Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The Cobweb Of Education


Every year from February to July, a majority of teenagers in India lives under severe mental strain. An all-pervasive anxiety seems to take them over right from metro cities down to the villages. First of all, they worry about the preparations for the annual examinations, and then are gripped by the fear of the exams. Once the exams are over, they start worrying about the results. After the results are out, a feeling of joy may come for a moment, but soon apprehension about an uncertain future overpowers their minds. Besides the students, parents and well wishers are also pestered by the situation. But hardly any efforts are made to found a solution.

One can’t blame the students for the predicament faced by them. They only tread the path paved by the elders. If anybody is to be blamed, it is the parents. They pin high expectations on the children, and impose upon them the liability to make true their unfulfilled dreams. Thus, it’s their negligence and tunnel vision that unwittingly helps in evolving a system that comes to haunt them as Frankenstein monster.

In our wisdom we often forget the basic point that what after all is the purpose of education, and what kind of schooling is needed for the children. Ever since the colonial days, we have considered formal education, as introduced by the Raj, crucial to get useful employment. We think that a salaried job in the government, with some extra money thrown in by way of bribes, is the key to a secure future. We forget that a bird in the cage is also secure as long as the cat does not get the opportunity to kill it. An ox employed in the Kolhu (traditional oil extraction device in India) also leads a secure life. One must ask if this is desirable. I don’t see any cause to be happy in such an environment, which has gradually and slowly quelled the zest for life in younger generation. At the end, it will drive a whole generation to a point where a wretched existence will become the fait accompli.

The irony is that nowadays even those aspiring for higher positions in the society by becoming a medical doctor, engineer, or chartered accountant also think only in terms of security. The primary concern of the system of education designed for such courses now seems to prepare graduates capable of minting money, rather than to use their ability and competence to serve the community. Medical doctors are now expected to set up private hospitals and indulge in what is called “cut practice”. Engineers look forward to build partnerships with contractors and suppliers, and are least concerned about durability and safety of the structures raised by them. And chartered accountants are now admired for their ability to concoct account books and make deals with the tax authorities. Parents spend enormous sums of money for sending their children to places like Kota, Pune, or Banglore for higher studies. Once the schooling is complete, they immediately become engrossed with recovering the money spent on it, and recovery never stops.

It will appear that a maze has been purposely laid out for imparting this sort of education. In summer months, special trains are operated from Delhi and Kolkata to Banglore and Pune for aspiring students (and their parents) for appearing in admission tests. Parents are seen knocking, often without success, at the doors of politicians and other influential persons to beg their favour in getting the child admitted in a desired institute. For each seat, there are at least one hundred candidates. In a typical season an aspirant may have to take at least half a dozen admission tests. Parents know it fully well that out of a hundred; ninety-nine candidates don’t stand a chance of success. Yet, they maintain pressure on children that they have to succeed, as if to become a doctor or an engineer is the highest goal in one’s life; and all would be lost if the goal is not achieved.

As a matter of fact, pressure starts building up from the very early age. Parents simply don’t try to understand the aptitude of the child. If she or he has a flare for fine arts, encouragement is given only to the extent of participating in minor events, so that he/she may win and bring home a prize or two, which could be proudly displayed in the drawing room. A sense of competitiveness is always there. But beyond that, none wants to groom the child to become a musician or a painter. He or she is forced to study science subjects, even if one has no aptitude for it. Lately, with the growing craze for business administration, commerce has also become a desired subject. But, liberal arts subjects like history, geography, or sociology are looked down at. It is never thought that these subjects have a vital, if not more important than at least equal, role to play in building a new society and a new world.

Another factor of this pressure building is the unrealistic expectation from the child to pass out with excellent grades. To fulfill this goal, parents don’t allow the child to participate in extra-curricular activities. On the contrary, he or she is forced to take private tutorials, in addition to reading the course books. This attitude scares the child so much that in case of the result not being up to mark he/she might be driven to commit suicide, runaway from the home, or just become sulky. Thus, it is the parents who provide all arrangements to make the child despondent, instead of him/her becoming self-confident. It is an irony that the very parents, who encourage their tiny tot to sing nursery rhymes before the guests as a proof of his/her talents, feel ashamed when asked about the future of the child when he/she grows up. Who else is responsible for this if not the parents?

If we take a close look, we will find that this is but a symptom of typical middle class mentality. The “Great Indian Middle Class”- so lovingly termed by the votaries of globalisation- has about twenty-crore members including children. Each and every manufacturer, local or multinational, from shampoo to computers to luxury cars, has his eyes set on this potential buyer. In this so-called age of liberalisation, marketing schemes are introduced keeping him in mind. New models of car are for him, so as fridge, washing machine, and TV set. All beauty aids are for this class only. Once, Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia, in the context of Indian woman, has described the black as beautiful. But nowadays new and new formulas are being presented for transforming natural wheatish complexion of Indian skin to snow-white. Bazaars are over-stocked with goods. One may buy whatever one wants to! No problem if the pocket is empty. Foreign bankers have opened their counters at every nook and corner to serve the Indian clientele. Then there are credit cards and ATM facility. The buyer is welcome to pledge himself in exchange for a car, TV set, or a house!

At one time, Janardhan Poojari, the then Finance Minister, had introduced the concept of Loan Mela by nationalised banks. It’s a different story that the banks were bleeding white in that exercise. But in today’s India, a vast market has been opened from Kashmir to Kerala. There are shops in the market selling education, too. One may buy education for the child as per ones taste and desire. Only condition is that one should have enough money in the pocket to clinch the deal. If cash down is not possible then loan facility can be availed. We used to criticise “Jhola-Chhap” schools of Gwalior region. They were peanuts in comparison to shop-owners of the day. This is the age of air-conditioned showrooms. Those who can afford, their children travel a/c class, commute to school in a/c cars, and stay in hostels in a/c comfort.

All this looks pretty attractive today. Parents are happy with themselves for being able to arrange such facilities for the children. When they grow up, they think, they will lead a comfortable life. They will be part of the a/c community ruling this country. They forget that they might have to face the realities of the outside world one day that is full of misery, hunger, poverty, haplessness, and anxiety. The anxiety might turn into anger someday. None wants to make any guess about that eventuality.

Those able to ensure a perfect future for their child are a happy lot today. Those failed this time may take yet anther chance. But in the meantime it will be immensely advisable that parents and grown up boys and girls start pondering if it is necessary to pass through such a grave tension. Is there no better option to this cut-throat competition? Can’t there be a schooling that may bring students closer to real life, and act to cement relationship between people and people? Outside of the middle class, there is a world of the not so fortunate of India. The day stars of the eyes of the middle class learn to make friends with those living on the other side, they will find the meaning of their life that day.

Written and translated by Lalit Surjan

Published in Deshbandhu, Raipur on 19th June 2003

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