Sunday, September 13, 2009

Education Changes ...

The HRD ministry is trying to change the way children are educated in India. And they seem to be well up to the task. One of the changes is the movement from marks-based evaluation to a system of grading. Like most initiatives which Government of India runs, this one too finds some who believe this is not the right thing to do. Then, of course, there are those who think this was long due. If you have a child with a little less than a decade to go for this stage of education, you really aren't a stakeholder in this debate for reasons other than academic.

And thats why what i am writing is from the perspective of someone who, while not being a teacher, has been working within the realm of training for some time. And this is where my thoughts about this topics come from. Though, another perspective which so many of us could have is that of ex-students.

So, what am i writing? Not much new, really, for finer minds have dwelt on the subject on a number of television channels and newspapers, except that, without going into the debate of which board is better (i know of only CBSE, so wont be able to comment on ICSE or IB), i would like to look at the question of where this would take the competetiveness of children. There is fear expressed that examinations like the Xth and XIIth boards generate the spirit of competition among children, which enables them to compete. While to an extent i agree, i also believe that this spirit of competition probably doesnt have much to do with board examinations. Do we find children facing the pressure of competition only when it comes to the board examinations? Look around and you wont think so. Class tests in junior school can do that, too. Whats worse is that these examinations raise the spirit of competition among parents much more than in children.

What am i referring to? Its quite simple, actually. Most of us parents tend to forget that children are individuals, in addition to being our children. And this leads us to a scenario where we either try ot live our dreams through our children, or we believe ''baap ka naam raushan karega'' ... The child will illuminate the name of the father (in other words, make Papa proud). This, though, raises the question that if father wasnt able to illuminate his name, how will the child do so? Here, i am not being sexist, and using the male gender only for the sake of brevity, so please feel free to make adjustments for gender, because this kind of parental pressure is not restricted only to fathers. This is not to say that i dont indulge from time to time, but the point is, i would rather try to check this indulgence, rather than trying to get my son to relive my childhood. He cant ... We played kanche, gulli danda, pitthoo, smoked Phantom cigarettes (for the uninitiated, these are sticks made of sugar, made to look like cigarettes). So i think i am ok with the childhood i had, and am content with the childhood my son is having. Dont you think the childhood we had was different from that of our parents?

But i am digressing, even though this took you down memory lane (including the two cashewnuts with the rasgulla between them ... No, you dont get anything for guessing this). So whats the point i am writing about? If by now, after a walk down memory lane at Darya Ganj, and nearby parts of Delhi, i remember correct what i was planning to write about is the reason why i agree with the idea of grades.

If we look at it objectively, the idea behind educating children is to make sure they learn to understand and appreciate the world around them (not necessarily teach them everything about it ... That would be impossible, as undesirable, too), to help them grow into well-rounded adults (round is not geometrically), and to enable them to embark on a journey of acquiring skills (if not acquiring the skills themselves) which can enable them to lead productive lives. Rather a lengthy one, but thought would be nice to look into the different lines that occured to me. But if we work backwards from there, the reasoning that we can take can be that the idea of education is to enable children to acquire skills, maybe to acquire skills in a better way than other children, but definitely not to remember some data which they neither understand, nor appreciate. Brings to mind an old Hindi song ...

Sikandar ne Porus se ki thi ladaai,
Jo ki thi ladaai, to main kya karoon?

Translated, if King Porus fought Alexander what should i do about it? This obviously means that children are not learning the lessons from history. But coming back to the main point, the idea of the educational systemis to teach children the things they are to learn, not just to figure out which child has learnt more than which other child. Sure, thats one of the things, too, but that cant be the cornerstone of the system, and this is something which can be achieved with grades, and a system of qualitative evaluation, because one number cannot determine how well the child has learnt (learning is far more comprehensive than can be imprinted in one number), and the emphasis on this number is, at times, at the cost of learning.

However, this change along wont help take the educational system in the country to the next level of understanding. Whats the other component, you may ask. And that, i believe, is the inclusion of parents in this change. This change could degenerate into a clamour for grades instead of marks, and this defeats the entire purpose of the change. Rather, parents need to understand that the system we were educated in (quite good, actually, but a shade outdated ... How many of my contemporaries actually remember Bernoulli's Principle, and some applications to real life, or how many of us can actually remember the formula for integrating any trigonometric function, and why one would do that. Lets please exclude those who actually do this professionally ... They would remember. Now, the point is, if we dont even remember some basic things, then what was the point of having our vocation in life based on how well we could remember these formulae? Would it not have been more productive to have focused on understanding these concepts well? This is the point we as parents need to understand, though believe, coming from the background that we do, it wont be an easy transition, and this is where schools need to play an important role.


Anonymous said...

i agree. what do i agree to? well i agree that we hd dif chilhood than our children; i agree we parents often behave like a frustated lot imposing things on our kids that they neither hv any intention to take forward nor hv the potential to fight us back... i agree to all of this. and kids' education...i think we should go back to our traditional schools and impart all round developement in children, trying to forget the score or grades they have in maths and science! Let them be a good human being first before anything...and that they will be only if they see some around them

Anonymous said...

Agree with you. There needs to be some form of learning of basic human principles, too. Though, from an academic perspective, maybe the need is to build the processes to enable children to learn.

dr. a ray said...

interesting reading. you did manage to get to the gist of the matter. i agree with you on the need to have some sort of grading system. as you put it board exams are just a symbol of the pressure we put on in children.
u right about viewing childrens as individual. i think one of the most visionary documents to come out after 'our common future' is the national knowledge commission report. i wonder why not many really read it and understand the situation of our educational system.
but atul me shall differ from you on one area, that is what education means in rural areas where the real india lies. in a country where kids r lured to schools by free lunch.....i think we gotta prioritise things. in bengal i thought that things had changed but i went to sunderbans and purulia in the recent past, you cannot imagine the level of underdevelopment is in that context i feel that yes it is good to liberalise our educational system but let us not falter in increasing basic literacy, the fundamental right to education is in my opinion the least excercised....well me digressing.

the porus part was interesting. if we do not our heritage our history we got no future we move off to a orwellian society...yes do away with board exams but gradation and inclusiveness of education is vital.
great thought provoking post atul.

Atul said...

Thank you very much. Yes, i agree with you, that the real thrust of education needs to be at rural India. and the change would, in all probability, be quite slow, seeing the magnitude the work. But if we bring it about one step at a time, we can bring about the change. The nature of this probably has to do with generating basic literacy, as you rightly said, but the real value of education cannot be unlocked without taking this approach to learning-focused education at different levels. Shall we say, activity-based learning for children, to help develop the confidence, and to build the base on which further learning can be built, for example?

Taking it one more step, maybe some of the traditional methods of teaching, through folk tales, local poetry, heroes, cult-figures, mythology, and bringing the lessons from these to the children could be another way of looking at it. Your thoughts?