unions, cartels and ideologues who block meaningful change in schools and colleges.
Children are the most important beneficiaries of a good education yet the ones with least power to shape it. When children are in school, they are either unaware of how little they are learning or afraid to speak up. College students sometimes raise their voices in protest, but mostly on issues tangential to their learning. They are not taught the art of critical thinking.
India suffers a serious lack of quality educational institutions. In school, students get pushed into one end of a triangle - 'Science-Commerce-Humanities' - right after class 10. A caste-like system mars education hereon, science anointed top, commerce middle, humanities lowest.
India is about 50 years behind other countries in terms of encouraging interdisciplinary learning, individual thought - and the luxury to learn from mistakes. Instead, our universities continue tunneling students into constricted streams, taught by few quality institutions, sought by many anxious thousands. Students go to classes more for the attendance than for the love and passion of listening to the teachers. Of course there are not many teachers who command mastery over the subject that compels the student to run to listen to them.
Teaching a thankless job
Can teachers be blamed fully? In our society, teaching is a thankless job, a profession which, when chosen, is seen as a 'failure to get a good job'. Therefore, when those who enter the profession do so as a last resort, many are ill-equipped to handle task before them - they overlook the simple fact that all children are different. Some are audio learners, others may be visual or kinesthetic. It is the teacher's responsibility to understand this, but remains a responsibility that is never fulfilled.
Much attention is given to the high number of vacancies in schools; there are minimal efforts to ensure that the appointed teachers provide the quality of learning that is expected from them. Absence of teacher training programs has ensured that the teachers reach stagnation within a couple of years of joining.
What ails the system - nearly everything. The main problem, is the abysmal quality of governance, with politics permeating every aspect of educational administration. Factors other than merit play a significant part in the management of affairs; proper governance standards, with adequate incentives, and checks and balances, have not been put in place, may be deliberately!. The focus of the entire structure at the Centre and the states is on the minister, secretary, and the educational regulatory institutions - not on the student, teacher, principal, school and academicians.
Dr N. Prabhudev is a Former Director, Sri Jayadeva Institute of Cardiology