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!
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
Published in the Indian Express of 22 January 2007