A few of my friends had shared the above cartoon on FaceBook. Even though it is apparently poking fun at the Indian educational system, I found it applicable to all educational systems relying on passing an examination – you know, 39 marks means failed and 40 means passed. It is almost like a cricket match where one run can mean the difference between victory and defeat: unfortunately, life is not a cricket match.
Of course, educational systems have improved since my school days. Those days, there was a kind of unofficial class system in schools where the children were more or less expected to follow in their parent’s footsteps: so the children of the quarry workers and day labourers were delegated to the back benches as “dunces” because their academic performance was poor: a fact which they accepted, because in their chosen walk of life, education was not a necessity. Many of them failed multiple times in various grades and were quite grown up by the time they reach the tenth grade; I remember that in my class, there were some guys with fierce moustaches and sideburns, and a few of them were not averse to trying their luck with some of the pretty young teachers! They usually failed SSLC and dropped out, and most dutifully joined their fathers in their menial trade.
Things have improved now (at least in Kerala): parents have understood the need for their children to get an education, the general economic climate has improved and new educational tools and methods have been introduced into most schools (of course, our government schools have enormous room for improvement, but that’s another subject). The farm labourer and quarry worker can today dream of their children becoming doctors and engineers. However, has our concept of education improved?
Sadly, in my opinion, it is a no.
For most of us, it is the passing of an examination which is still seen as the test whether one is educated or not. And the examination, in most cases, comprises memorising information: data, prose or equations. The specific skills required for a profession are not tested – the onus is always on who comes out on top, based on his/ her skill at mugging up.
Another important factor is the professions which are considered important: the current ones in India are Engineering and Medicine. Children are pushed towards these professions without any consideration for where their natural talent and inclination may lie: and the entry is through gruelling competitive examinations where children are forced to jump through hoops (many a time, parents too: I have seen most parents withdrawing from social circles once their children reach tenth grade). If they fail to make the grade, they are beset by such feelings of inadequacy that often lead to extreme steps like suicide. One wonders what the children would have accomplished if they were free to choose their own way, and allowed to study something which they loved.
The fish, forced to climb trees again and again, die from lack of oxygen.
Also, we have an education system which is cruel to misfits and mavericks. I have been even more acutely aware of this since my wife became a Remedial Educator about 15 years ago. The educationally challenged children who lack a traditional skill required for academic performance (for example, reading in the case of dyslexics) are often marginalised, even though many of them possess above average intelligence. Einstein was a dyslexic – he was expelled from school due to under-performance – but all the world knows where he reached. His was a success story. However, I always wonder – how many Einsteins have we lost through an unimaginative and insensitive educational system?
Do not force the fish to climb the tree: take it to water where it can spread out and express itself. Each child is special in his/ her own way. Let us recognise that – and not lose any of these ‘taare zameen par’ (stars on the earth).