What price, our education system?

Today, Sep 5th, on Teacher’s Day, spare a thought to the education of the children of India. For one fancy moment, imagine that we are not mired in the morass of an antediluvian British education system. If today, we were to invent an education system from scratch, unburdened of history, what would be its primary features? What does education truly mean? Is graduating from high school a measure of the quality of the education received? Or should a good education guarantee a successful life in a socio-economic sense?

Our current education system is often critiqued as one that “dims the diamonds and polishes the pebbles“. Citizens, ‘educated‘ ones, accept as a fact of life, that some kids are smarter than others. Is that really true, or is it just a reflection of a poor system which judges not too wisely? Forget examples of Gandhi and Einstein, each one of us are acquainted with at least one person who did not do well in school, but later was a success in life.

Our education system demands too much from the kids. First up, children need to be judged and judged well – read smart – to find opportunities to success in life. What can you say of a system which starts with the premise that one half will necessarily be judged unsuccessful compared to the other half? The system expects children to be good at everything in school to be judged smart. A child who isnt matching up to other kids in subjects on offer at school, but is excelling in painting and running, is deemed unsuccessful. You only need to talk to the child in question and you will hear, in marked diffident tones, “weak in math”. How strong is a system which can make a child feel weak?

Which brings us to the essential question, “in the name of education, should we build on the strengths of a child, or as we do now, minimize his/her weaknesses”? Shouldn’t the goal of our education system be, to create a body of strong citizens for the future, rather than a body of not-so-weak individuals? How can one uniform system be the solution to educate the children of a nation of billion individuals, with innumerable cultural, language, social, economic, and geographical differences? It appears to be a case of supreme ego (or ‘fatal conceit’, as Hayek would put it) to mandate one system of education upon the entire nation.

This is not to say that we do not need an education system. However, maybe it is time to revisit what should be the basis of that system. Quite likely that all the intellectual infrastructure the education system needs is the three Rs — an abbreviation used from the 1800s, for ‘reading’, ‘riting’ (writing), and ‘rithmetic’ (arithmetic). The rest of the education system could then provide the atmosphere to foster the strengths of each child.

This Teacher’s day, as we honor that important body of our people, who mould the minds of our future generations, let us give a thought to the how and why behind the moulding. Let us not condemn our children to mistaken notions of a vestigial system because we chose to turn a blind eye to its deep rooted ills.