Educating the Education System

About two days ago, (Wednesday – 19-Mar-08) I read the main piece in the TOI editorial {Memorise or Perish – Ravinder Kaur}and the writer was a teacher at IIT Delhi. But in that article, all that I could see was the anguish of a parent whose child was to appear for the class X board examinations. Some very valid points, were brought out such as – our children are expected to remmeber trivia and irrelevant details about events without really absorbing the essence of knowledge. They are expected to memorise their syllabus, even if it is at the cost of completely missing out on the meaning of the text. We promote memorising facts rather than aquisition of knowledge.
Reading this article set me thinking as to what other options can be explored and maybe an alternative track of real learning that can be evolved, which will be both beneficial to the society and will also serve the true purpose of ‘education’ and not merely spreading literacy. In this piece, I am putting forth this concept open to debate, to know what others feel about this. And it would be great if some parents, with school going kids, shared their opinion on this.
In the US there are several families, for whom, this concept is working very well (Ok, this first sentence is sure to put off several readers with the mental block -”Oh Darling! Yeh hai India and no foreign concept works here..”). So the next few paragraphs are for those souls who went past that mental block, to explore the idea; thrash it out with an open mind, vis-a-vis its pros and cons and express their opinion/suggestion on this topic.
This concept is called “Home Schooling”
Our present education system divides a big chunk of information in to 12 bits of 1 year each and expects the students to go through the chunk for that year and at the end of the year jump through a ring of fire called the examination, and come out unscathed. And apart from the so called public schools (read Private Schools), the other children never ever get a chance to study due to various factors. As for the condition of the government schools is concerned, the less said the better.In home schooling, the child need not go through the trauma of admission tests and then go through the motions of 8 periods and a lunch break and homework, classwork and SUPW (which is of absolutely no use – in fact the true expansion of SUPW used to be Socially Useful Project Work, but in reality it is Some Useful Period Wasted!).
Instead of the above, The child can be taught at home, at his or her own pace, one subject at a time. And allowed to explore the nuances of knowledge rather than forced to learn 10 bullet points which the child would never understand. This practice can go on for the first couple of years where the emphasis will be on gaining “REAL” knowledge and “education”, not merely being a hard-drive full of information! Once the child reaches the age of 15, he/she can appear for a standardized national level examination (currently our board exams), which will enable him/her to pursue the higher education in colleges and universities.
I see the below advantages of Home Schooling:
  1. The child learns at his/her own pace and does not need to worry about competition.
  2. There is NO stress/preassure of having to come “first” in the class.
  3. Subjects can be chosen based on the individual interest areas, which will ensure better success. If we do what we ‘want’ to do, then we do it with great enthusiasm and vigor, as compared to doing what we ‘have’ to do.
  4. Career choices need not be stereotypes. Although this particular thing is changing today, yet children do have to go through the basic 15 year grind, before they choose their careers. I think a good yardstick would be to ask yourself this simple question “In my career, am I doing what I **ALWAYS** wanted to do”? If you answered Yes, then you are one of the minscule percentage of lucky ones.
  5. More time for children to play. Not with Playstations, but real play, on the ground.
  6. More time spent with parents leading to better bonding. Today I see that children spend more time in Tuition centers than with their own parents.
  7. Who knows…most families have two breadwinners today just to be able to pay for school fees/bus fees/babysitter’s fees/tutors fees/huge donations, etc. Imagine, if all these “fees” are not there, then probably atleast one parent can stay at home, with the child, taking care of the studying and supervising the free time.
  8. …the list is not complete but you get the picture..feel free to add to this list.

I feel so tempted to close this article right here after discussing all the goody-goody aspects of home schooling. But then one part of me has spurned me to write further about concerns.I am a father of a 6 month old and realize that at some point in the future, my baby will be ready to learn and get an education. Below are a few concerns due to which I may hesitate to go with Home Schooling (even though it appeals to me greatly as a concept, it needs some tweaking to fit seamlessly into the Indian context).

  1. The public examination system (e.g. The Board Exam) does not test specific knowledge. It only tests memorising skills.
  2. Many parents do not feel confident about teaching their children. They are too scared because they too went through the same 15 year grind and secretly vowed never to go near that system, if they could afford to do so.
  3. There is no standardized aptitude testing where the examinee can choose subjects of choice.
  4. Entry into colleges are still guided by meaningless numbers – anthing below 98% is pathway to doom.
  5. Straight jacketed higher education system. I cannot pursue an engineering degree at age 32, even if I have an interest in that area.
  6. ..the list, once again, is not complete so feel free to add to this list as well.

How can the government help?

  1. Overhaul (preferebly replace) the Board examination system and introduce a multiple choice based testing method, which tests the knowledge and application skills of the examinee, rather than testing whether facts are remembered or not.
  2. Make “all” subjects as electives. Let the child choose his/her subjects. Why should a student who likes both Physics and Economics be prevented from studying both at the same time?
  3. Bring more credibility and recognition to the National Open School which exists and is currently synonomous only with allegedly second grade students who do not “fit-in” the mainstream high percentage scorers.
  4. Make ‘minimum age’ the only criteria to appear for these national level examinations. Once the student crosses this stage, he/she becomes ready to pursue a higher education, again of choice and I think these institutions have a well estabilshed system of admission tests.
  5. Last but not the least, abolish reservation in education. Let everyone grow in an environment of equality.

This system need not be a replacement for the conventional school system but can be developed and promoted as a parallel system, so that those who cannot afford the exhorbitant private schools have another alternative to truly educate thir children and give them a fighting chance to compete.Your feedback and opinions are welcome. Please feel free to post your comments on this.

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