Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week made a very significant observation that our education apparatus should not be one that produces robots. In fact his speech was indicative of his government's desire to revamp the education policy in order to help students achieve their objectives and compete with the best throughout the world. The present system has been found wanting on many counts and helps only those who are good at mugging up their notes. In school education, for instance, the prescribed syllabus needs to be overhauled completely because it lacks both connectivity and consistency in many subjects, particularly those in the humanities stream.
For instance, a particular book prescribed by the NCERT for school curriculum talks about Emperor Akbar without first giving the sequence of events that led to his elevation. There is a mention of Babar only in the passing and the Mughal dynasty thus gets inadequately taught. In another book, after the Indian Constitution, there is hurry to get to Mexico's systems and again to yet another country. Most students studying this are unsure of India's geography and topography — which do not get the needed emphasis — but are expected to know what is happening in Mexico. It would not be surprising that many of the students would not even know where Mexico is on the world map.
The short point is that there is no connectivity amongst the topics which figure. If one is studying Akbar, he or she has to know who came before him and what India was like. There are, in many instances, chapters that deal with ancient history and then jump to medieval history without giving a graphic detail of what was in between. The multiple choice options help students to secure high marks, but certainly do not equip them with a thorough knowledge of the subject. The argument is that only those who know a topic can answer the multiple choice questions. Unfortunately, there are guide books with questions which assist students who are good at memorising the text rather than understanding it. Thus students with high marks in the Class 12 examination are at sea when they enter college or universities and discover how ill-equipped they are and have to learn things from scratch. In the process, the impressive above-90 percentage of many comes down to the 50s during their first year examination. Again the point which arises is that there is a mismatch between the school curriculum and the university curriculum. They should be integrated.
A former Delhi University vice chancellor made a startling disclosure that the four-year undergraduate programme (now scrapped) repeated in its first two years, the topics that were taught in Class 12 of the science stream. This was because the syllabus had been so hurriedly made that no one cared what had already been taught.
Modi is correct when he said that in this land of Ganga there was education of culture, but more importantly, a culture of education. His point that good education is linked to good teachers is valid, but what the government needs to understand is that the matter which has to be taught should be both relevant and designed to help the students understand the disciplines they seek to pursue. There is great paucity of good teachers because teaching is the chosen profession of a very few people. For most, it is just a job. In this land of ours, the gurus were accorded the maximum respect because of their commitment and zeal, besides their values, ethics and wisdom. The IITs, which were centres of excellence once, have suffered on account of availability of good and committed teachers. If the teachers cannot teach, what would the students learn? In many instances in the universities, the teachers design the syllabus keeping their own vested interests in mind. The post-graduate political science syllabus of a leading university has been a replication of an Ivy League university of the United States. Most of the chapters in various options remain untaught, but have been included so that select teachers can go to the Ivy League university as visiting faculty members as identical or similar syllabus helps in hoodwinking the foreign institution. Thus, there has to be greater emphasis of including what is relevant, and once something gets included after due deliberation, every effort should be made to teach the same in the classroom. The curriculum should not be on paper alone.
However, the education policy must be inclusive and not confined to one stream of ideological thought but to all kinds of views. The students should have the option of judging what is good and what has to be rejected. T.S. Eliot once wrote that "where is the life we have lost in living, where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge and where is the knowledge we have lost in information?"
The government must take the correct steps to prevent students from becoming robots. Between us.