ON THE PURPOSE OF EDUCATION

What is the purpose of Education? Why do we go to schools and colleges? Are our lives determined by our board percentages? Is the pressure on the students and teachers justified? These numerous questions and more prop up in my head when I think about education and its purpose. In schools everyone asks about the toppers and the not-so good performers are looked down upon. And once people get jobs and start working they are asked: “Dude, what’s your salary?”, “How much package does the company pays you?” Have you ever seen the nature of the job or the actual tasks to be performed by the prospective employee reported on the newspaper? I don’t think so as the only thing which is reported and highlighted is the highest annual salary package granted to supposedly the most brilliant and most meritorious student.

Is the purpose of education to enable us to earn money and get rich? Earning money is definitely a necessity but education is not meant to serve this purpose. Rather its purpose is to make us become open-minded, life-long learners; help us in finding our interests and become ethically judicious human beings. Albert Einstein or Isaac Newton was not the richest person in the world. Neither was our beloved former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, but they contributed to our world in the best possible way they could. And perhaps that’s the biggest purpose of education. Of course not all of us can gain that level of expertise and excellence in our respective fields, but that does not matter. We still retain the power to influence and touch the lives of so many around us and influence our society in a positive way.

In the modern materialistic world we are taught to be competitive and consistently outperform others. This leads to cheating and use of unfair means in the examination. Education should teach and guide us to share and work together, synergize and learn from each other. Just because a student gets the highest marks does not mean he knows everything. Even he can learn something from the poorest performer who may have his or her strengths which our mark-based rigid examination system fails to gauge. Teachers play a pivotal role in helping these academically weaker students. Unfortunately, teachers are also subject to the system and are pressured to focus on the high-performers than each student to boost the reputation of the schools. The school is for the students and not the other way round.

In India we have a very peculiar way of coercing the students to choose subjects. Most of them are pushed to choose science and mathematics because these subjects have the biggest earning potential. Engineers and doctors are the highly respected professions apart from the highly coveted IAS services and other Central Government jobs. What does this lead to? This leads to corrupt bureaucrats who are not at all interested in serving the people and select the jobs just to enjoy the benefits. There is no harm in enjoying the perks but providing service should be the priority. Likewise we have heartless doctors who ask for money before treating a dying patient. Engineers are plagued with inefficiency and do bogus work without any civic responsibility for the safety of people. Sometimes I feel like these are the worst sort of people, as they are educated bandits, looting the common man of their hard earned money.

None of us are encouraged to become teachers who remain the backbone of our education system. It’s because of them, the few who have inspired and influenced us; we have managed to make something of ourselves. Perhaps someday we will realize that life is more than money and that every profession is necessary and respectful in its own way. Education is not limited to school and is imbibed from every experience we ever encounter and every person we meet throughout the course of our lives. So let’s keep learning, let’s remain a student, let’s keep moving forward.

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MARK ARE JUST NUMBERS

There has been an increasing trend in the maximum marks obtained in Class X and XII examinations in recent years. There’s a rat race among the students to secure the highest. In 1990s, getting above average was considered great. And if anyone secured above 80%, that was extraordinary.

I remember my sister Kuljeet and I used to tell our little sister Prabhjot to calm down and enjoy also when she was in X. She once quoted the example of a girl in neighbourhood, also appearing for boards, who used to have rice instead of chapattis just to save on time on chewing so that she could study more. Sounds weird, right? Yes, weird it was, skipping on your food just to get some 10 minutes of extra studies! Thankfully, we managed to mould our sis a bit(only a bit) so that she could enjoy also, without compromising on her studies. She played Holi also during her boards and secured 89%.

Along with this increasing trend, there has been growing trend in the number of suicides among students as well. Students committed suicide because they failed or didn’t get a desired percentage. Some of them were too stressed that they didn’t even bother to wait for the results and ended up taking their lives, without thinking about the family and associations they made.

My brother was not great at studies. He secured decent marks in his X and XII and went for a hotel management course. In his college, he spent four years, instead of three, but my parents never complained or made him feel inferior. In fact, they used to ask every time on the landline call if there’s anything he requires. His failure didn’t deter him in putting his hard work when he got the job. With continuous hard work and dedication, he is now the Country Head in one of the leading restaurant chains abroad.

I keep telling my son also, that it’s ok if he doesn’t get full marks (he’s in Grade II only), what is more important is that he has understood the concept and can apply his learning anywhere.

Thankfully the education system of our country is also changing now. Instead of one final exam, we now have continuous assessment. Not only studies, but sports and extra-curricular activities are given weightage. Instead of just cramming up the answers, focus is now on the learning. The other day while was teaching my son Maths, I was amazed that instead of just sums and problems, children are doing logical reasoning questions at younger age. Same was with EVS, not only children are learning about the difference between a nuclear and a joint family; they are learning the concept as well.  With regular homework, assignments and projects, overall capabilities are taken into account.

AN APPEAL

I am not allowed to think
beyond four walls
thinking out of the box
was considered
a sinner.

My imagination is
short-circuited
and creativity is
on the verge of extinction
I have become
an endangered species
in the process
of analyzing and thinking.

Whenever
I stayed awake
as a night owl
striving for five A’s
for my assignments
and modules
I received
two dark crescent
under my eyes
everyday was
about the
grades and As
that
I hardly
forgot
the values of life.

My parents
wanted the
best of me
at the expensive
expense of my
childhood ruins.

Dear tiger moms
and helicopter dads
I don’t want to
skip my dinner
to complete
a project
on healthy eating
I don’t want to
be that physician
who poisons
the children
I hate to be that
trained nurse
who loves
killing
the fetus
I don’t want to
be the
revengeful graduate
who kills
the women and students
I don’t want to
be that agriculturalist
who mixes chemicals,
pesticides, and GMO
in the soil.

Let me
not be raped
in the name
of Education
so, please
do nothing
allow me to fail
and travel the bumps
instead
of landing
a smooth sail.

EDUCATION SHOULD BE CREATIVE, NOT SPOON FEEDING

Education system in India is deteriorating day by day.

As a kid I loved studying a lot, I know it’s quite unusual for kids as they love to play and have fun, but I loved learning new things. As I grew up, school taught me that knowledge is secondary whereas grades are primary. Then started our race for achieving the highest marks, be it the wrong way. Gradually my interest for learning faded away as I was busy trying to get good grades. There are many people who don’t get good grades yet they have a very sharp brain as well as a very good IQ. We have reached to a stage where people are judged on the basis of their grades. The irony is, whatever we study during our school life has nothing to do with our career life.

Another problem of our education system is the caste system. I never gave much thought into this but while applying for universities, I was shocked as to how easily people got admission despite giving terrible interviews. I still remember applying for a university where we were supposed to appear for an entrance. When the cut offs were declared, I was dumbfounded. The cut off for scheduled tribe was one. Yes, single digit one! No offense to these categories but I don’t support this caste system. I believe that only those students should get the benefits who are from financially backward families.

It’s high time that people realise the fact that education is not business. Education is everyone’s right and not just for the rich kids. Students tend to drop out of schools and colleges because of huge donations the institutions ask for. The management quota in educational institutions are snatching the chances of the deserving candidates.

Students prefer studying abroad since you get more exposure as well as variety of courses to choose from. Sure indian education system provides that but there are a lot of courses which are still not taught in indian institutions. Due to caste system also, students prefer to study abroad.

I have studied in 3 different schools till now and all of them were english medium, yet I learned english from novels, movies and tv shows. The faculty expects students to speak in english and they themselves teach in hindi. Just by setting up some stupid rule like talk in english or you will be fined, won’t make a student speak in english. It comes from within. When you watch a person speaking fluently in english and deep down you hope to speak that way, that’s when one feels like working on one’s communication skills.

The spoon feeding teaching style is the worst. My english teacher used to narrate the questions and answers for us to jot it down. This basically closes a student’s brain. One never thinks out of the box, rather one never thinks as he or she knows very well that everything will be provided to him in a platter and he just needs to eat it and vomit it out during exams.

In simple words, education system in India is killing the creativity of the students.

SECRET SAUCE TO EFFECTIVE EDUCATION …

Few years ago, I was in Finland on business travel. I have been working with Finns remotely for more than a couple of years by then, so, I understand how brilliant and dedicated they are at work. I admired that quality of theirs always. When I stepped into the office on the first day, I had goosebumps, not because of the cold outside but the parking lot. The parking lot was completely filled with cars, it was only 7.30 AM in the morning. For couple of weeks, I observed how religiously Finns follow rules, regulations and timings. Their lunch table and corridor conversations were always about their families, although they are colleagues at work, the friendship was very evident.

Finland has the highest number of patents in Digital Technology. I read a few technical publications available in the company website, they were quite impressive. The amount of technical details and their grip on the latest technology trends was attracting me. I wondered how they managed to attain the knowledge an upkeep with it?

The answer to the question came in the following days. A week later I accompanied a resident of our apartment complex to her kid’s school. Her daughter was 8 year old, they recently moved to Tampere from Helsinki. During the 20 minute drive to the school, she explained about Finnish culture and festivals, mainly Christmas and the Santa Claus ( he is resident of Finland !!!) She had the pride of being a Finn and I loved how much she admired her country…

It was a day full of surprises. Once we were at school, we went straight to the play area. All the kids were playing, I could see a wide variety of games, seems there is a compulsory play time of 2 hours. Have I told you? In Finland kids can start school only at the age of 7. The school is max for 4 hours a day and cannot exceed 20 hours a week. Of course, the ‘4 hours’ includes lunch time and play time. Technically all the schools in Finland are the same, there are no elite schools. It is illegal in Finland to charge for tution, hence the fee is very nominal, that is only to avail the facilities at school. Even super rich parents have to send their children to the same schools, equal education for all. Teachers strive hard to find innovative ways to help kids learn. But how do we know if the student is doing good in a particular subject ?

No, not exams. Finland does not have standardised examination structure until grade 10. There are neither exams nor grades awarded to students. Instead students are encouraged to learn practically. They can learn carpentry, art, baking, singing, poetry, athletics, sewing, not just mathematics and science. I have witnessed children aged 10 demonstrating robotics (working prototypes), teachers help them with coding and programming IC’s, but students have to come up with the idea, which eventually develops innovative thinking. Students demonstrate their projects explaining how the idea can be of help to the relative field. When children play in the garden, they can make a note of plants, fruits, flowers they see. Teachers ask them specific questions on how the kids spent their evening and teach them what ever they can from those experiences.

The term “homework” is completely unheard of in Finland. Students in late teens also won’t spend more than 10 minutes on so called “work they could do after school hours”. I still remember what the teacher said, “They are kids, at the age of 5 our muscles are not yet developed to hold a pencil. That’s why kids go to play schools until the age of 7. Schools here encourage students to learn by themselves. After school they have to spend time with family, make friends and socialise, that is how they can learn. Kids have to be relaxed and happy all the time, this helps in brain development. A student can become what ever they want to, and we only introduce them to various fields, they are free to choose. No profession in Finland is considered low or high, all are equally respected.

The story of Universities is no different. Student can apply to any university and get an admission (without a test). There is no tuition fee even for doctoral studies. This removes the major worry from the student, hence, they don’t have to wonder if they can afford what they want to study. Students get paid for studying, the “Student aid”. This money helps the students to find accommodation and buy the necessary books. No wonder Finland has the best education system. Masters is mandatory to find a job, because Finland wants it’s citizens to gain expertise on the career option before they can apply for jobs.

The complete education system is very liberal as it is supposed to be. This gave me an answer to why Finns are so good at accomplishing tasks. Education system shall not confine students thinking capacity with traditional teaching methods and subjects. There is a lot to learn in the school of life than in actual schools – this is what I learnt from Finnish schools, and the schools there give the scope for children to learn, really learn …

“Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners.” – John Holt

MARKS ARE THE ONLY THING THAT MATTER… IS IT?

Yesterday I had a very long discussion with the English language teacher about my younger son. She said that my little one was quiet intelligent but the issue was he is very laidback. Happy and content with whatever marks he gets. He is not competitive, not obsessed with marks. Which is good, but not in India. She said “I wish he was born in Australia or the US then this would have been a good trait, but sadly not in India. Here marks matter. Actually marks are the only thing that matter.”

I was so worried and I spoke to him about it and he said “Mamma I don’t want to be like my other classmates” He has a friend who walked up to him after the unit test marks were declared yesterday with a very sad face and said “I am so upset I didn’t get good marks in any subject. I just got 18 out of 20 in most subjects not more than that.” My son said I felt like hitting him on the head and saying 18 is very good. Why aren’t you celebrating?”

It is actually a sad state of affairs these days. We all want full marks, percentage above 95 even 93 is not good enough.

Being a mother of one child who is in grade X and going to give board exam this year and the second one very close behind in grade VIII. I constantly battle with this issue almost every day.

I am dreading the day the board results would be declared. Relatives and friends and even acquaintances would demand to know how my elder son fared in the Battle of Class X Board Exams. Did his cut through the shield of 90% and emerge victorious? Or did he manage to just scrape through? (because anything less than 90% is scraping through). If I am feeling so much tension imagine what kind of pressure the child must be going through. Everywhere he goes he gets reminded that he has to give boards this year. Even I am guilty of this. I must be repeating this phrase at least 5-10 times a day “Board exams hain beta serious hoja, padh le” (Get serious and study you have to give board exams this year).

But then this is how the education system works in our country. More emphasis is on rote learning and writing it out in the exam. Understanding and gaining knowledge even though important is secondary to scoring. Your score will get you admission in a good college. Or the second option is to expect your parents to shell out huge sum of money as donation to get you in. Now donation option is not possible for 80% of Indian population as they can’t afford to pay such huge amount of money.

The education scene is changing slowly. With so many education boards available like CBSE, ICSE, State Boards and international boards like IB & IGCSE, parents have a choice to decide what kind of education do they want to provide to their children. Each board is providing something different for to the students. Schools are experimenting with new methods of education like the Waldorf education program etc. The education system is trying to move away from rote learning to skill based learning. But we still have to travel a very long difficult road to reach there.

Till then we are stuck in an education system which values marks more than skills, more than the individuals itself.

Every year we hear of so many suicides committed by students because they could not face their exams or could not face the disappointment in their parent’s eyes after they got low scores. Even worse we saw a case last year when a class XI student killed another child of his school in a bid to postpone the open day. Imagine the dread he had about the day his parents would meet the teachers and see his result.

Even parents these days are a jittery lot. They tread a thin line between motivating and encouraging their kids to score good and at the same time worrying whether their son / daughter is under too much pressure, dreading that the child should not get so pressurised that he or she takes some drastic step.

I am myself so entrenched in this, I really can’t take me out of the situation and comment on it. All I can say is that “Yes marks do matter but only to get admission to higher studies. But getting less marks is not the end of the world. As they say when one door closes anther one opens. There are so many skill based courses available these days with which you can make a highly successful and well paying career.”

I have seen through personal experience that marks scored during school is not the only benchmark for success in life. I have seen backbenchers and low scorers during school time growing up and becoming CEOs and the toppers during school time getting just average jobs and vice versa too.

EDUCATION SYSTEM CAN NEVER BE MONEY MAKING BUSINESS… REALLY??

Few years back, I did a series of courses from an organization named “Landmark Education” (this line might have been repeated across many articles that I have written in the past). They are an organization that work towards transforming people’s life in a positive way through remarkable courses and seminars. I won’t go into details of the course itself but would like to highlight their business model. They are a US based organization and is extremely impactful. However, each of their courses are quite expensive and only a certain class of people can afford these courses. They run on a business model of networking which means if I do the course with them – I am supposed to get my own people into it (of course I don’t get any money for it) because I want them also to see the benefits of transformation and live happy life.

There are three courses in the basic curriculum which I had completed. And by then I had got a lot of people from my life registered with Landmark and also I was doing a lot of voluntary work for them which meant working throughout the weekends to organize the courses (again of course no money was involved). I was doing all this because I saw immense benefit through it. It was my way of spending weekends working for the fulfilment of the society.

Then there was a seminar which was about the concept of Landmark Education itself. It was a seminar where this organization was questioning its own existence. I was a passive observer in that seminar but I remember one argument very clearly.

There was a man who had done a lot of courses with Landmark questioned the organization – “Why do you call Landmark Education a business? It should not be a business. It is all about knowledge. I come here because of the fulfilment I get by doing this work. I don’t come here because I want to be an employee of this organization and earn lots of money. Even if you offer me money, I will not take it. Stop calling it a business!”

The lady on the Dias was an Australian lady and the shock on her face was clearly visible. “What is wrong is calling it a business? We are an organization like any other. We have services to offer and we charge for those services.” She said as a simple matter of fact.

“Education can never be a business.” The man shouted from where he was sitting. And this time a bit angrily.

Another person shot in at the right time. Of course, the tension in the room was quite tangible by then. He explained to the Australian lady – “In India, education is considered an act of social service. Most of the Indians will not agree with teaming Education with Business…” And the discussion continued on these lines thereafter.

I did not sit through the seminar post that argument. And also my interest and my time with Landmark reduced drastically thereafter. I am not sure if I agreed with the man and related to his anger. Maybe not. But at some point of time I started to feel that – eventually it is all about the money and the motivation to go there week after week went down.

Now as a parent I get reminded of that conversation again and again when my son’s school demand the quarterly fees.

My son goes to Nursery to an International school. His annual fees is much higher than what my parents paid for a year of engineering in a government college for me. We often joke about this. We often say that Education loan would probably be the highest loan that our kids will have to take even more than our home loans. The air is filled sarcasm as soon as the topic of school fees comes up amongst the parents. Worst part is that the teachers who work in the schools are still paid peanuts. It is franchisee owners, the landlords etc. who make the money from the fees that we struggle to pay for our kid’s education.

I am not sure what is right or wrong. On one hand we are also earning much more than what our parents earned when they were our age, so the high fees is justified to some extent. Of course, the staff needs to be paid well and land needs to be paid for. But there is something more to this business mentality of educational institutions than just money. The problem is that they only care for money now. I wouldn’t mind paying the schools if I would be confident that my child is safe and taken care of – but that peace of mind is slowly vanishing because of all the crime that happens in schools and indifference of school management towards it.

The mentality – “I will only care for my money and I don’t care what happens to your child’s future” is now becoming more and more apparent.

Education system has become a huge business now in this country and I wonder how angry that man I met in the seminar must be feeling at this.