Boards: education dehumanised

Boards: education dehumanised

The Board Examinations have over the years created a widespread sense of fear and anxiety among students and parents about being able to score well and cracking the entrance tests for engineering and medical courses. The conversion of this anxiety into a marketable commodity has given birth to many kinds of businesses such as coaching centres, several kinds of guess/ help papers, question-banks and assistance books.

We can see banners of coaching centres that are meant to attract students and parents. These coaching centres are constantly projecting themselves as the ultimate saviours, and as institutions without whose help no student can crack any competitive exam. These coaching centres have grown into money-making organisations, and by capitalising on the middle class anxiety of academic success, they have become all-pervasive and central to the public imagination.

We must acknowledge the reality that in most Indian homes, parents do exert a lot of pressure on the child and academic success is seen as the premise of a dignified life. Moreover, the fetish of engineering and medical courses and their intrinsically dry and mechanical entrance tests that encourage factual information production rather than critical sensibilities have legitimised the existence of these coaching centres.

The student is expected to merely mechanically memorise information and reproduce it in the examination without contemplating, thinking or finding happiness in the process of education. The newspapers, radio and television are all full of the celebration of the success stories of those who have achieved 99% or 100%.

While the nation is obsessed with high grades and the success of the ‘toppers’, many children commit suicide due to the humiliation of bad marks. We hardly witness a debate on news channels about the alienating system of education in the country. There is no discussion on the curriculum, examination system or the alternative possibilities in the realm of pedagogy. Is our society ready to explore the inherent potential of students who are not good academically but may be talented in other fields? Have we ever wondered whether the education system itself has failed the learners?

We have to ask ourselves if the myth of success and failure is a fabricated one and whether we can have an alternative discourse on education.

Education has been reduced to a mindless race and millions of students are constantly adding to this race by seeking to become engineers, doctors, charted accountants and scientists. Many of them have not joined the race because of an interest in physics, medicine or mathematics but because they are victims of societal pressure that tells them the main purpose of life is to earn a huge salary.

Wrong orientation

The narrative of a holocaust survivor, Dr Haim Ginnot, becomes important because he reminds us that modern education has detracted us from the humanitarian path and made us obsessively selfish and self-centred in our orientation to life. In his book, he talks about his experiences at the concentration camp where millions of Jews were subject to the cruellest treatment humans are capable of by ‘educated’ and ‘well-qualified’ Germans.

He writes, “I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no person should witness: gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot by high school and college graduates. So, I am suspicious of education.”

Ginnot tells us that the education system that we are so proud of has given birth to the most inhumane moments in history. His observations about education appear as true as ever today. Even today, we find many highly qualified doctors who abort female foetuses and engage in illegitimate selling of organs, highly qualified engineers build bridges and buildings that collapse killing hundreds in a matter of minutes, well-educated politicians and bureaucrats perpetrate scams. Indeed, education has not encouraged in us the possibility of ethical maturity, dedication to the service of the people or the potential to do our duties with dedication.

The idea of examination and ruthless evaluation generates a narrow understanding of success and failure. There are examples of so many people who don’t earn a big salary, don’t own the latest car, have no immovable assets but live a life of contentment. There are artists, social workers, teachers, filmmakers and individuals who are working in their own unique spaces to make the world a beautiful place to live in.

The European philosopher Ivan Illich reminded us that the present education system is producing a schooled mind that loses spontaneity and creativity and that there is a need to cultivate an education system that enables students to negotiate with the world, grow in diversity, be open-minded and develop empathy towards fellow human beings. The education system has the potential to drastically transform the life of the student and plant the seeds to a better world. Are we prepared to bring in this urgent reform?

(Vikash Sharma is Founding Editor of The New Leam) 

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