A dash of Pepper…

…with a splash of Mint

Thoughts on education

Posted by Pepper on August 20, 2015

Towards the end of my last post, I said ‘It makes me sad when I realise that quality education in India is only for the privileged. I know we will never be able to afford this school for our future child. This is such a flawed system. But well, that is a post for another day..

I had no intention of crystallizing my thoughts and writing a post on this subject soon. ‘Another day’ was far away. But I found myself writing *a very long* response to a comment from Hidden Passions. The length of my comment was equivalent to a lengthy post. So I thought I should probably just share my views in a separate post here, instead of replying to her individually. After all, that was a part of my long term agenda anyway.

For the sake of convenience, I am reposting HP’s comment here.

“I agree that some kids get better education over others depending on how rich one’s parents are. You are 100% right there is lot of inequality. No one wants to admit that it is not equal society.

But, here is the thing, one need not go to school for us to have a successful society. Some times, education can be waste of money and time for some. The trade/skill can be learned from their family or opportunities around to live a successful life, that does not mean that they should not be given the opportunity in the first place. The government spends ton of money on education, those public schools, IIT’s , IIM’s, all other colleges, does it mean that you want to get in free for nothing? society pays for it in the form of taxes. Do I have to pay for others in return for nothing? . There is no ideal solution for this problem.

There is limit for everything, and only some people can get into it. There are central government run schools and the students are well groomed for a very nominal fees, for instance kendriya vidyalaya’s, bhartiya vidya bhavan’s, army, navy schools and many such schools exists? they are open to common people as well, and if they can get into it, they are no less than many people educated at high-profile private institutions. Infact, I met many successful people who got their education entirely from government institutes, in some sense they know more about hard work and hardship with limited resources and are giving back to society in some or the other form. Does it mean, only by sending kids to those international schools be the kids successful? are there any statistics to back it ?

Overall, IMHO – there is price one should pay to get something. After all, nothing comes for free. Some one has to pay price for it somewhere.”

For easy reference, I am going to be sharing my thoughts and responses to her views by extracting parts of her comment. My responses are to HP, because I am copying the comment I composed. Her comment and its extracts have been made bold.

‘here is the thing, one need not go to school for us to have a successful society. Some times, education can be waste of money and time for some. The trade/skill can be learned from their family or opportunities around to live a successful life’

What does education mean to you? Do you believe the purpose of education is only to enable you to earn a livelihood? Sure, like you say, a trade or a skill can be acquired through family expertise. In fact, I am a big believer of informal learning and education. That skill you acquire may actually turn into your profession. You do not necessarily need formal schooling to earn money.

But is education all about the power to earn? For me, the answer is a resounding ‘No!’. I think a good education teaches you how to think, question and evaluate the choices we make in our everyday life. It teaches you to be imaginative and makes you explore new ideas. It makes you truly progress.

We are all products of our learning and education (both formal and informal). Yet, we’ve all seen ‘highly educated’ people living lives guided by their very narrow thinking. Gender biases, disparity, lack of logic, misogyny, disrespect for the environment, blind adherence to regressive customs are all factors that rule their lives.

How do you explain educated people behaving like that? I think it is because our education only gave us information on different subjects. It only taught us what to think. Not how to think. Indian education system syllabus encourages rote learning. We are given data and are asked to memorize it. We are never taught how to use that data. We’ve never really been taught how to think. You don’t need fancy schools to have a good education, even home schooling can work wonders, as long as you are exposed to quality education.

You’ve said that, ‘The trade/skill can be learned from their family or opportunities around to live a successful life’. What does a ‘successful life’ mean to you? Rather, what does a successful society mean to you? One which boasts of 100% employment? Or what is your idea? Do you think Indian society is successful? If yes, what does it owe its success to? If not, what do you think is the problem?

I have a feeling our definitions of ‘education’ and ‘successful society’ differ. Because unlike you, I will never believe education can be a waste of time and money for anybody.

The government spends ton of money on education, those public schools, IIT’s , IIM’s, all other colleges, does it mean that you want to get in free for nothing? society pays for it in the form of taxes. Do I have to pay for others in return for nothing? . There is no ideal solution for this problem.”

I’m sorry, the Government does not spend tons of money on education. And even if you believe they do, the outcome is still far from desirable. Have you ever stepped inside a free public school run by the Government? These are institutes where slum kids and other underprivileged sections of our society study. These schools are falling apart, quite literally. The lack of infrastructure aside, the quality of education they provide is highly inferior. The teachers in these schools are barely paid. They have no interest in their jobs. Most are not even qualified enough to teach. The lack of quality is clearly visible. My helper’s son who goes to one such school is in the 8th grade and he is still incapable of doing simple Math and calculations. He can’t speak a line of English despite having that as a subject for 10 years. They are hardly taught well in school, he says. The teachers in these schools are absent a lot and kids run wild. Since the staff is so underpaid, they take on other odd jobs to fill the gap and neglect the school as a result.

I don’t care if colleges are made free. And by the way, despite the few examples you have cited, most colleges are not free either. Not everybody gets into an IIT or an IIM. (Are they even free?) But I would rather have everybody pay for their own college, but basic education (until school) should be accessible to ALL.

Please tell me, how do you expect people to break out of this vicious cycle of poverty without access to a good education? Yes, society pays for it in the form of tax. I will be happy if they allocate a higher budget for education out of the tax I have already paid. In fact, I may even be willing to pay a slightly higher tax if they improve public education in India. If they do that, then I can send my child to a good public school for free, rather than me using that money for paying my child’s school fees in an upscale private school.

We need all classes of society (including the underprivileged) to progress parallelly. It is a flawed system if only one segment of society progresses. That is what I see happening in India right now. Where did the statement, ‘Do I have to pay for others in return for nothing?’ come from? If I am paying the same amount (whether it is in the form of tax to the Government or fees to a private school), I am saying I would rather use the money I have to ensure education reaches everybody, rather than it reaching only MY child.  Do you really believe investing money in educating a society gives you nothing in return? That is such a flawed premise.

There are central government run schools and the students are well groomed for a very nominal fees, for instance kendriya vidyalaya’s, bhartiya vidya bhavan’s, army, navy schools and many such schools exists?

I think you have failed to recognize the notable difference between centrally run Government schools and State run Government schools. The KVs and other schools you have mentioned are centrally run, they are much better funded, because the Government has different motives for funding them. State run and local Government schools are almost always facing a resource crunch. They are in dilapidated states. I think this article explains the reasons for the stark difference in treatment between a Central and State run Government school quite well.

So tell me, how many good centrally run Government schools do we have in India? Compare the number of these schools to the population of the country and you will know what I mean. We don’t have enough of those schools to match the populations’ needs and demands. Most underprivileged kids have no means to even afford public transport. They walk long distances to get themselves to the nearest free school, which in most cases is run by the state or local Government. So if you are trying to tell me that our masses do have access to good education, I will disagree with you, strongly.

Moreover, you have also mentioned that the centrally run Government schools produce students who are ‘well groomed’. Again, this may be true, but I think it is also debatable. It depends on how we both define ‘well groomed’. Even if the students are what you believe, well groomed, I still believe these schools and our education system does not teach us how to think.

Infact, I met many successful people who got their education entirely from government institutes,

I think you mean to say you’ve met people from these schools who are well placed professionally. But ‘successful’? I think I use a different yardstick to measure success and professional life is just one aspect of it, it is not the whole definition for me. So how successful these people are is a matter of personal perception.

Does it mean, only by sending kids to those international schools be the kids successful? are there any statistics to back it ?

Please point out to me and let me know where I said this? I don’t think I said something even close to this.

What I said was the opposite. I said I feel sad that quality education is available only to the privileged. I said that I see international schools (and other elite boards) providing the kind of quality education that I believe should be provided to all. Since my sister works as a teacher in one such school, I have first hand information on their teaching methods. These schools do indeed teach you how to think. The young minds are stimulated in different ways. I think it produces individuals who are truly intellectual, open minded and well-rounded, not just individuals who are knowledgeable and informed.

Right now, only a small class of our population is privy to this kind of education. I believe our education system needs an overhaul. If our education truly teaches us how to think, I believe it will eradicate a lot of the problems that are so deeply woven into our society.

Overall, IMHO – there is price one should pay to get something. After all, nothing comes for free. Some one has to pay price for it somewhere.”

Sure, nothing comes for free. That approach is typical of a capitalist economy. While I may agree with that in other areas, I will never agree with that line of thought when it comes to education. Higher education can be paid for, but I will always believe basic education until school should be a fundamental right of every citizen. I know this is debatable but it is something I feel very strongly about. Every child deserves equal opportunity. Your circumstances of birth should not decide your destiny.


PS – The sister has volunteered for Teach for India, where in she was teaching in a state run Government school for a while. She has personal experience working with and teaching kids of truck drivers, domestic helpers and other menial workers from lower strata of society. She also has witnessed first hand, the practical problems faced by this segment and understands deeply why the present state of the free locally run Government schools is not helping them. She knows where the gaps lie. The views I have expressed have been backed by her personal experiences.


41 Responses to “Thoughts on education”

  1. Reblogged this on oshriradhekrishnabole.

  2. S said

    Please see: http://www.barefootcollege.org/
    Ted talk on the same http://www.ted.com/talks/bunker_roy?embed=true
    This will show what education is. Its not only better for self but for others and the society! This is real education not the degrees! And this is what makes a successful life. Like a dialogue in Khoobsoorat by Sonam Kapoor “Fayda to tab hota hai jab dono taraf se fayda ho”

  3. Smitha said

    Pepper, You had me nodding away. I completely agree with you. Education in schools should be available to everyone. Good quality education. And what we have as education today, in most schools certainly doesn’t meet that standard, unfortunately. Our governments certainly do not do enough in this area.

    • Pepper said

      It makes me so sad, Smitha, that such a large part of our population does not get access to good education. Also, until I had this debate and discussion with HP, I was under the illusion that we all (our category and segment of society) believe in the same thing. It is only now that I realised that POVS differ. That not everybody believes a good education is imperative for us to succeed.

  4. Pet peeve said

    “We are all products of our learning and education (both formal and informal). Yet, we’ve all seen ‘highly educated’ people living lives guided by their very narrow thinking. Gender biases, disparity, lack of logic, misogyny, disrespect for the environment, blind adherence to regressive customs are all factors that rule their lives.”

    This. I could not have expressed it better.

    I feel very strongly about this. It infuriates me no end when people automatically assume that the more degrees you have to your credit, you are that much more superior and need to be accorded special respect. Without ever evaluating how those ‘highly educated’ individuals rank when it comes to true independent thinking, wisdom, objective thinking, open mind, progressive thinking, heck even common sense!

    • Pepper said

      “I feel very strongly about this. It infuriates me no end when people automatically assume that the more degrees you have to your credit, you are that much more superior and need to be accorded special respect. Without ever evaluating how those ‘highly educated’ individuals rank when it comes to true independent thinking, wisdom, objective thinking, open mind, progressive thinking, heck even common sense!”

      This. This is what I could not have expressed better. I have been screaming myself hoarse trying to convey this one simple point. That our education system does not teach us to think. That is why our so called highly educated people display such baffling levels of stupidity at times.

  5. RAMAN said

    You are right.. Although I skipped a paragraph or two, I got ur theme. There is no ideal solution including the solution you provided. Government needs to continue the free quality premier education; however they need to curb the corruption and increase their efficiency.

  6. Thanks Pepper – I appreciate the thoughtfulness you put in your response – your perspective is always very interesting!

    Your points are very agreeable – there are many low-quality government schools. The government should spend a larger percentage of money than it does on education, and in a more effective manner. Equal opportunity is generally accepted as a worthwhile goal.

    I think I made a lot of points and maybe spread myself too thin. I think my main points should have been
    1) Education is important for many, but it’s not right for everyone
    2) There’s lots of non-traditional educational opportunities outside of school
    3) There are limited resources that shouldn’t necessarily be diverted to education

    I’ll start with the third point. You are 100% correct that there are low quality teachers and many of them are underpaid, especially considering how important they are to society. However, where are we going to get these high quality teachers that you are looking for? I think that you, with your thirst for knowledge, might be a great and inspirational teacher! However, if we take you out of your leadership position at your company, then the company might be worse off, people may lose jobs, and children will have a hard time thinking about school when there basic financial necessities are not met. Similarly, should we take doctors out of hospitals or disease researchers out of labs to teach basic skills? Kids will find it hard to study when they are ill. You can call education a fundamental right – what about clean drinking water, green energy, food, shelter etc.? There are many things we can agree are good, but we cannot say one thing is a “fundamental right” and prioritize it for free – prioritizing one initiative comes at the cost of all these other great initiatives unfortunately :-/

    For my second point, I am still firm in my point regarding learning different trades, skills, etc. For us, we may have benefited professionally and personally from a well-rounded education at top schools. However, there are many people who will not benefit from school as much as they will from learning a trade, because it will result in better financial results for that person. By teaching a child classical philosophy, we might be stealing a child’s opportunity to learn farming or metal-smithing, which could deprive them of earning potential in the future. I understand your point that education should not be judged solely on practical application for making money. However, financial freedom is necessary to entertain the possibility of lifelong learning. A beggar cannot afford an internet connection to read the news or read Wikipedia. A person struggling to put food on the table will not read textbooks at night for leisure.

    Finally, this leads me to my first point. Education is not right for everyone.

    To take it a step further, some education is poisonous. Let’s take a simple Social Studies / History example (and most people might agree that history is an important subject, since “if you don’t pay attention to history, you are doomed to repeat it”). Let’s take the specific example of WWI. What was the cause of WWI? Most educated people would answer immediately “The death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the series of alliances between the European powers that caused a domino effect”. This falls apart at the earliest question. Is anyone really THAT popular that their death would cause a world war? The notion is ridiculous. Someone who knows history will have all these particular facts that explain all the Western wars, be it this dictator here or that extremist ideology there. In this case, the uneducated person is at an advantage – they can see “hey – the Americans and Europeans are a warlike people that always seem to be fighting and killing”. They won’t say “There’s Stalin here, Pol Pot there, Saddam in that instance, etc.” Education in this case is the trees that block the view of the forest.

    However, a more benign example is exactly as stated in my earlier point about useful skills – if kids are spending their time considering our great philosophical quandaries, they are losing time that could be spent on developing marketable skills. Even worse, if a subject they deem boring is forced on them, they might grow to hate school in general. Even though I think that Calculus is a key skill that should be taught to all children, I’m sure many kids would hate going to the class despite its importance in engineering and science.

    • Pepper said

      Thanks for taking the time out to elaborate your thoughts HP. Unfortunately, I don’t think we will be able to see eye to eye on this. We are very far apart in our world views. This is going to be a long comment, so I am going to number my points.

      1) Are you seriously telling me we will face a shortage of candidates in other professions if we have more candidates entering the teaching profession? You are telling me that one added teacher will mean one lesser doctor, and that will be a loss to society? You are telling me we do not have enough people in our country to have good qualified teachers AND good doctors? This assumption is flawed on so many levels, I am not sure which level to address.

      Okay, firstly, India has a vast pool of untapped talent. We do not have shortage of resources. I would like to share some links to validate my stand, but I suggest you Google to get an idea of the numbers yourself. So I disagree with your basic premise. We do have the resources, we just have not learnt to channelize them and use them to our advantage.

      2) There is a very large bracket of people who would like to enter the teaching profession, but do not do it because of the awfully low pay scale. If they revise the pay scales and bring them to reasonable standards, more qualified people will be drawn to it. Our country excels in producing engineers and doctors. Most people chose that as their profession because they believe it will pay them (and because it is respected), not because they are truly interested in engineering or medicine. As a result of the lack of interest and capability, we have a vast number of people with engineering degrees who are unfit to be employed in real engineering jobs. The gap in skills is very large.. I think a lot of these problems will autocorrect if pay scales are revised. People will feel more secure and comfortable pursuing their interest in the teaching profession. And better educators will help the society at large.

      3) You talk about our society needing doctors and other people in leadership roles. Please tell me, how will we get good doctors if basic education is unavailable to a large segment? Only one segment will produce doctors and leaders, while the other segment’s talent will remain untapped because they didnt have a good education to back them. Also, since we lack a ‘good’ education, we do have doctors in our society who have significant expertise in their chosen specialty, but we do not have enough doctors who are capable of rational thought and independent thinking. My friend is scared to visit a gynecologist because the said doctor, although very good in her field, is incapable of setting her personal biases aside while offering her treatment. I am not going to elaborate on this because this comment is already too long, but please understand what I am trying to say. We do not just need people with formal qualifications, we need people who are capable of critical thinking. India sorely lacks them because our education does not teach us to think.

      4) I agree with you to an extent where you talk about the need for financial freedom and why it hampers going to school. But I will still stand by what I said firmly. If you only train people to acquire skills that help them earn money, then we will not be addressing the problem at a deeper level. Sure, kids can acquire as many skills from their family, but not at the cost of foregoing their basic education. Why can’t this be done alongside? Because if they do forgo their basic / formal education, then we will always have a class divide. These people will always be considered ‘unemployable’ by big organisations.Their success will be limited. The class divide will always be very large.

      5) Okay, I am going to take a deep breath before addressing your last paragraph because it tells me you have not understood the crux of what I have been trying to say. I think education CAN NEVER BE poisonous. My dearest HP, you are confusing education with information. What happened and what caused the world war IS NOT education. That is information. A truly educated person will be able to comprehend what ACTUALLY caused the world war. They will think, analyse different different possibilities and realise that the death of one person was actually only the trigger and not the cause. They will also be capable of distinction and will be able to arrive at the conclusion that some notions are indeed ridiculous.They will be intelligent enough to not let that information poison them.

  7. This post touched a nerve. You have articulated it so well. Of course quality education is only for the privileged in India. I come from a small town in karnataka I had many schoolmates who used to get up as early as 4 am cross a river in ferry boats and then take a local bus to reach school at 10 AM. I remember one of my friend who was also one of the brightest students in class had to quit school cause she hit puberty and it wasn’t safe for her to travel all the distance.

    I remember writing my 7th standard board exam in a government school sitting on the floor, coz the school had no benches and desks. The roofs were leaking, there were no windows.

    Even though I studied in a private english medium school I could not speak proper english until very late into graduation. Even though I had excellent academic track record I was looked down by the city students for my lack of English speaking skills.

    Ahhh the list will go on and on about the things that are wrong with our current education system. But I am happy about the efforts that are being made in that direction, many NGO’S the likes of Teach for India are making those efforts. I know it will take time reach all the remote parts of India.

    Sigh!!! how I wish the government would make these efforts and changes!!!!

    • Pepper said

      Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. It is so sad. We don’t have enough schools. The interiors of India are a nightmare. People have to walk for hours and hours. If there are schools, we do not have infrastructure and we definitely do not have good educators.

      The result is that we produce graduates who are literate at the most, but not truly educated. We really, truly need to put in our efforts to change this. If only we all agreed! Sigh..

  8. ferret said

    Pepper, I agree with every single word you said! My sister who’s been teaching for a few years now (she has worked at multiple schools, including outside India, International schools in India of different caliber, different curricula and teaching methods) gives me quite a lot of perspective on the kind of education that these international schools provide. Another thing that these schools do good is that they pay their teachers competitive salaries, give them incentive in the form of free education for the teacher’s kids, and most importantly invest in continuously training and grooming their teachers as well.
    A lot of us who have studied in the centrally run government schools know exactly what they were like. I loved my school and college (both govt run), and with my nostalgia tinted glasses on, speak only positive things about it to anybody who asks. But i do know that the teaching methodology left a lot to desire. We had an exam to ace, and we did all we could towards that end. Facilities either did not exist, or if it existed just lay there unused because of various reasons. When we say that any student from these govt schools or govt colleges became immensely successful, we’re actually saying that he/she became successful “in spite” of the govt school foundation education that the person received. In spite of the lack of the best available education, the person attained success. Ideally everybody should be able to access the best foundation level education. There shouldn’t be such a huge level gap in the quality of school education that is available to different strata of the society.

    • Pepper said

      Finally! Finally somebody who understands what I am saying. These elite schools use much more developed teaching methodologies. They promote a healthy interest in learning.

      I can’t say I went to a bad school. In fact, I did go to one of the better schools in Mumbai, but I still believe I have not reached my potential. I used to hate Math. Now, when I compare my Math memories to the way the sister teaches Math in her school, I am amazed by the difference. I have actually started enjoying Math, at this age. If my brain was trained really well, I could have reached greater heights.

      What these schools are offering is ideally what our entire education system should offer. This *should not* be reserved for the rich. Like Teach For India says, once every child reaches his or her potential, India will reach her potential.

  9. […] to last two paragraph of the post).Lead to post of Pepper’s opinions based on certain facts here, that lead me to present my points of why I think that way and started explaining by giving some […]

  10. purple prose said

    I agree with every word in this post.
    Education is the only weapon we have to change society. A good education only has positive effects, no negative effects at all.

    And it’s very sad that our government only spends 1% of its GDP on education. With such a vast, unskilled, untapped population it should be much more.

    As for vocational education, I agree it’s important. But it should be a choice. Just because your father is a pottery expert, you shouldn’t be forced to take up pottery. Everyone should be able to go to a good, inexpensive school so that they can decide whether to go for higher education or take up a vocation.

    • Pepper said

      Your last bit, that is such a valid point. It is something that I didn’t think of on my own. By not giving people education, you are limiting their skills to the ones that exist in their environment.

      • purple prose said

        In the UK I believe, when you’re 16/17, you can decide whether to go for higher education, or you can start an apprenticeship and learn a trade. Something similar should happen in India.

        • Pepper said

          Yes! That is what I am trying to say. You do not need to have a graduate degree to be considered educated. You can very well pursue a vocation. Higher education should be a choice, but I haven’t been given sound logic by HP on why it is okay to forgo even basic primary education. If a vast majority of our population decide to skip schooling completely and decide only to pursue skills that enable them to earn a living, that short term goal will result in the end of our country.

          • purple prose said

            Another thing I was thinking about is the sexism in our country. Men will be able to carry on the profession of their parents. Even if they don’t go to school, their family will teach them a vocation, a potter’s son will become a potter etc. But women? No school, no vocation, no source of income, because anyway they have to take care of some man only in the future. A good education, at least up to 12th standard is crucial for these women to empower themselves.

            • purple prose said

              Apologies for the atrocious grammar in the above post :p

            • Pepper said

              Well, if we are sexist, then not only will we refrain from teaching a vocation to our girls, wont we also refrain from sending them to school?

              But then I do see your point too.

              In India, we don’t send our girls to school so that they have careers. Because their goals are to look after the men. We only send them to school for basic education. I can imagine the reluctance in teaching the girls some valuable trade skills.. It may never happen. And the women will continue to remain uneducated and oppressed.

  11. SS said

    Unfortunately the quality of any basic living things like food, housing, health care, safety, education etc., depends on what one can afford. Even in the US where basic education is free, the quality greatly varies on the school district which is determined by the affluence and property values of the area. This problem exists everywhere and I am not sure how to solve it. We talk a lot about it and and affects us temporarily and do our small share towards it and keep moving on. There are some generous people who dedicate a lot more of their time and money towards such causes and make a difference in the world.

    • Pepper said

      Yes, like I said, in a capitalist society, the more purchasing power you have, the better quality of things you have access to. Nobody is arguing that here. But I cannot put education in the same bracket at buying homes, eating good food in restaurants, etc.

      Also, I was sure somebody would bring in the different quality of free education depending on the school district and affluence of the neighborhood in the US. I was hoping nobody brings this up because they are not comparable examples.

      Because here is the thing. Even the so called ‘bad school districts’ in the US offer schooling that is far superior to what free govt. schools are in India. I really truly wish most people had the opportunity to tour the free Government schools of our country to fully grasp the gravity of our situation. The free schools here are a joke. They do not offer any semblance of a real education. This is not the case with the seemingly inferior school districts in the US.

      • purple prose said

        I second this. When I was doing my MS in New York, I took part in a STEM mentoring programme and conducted after-school sessions in a public school there. The school was in a low-income district, full of immigrants and minorities. While the curriculum itself needs a major overhaul,the infrastructure they had would put our private schools to shame. Let’s not kid ourselves, we live in a country where young girls stop going to school when they get their periods, because they don’t have access to a bathroom at school.

        • Pepper said

          That’s what I have been saying! We just do not have enough schools with decent infrastructure. The cities are so bad! Can’t even imagine the interiors!

  12. Uma said

    Education in India is geared towards scoring high marks rather than kindling a life long curiosity/desire to learn.

    I went to decent private schools all my school life. One incident that really stands out was during English exam in my 11th standard, there was an exercise sort question to transcribe a telephone conversation into a message for the intended recipient. When i got the answer sheet back, I was shocked to see that the teacher had given me zero mark for that question. When I asked the teacher for explanation, she said that the question was a printing mistake and there is no such question in the textbook and that the question in the textbook was to write a telegram message and I should have written a telegram msg even though the question was something else!!!!

    This is the level of idiocity of Tamilnadu state board education. Needless to say i didnt care to study the whole year. They curbed my curiosity and desire to learn.

    The only thing I remember from 12th Maths now is the U shaped hyperbolas and parabolas and i scored almost 98% in the board exams. Rote learning at its best.

    I went on to a Govt Medical school (The annual fees was a paltry sum of rs.5000 per year) not because I wanted to but because i scored great marks and got an admission. There were quite a few students who were from really really tiny villages and from the lower ecobomic strata who got in because of quota system. They had to struggle a lot and had to continue to struggle to get pg seats.

    There is no substitute for solid foundation during school years and inculcating the desire to learn.

    Sadly even if our schools want to do it, majority of the Indian parents care abt the marks and how much the kids are cramming. How many kids in India will take up physics or astronomy for a college degree even if they are interested in it. Parents are only concerned abt ” future” for that particular degree rather than kids interests. Only very few kids are bold enough to pursue what they are interested in rather than listening to every Uncle and Aunty’s opinion.

    Anyways long comment and for my son all I wish is he turns out to be a well rounded compassionate human being with a lifelong desire to learn and to also understand to give his very best towards whatever he chooses to take up.

    • Pepper said

      Yes. First part of your comment conveys exactly what I want to. Our education is so blind. Even somebody who has zero understanding of the subject can score full marks just by memorizing the data. Sigh..

      And, yes, this line, ‘There is no substitute for solid foundation during school years and inculcating the desire to learn.’ This is precisely what I wish people would realise.

  13. B said

    I don’t think that there is an easy solution to this at all. Teaching is a relatively well-paid career by Indian standards, and the “perks”, especially if you are a teacher at a govt school, are many. Like you mentioned, those teachers can skip class without any fear of any form of retribution. There is just too much corruption. When I was studying in India, even though I was in a private school, I remember one class being “free” at least once a week because the teacher was absent. It’s only when I moved to an international school that I realised that that’s not normal! It’s not normal to leave kids alone with no teacher to control them.
    I do agree with your point about the Indian system of rote-learning. The Indian syllabus, I believe, is more difficult than other syllabi; but other syllabi actually make sure you understand the material, while in the Indian syllabus you can get away with memorisation. And such memorisation! I remember mugging up long-answer questions, not understanding a word. You cannot do that for IB or A-Levels. I think that’s the way the subject is taught, though. Because I remember my S.St textbooks being really very interesting and having lots of fun actitivities.
    The problem is that there are too few good universities in India-most of them are really, really bad-and understandably employers don’t want to hire workers from terrible universities where classes are held infrequently. And there are so many school-age pupils and not enough schools, or universities. There is just no culture of accountability. The only way schools will get better is if tax money is used to fund them. But this is a country where barely 3 percent pay tax, and the very little tax money there is is eaten up in corruption. Sigh.
    Though to be fair—in most places parents pay a lot for quality education. Even in England, parents who can afford it send their children to private schoools.

    • Pepper said

      I agree with your whole comment, except for the first part. In which world is teaching a well paid career in India? Do you have data to back this? My understanding based on what I have read and observed was that teaching is one of the worst paid jobs in our country. (No, I am not including the perks like free holidays, etc, because they do not bring money on the table – which is what is required for survival). If you actually propose that teaching is a well paid career, then please point me to information that validates your claim. It will give me a different insight and I will analyse the problem in different lights.

      And yes, people who can afford it will send their kids to private schools. Even in the US, people who afford it go to private schools. But atleast they have an alternate system available. In India, there is no alternate system. If you have money, you have access to education. If you don’t have money, you don’t get access to a good education. I have a problem with this system. I am glad you agree that tax money should be used to fund schools.

  14. Oh god pepper, this is a topic so close to my heart. Im just gonna go on an infinite rant so please don’t publish it.

    Pepper: Moo, please pardon me for taking the liberty to publish your comment, despite your concerns. I am doing it because it doesn’t contain any private or personal information, and because you make some very valid points.

    There are sooo many things wrong with education in our country. First being of course, there is a huge population that cant even afford to get to school, forget the quality of schools. In such cases i do agree with what HP says- in the worst case scenario, if a child absolutely cannot make it to school, it should atleast get some vocational training so as to secure his/her future (financially). This will ensure that he/she will be able to provide an education for their kids.

    Pepper: No babe, unfortunately this is not what HP is saying. Ofcourse, we all agree that people should be provided with some vocational training in case school is absolutely impossible for them. Nobody should sit idle or resort to begging, they would rather learn some skill and make a living. Who would not agree with something so obvious?

    But like you said that should be done, let me quote you here, ‘In the worst case scenario, if a child absolutely cannot make it to school”. But in my opinion our first aim should be to try and make education available to everyone so that everybody can make it to school! HP’s basic premise that I very strongly disagree with is that education is not necessary for everybody. Go read her comment and her very first point is that ‘education is important for many, but not right for everyone’. So the question really is whether a basic education is required by everybody or not. I think vocational training and all that is very good, but after you complete your primary learning. It doesn’t have to be in a formal school, like I mentioned, even home schooling works, but as long as you DO get basic education. That’s what I strongly believe…

    That said, i cannot agree that vocational training is an alternative to school. It is so wrong to treat a school as a stepping stone to financial success. Yes, that is a part of it, but at the same time school is essential for a child to learn social skills, make friends, make a few enemies, learn about other cultures, experiment, learn survival skills, widen their horizons and make some wonderful memories for life!

    Pepper: Well, the debate here is just that. Somebody believes that vocational training is an alternate to school. That you don’t need to even study until 12th grade or so. In HP’s defense, I do agree that you don’t need to go to school for things like making friends, enemies, or learning survival skills, etc. That can happen with just life’s experiences. But school is a learning ground for many things, many different subjects. And while it is ‘possible’ to learn all those subjects and get an insight into different worlds without receiving a formal education, I think it is very difficult. In most cases, your life experiences are limiting, so counting solely on those may not ensure a sound learning experience.

    Now, the point is, like HP says, does a person who will end up pursuing farming need to learn a subject like philosophy? She clearly doesn’t think the subject will benefit a farmer. That is where I disagree. If we really use our education to our advantage, a person who has studied philosophy might make different (and more insightful) decisions in his/her life as a farmer than a person who has not. So while I strongly agree that a vocation can be pursued instead of a graduate degree, I don’t think anything can compensate for the education you receive in your formative years.

    I believe the govt started the mid day meal program in govt schools as an incentive for poor parents to send their kids to school. Im not sure if this helped or not, but if the schools had underpaid, incompetent teachers and no basic facilities, i just dont see how keeping these kids in such schools will help the country in the long run. It will just help the govt show that the numbers have gone up, but there wont be any value add.

    Pepper: Yes! The numbers of children who have been admitted to these government schools has increased. But how much of these numbers translate to educated individuals? That is the key question.

    Now coming to the kids who do go to schools (all sorts – central/state run, private ones), i see multiple issues with most of these schools as well as our society. It ends up forming a cycle. Kids are sent to schools to get an ‘education’ so as to ‘succeed in life’, which for most people equate to earning money. Being happy, capable, competent, helping, considerate, thoughtful, open minded etc come nowhere on their priority list. All they want is more marks so as to get into a good jr. college -> to get more marks -> to get into engg -> to get more marks – to get placed in final year -> to get more money than the neighbor. That seems to be the aim of most the country. I dont blame them. A decent income is very essential to lead a decent quality life. But is that enough to be happy? And this unfortunately has made education such a lucrative business. I know of schools who dont allow their below avg students (for lack of a better word) to graduate to the 10th grade because they fear these students might cause their 10th “results” to dip. I know schools who segregate their students into sections based on marks. So you have an A division with all the rankers. The B division wiith the 70% scorers and C division with those who have a tough time scoring high. The kids are treated differently in each class. The teachers look at them differently! This is just disgusting. Imagine the psyche of the kids in div C…discriminated against and treated poorly so early in life. What sort of individuals will they grow into? PT, drawing, music etc are treated as a joke by many schools as well as parents. Because ofcourse, drawing the perfect bowl of fruit wont get you that 6 digit paycheck!

    Pepper: This is what I mean when I say our education system is uni-dimensional. It converts all of us into information factories. Nothing else. And don’t get me started on how ugly the strategies to promote the top scorers are. The amount of discrimination that goes around is sick indeed.

    Now the teachers – They are underpaid, which leads to incompetent people getting hired as teachers who are not passionate about their subjects. How can a teacher who is trying to teach a child something do a good job of it if he himself is not passionate about it? You wont believe it pepper, my niece in Nagercoil is learning Hindi in school. She is in the 3rd grade. Once while i was there, her mom asked me to help her with her Hindi homework. She was learning basic alphabet and small words. I asked her to read the varnmala, and she goes – Kaa kaa kaa kaa (like a crow!). I corrected her – Ka, kha, ga, gha. She stubbornly says – “Kaa kaa kaa kaa, that’s what my miss has taught us”. Teachers are such an influence on kids, how can we afford a teacher who cant even teach the child the correct sounds? What is the point of her learning a new language if she doesn’t know what the words really sound like! She will no doubt score well in exams by rote learning things. But what the hell is the point?? It frustrates me to no end. I know a lot of parents who encourage their daughters to take up teaching. Why? Because there is less work load and lots of holidays. Goodness. Medicine and teaching are 2 professions people must choose ONLY if they care enough. Not because there are lots of holidays. We need teachers who know how to bring out the best in their students, who can groom them to be better individuals and better citizens, teach them kindness and compassion, teach them equality, teach them that life isn’t a race to the top!

    I do wish every kid could go to a school like ur sister’s. Just imagine what kind of country we would have in another 30 years!

    Pepper. Yes. Just imagine!

    In one of ur comments you mentioned that there is no dearth of people who would love to teach and that low pay scales keep them away. I couldnt agree more. It makes me very sad that the occupation that is crucial for the human race to thrive happens to be the most underpaid one. The govt really needs to fund schools more. Parents must demand better teachers from their private schools. It’s like any other business. Unless there is a demand, the private players wont bother with the supply. That said, i wish we didnt need to have any private schools at all! If only the govt could provide enough schools for everybody along with free education, that would help every child get off on the same footing. Competition in the true sense. But that’s utopia.

    Pepper: Teaching is underpaid only because it is undervalued. The day they value educators is the day pay scales will improve. And yes, we will have the concept of public education in India and if there is a good demand for it. Right now there isn’t. Becuase the private school system is not adversely affecting one group of people. It is affecting and hurting only the bottom most rung. Most of them are not even capable of fighting the system, or even understanding how skewed it is. Sigh..

    I definitely see things looking up though. My observation – In a family, the first generation to go to school has only ‘get a decent job’ on their priority list for it is upto them to improve the family’s economy. They probably end up getting basic jobs and then make sure their kids go to a better school. The kids grow up and end up in better positions and hence realize there are other things to life than financial security, so then they bring up their kids differently and the schools will have to cater to that. Or so i hope. I could be totally wrong with my logic.

    Pepper: I agree things are improving, but I think the change IS.VERY.SLOW. I am not sure we can afford to have such a slow change. I think the pace needs to accelerate and some reforms and changes must be made. Right now, we are not utilizing the skills of such a vast majority of our population. Such a waste of talent. Sigh..

    Anyway, ill stop and get back to work.

  15. shwethays said

    I get same feelings about healthcare in India .

  16. MR said

    There is a huge difference betweengovt schools, state schools,central schools and private schools. My kids went to KV first and v quickly moved to john cannon. By experience I can tell you the difference is enormous. It’s sad isn’t it. The purpose of all schools being the same ?…..

  17. MR said

    Sorry not my kids my aunts kids.

  18. I am nodding as I read your piece for I too believe that school education, with uniform quality, should be available for every individual.

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