Our educational system

This topic can generate a multitude of opinions from the most un-erudite  group imaginable. For once, a topic where each one has enough personal experience to talk, instead of spouting theory and conjecture.

It has been my opinion for a long time, that our system needs to be revamped. When I was a student, through primary school and right up to my undergrad, I always said that our system put too much importance to the ability to cram information with the temporary retention of information being the goal. Those who understood concepts well, and refused to cram stuff they did not understand were punished. It drove me crazy, and I could not see a solution.

In Bombay, we go to junior college after SSC and the only criterion of entry was marks. The grades we scored at age 15 mapped out our entire future. In India, doing Science has until very recently, been the prerogative of the 90 percenters. The others had to go to Commerce/Arts programs. The funny thing is, people who do well in Commerce/Arts end up contributing more and earning more than mediocre Science students. Technically, they shouldn’t, given that they were not good enough to do science. So what gives?

The more I reflect on this, the more I realize that Indian students are forced to choose too soon. American kids choose their career path roughly during the last year or so of undergrad, and they’re doing fine. They make decent money, and their families are happy enough. Of course, if they opened their borders to every skilled professional from India or China, they would have to see some harsh realities, hence their protectionism. (But that is another post altogether)

Now that I have given due diligence to the oft-heard refrains about Indian education, let me suggest something else.

It has been clear over the years that there is almost no correlation between success in life and IQ (provided the IQ is higher than 110 or something like that). Other factors are simply too dominant and create a large enough variability to ensure that being intelligent simply does not guarantee success. What other qualities? Good old-fashioned hard work, ambition, and acumen. Luck of course is another factor.

A study revealed that almost all great artists, performers etc had approximately ten thousand hours of practice before they hit pay dirt. No matter what the field, that figure seemed to tie them together. We have all heard of a young Tendulkar putting a cricket ball in a sock and hanging it from the ceiling just to practice stroke play for hours. Not to mention Bill Gates writing his own legal documents when Microsoft was incipient. Steve Jobs bounced back from being fired from Apple…and many more.

The Indian educational system does test some of these qualities, and does not get enough credit. A friend once pointed out to me that great entrepreneurs and inventors from the IITs were almost always 8-pointers and above. Most of those below that got medium achievements. I know our syllabi are based on ratta, but those who are practical (ok…maybe a little cynical) enough to do whatever it takes to achieve their goal of academic excellence tend to continue that winning habit throughout their life…so maybe there is something there.

I will admit though, (In the spirit of 3 Idiots) that creativity is sometimes stifled in this sink or swim environment. We do turn into bricks in the wall when we chase that ‘A’ grade and become enablers of this Nazi regime.

5 thoughts on “Our educational system

  1. the education system should augment thinking capacity through interest, enthusiasm created and curiosity sustained in students. When it remains a method to judge by marks obtained..it becomes an exercise wherein only ends matter and not means. Now this is a very unfortunate situation as it creates pressure on mind to memorize! In such a race to conquer, interests are sacrificed creating only ‘idiots’ who have lost the ‘thinking power’ besides other faculties.

    liberalcynic: that is true for the most part

  2. agreed that our system is very crude, but i fail to understand if we are so muggers than how come most of the any background students who join mostly IT consultancies that show minimum of 5 yrs of experience still maintain their posts.

    and of course though we are not as good at sciences in our grounds, we still are mostly required by rest of world for our sciences calibre.

    liberalcynic: Academic inflation is one of the reasons for what you’re saying. The fact that those people need to pad up their resumes is because there are too many qualified people out there, far more than the jobs require, so the hiring committees increase the requirements. The job has not increased in difficulty, so even those unqualified people are able to perform their duties.

  3. I don’t totally agree, in a country like India, science is generally perceived as leading to a wealthy profession and ground realities attest to other professions not paying as much, I back you on professionalism and exploring talents but I am of the opinion that this mass hysteria towards the sciences is more of a phase. Todays science is tomorrows arts.

    liberalcynic: I agree with you about the perception of the science stream, but I believe that people are a little slow in understanding the potential in commerce and arts careers. I know people who’ve gone to school with us or slightly before, and are doing really well in commerce and arts fields despite not being exceptional. These were the securities afforded only by science earlier.

So, what do you think?

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