Are our Schools interfering with our children’s education?
*Mini Shrinivas

It is August 15, Independence Day. As our car speeds along on the way to a picnic, we pass clumps of school children hurrying for flag hoisting. Their hair is well–oiled and combed, their faces glow. Some carry paper flags. Their feet are bare. They are all hurrying to the hundreds of government–run primary schools that dot the country now – 95% of the population is supposed to now be having a primary school within 1 km of residence. That is no mean achievement in a country of one billion. The growth of school facilities has been truly phenomenal, and something to be proud of. But, when I look at those shining eyes and running feet, I feel a bit ashamed. As a citizen I am part of a massive failure, too — a failure to give these eager citizens of tomorrow a really good education.

Because, education is not only school buildings. Education is learning to read, write, calculate, and learning to think independently, to analyse, and to take decisions. Education is learning how to learn. It is learning how to live with and love the diversity that is India. And the vast majority of our schools are not doing that. Not yet.

Consider this: A teacher discussed a new lesson in the Marathi language textbook, and read it with the class. “If you had to give this lesson another title, what would you call it?” she asked. Blank stares. She tried again. “What is the most important thing this lesson tells you? That could be the name of the lesson. You tell me.” Silence. At last, one brave child put her hand up. “Madam, how can we tell you if you don’t write the four options on the blackboard?” The teacher learnt later that the students had spent the previous year preparing for the “Scholarship Exam”, and drilled in answering only multiple–choice questions!

Another episode is even more telling. A researcher talking to teachers, children and parents in a village school just outside Delhi found that all three groups considered memorization the highest form of studying. One child put it very simply — “See, Madamji, if a boy is stupid, then he needs to have things explained to him by the teacher. But if he is smart, he can learn as soon as she tells him. He can memorize whatever she tells him. Only stupid and slow students need things explained to them. Not me!”

So there we are then — a whole system that encourages children to memorize facts and even opinions, and to reproduce them in tests, and limits creativity to multiple choice questions! Something is not quite right here. How are these kids going to learn to think and analyze if we don’t start in school? Mark Twain has famously said, “I never let my schooling interfere with my education.” It’s funny, but it’s rather sad too. Schools that don’t educate have no purpose except as prisons. The only way we can justify putting children in school is if it is a place that nurtures their minds and spirits.

Here are some things that teachers can do — that is, teachers who think of their jobs as crucial in nation building, in building good human beings:

1. Throw away that spoon: NOTHING in our government curriculum tells us that we have to spoon feed our children with ready–made answers. It is just an invention of teachers too lazy to correct books in which each child has written a different answer. Even children in Class 1 can THINK. Let them.

2. Count how many times a day you demand silence: You will be amazed. Engaging in learning cannot happen in silence. Argument, debate, disagreement, listening to others, trying to accommodate other viewpoints, compromise — these important lessons of democracy have to begin in your classroom.

3. Remember that human beings are environment too: Teachers tend to ignore the aspect of social environment while placing an increasing emphasis on learning and projects to do with the natural environment. Teach yourself and your students to look at the society around you, the good things as well as the injustices, and to confront the complex emotions they arouse.

4. Be multilingual: Most people in India speak at least two languages. Some analysts say that it is one of the things that makes Indians more creative and flexible thinkers, given the right environment. But our schools tend to become monolingual. In fact English medium schools sometime ban the use of the local language in the school premises! Not that it ever works, but it doesn’t make sense pedagogically either. Revel in multilingualism. Celebrate diversity.

5. Believe: The one thing that all children, even very small ones, are good at, is spotting insincerity. You cannot preach communal harmony if you have hatred in your heart. You cannot teach to care for trees if in your heart you think its all a big fuss. Not to a child. They won’t believe you. So read, discuss, educate yourself, and teach what you believe in.

The energy sector needs a major course correction to meet the present challenges.

The power sector is facing a large shortage, nearly half of the rural poor lacking access to electricity, with increasing cost of power, financial losses of utilities continue at unsustainable levels. Social and environmental problems of power generation; and global warming concerns are challenging the existing paradigm.

The oil and gas sector is facing different but equally pressing issues. Our oil consumption is increasing exponentially. India is rapidly building infrastructure that would further increase our dependence on oil; even as the world has started discussing the possibility of a plateau and future reduction in oil production.

With business–as–usual processes and if we want to continue high economic growth, we would need a much large share of fossil fuels produced globally than we consume today. This is unlikely to be a reality. On the other hand, the poor in the country do not have access to even basic services. Nearly 50% of the rural population uses kerosene wick lamps and 80% uses highly inefficient and polluting cook stoves burning wood and dung. Nearly 5 lakh person die of indoor air pollution mainly caused due to cooking stoves. So this is a twin challenge on our hands.

The author is Asst Director, Centre for Learning Resources, Pune, and may be contacted at

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