Sunday, January 04, 2009

A Note On Indian Education

I remarked, on an earlier post, that Indian education is designed to 'disengage' rather than connect one to the community. I did realize that it was indeed right, and deserves more deliberation.

Indian education system has grown out of the colonial education system and never gone through a root-and-branch reform since Macaulay's days. The system was developed to prepare a ruling class. The underlying promise of education was social mobility and differentiation, a better future than everyone else. After Independence, the same system was broad-based and spread out, but have not gone through a critical review. This is because our new rulers were too steeped into 'ruling' class values to see the problem in the first place.


The message that the educated got is that they are to 'rule', not serve. They were taught the idea of India, as a geographic and historical entity. The education comes mostly in classrooms, and there is not much space for outside activities and community participation in the school year. There is a marked examination for 'Work Education' every year, but the only vocational skill taught in these classes are how to make soaps and candles, and sometimes how to draw, often by an uninterested teacher. Ultimately, what counts is marking - the Work Education is usually where discretionary marking goes unobserved and the teachers' favourites excel particularly in the discipline.

There is, of course, no concept of a gap year. The pace is frenetic, and the students are supposed to rush from tutorial to tutorial all their time. The system is riddled with various examination, at least two every year, some major 'board' exams at certain intervals. Outcome centrality, and rankings, are at the core of the system. Most students complete their graduation without seeing much outside their hometown, which is almost universally true in case of girl students. The diversity of India - both geographic and cultural - remains a subject taught in classes, never experienced. There is no concept of social service, the study commitments are too heavy and the parents are too eager for the child to complete their education.

When I was reading OUTLIERS and figured out that there is a certain advantage of being the eldest child in a class, it came as a bit of a revelation. Because I was always the youngest in my class, studying a good two year in advance. It did not occur to me that this could be a disadvantage, as this is a rather common practise among Indian parents, and I was rather happy that I probably saved a few years of my life. The years could have better spent in a different way, but I did not understand that till late.

I have noted that Indians are a strange tribe, marked for their rudeness [Joan Robinson was quoted by Amartya Sen saying: 'You Indians are too rude, and the Japanese are too polite. The Chinese are just right.'] and self-centrality. The current state of public affairs in India is due much to the disengagement of the educated people from community activities altogether. It is commonly noted that every Indian is out for himself/herself, everyone trying to maximize their individual take and thus undermines the collective gains.

In a world of fierce global competition and shrinking resources, we may have to change. We change at the precipice - declares John Cleese's character in The Day The Earth Stood Still. We are at the precipice. Things have to start with education.

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