Banes of Indian School Education

Our 10+2 type of education structure is flawed

Our schools invest 10 years on broad-based education. After that students are forced to choose from Arts, Commerce, and Science. Some students forego college education altogether and go for vocational courses, such as, Diplomas in Engineering, or ITI (Industrial Training). Most students are ill-prepared for these momentous decisions at the end of their painfully competitive SSC examination. They are emotionally immature and have no idea what Commerce education leads to, or whether Arts is in fact a ‘loser’s branch’. The result is disastrous – the smartest (and/or luckiest) students take up ‘Science’, the not-so-smart go to ‘Commerce’, and finally those who park in the ‘Arts’ departments are least interested in Languages, Humanities, or Art. Many of them proceed to become lawyers or politicians – two of the most important professions in a civilized society!


In the US, students undergo 12 years of schooling before making these important choices. The 2 additional years make a huge difference to their preparedness for higher education. They are not only emotionally more mature, physically stronger, but also have a better idea of where their interests and aptitude fit for higher education.



Schools are expected to build a broad foundation, not teach vocational skills

The main purpose of school education is to build a solid foundation using which a child can discover its own interests and aptitudes and fulfill its own unique purpose of life.


Many schools in the US try to emulate Howard Gardner’s (of Harvard Graduate School of Education) theory that intelligence is not a single attribute that can be measured and given a number (like IQ). He pointed out human development is not just about verbal, mathematical, and spatial intelligence, but there are many other kinds of intelligence that are important aspects of human capabilities: visual, bodily/kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, and intrapersonal intelligences.


Going one step ahead, a lot of students in the US after their 12-year schooling take up ‘Liberal Arts’ college education, and then specialize in Law, Politics, or Business.


Our schools in India do a poor job of building a foundation in these critical areas. One has to simply visit any school and ask some of the smart students the question “What is your favorite subject”. The answer invariably is Science or Math. This is a direct result of poor or no emphasis given on subjects such as, languages, economics, history, and physical education. Students should not even think about ‘jobs’ when they are in school.



Knowledge means understanding, not skills and information

One of the most striking features of American education is its focus on problem-solving and understanding. Right from pre-school days, the system asks students to do projects that require research and original thinking. An average student writes hundreds of papers in his/her school lifetime.


Our school curriculum treats knowledge as a ‘body of facts’ and the teacher’s role is simply to transfer these facts, albeit with some elucidation or translation, to the brain cells of the students. In the process, we overload the students with so much information – sometimes completely useless (like birthdates of important people) – that there is little room left for analysis and creativity. Our children and teachers are burdened with ‘information explosion’ and are unable to cope with it. In the ‘Internet Age’ information can be looked up with a few clicks, or in encyclopedias. School education needs to focus more on understanding fundamental principles, and providing an ‘experiential’ element in the learning process.



Technology and modernization needs to be harnessed carefully

It is common these days to see schools teaching ‘Computer’ subjects. One cursory look at what they teach reveals that they have given no thought to designing a proper curriculum. Teaching a 6th grader Microsoft Word not only shows lack of imagination, but it also is a great opportunity lost – the opportunity to introduce the kids to the beauty of logic and basic principles of computing, which can launch their imagination into all kinds of territories, instead of throttling their minds to learning fonts and formatting.


Modern technology is both a challenge and an opportunity. Mindless application of computers and technologies like E-learning will be ruinous; on the other hand careful use of these can provide great assistance to our burdened schools and teachers. Many advanced countries like Japan don’t introduce Computers to the classroom before 14 years of age. In the US, E-learning is used as an aid for the teacher, not a replacement. We need to apply technology in ways that are appropriate for our unique problems.


The already diminished role of teacher in our system is in danger of getting diminished further if the new technologies are seen as a replacement. The role of a teacher as facilitator is of paramount importance.


Encourage competition at the right age and for the right things

Competitiveness is an essential quality for progress, but everyone first needs to achieve a certain personal level of expertise before seeking to compete with others. We force our kids to start competing too early – in primary schools, and that too for the wrong things. They compete for a higher rank in their little school in their little town, and feel complacent after getting the top rank. In today’s globalized world, such local competition is clearly short-sighted.


Secondly, besides providing knowledge, the school is the children’s first ‘social laboratory’. They build friendships, experiment with interpersonal behaviors, and generally learn the first steps towards becoming citizens of a civilized society. Competitive pressures at this age can easily ruin this vital process of social learning by creating unhealthy tensions that the kids are unable to handle.


The American education system encourages individual progress rather than competition. There are no ranks; you get graded for your performance. Rather than competing with specific individuals, you focus on improving your ability to achieve a higher grade. It also prepares you for a lifetime of learning and achievement, since there are no limits to what you can achieve.



Author: Abhay B. Joshi (

Published in the Indian Express of 22 January 2007