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Methodical destruction of the education system
Reimaging education

Methodical destruction of the education system

There is an intentional design to not teach school students what is expected in the admission tests for higher education, and to not ask them in admissions tests what they learn in schools

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Last Updated : 28 June 2024, 04:18 IST
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The paper leak is a mere symptom of the larger malaise in the education system. The very design of the system and its philosophy of teaching-learning is proving rhetorical because how it works in reality is a completely different story.

The real story gets revealed occasionally through ‘leaks’ and suicides, to count a few. It is reaching a moment when the profusely bleeding education system needs a serious reimagination. The hard-working students were dejected and many were pushed into anxiety when they learnt that their UGC-NET examination was cancelled. It was the NEET examination, which brought renewed focus on how examination systems are mismanaged. Thereafter, in quick succession, NEET-PG examinations were postponed. Before this, the CBSE had issued a notification to schools to review the internal assessment process.

The National Testing Agency (NTA) has faced issues since the very beginning. The CUET examinations gets postponed, cancelled due to technical glitches, wrong papers get distributed, and so on. Amidst all this, no one pays much attention to the students and their families. Expected to be robotic, following orders of postponement, cancellations, or paper leaks, the students are compelled to adhere to this bizarre process of getting educated. The subjective experience of a student, in whose name all this is scripted, is always lost. The first-generation learner, the student from marginalised sections, and the family which takes loans for their children, nothing matters. A sanitised world where any dialogue is seen as creating chaos and disrupting the order tries to run the education system furthering the Freirian fear of banking education to its optimum limits.

Where the problem begins

The problem begins when there is an unnecessary valorisation of a profession to an extent that it becomes one of the few sources of hope for the students. A worldview is created that hierarchises professions, and, therefore, establishes one kind of profession as emblematic of 'success' when compared to others. This idea gets embedded in society, which wants its children to only become engineers or doctors at any cost. Private capital and the State together bolster it by creating precarity and joblessness for students from other disciplines.

The education system takes it a step further when it destroys the continuity between school education and higher education. The learning in schools ought to be sufficient to compete for the exams to seek entry into higher education. However, the students cannot compete for these 'coveted' courses without assistance from coaching centres and, consequently, they become the bridges between school education and higher education. The hope for a possibly better job and the economic insecurity of students in this world of precarity get monetised by these so-called knowledge providers.

There is an intentional design, therefore, to not teach school students what is expected in the admission tests for higher education and to not ask them in admissions tests what they learn in schools. If this disjunct is rectified, coaching centres for engineering and medical exams will disappear. The State does not want to address this disjunct. It rather talks about managing the coaching industry. A web of institutions thriving at the cost of students’ lives and family’s debt has emerged as an alternate site of the education economy. The total market revenue of the coaching industry in India is approximately Rs 58,000 crore and is projected to reach Rs 1.3 lakh-crore by 2028. The vulgarity of this industry and these examination systems are celebrated through reports of success stories. The paper leak is an example of how far the principle of monetisation that a neoliberal State talks of can go, and it has a fully developed system to ensure this.

Insensitivity of the State and institutions

The sensitivity of the HEIs towards its main constituents, the students, has been repeatedly exposed. Parents were compelled to approach the court when their son was killed in an IIT as the institution kept telling them he committed suicide. The director, castigated by the court for not dealing with the issue properly, reportedly did not even meet the parents. The disappearance of a student, Najeeb Ahmed, has become a legend. Suicide by students in HEIs is getting normalised. In two decades, over a hundred students committed suicide only in the IITs, and then there are other institutions.

There has been a spate of suicides by NEET aspirants in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere. Students must travel huge distances from their place of residence for some inexplicable reason for their CUET examination, where in soaring temperatures their parents wait for hours. Even if the State disagrees with Rabindranath Tagore’s idea of education without examination, can’t all this be simplified, made more student-friendly, and in a way that can be enjoyed by the largest stakeholders — the students?

Against social justice

Those who can't afford to keep appearing for exams, and somehow appear due to the sacrifice of their parents and at the cost of not contributing even a much-needed meagre income to the household, have been duped by this system of education. The question is not whether the cancellation of exams will do injustice or justice to them, but, it demonstrates how the whole system is structured in a way to deprive the marginalised sections of a level playing field.

Imagine a Mushar student appearing in such an examination. They couldn't buy the leaked papers, and would appear in the exam as probably the first person from their community. Despite all the sacrifices, those who could buy the examination process will always have an advantage. Who knows for how long this has been happening!

In a society where the drop-out rate among students from the Dalit communities and tribals remains notable, where female students still drop in good numbers due to household chores, higher education has been becoming costlier by day. To top it, even if a few poor students from marginalised communities manage to appear for an examination, the highly commoditised education system is flushing them out.

The idea of education, which thrives on cut-throat competition, extreme bureaucratisation, centralisation, and anti-democratic decision-making processes, will need reimagination. The question is whether any hue of politics even considers it their priority.

(Ravi Kumar is Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, South Asian University.)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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