The 3 Idiots Debate: Is the Indian Education System in need of change?

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Change the Education System, and fast!

One rather very enjoyable movie that made news at the box office recently was “3 Idiots”. It could be one of those movies which everyone watches, has a lot of fun, buys the DVD and always remembers. Or it could be one of those movies that everyone watches, has a lot of fun, and forgets. However, all that aside, it was definitely one of those movies that raised a very important issue which can, under no circumstance, be dismissed and forgotten: our education system.

One of the major flaws in our education system is the characteristic of being extremely exam oriented. To quite an extent, classroom teaching at any level; be it primary, secondary or high schools or our colleges; is undertaken keeping in mind the “exam point of view”. Classroom discussion is minimal, and it generally takes place, if at all, at the beginning of the session and then too is quashed out in the race to finish the course before the exams. Students are, therefore, molded to care about the exam and marks rather than actually study a subject because they enjoy it. They are not encouraged to think creatively or to explore their subject in more depth, in fear of digressing from the prescribed syllabi. Learning is limited to what is in the textbook, and very few students actually think beyond them. Many of them lose interest and therefore the increasing trend among colleges to offer marks for attendance to make students attend classes. Another reason for this may also be because of a deeper social problem. Students are often forced to study disciplines that they are not really interested in, because society considers other disciplines worthless as they deviate from societal norms. Therefore classes are considered to be a burden. But even the students who choose a subject of their choice are often condemned to being incentivized only by marks for attending classes due to the poor quality of teaching. Learning then becomes learning about how astutely to attempt an exam and maximizing marks from it. Exams also then become a burden because students are forced to study something they are uninterested and uninvolved with. Students learn very little about the subject. Very few graduates actually remember what or why they studied a particular thing even though they spent 3-4 years studying it!

This does not mean we do away with exams. Quite to the contrary exams are required to test how well students their subject. But it shouldn’t be the sole purpose of the educational institutions. Teachers should be encouraged to make the subject they are teaching as interesting as they can. Students will then be encouraged to study and understand their subject and actually enjoy it. Marks in the exams will automatically follow. Exams should be therefore made more challenging. They shouldn’t just test the reading of a textbook, but the application of the subject.

Many efforts are now being made to include everyone in the education system by opening for schools and colleges and reaching out to the hinterland of the country. Changing the orientation of the system will ensure quality along with the increasing quantity, so that at the end of the day we have well educated individuals in our society
– Devika Dutt

Why blame the Education System? Change the Economy first.

Here comes another full frontal masala Bollywood flick with all its traits of ridiculously simplified problems accompanied by naïve and optimistic solutions, all leading up to a nice Happily ever after. Made in the clichéd scheme depicting the spectacular rise of the underdog and his subsequent victory over the authoritative bullies, this movie too contains the wish fulfilling aspect of all such feel good movies.
The problem of the education system has been uprooted from its socio-economic context and posited as an individual case of a ridiculous misguided authority figure, the Director of an institute, imposing his personal brand of competitive uncreative narrow minded approach to learning over the students. The answers to the problem are simple, follow your heart and the world will automatically ensure your well being. Practical concerns and true to life issues are passed over lightly with mere emotional drama. If the real world intrudes it is through the means of a stylized, exaggerated and hence comical representation of a poor stereotypical family.
Look at the method of learning that has been critiqued in the movie. Instead of simply stating that learning by rote is wrong, why not take a look at why this form of learning developed in the first place. The principles behind our education methods aren’t really to blame. Learning theory is a necessary basis before embarking on any practical application. If one does not remember the dates of a famous war one can scarcely understand why historical forces played out as they did at the time. Without remembering the theorems by which one arrived at a formula one can scarcely understand why the formula when applied in a problem will yield results. The reason we make fun of American Education and the reason why their learning centres are chockfull of Indians, Chinese and the Japanese is because they have got too focused on the practical education and lost sight of theory altogether. Hence the ideal solution would of course be to have a combination of both, learning theory and understanding application. However does it really work that way? When competing in a congested rat race of education for a few jobs and fewer resources do students have the time and leisure to think their subject through and approach it roundly? Won’t most end up taking the shortest route of bunging in learning by the shovelful to get ahead in the race and clinch a college, a course, a job? This problem is clearly uniquely Indian, and as such is it because the Indian education system is at fault or the Indian socio-economic system?
Why is the education ‘system’ being called a problem? What is this system? Isn’t the system merely a collective noun for us, all of us, every single one of us? In which case, how many of you, after seeing the movie, will actually go back and change your course or career based upon your interests? I am guessing very few will actually take this step, despite however much they enjoyed the film, for the simple fact that this is real life while the latter was a film. In real life this system exists because realities such as an income, a career and the need to earn a living exist. A job interviewer is not really going to hand you a job despite low marks and bad conduct reports simply because you have the guts to refuse the job they are offering. Indeed it is unlikely to even get a job interview under the circumstances if not for already being enrolled in an ‘elite’ course under an elite college, which he must have also done via good marks. Consider the difference between the film and the book upon which it is based. The Amir Khan character in Five Point Someone also chooses to follow his passion, but he becomes a research student with a tiny stipend. This outcome would have scarcely thrilled a good movie audience however, so the movie made the same character, not a moderately accomplished scientist with a stable government job, but a stupendously gifted one whom multibillionaire firms are after. One need hardly go into the improbability of such a situation. Not everyone can become a great tennis star or an actor simply because of one’s interests. Interest takes you only so far, effort perhaps a bit further, but there are frankly too many people in the world for everyone to be able to do what they please. Competition just can’t be done away with as long as there are fewer resources than there are people. Solve the problem of population, solve the problem of poverty and ensure basic facilities for everyone without the threat of starvation or the slums looming over our heads and we may be able to pursue our passions without care to monetary benefits. However as long as all companies prefer engineers over applicants from other courses and swimming stars of yesteryear end up driving buses to earn their keep, certain professions will always be preferred over others and the rat race to enter these courses will ultimately culminate in a struggle to hog learning rather than enjoying the course.

-Pragya Mukherjee

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