Sunday, January 29th, 2023 18:36:32

Erroneous Education!

Updated: January 28, 2012 2:27 pm

It’s time to right the wrong and remember Swami Vivekananda

Education is the soul of society as it passes from one generation to another—education is the bedrock of social and economic development. Throughout history, philosophers and social reformers like Swami Vivekananda recognised the importance of education. Incidentally, January 12 is the birthday of this great soul. The whole nation is celebrating Swamiji’s 150th birth anniversary. He made Vedanta popular in the West, and in India he established the twin organisations, the Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission, in 1897, to train those who had renounced the world in search of God and to integrate the activities of individuals who chose to serve fellow men and women unselfishly. His brilliant speeches and writings constitute a rich legacy for all who care for higher values of life. But it is distressing to note that the central government, which spends crores of rupees as advertisements on birthdays and death anniversaries of political leaders of Congress dynasty, but does not spend a single dime to disseminate Swamiji’s teachings. So much so, the BJP, the nationalistic party of India and a staunch follower of Swami Vivekananda, and which has government in different states, also does care in the least to spread his ideals on this auspicious occasion in the form of advertisements. Swamiji was a great reformer of education and was in fact a guiding force behind revolutions in India and abroad. That is why we have taken up this serious subject in this week’s cover story. For, there are still loopholes galore to be plugged for quality education in the country, particularly at the school level. In fact, a global study of learning standards in 74 countries has ranked India all but at the bottom, sounding a wake-up call for the country’s education system (for details, read the cover story). What is most perturbing is that an earlier study indicated the following: Around 17,282 habitations in India do not have a primary school within 1 km, 1,48,696 government schools still do not have a building, 1,65,742 schools have no drinking water, 4,55,561 schools have no toilets, and around 1,14,531 primary schools are single-teacher schools. Where does that leave the right to education? Besides above-mentioned facts, India has one university among the top 400 and that too ranked somewhere in the 300s. And, competition is so intense for the few good institutions that most of the elites send their kids outside the country for higher education. The impact of the new phase of imperialism, euphemistically called globalisation, masking its real nature and intent, is well pronounced. The privatisation of education, particularly the withdrawal of the state from higher education, occurring at too fast a pace in recent times, is quite evident.

                The literacy rate of India jumped up from 12 per cent at the time of Independence to 75.06 per cent in 2011. This is no mean achievement. However, we cannot forget that in absolute numbers India still accounts for one-third of the world’s illiterate people—the largest in the world. Over the years, there have been some serious efforts to put in place a national curriculum framework. For instance, the National Curriculum Framework 2005 was a significant attempt to provide a vision for education as a pursuit of both quality and equity. Yet, despite increasing awareness that learning is not mere information accumulation and that teaching ought to be recast into a facilitation of children’s discovery of their own potential and understanding, the emphasis on practice continues to run in textbooks and exams. No wonder, we focus more on rote learning, memorising and how to pass the exam with flying colours, whereas focus should be on concept-based learning. There are many factors, which mandate the teachers and students to opt for rote learning. In our country, in order to get a berth in the best college for a professional degree, simple knowledge is not enough. Even if a person gets around 90 per cent in a particular qualifying exam, there is a possibility that he/she could not get a seat in the desired college because of his/her birth of which he/she is not responsible. So now, what is the alternative, except to memorise a lot so that he/she could get it? And how will the student know how to memorise till the teacher tells him a way? And even parents want their children to study in reputed colleges, who bring pressure on teachers telling that their wards’ performance is not up to par. What will the teacher do now? Neither the teacher nor the student is left with any option except mugging up. This case runs till a person is employed. All this is because of over-competition among individuals. Hence, the entire process is in a loop—and a tangent is to be found. But to compound problems, our media doesn’t even cover stories like these! We, Indians have the attitude of an ostrich—hiding our heads in the sand instead of dealing with our problems. Our elites do not like to be confronted with our own ills. It’s weird—it’s like a self-imposed propaganda that our elites indulge in. All you often see in our media is self-congratulatory articles about how Obama said Indian kids are doing well in science, or how some Indian-origin scientist in a western research organisation did well (as if that means anything for India and its institutions). And, not just this, if one criticises, one is dubbed an anti-Indian even though one’s constructive criticism born out of a desire to do better. It’s fairly frustrating. Therefore, it’s high time the HRD Ministry did something to remove this anomaly from the education system. Unless we bridge the gap between an educational and professional life, all our efforts to reform the education system amount to beating about the bush.

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