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Another Brick in the Wall?

Indian Education System

By Mohit Saxena

Indians today hold CxO positions in global organizations – we are looked up to for our intellect and strong roots in education. Undoubtedly, India has always been an education savvy nation. Dating back several centuries Nalanda University, an exceptional phenomenon of its times, is believed to have housed a very strong educational legacy, with residential programs accommodating over 10,000 students and 2000 teachers. There were strong roots in an open and practical educational system with a 24*7 connect between the teachers and students. Across the country, the system was driven by the need to bring in a practical touch in the knowledge imparted. The civilization, promoted by such a practical educational system, brought in excellence in art, literature, architecture, mathematics and science, and language essentially across a range of disciplines that empowered learners with a spectrum of opportunities to align their interests with their skills.  It was an educational system that was holistic in imbibing not just skills but also essential life values to prepare students unconditionally to face the challenges ahead.

“Are we to keep the people of India ignorant in order that we may keep them submissive? Or do we think that we can give them knowledge without awakening ambition? Or do we mean to awaken ambition and to provide it with no legitimate vent?”

However, fast forwarding a few centuries later, India as we all know went through the turmoil of the British rule. Several disciplines were hugely impacted adversely during these testing times and the Indian educational system was one amongst them. To give due credit though, this was the period Indians were exposed to the English language and given our inherent intellect and interest in learning, it was no rocket science for the masses to soon become proficient at it. The language definitely opened global doors for us in trading, education, employment all of which distinguish India today amongst other nations. A disciplinary and meritocracy driven education for all, de-linking the educational system and caste structure, were all great positives. But the question that lingers is whether this system left us to be followers rather than leaders in what we do. Did we lose the practical approach and questioning mind-set and move to a more theory driven system? More importantly, why did the British bring in such a system? There are wide spread beliefs that Lord Macaulay after his initial India scout in preparation of the conquer made remarks on how the educational backbone of the country should be shaken if the British had to make their way in. While this premise is not fully verified, there is another side of what he is said to have believed: “Are we to keep the people of India ignorant in order that we may keep them submissive? Or do we think that we can give them knowledge without awakening ambition? Or do we mean to awaken ambition and to provide it with no legitimate vent?” Whichever version it truly was, the bottom line is that the educational system they brought in intentionally instilled the mind-set of followers than leaders amidst Indians. The system made us great executioners but pulled out the thinking and analytical questioning plugs that would have helped us steer our own paths. It also limited the overall learning focus to a very narrow set of academic possibilities.

While the larger global belief that Indians do well in technology is not untrue, where is our footprint across the board in areas such as sports and arts? Also, it is just a select handful of Indians who are doing exceedingly well. If we compare these numbers against our soaring population numbers, the ratios are pathetic. Even if we take specific areas such as sports we are so narrowly focused on a few games like cricket, which again came in with the English influence. Have we not seen pictures of international hockey winning Indians returning with their laurels waiting for an auto ride back home? Why all this disparity? On the infrastructure side, while our system is honed to churn out students with academic excellence, how many schools even have a decent playground? Every year during admission time we see schools with hoardings of rank holders who were their alumni, but do we see such recognition for other areas of talent? Is excellence synonymous to just the core academics?

Let’s look at what all of these mean to our young leaners? By the time kids finish grade 12, they have been under so much pressure that some are ready to just snap out after school. They have probably already lost track and focus under the grappling demand of the educational system, whereas, now is the time they should be full of energy and zeal as they get ready to take on the world in their independent stride. An article on “Rise in cases of students reporting exam stress”, in the Hindu dated Feb 21st, very clearly explains cases such as these with data points that talk about help line calls for students that peak up to 200 calls a day during the exam season.

Talking about my own case, what I did in material sciences in IIT is nowhere close to what I do today on a daily basis. Herein the avenues a learner has in Western countries whatever their areas of interest be, is what we need to try to emulate – if I have a strong passion for swimming, I have the right opportunities to groom myself and excel as a swimmer. In fact, often times, such exceptional talent and performance in itself helps the student gain a college admission, rather than the pure focus on academics.

In Japan, for example, through the kindergarten years, kids are taught etiquette. They are taught to co-exist. Let’s not forget how they re-built their nation from the Hiroshima-Nagasaki calamities.

If we drill deeper into the value system, why are we impatient, impolite, ready to break rules, lack respect for fellow human beings, and corrupt? Let’s leave aside the clichéd belief of population driving all these issues. We often talk about the lack of quality of life by looking at it from the lens of the Western world. But most often, such quality and values are imbibed early on in life through education. In Japan, for example, through the kindergarten years, kids are taught etiquette. They are taught to co-exist. Let’s not forget how they re-built their nation from the Hiroshima-Nagasaki calamities.

It is high time we overhaul our educational system to be practical, diverse, aligned with the uniqueness of every child, strong in re-building our value system and ultimately fair and open to all instead of being a privilege of a select few. We have a very intelligent lot of people – their mind-set of wanting to change the status quo to bring in positivity across the board will hopefully impact the educational system too and help build more global leaders from India. And as parents, we need to be ready to encourage our children in areas of their passion to bring about this change. Often times, even if such a platform is available, it is the fear of parents not wanting their children to travel the roads less explored that keeps bringing us back to the vicious circle of the problems we face.

In re-iteration and summary, let’s not build a system where “Everyone goes through the Mill, what comes out is God’s Will”- herein, Pink Floyd’s famous song “Another Brick in the Wall” needs no new introduction condemning rigid education systems. Let’s not push ourselves to the brim having our kids echo in on “we don’t need no education”

Today, our country is thriving on IT. It is great to see start-up initiatives supported at varied levels across our nation. Let’s also use this opportune time to re-define our educational foundation, which needs buy in at all levels – at the governmental, educational and parental levels. And, this in my opinion is something we owe back to the community before it gets impossible to pull us out of our own trench. In re-iteration and summary, let’s not build a system where “Everyone goes through the Mill, what comes out is God’s Will”- herein, Pink Floyd’s famous song “Another Brick in the Wall” needs no new introduction condemning rigid education systems. Let’s not push ourselves to the brim having our kids echo in on “we don’t need no education” – we are a very rich nation with ample talent, resources and man power. If we can get our act together in revamping the educational system to bring in a more practical oriented, analytical approach that focuses on varied areas of excellence to adequately groom leaders and executioners rather than pure theory driven academics then there will be no stopping of the new heights we can scale – this is vital to empower our kids to face the world ahead of them.

Mohit Saxena is CO-Founder & CTO on inMobi, where he is currently heading the technology group at Global mobile ad network InMobi. He is responsible for providing strategic technical guidance to the business and leading the operational and development teams that are involved in building high performance and geographically dispersed scalable/fault tolerant enterprise systems.

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