By Kulbhushan Kain
I was attending my school reunion at a posh resort on the outskirts of Dehradun. A successful classmate asked me where, and why, schools had gone wrong since we were in them. There seemed to be a breakdown in discipline, and though some children make a success of their lives – they do so not because of the schooling system but inspite of it. The system seems to create students getting astronomically high percentages which fail to translate into success in real life. It is a system that creates job seekers and not job creators. The teachers seem to be spent forces at a very early stage, and school leaders seem to lack the idealism and true leadership of the past.
It’s a question I have been asked often and I find it frustrating to answer, because nothing seems to matter even though everyone knows the problem. Everyone says “we should do this”. There will be people who will say “yes we can do it”.
But no one knows “who will do it”!
However, I still gave it a shot.
I told him that the real problem in schools is that they are teaching subjects at breakneck speed, interspersed with lots of irrelevant “extra” or “co-curricular activities” – including something as bizarre as nail painting, salad making, “face painting”. Even Science, Maths and Reading (where we are supposed to be “top class”) we are teaching by rote. The result – we are 72nd out of 73 countries in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) – an international assessment that emphasises functional skills that students have acquired as they near the end of compulsory schooling. Only Kyrgyzstan is below us.
There is something very wrong in what and how we teach in schools.
Our school system does not teach children to be original, imaginative or innovative. How can a child imagine if she is not encouraged to read? Schools must enforce children to read a lot of books – fairy tales (remember Grimm’s Fairy Tales), mystery stories (remember Enid Blyton), adventure tales (remember Biggles), school tales (remember Mallory Towers, Billy Bunter, Tom Brown’s School Days), tales teaching wisdom and values (remember the Panchtantras, the Mahabharat, the Bible)? Ideas, and values, along with imaginative academic curriculum are the seeds that must be planted. Otherwise, we will only have trees that bear rotten or no fruits.
But, alas, our school curriculum does not have time for such “luxury”. The result is that we have created a society that neither thinks philosophically, nor is imaginative, but engages in meaningless conversation. Talk to school kids about Berlin and most of them will ask whether the malls there are as good as in Dubai. They won’t ask about the Berlin Wall – because they haven’t heard of it! They won’t discuss or debate issues, leave aside ideas. That’s because they lack a grip on the understanding of the issue. Unfortunately, schools are not emphasising the importance of general awareness. A majority of children won’t be able to name the trees, flowers, birds that one sees everyday around us. Most of them would not have heard of John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, J Krishnamurti, the Vedas. Ask them the difference between a brook, river, sea, and an ocean – and they won’t be able to do so. Ask them the difference between AD and BC – most won’t be able to answer. Ask them where the Red or Black Seas are and they will draw a blank!
Yet they will top the IIT/CAT/CLAT/NID, etc. Yet, they know how to get marks! Our school examination system cements that.
Children are seldom taught values, and even if taught, when they transgress them – they are not punished because the dictum no longer is “spare the rod and spoil the child”. In the good old days, moral science was an integral part of the curriculum. School started with an assembly at which the Principal emphasised what was right and what was wrong – all that seems to have vanished or diminished in importance.
As far as teachers are concerned – like wine, they should get better as they age. But, sadly, many of them stop learning while on the job, and their performances tend to dip. Most importantly (not all), most school leaders crawl, when they are asked to walk! Most of them become like event managers and socialites, rather than academics. They must have the courage to stand up and lead and NOT become a part of the educational mafia which is sucking into the spoils of a decaying society, and the rise of a valueless and material one.
Aldous Huxley, one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, wrote that the greatest danger to our civilisation is that we are hearing a lot – but not listening. Our curriculum must be imaginative, innovative, and problem-solving. Otherwise, no reform will bear fruit – it will be like winking in the dark!!
Stand up and be counted for “real reform”. Let’s not run with the hare and hunt with the hound. Let’s not go soft because, if we do, we have no right to complain when a 4-year-old is raped, or when a 16-year-old slits the neck of a 7-year-old.
Be prepared when a bootlegger hoodlum walks into the room of a Principal, abuses him, and threatens to shoot him if he does not pass his failed child. The choice before the Principal will be, whether, like Judas he will sell the future and honour of a child for 30 pieces of silver OR stand up because he believes “that the bully is the easiest to beat”!
The future of schools in India lies in the response of the Principal to the choice he faces!
As simple as that!
(Kulbhushan Kain is an award winning educationist with more than 4 decades of working in schools in India and abroad. He is a prolific writer who loves cricket, travelling and cooking. He can be reached at kulbhushan.kain @gmail.com)