Breaking Free!

The Indian education system particularly the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) is considered effective, moulding thousands of ‘clichéd’ professionals every year. But its compact structure lacks any institution in it. Sadly, the people “running” education have closed their minds to innovations, writes TALHA CHAWDHURY


“We don’t need no education,

We don’t need no thought control,

No dark sarcasm in the class room,

Hey! Teachers, leave them kids alone.”

Armaan has an excellent voice and expresses his emotions very eloquently. He is way ahead of his fellow 8th graders in extra curricular activities. But sadly he has a weak memory and can’t stuff in the theorems of mathematics and other aimless facts of the innumerous subjects he is forced to study. Thus, he is a ‘poor’ student forcing the teachers to doubt if he could pass on to the next grade. Such raring talent is suffocating in schools all across India, as our education system provides no special space to these extra-talented youngsters.

The Indian education system particularly the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) is considered effective, moulding thousands of ‘clichéd’ professionals every year. But its compact structure lacks any institution in it. Take this for example: A class XI student who is mugging up theories of quantum mechanical model and the structure of atom has not a hint of a clue as to why he is slogging over it. The teachers and textbooks promote this ignorance. Biology practical classes use verbal methods to teach biodiversity. Rope in a few wildlife documentaries and see both the interest and the marks take a hike.

The study of history often conceived as dull, thanks to the dry manner in which it is thought ends up making students numb to the dynamics of the past. The ‘History’ channel and a bit of progressive movie making (Bollywood has renegades who refused to be towed by stereotypes) has brought alive the past in an all-enrapturing way. Why not bring this to school? Sadly, the people “running” education have closed their minds to innovations.

Education works in so many different ways that one cannot risk making a generalized statement about its nature and role. It can trigger energies and affect people in ways not always predictable. The British worked hard to bring the Indian educational system of age. Though they had deep, inherent, selfish motives, at least it was a conspicuous change from the rotten traditions. But then, who would have guessed that the system designated to  colonize India would inspire its people to seek freedom from British rule.

The problem with our system is that it is primarily based on rote learning. Literacy has come to be equated with a narrow concept of development. If people do manage to remain illiterate the entire dysfunctional state machinery is put to work to civilize him. Literacy in blunt (not to forget sarcastic) terms has come to mean, “Learning how to read marks made on a plain surface with a marking ink.” In order to be literate a person has to copy down the same marks on a sheet of paper without tearing it. It also requires the children to sit at one place for long durations and not look elsewhere. Children who succeed in forgetting the rest of the world, while learning about the world and learn how to recognize the marks made by others are called literate. The unfortunate ones who fail to do this are illiterate.

Ever thought of a change? Sounds pretty strange because this is what our fathers did, our grandfathers did and so on. Schools need necessarily be like this. This very motivating example comes straight from a village in Sitamarhi district, Bihar. In this village there is no formal schooling imparted to any one. No governmental support is provided. But this does not deter the youth, least of all the girls! The village girls under the guidance of a Patna based-NGO have set up a vocational-cum-academic school in a cow-shed. Everyday in the evening a motley group of 15-20 girls all aged between six and fifteen gather for after-work classes. There is no blackboard; the partly smooth surface of the wall serves as one. Bricks are chalks. A few slates are there which are passed from hand to hand.

Daily these girls learn the 3R’s i.e., reading, writing and arithmetic for one hour. For the next two hours its fun time wherein the girls under the guidance of the coordinator are made to enact plays and told stories with morally powerful messages. Recently they enacted a play in which the girls played both the male and female parts.

The story goes that just before marriage the groom’s parents ask for a huge amount as dowry. Seeing this atrocious behavior the girl refuses to marry. Her parents are bewildered. But she stands firm on her decision. As the play reaches the climax the young man who was to marry her offers his hand without any dowry. The coordinator claimed that almost the whole village turned up and most of them went back with changed feelings. This was a very meager example to show how the tool of education can be made more powerful.

The very notion of democracy fails when it is backed by literate people who in critical terms are pathetic. Many fail to understand that this lack of dynamism is something that many politicians would actually prefer as it would otherwise lead to a citizenry that is prone to questioning. This would then yield all the innumerous flaws and the hollowness of the system. From time immemorial reforms in the structure of education have been met with stiff resistance. One of the all time great philosophers – Socrates was charged of “corrupting the youth.” His fault was preaching idealism into all things. Socrates talked of how a democracy will become successful only when its participants are individuals who think and analyze.

Participants who will scrutinize the traditions being passed on from generations and choose only what is good for them. He encouraged discussion and debates about things in the society where they were living. Once such gatherings would start at the mass level all the fallacies of the state would come to the fore. The supreme authorities of the time could not digest all this. If allowed, Socrates teachings would ignite the youngsters to scream bloody hell against the degenerating culture and the totemistic beliefs. Thus, he was branded as a heretic and imprisoned. While in prison he was offered poison or a chance to take back all that he preached. A man of principles, Socrates drank the poison and scripted his name in the list of immortals. Posthumously, Socrates was accepted as one of the greatest intellectuals in the same land where he was considered an outcast.

The present day education is mainly focused on rote learning as students are crammed with facts and routine answers for the various examinations they are going to take. Views of most of the ‘top-ranked students’ point to the deadening of imagination. Most of them complain of the lack of critical thinking and an overdose of aimless logistics. Even when students think on these terms and find that they are deprived of basic food for thought, they need to struggle hard on their own. This struggle includes encouraging of extra curricular interest in books, (fiqh, philosophy, Islamic history, cultures and civilizations etc.) interest for writing poems which expresses the emotions very freely. The formulation of an individual self in primary, secondary and higher secondary stages gives vent to the emotions in the later stages. A child learns to ask questions or to stay silent, to take things at face value or probe them more deeply depending on the values he imbibes during his stay in school.

Citizens who cultivate their capacity for effective democracy need further to place themselves not in the local region or group but as citizens of the world bound by a common concern. Only when one gets universalistic approach, will the horizons of the mind expand limitlessly. (This logic may defy those who live and die only for money).

Many may be puzzled as to what the author of these lines is driving at. We all fail to grasp the apathy of the schooling in India because most of us either studied or are studying in ‘good’ schools. In India, thousands of schools do not have a proper roof. The minute it rains the children are free. The teachers hardly show up and even when they do, they have more importantly ‘private tuition’ to look after. This lucrative assignment would be drastically undercut if they did good teaching in the class. It is pretty difficult to go and build schools and provide good teachers as if that is what you infer from the above paragraph. It need not necessarily mean that. Just think about it and try to grasp the appalling conditions all over. Then you decide what you need to do. “Home is the first school, and mother is the first teacher.” No one would deny this. It is very important that children are allowed freedom. Let them ‘wing their imagination.’

Research shows that more the children are thrashed around, the more they develop an anti-social attitude. God has gifted every person with some ingrained talent that is precious to each (only when found out). Our effort should be at unearthing it from the dead cells of our brains and of those around us. The same goes to parents and elders to discover what their younger sibling has been gifted with. What the great Rabindranath Tagore talked about freedom was:

“Freedom from the insult of dwelling in a puppet’s world,

Where movements are startled through brainless wires,

Repeated through mindless habits.”


[The author may be contacted at his email address:]

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