‘Wait, what?’

I hear you say. You must think I’m crazy. How is it possible to adulterate education? It’s not milk or masalas. Right?

Ever come across any of these situations?

  1. Students seeking admission to colleges don’t know how to spell the word ‘college’.
  2. Students from English medium schools don’t remember the Hindi alphabet.
  3. Students in Senior School do not know the names of North-East Indian states or their capitals.
  4. Students with over 90% marks in English make silly grammatical mistakes.
  5. Student’s who have apparently passed High School, don’t know how to read or write.

Don’t tell me you have never come across a single scenario like the ones enumerated above. If you have had your eyes open to the world, you will concede that each and every point I have written above is true. I have written from an Indian perspective, but I’m sure in your native countries, this must hold true as well.

Now comes the next question. If our students are not able to do even simple things like remembering the Hindi varnamala, then what exactly are they learning in school? Also, if we are supplementing our children’s education by an array of educational aids, like tuition classes, videos, interactive sessions, blah, blah, blah, then why are they faltering in the basics of education?  

Can you see where I’m heading with this? Yes, I’m trying to say that we are adulterating the education we impart to our children by feeding them knowledge that is doing the opposite of what education ought to do. To put it plainly and harshly – we’re making them dumber.

If you don’t want to believe my claims, I’ll present to you these alarming reports I came across –

The Hindu reported that in rural India only 53.5 percent of children were able to solve a simple two-digit subtraction problem in the year 2012. India Education Review quoted the Annual Status of Education Report 2014, where it was found that there was a steep fall between 2007 to 2014 in the number of children in Standard V who could read a Standard II textbook, in both government and private schools. Then,  a World Bank Study published in the year 2014 provided that around 1/3rd of all third graders in Indian schools could not read in their own native languages. The biggest shocker for me was reading the 2009 published OECD-PISA International Survey where India, much to our shame, was ranked 72 among 73 countries for the quality of our education. Ever since then we have stopped taking part in the PISA survey.  Any guesses why? Here’s another shocker – over a lakh of schools in the coutry have only 1 teacher per school…. yes, PER SCHOOL!

And the joke is that we have apparently brought down the number of our out-of-school chidlren from 32 million in 2001 to 1.4 million in 2011.

If this does not raise the question ‘what are we teaching our children in schools’, then I don’t know what else does. And if this does not prove the point that we have adulterated our educational system, then I don’t know how else to prove it to you.

I understand and appreciate that we are all loving parents who are doing their best to provide their children with the best education that their means can afford. But dear parents, the problem doesn’t lie in your intention or in your child, the problem lies in the system that is imparting education and in your blind acquiescence to its gaffes. Your nifty International schools with the air-conditioned classes and computerized educational aids may just be a money-making racket, guilty of teaching your kids the wrong things because they are too invested in providing unnecessary gimmicks to your child, while completely ignoring the point of education. Tell me what use is knowing how to operate a tablet if the child does not know how to read the words on a screen? Tell me what use are those fancy picture books, when all the child wants to do is stare at the pictures, and ignore the text?

Schools and their modern corollaries, tuition centres, are camouflaging noise, wrapping it up in glitzy software and serving it up to our starry-eyed children on the pretext of giving them ‘quality education’ and ‘helping them beat the competition’. Have you ever wondered why the octagenarian Dadaji living next door can still rattle off a poem by Wordsworth or Mahadevi Verma, while your Engineer child needs a calculator app on his smartphone to do simple arithmetic? It’s because Dadaji was taught to first clear his basics and internalize what he learnt, unlike we who want to learn things as soon as possible. Learning is a slow and gradual process that is best dealt with when it’s done step by step. Rushing it by too much data and too many distractions only hinder students from receiving true education. This is what adulteration of education is.

My point is, we need to separate the grain from the chaff here, get back to the drawing board and draw a line between what is cardinal to the education of our youth and what is frivolous. Imbibe the cardinal, leave out the frivolous. I agree education does not stop at teaching them the alphabet. But an education does not mean cramming and learning by rote, like how we are encouraging in our schools and tuition centres these days. Can you justify writing in bullet points for a Literature paper, when the point of learning Literature is to understand it subjectively? But this happens, like in our CBSE system where students are taught (I was one of them) that to gain maximum marks in the Boards, we must write our English Language answers in bullet points containing the main points of the ‘right answer’!

A huge part of learning is the struggle to learn. If we keep providing our children crutches, how will our children ever learn anything? A simple example will further clarify my point. If your child can’t count from 1 to 10, he can’t do addition or subtraction. Then please, stop giving him aids like calculators in the name of ‘good parenting’ and further ruin his chances of learning. Teach him how to count instead. AND teach him yourself instead of providing him aid from a tutor or a phone app.

Remember that education does not necessarily come from maximum exposure. There have been greats like Beethoven who was a musical genius inspite of being deprived of the sense of sight, hearing and voice.

Pradita Kapahi.