January 15, 2008

The Way We Learn

We keep on bloating about the fact that Indian students are among the brightest in the world. But have we ever thought how little our country benefits from that? India’s contribution to the world in terms of innovations & discoveries is miniscule. The sole reason for the above is that we are simply not creative enough. This is not innate in Indians, but the age-old education system here ensures that our creative abilities are put largely to rest. We see that many of our NRI’s are flourishing as leading scientists & research scholars in universities abroad. How is it that the same person does great abroad while in India, he gets nowhere?

Creativity and innovation are regarded today as the most valuable asset that a nation can possess. Despite all this, we are still stuck in the world of cramming and coaching classes. Our education system stifles all our creativity through rote learning. What we are churning out is just a huge workforce and not creative minds. Our education system was modeled on the British system but the British have moved on by introducing huge reforms, partly under the American influence.

If India has to really progress fast, it needs innovation, be it in the sphere of infrastructure, nutrition, education, administration or for that matter any other sector. So if we don’t want to be called a “Call centre Giant” perpetually, we will have to totally overhaul the education sector. Research will have to be promoted because without it no country can progress. Not only does research lead to innovations, but also (though indirectly) to huge investments. Companies pay exorbitant sums as royalties for using patents. Our government has always neglected research. The number of Ph.D.s in our country is insignificant when we compare it the number of engineering graduates. Research is not given much value in institutes across the country. Even premier research labs in the country get paltry sums as research grants. There is no autonomy in the education sector. A college cannot decide what courses to teach, what fees to charge, and what salaries to pay to its teachers, thanks to the various UGC and AICTE norms. Even opening a new college or a technical institution can take more than a few years.

I have been lucky to experience both the systems of education. I’ll describe an anecdote I remember. In 7th grade, when I was in East Lansing (Michigan, USA), we had to do Asian studies. When we moved on to India, our study was not just based on what was given in the books(despite American textbooks being a lot more interesting that the ones you get here with a lot more illustrations than questions at the end !). In addition, we saw movies on India like “Gandhi” (read Gandi) and the “City of Joy” and another documentary on modern-day India. My teacher, Mrs. Marianne Forman had even asked me to get some Indian currency notes and coins to show around to the class. I did bring in some, and explained about the various languages on the notes and the face of Gandhi on the coins. It did not end there; we even had a school trip to the local Indian restaurant in East Lansing. Most of my classmates loved Indian food especially the “curries” (read kureez) .And obviously, in the class tests (there are no examinations till high school in the US) we were definitely not asked when India gained independence or any other rote-learning question. Instead, we were asked to write our views on non-violence. The American system of education nurtures creativity very well, which explains why it is leading the world in innovation and high end technology.

It is not that American system of schooling is all play and no work, as is the common perception here. We had assignments almost everyday and had to put in a decent amount of effort everyday but I never felt that it was a load. I enjoyed every moment of it because I never had to cram even a bit. And for all the advocates of cramming here in India, I beg to differ. I still vividly remember a lot of the American history we were taught in 8th grade (in East Lansing) but I don’t remember most of what I learned about the modern Indian history in 10th grade in India.

I’ll tell you a bit about the schools in the Unites States now. A fact that should surprise most of us here in India is that in the United States 99% of the students attend government schools. In India, even those who can’t afford 2 square meals a day will put their children in private schools. Talk about the quality of government schools! And the states in the US pump in huge funds into the schools and colleges. I remember our school of about 300, had 3 tennis courts, 2 basketball courts, a soccer field besides an indoor gymnasium. Even many colleges in India would not boast of such sports facilities. America gives equal importance to sports and education, which can explain the number of medals it brings home in every Olympics while India struggles to win a single Gold despite having thrice as many people. Ah, something which all of us would loathe is compulsory attendance. In America, unless you really have a big problem (sickness leading to hospitalization-reminds me of the makeup policy here at BITS!), say adios to bunking classes. I did not miss more that 3 days of schools in my entire three years at Michigan. It’s another matter that attending classes nowadays has become a lot more difficult than it was in school!


Joshua said...

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Shwetank said...

Thanx :)

Pranks said...

Good one.

Shwetank said...

@ Pranks : Thanx :)