Is a degree holder really ‘educated’?

One keeps hearing about how such and such ‘educated’ person holds old-fashioned ideas and acts despicably. This accusation is mostly hurled at the Gen X and some belonging to Gen Y too, especially when it comes to dealing with gender issues, be it in condemning the way women dress or behave or expecting women to be subservient to men or even worse.

So when the word education is taken to mean a degree, it stands to reason that one can’t expect all the ‘educated’ to be liberal, given the system of education we have. Our curriculum is theory based and many states have Boards that give little importance to application of the theories, with the result that when a student comes out of school, he or she is definitely able to solve problems of physics, chemistry and math or remember sundry laws of economics and dates in history maybe, but nothing more than that. Besides, it is almost completely rote-based. I am generalizing here, but this is the story by and large. So much so that I have heard that students keep solving exam papers of even math and science subjects from the earlier years ad nauseam and become so proficient that they can solve the problems when they take the Board exams ‘with their eyes shut’, as one mother proudly put it! Would this kind of ‘education’ ever make for a thinking mind?

And since they don’t learn to think through a problem scientifically or logically, or intelligently question existing theories, they don’t apply these in real life situations. Of course, this does not apply to all students and there are brilliant minds that go far in life. But by and large the trend continues in college too barring premier institutions – whether technical or otherwise. It is only in these institutions that students are taught to think through a problem scientifically. One of my friends who studied in IIT told me how her years there has helped her analyse and solve problems logically and I am sure many agree with her.

Now what do we exactly mean by ‘education?’ In the Indian context it means holding a degree or a post graduate degree or a doctorate, when they are considered ‘highly educated’. I think this definition of education is completely misleading as there are any number of people who have doctorates and yet  hold antediluvian views. But there are also an equal number of or even more people who are liberal in their outlook and behavior despite lacking even basic school education. So is broad-mindedness really related to education aka a degree or two?

So much for the Gen X. What about Gen Y and the ‘ new’  system of education that is being paraded so proudly by our hon’ble HRD Minister Kapil Sibal? Does it make them capable of thinking scientifically and logically? Sadly no.

I read a news item in the HT about the abilities of 15-year-old students at reading, mathematics problem solving and scientific literacy conducted as part of Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Secretariat. Students from 73 countries took part in this global test and the results were most astounding.

China, which is India’s competition and nemesis in all spheres continued to haunt it here too. Shanghai, China topped the list in all the subjects. And no, that’s not the astounding part. Indian students were ranked second from the bottom up, with only to Kyrgyzstan below it! The Indian students were selected from Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh. This last came as a further surprise because TN is supposed to be at the top in school results, whether the state Board exams or in CBSE exams. And so the students selected would certainly be top grade ones, right?

But what do the results show? That these students could read only as well as a third grader of South Korea in math problem solving and no better than a second grader from Shanghai when it came to English reading skills.

Now these tests  involve comprehension and application of maths and science, which are used to actual problem solving in real life situations, which obviously our students were not capable of tackling. But what comes as the biggest surprise is the English reading ability. Is our stranglehold over the BPO industry about to be breached? The one industry in which we have so far had a clear edge over China now looks like slipping away. And not just China, but a whole lot of other countries have overtaken us in English reading and other skills that were tested. Bt then I read in the link provided above that even that involved understanding what was being read! That says a lot for our school education, right?

I still have my own doubts: why were students from only two states selected and what were the criteria for the selection? The metros, even Ajmer could have been selected for the purpose, for they would have surely come out on top. Or was the selection to be made from among the lowest ranked states? Which again doesn’t make sense, since Tamil Nadu ranks among the best, at least as far as marks and results in the Board exams go and that is a telling fact.

Ok, now coming back to the definition of education, I can safely say that we don’t seem to have the slightest idea about its meaning. Two words thrown up by the thesaurus defining education are edification and culture. Now it is for you to decide whether a college degree provides these two qualities to its holders.

It is these two qualities among others that make a person what he or she is in real life and in interpersonal relationships. So please don’t use the word educated indiscriminately while talking about those who hold antiquated ideas and beliefs. It is an insult to the really educated ones with or without a degree.

Courtesy: Bill Watterson

90 comments

  1. For most people out there, employability is a serious issue. If I apply for a job with a XYZ co., my academic qualification is the first thing they would look for. The standard procedure has been to put a considerable amount of stress on degrees and associated work experience. As for my part, I sincerely believe that a heavily ornamented degree clouds a person’s reason, makes him irrational and stupid.
    Unless the industry folks include qualitative factors in their selection criteria, (and since that is not going to happen anytime soon) the entire discussion is futile.

    Meanwhile…
    This article could provide a lot of enthusiasm to those students who have been harbouring similar feelings for their school books and homework.

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    1. This post does not debate whether a degree is essential. Obviously it is for the reasons you have so rightly mentioned. But the question is whether a degree signifies education as defined by the dictionary. And you like many thinking people agree that a fancy degree sometimes only clouds the reason 🙂 As for the children getting encouraged to ditch their studies after reading this post, I look at it differently. Maybe they would try and get really educated 😀

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  2. Three cheers to Kyrgyzstan! Education is in a state of decay across the length and the breadth of this country. (Wonder How often I use the word ‘decay’these days!) I doubt whether students chosen from Ajmer would have made any difference to the outcome. I have lived in Jaipur for five years and been to Ajmer many times. All that everyone is interested in these days is beating the competitions, not getting education.

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    1. Didn’t you see the spate of comments refuting the results of the test? We are a nation of learners but if we use the learning in life situations is what matters. I am afraid we fail miserably on that count.

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  3. I have myself seen many who did not do even basic schooling and were smart and progressive minded. Life skills are different set of learning which is given a miss in our educational system.

    The first thing I think that should change, even if the syllabus and education system remains the same, is the way teachers are appointed and how they are paid. Most teachers are ill equipped to impart life skills and logical thinking and problem solving in students and the fact that they are paid peanuts, makes it difficult to bring the best from them.

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    1. That was a wonderful observation about a large section the present day teachers. Ill-equipped and badly paid describes them perfectly. And the parents should take some responsibility too as Rachna has pointed out. Real education is mostly taught in the classroom of life which teaches the most valuable lessons to a person.

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  4. Pratibha · · Reply

    Talking of statistics that you quoted.

    Statistics is like an animal, one can easily tame it and get any circus act done by it. It depends on what was the base group, what were the parameters and so on……

    If I remember correctly, IIT JEE is the toughest Exam all over the world. And our students do qualify it. Honestly speaking, our population is so vast, that one can decide the outcome and then choose the base group to prove his point.

    Of course, I agree University degrees are no measurement for education.

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  5. i have seen some extremely nice and intelligent people who hardly have any education! ours is just history and theory education!

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    1. You actually don’t need a degree to be a good human being; only an intelligent and maybe a very wealthy one 🙂

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  6. Education kills by degress !

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    1. Well said, Gyanban! 😀

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  7. Deepa Bhalerao · · Reply

    Well articulated point of view. The system emphasizes on grades and the competitive exams are more for elimination than selection. Values, ethics, etc.are not taught directly or indirectly and every time a change in the system is introduced it has some underlying motive other than the direct benefit to the students.

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    1. I never thought about that angle — that there is an underlying motive behind every change in the system! As in medicine, technology is taking over education too. Just look at the number of companies marketing ‘smart classes’. We are taking education further away from the underprivileged this way, not to speak of depriving the children of even the little interaction with live teachers which might put some ethics and other values in them.

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  8. Our Education system is such that it is able to make a student “academically” brilliant but they fail when it comes to application of mind in their life and day to day problems. Forget about problems, they miserably fail to use common sense in ‘Common’ place otherwise why is that these so called well ‘educated ‘ keep honking dead at night to some one open the gate of their house , why can’t they wait at the traffic signal till the light turns green , why don’t they give way to emergency vehicles like ambulance or fire tenders or when they talk loudly on their blackberry in hospitals, temples or such places where silence is required!

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    1. They are merely using their ‘education’ to take their rights without bothering about responsibilities. 🙂 Itotally agree about common sense 😀 You are angry SRA, aren’t you? Welcome to the club!

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  9. What about the Kindergarden ( KG) schooling… i remember LKG, UKG, first standard.. today , i hear pre-school, Prep school, LKG, UKG…..
    i did my KG in corpus christie.. run by Arundhati Roy”s mother, we were only asked to play and enjoy ourselves, learn numbers and colours and the alphabet while playing, and hey, i turned out OK.
    the other time that i enjoyed schooling was my stint at Bharatiya Vidya bhavan, where there were a lot of extra curricular activities along with studies, i learnt more during my stints at debating etc!!!
    My issue also was , i changed 6 schools in the 12 years that i did till my college, maybe the constant change, between CBSE, ICSE, and State board teaches you a bit more. what i definitely learnt was to quickly make friends and improve my social skills to survive.. this has helped me in my work life also!! sales zindabad..
    What i guess i am trying to say is that while education in Physics, maths , chemistry etc is important to structure the person’s information gathering ability and understanding, what is more important is the learning that we learn by the way of ‘adjusting in this society’, Problem solving, real life style…

    AAH, i am just rambling..

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    1. That was not rambling but a very good comment that made so many points. Constant shifting of places and schools in itself is really a big educator in life. It teaches kids to cope and compete and adjust not to speak of make friends all over the place 🙂 And as long as the subjects taught in school are understood and used to analyse situations and find solutions, they are all educative too. And you know which education I am referring to here, don’t you?

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  10. They are closely associated terms,yet contradictory.I totally agree..Husband did schooling in dubai and was surprised to find that he had his std 4th hindi lessons in B.Com too..And in Kerala a degree would mean MBBS or Engg.So we cant have a walk without meeting an engg and sadly none of them would even remember what they studied or even the final year project for that matter…So they all hold a degree just for namesake..

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    1. How right! But if they are good human beings that should be enough, I guess, at least in the business of life. As for a job, well, they have to have that degree 🙂

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  11. Zephyr, Must compliment you on the style and substance of this article. Next to religion, education is a topic that arouses a lot of passion and fervor. Not just in India. But around the world. I’ve read so many studies and funnily enough – all parents anywhere in the world are dissatisfied with the education system in their country for one reason or another. And usually the complaints are valid.

    Amidst all this, we must not forget our teachers, who do a thankless job day in and day out, without major financial gain or recognition to speak of. If we are here, having a vibrant and intelligent discussion about this topic – they are the reason. Yes, there are the bad apples in the teaching community too, but that’s just par for the course. We should silently thank our teachers if not reach out occasionally to thank them in person.

    As for a definition of “education” I haven’t yet seen one better than what Socrates put forth around 450BC – “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel”. It is to provide the fillip to reason things out for oneself. It is not to provide answers. God knows that there are no easy answers to be had 🙂 cheers.

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    1. You are right about education arousing passions. It is too close to everyone’s heart, I guess. The point I had tried to make was simply that education and degree need not necessarily go together. But I am glad there has been lively interaction here thanks to your wonderful comments. 🙂

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  12. A very interesting subject again… I wanted to be a teacher or professor at some point in time in my life which changed to an educationalist later. It’s a different story that I wanted to become so many other things as well. 🙂

    The answer to your question is, “No. Not all degree holders are educated nor are all drop-outs uneducated!”. But, the very fact that we hear such comments so often on educated people itself needs to be taken as an indirect criticism on our education system. But, many times, I wonder if a society of this complex structure can ever have anything better than what we have now.

    One’s intelligence depends on so many other things such as the parents, family, friends, teachers, school/college, background, place, age, etc. etc. As some one had rightly pointed out in one of the comments, maybe it’s not just an Indian problem. Maybe, it’s such a critical problem only here.

    I think, it’s just a matter of time before we realize the reality. The more uneducated degree holders we meet the more we lose respect on degrees. So, the end result would be, all of us would start judging people not just based on their degree – if not now sometime in future!

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    1. You know what I like best about your comments? They are positive and you are an optimist. 🙂 So what would you have done differently had you become a teacher? would you also, like countless others become disenchanted and fallen in line with the system? the problem is certainly not peculiar to India, but we have the concept of reining in curiosity and a questing mind in favour of obedience and conformity. This is enough to kill any initiative to solve problems and take decisions. And I do hope too that one day we will begin judging people not just based on their degrees. Amen 🙂

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  13. Journomuse · · Reply

    I have a fundamental problem with the article that you are talking about. I read it too…While I agree with the points you raise, I found the TOI article lacking any degrees of comparison so as to afford me an idea of where the Chinese qualitiatively scored over our lads. What were the yardsticks on which they were assessed. The average Chinese person’s comprehension of English is not what is that of a IB-school student there..China incidentally has the highest rate of IB schools currently. Was the quality of students comparable?

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    1. Like many people have pointed out in the comments section, the selection criteria for participation is not clear and one wonders how they decided to send students of these two states when we have better schools in other cities and states. You should know that the journalists don’t bother to give the complete story or clarify matters in the reports or much about the body that conducts these tests. But yes, the question remains whether the students were selected keeping their comparability in mind.

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  14. Our Education system does not equip children with life skills and has not kept in sync with industry standards. Our system needs a quantum shift – not superficial changes like doing away with the exams. The syllabus needs an overhaul and we don’t have enough good teachers.

    And the attitude most of the city bred kids display is nauseating. Sadly it’s now more attitude rather than substance.

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    1. Spoken like a true teacher 🙂 There are many schools that have adopted the worksheet system of making children solve problems by reasoning them out. But most of these are handed out to children as homework and unless the parents have any clue of the thing, it is useless. It is true that many children today think that they are better than their parents because they have access to so many technologies and props to help them in their schoolwork. As for the abolition of exams one wonders if it is going to serve any purpose in the long run except maybe make the children more complacent.

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  15. That was a good read! Very rarely we are taught to analyse from childhood. As a result majority of people are unfit for employment in an industry, barring some institutes of repute! So that answers for the educated tag as you have brought out so well! Unless we get over our craze to be a doctor or engineer and the social milieu changes things will continue to be the same!

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    1. The reason why our children don’t ask questions is because we rarely encourage dissent and questioning. Accepting is the norm and obedience is expected. This is detrimental to a questing mind which therefore loses its capacity to analyse and arrive at logical solutions. At least now we have a vast array of subject choices which our children can choose from.

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      1. Amen to that!

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  16. Totally agree with you, I have realised one thing coming abroad, education back home did not mean much, the degree or whatever i had done there, you wont beleive but none of the companies i have given interviews etc at Saw them.

    As you said we have this theory based knowledge , one can mug up the whole book and write word for word and get good marks.. I dont think college education in india provides everything.

    A few months back I was part of the team who was to interview some people , as we had to open a office in india, and beleive me people came with such hi fi degrees , I have not even heard the names of many of them , and by the end of the day I presonally said NO to each one .. they were quick to reply what the BOOK definition was but when given practical problems to solve the degrees went haywire …

    In the end we have had to send a team from here to India to set up …

    I do think our education system needs to be evaluated again.

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    1. That really confirms what you have written in the reply to Richa. It must have been really something to have to reject the candidates because they were not able to solve problems practically. Yes, we are good at reciting theories by rote but don’t have the slightest idea about using them practically.

      At the end of it all, it all boils down to the way education is viewed, by us and them.

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  17. ooh – the same comment got in here twice. Pls delete one 🙂

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  18. I read about that PISA study too and my first reaction was- how can you stereotype the whole nation based on a bunch of 10-15 kids. And that too a nation with over a billion people. So, really I wouldn’t worry too much about it.
    I agree that our education system does concentrate on rote learning vs real application, but it makes me wonder why our students excel abroad and in US in Science and Mathematics when their western country counterparts are grappling with calculators which they use for things that a third grade kid in India could mentally solve in a few seconds. We do have fewer facilities available and (though I am no authority) for the kind of practical learning expected, I do not see if that big a budget is really available. Honestly, I now appreciate even rote learning in the history we had back then. We cribbed big time back then, but in hindsight, I feel so much more enlightened about India and the world when I associate present day culture, and events.
    Perhaps some change is required in our system in a few areas, such as introduction of subjects such as ethics, but I would not condemn the Indian education system for anything.

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    1. The reason why we indians do good abroad is I think.. because we work harder and are used to the idea. and as you said here most are dependent on calculators .. whereas we were made ot learn all that by heart.

      But still logically and practically we are far behind.. here kids are picked up from young age to see what they are good at ..

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      1. I agree with you on the fact that kids there are encouraged to follow on what they like to do and are good at rather than turning everyone into an engineer or doctor like here. But one must remember that employment indeed is the first thing that is the objective of education here. As an example, in a consulting company where I worked there, there were people from such diverse backgrounds- history majors to phds in something totally random. One cannot escape the stereotyping associated with certain degrees here and the fact that engineers and doctors and now MBAs are favored degrees of employment. Having said that, how do we change the education system if society and employability goads young people into a few revered fields whether or not they want to get into them. And again, rather than blaming the system, I would blame lack of infrastructure. In the govt institute I studied (yes engineering) in, there was a lack of teachers, chemicals in the lab, books in the library and computers in the computer lab. It was difficult to understand concepts and it is little wonder that half of us are now either in the IT sector or MBAs where mostly people have done well after training from those companies. So much for govt. institutes. Colleges have now become recruitment agencies more than a place to learn.

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        1. Indeed what you say is true, education system has to be changed. The problem is a lot of things need changing in our great nation. and it will take a lot of time .. to do all those changes.
          hence the rush to go abroad and all that ..

          for example the coaching classes are flourishing , the same techers teach in a coaching class if they can work so hard there why cant they do the same in the college.

          anyway thanks for replying back Take care

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    2. I agree with Bikram in this respect. those who go to work do well because they have to work in a competitive environment while giving their best So they learn the ways prevalent there. As for students doing well abroad, they get the chance to go only because they fufill the requirements to go abroad, but the reason they do well is because their intelligence gets the right platform to shine. They have the brains but they can only flower in a conducive environment given the right stimulus. It is this stimulus that is lacking here except in premier institutions and of course good schools today. As for the PISA study, it is the selection of candidates that has to be blamed not the intelligence, I agree.

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    3. Hi Richa, yep. A small sample, that too arbitrarily chosen, cannot be the basis for identifying problems across the Indian student population of over 200million. Having said that, PISA has worked well for W. European countries in the past, and we must participate in the true spirit of the exercise – if we are to get anything out of it.

      Our education system tends to be criticized for not fostering creativity. I personally believe that there is some truth to this criticism. We also have a strength which the western systems possibly lack – which is that our system tends to build a strong sense of work ethic – being disciplined, getting things done on time, etc. While we fix problems, we must take care not to remove what’s working well. This is not an easy problem to solve, by any stretch of imagination. But I don’t see us assigning the best minds to look into this very important issue yet.

      When we say that “our students excel abroad” – there is a selection bias in that statement. By definition, those students who go abroad tend to possess traits such as academic discipline, work ethic, etc and thus it is not surprising that they excel. The 1 or 2 percent of students who go abroad do not represent India’s vast student population. What really matters is our approach to those students who need that helping hand to excel is more important. cheerio.

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  19. A degree is nothing..I’m living proof of that..An electrical engineer who cant change a bulb!

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    1. Haven’t you heard about how engineers know everything about nothing? So you are doing just fine 🙂 Besides you must appreciate the fact that you are solving bigger problems in life. anyone can change a bulb, right? 😀

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  20. Couldn’t you wait until I got graduated? LOL. Now you are making me think twice putting my final effort.

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    1. Oh, I am so sorry Farida! I really should have waited, shouldn’t I? 😀 But don’t let my post stop you from doing your best and getting another feather stuck on your cap 🙂

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  21. I got excited as soon as i saw your post title 🙂
    i have got an arrear which still blocks me from obtaining a DEGREE(so called) which is just a paper, nothing else !
    it is not all the graduates are talented…
    this is a stupid system that human ever made on educational system !
    My anger vented-Deepak

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    1. Glad you got a chance to vent your anger Deepak. It is tough when a piece of paper can decide your life, your future and even your life partner 😀

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  22. Well educated and well cultured are two different things. I know of people who hold many degrees and are yet quite ill behaved and lack in the basic of human values. And then there are those who are broad minded but only have the basic of eduction. So what brings this about? Educational institutions in our country definitely do not have the means for holistic development of kids.

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    1. But that is the case with other countries too. Only they are better at teaching kids to solve problems scientifically and which is what the study found lacking in our students. Empathy is one thing that can broaden our minds and make us more tolerant of others’ weaknesses as also honesty to accept that we are not perfect either.

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      1. Empathy yes. I have just enrolled my son in a playgroup, he is still not big enough to go pre-school but from what I have seen so far in the playgroup – it is so much different from the schools back in India. My son and I are going through the settling in period right now – where I am still allowed to be with him during the entire session with only breaks of a couple of minutes during which I stand outside the room. He cries a lot as most kids do when separated for the first time from their parents. however the playgroup leader and the staff encourage me and empathise with me saying we know how hard this must be for you as well. I dont think any teacher does this in our country. We were even made to list down the things that he loves the most, how would he liked to comforted and so on. I think these small things are very important to shape the child.

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        1. I have heard about this from my daughter-in-law too. She had given them a list of common words that the child used to. Yes, they pay a lot of attention to children as children and parents as people with emotions too. I myself have seen her in her playgroups and playschools and she is completely left free to do what she likes to do. I believe that such small children should not be forced to conform to rules and regulations. But how far these will go to shape the child’s personality and perspective depends also on its home and school environments.

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  23. I agree that holding a degree is no guarantee of being educated.

    I think one reason for this may be that a degree is seen mainly as a pre-requisite for employment. Who cares what you learn as long as you can get a job? 🙂

    We see that the most popular courses are those which can guarantee higher-paying jobs. Few students choose courses according to their inclination or liking. That may be why so many students show little interest in actually learning something!

    I also agree with your other observation that those having little formal education may be quite educated. Particularly in the villages, where getting a degree is not so easy. One quite often comes across quite intelligent, broad-minded people who are not very educated in the wordly sense.

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    1. Agree with Manju . Nowadays end product is more important then the process of doing it .

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      1. It is disturbing to know that there are many school boards and universities in the country that still grade a student on the basis of his or her ability to remember things learned by rote.

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    2. Right. Who cares as long as you get a good job? Kids certainly are not interested in learning about things that don’t interest them and so end up being apathetic. The same apathy then carries into other areas of life as well, I think. Even I have observed many rural folk being open minded about a lot of things which are profound and not just about the way one dresses or acts.

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  24. Education can be a window to let in light and air in the mind or a hole through which you can prop out a ladder to climb up at whatever cost.
    As Chesterton said : “Without a gentle contempt for education no man’s education is complete.”:

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    1. How true the quote is! We are all contemptuous of the system but are unable to do much. Even if some part of the system is changing, the majority is still stuck in the old mould.

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  25. AlkaGurha · · Reply

    I was aghast by this PISA study….How relevant are these studies anyway.

    You are right, degrees are not synonymous with intellect or knowledge. Yet we have have couples wanting IITians as sperm donors.

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    1. The study is relevant but the selection of students was obviously not. The couples looking for sperms of IITians must be looiking for ‘brilliant’ minds who would make big bucks and a success of their lives 😀

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    2. Hi Alka, China and India are new to PISA. Until both countries send truly representative samples to the exams, I agree that the results won’t be useful. China is using this as a propaganda tool to score points over the West, and gaming the results by sending only their best. India seems to doing its best in the opposite direction.

      On the other hand, PISA results are routinely used by Western European countries to allocate funding for public school systems, and to identify improvement areas. Finland (and Singapore) have been routinely identified as model school systems for others to follow.

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  26. Education in India means having a degree or degrees and the quality of education is defined from the institution you get your degree(s) from. Whether the educated graduate can apply what he/she has learnt is only incidental. As for the educational, sorry degree-awarding, institutions, what matters for them is the pass percentage and the number of degree holders they churn out every year. I both cases there is no scope for quality, it is quantity that matters.

    I think it is quite telling that the in its efforts to eradicate illiteracy in India, the Government called it the National Literacy Mission. I wonder what the effect would have been if it had been called the National Education Mission instead !

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    1. That is an interesting thought — and it would have become a nice acronym too — NEM! But only so long as they taught differently and not just the way things are taught in regular schools. And yes, colleges are places turning out graduates for the job market.

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  27. Lazy Pineapple · · Reply

    I totally agree..being educated is definitely used in the context of a person who holds many degrees and definitely not to a person who has culture, values and knows the ways of the world and as you said a broad viewpoint.

    BTW i have stumbled on back to blogging..hope to see you at my address soon 🙂

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    1. Thanks LP for commenting on my original theme! I made a peg of the study to illustrate the main focus of the story but it has become more of a commentary on the present education system 😀 And yes, I will surely visit your site and renew my subcription since the old one goes to another mailbox which I don’t use.

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  28. Not a great Fan of our Education System.After 60 years we still are stuck to a system of study by rote.Teachers quality is absymally low ,therefore the problem.

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    1. Things are changing, but what you say is true of most schools and colleges in the country, because the new system requires trained teachers and committed parents to make it work. We find it easier to send our children to tuition classes to do their homework!

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  29. I happen to know a little more about the PISA process since I had to understand it as part of my previous job, which was leading the Education vertical for a large global corporation. I’d suggest not reading too much into the extreme ends of the results spectrum. China did brilliantly because they hand pick students from Shanghai and pre-test them to make sure they come out on top. Their results do not reflect the average Chinese student. India is the opposite – no thought process applied to selection of results. Hence one could argue that India’s results are more useful than the CHinese because they at least tell a part of the truth. If we sent in our top 100 students, I have no doubt that they will match or better Chinese students.

    On the other point, education – in its modern context – is nothing more than a mechanism to match resources against jobs. It’s no more or less useful than that. It doesnt tell you anything about a person’s character or their life perspective. I’ve noticed that levels of graduation (masters, PhD) or the “brand” of the college/institution does not necessarily correlate with honesty or virtue. Some of the best known corporate criminals came from Harvards and IITs. Sad as it sounds, education has become no more than a marker (of some ability or other) in an ultra competitive society. Say you’re looking for a good honest person, you’re as likely to find her at St Stephen or in the local slum. I can write books on this but mercifully for y’all I won’t. cheers.

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    1. Thank you for this comment…while I dont say that our education system is the best in the world and all that, I am sure we are not that bad…Though comparing students of different countries with different ways of teaching and different attitudes in learning is something I am wondering is right at all 🙂

      I dont think we are bad, yes we do pay a lot of attention to learn by rote, but then we sure have great students who use their brains na..my dad’s a professor and he says in a class of 100, there are at least 50 students who really are interested in ‘learning’ and not just roting..thats a great thing na

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      1. Hi R’s Mom, It’s hard to say what’s good and bad when it comes to education. If you belong to the school (pun intended 🙂 ) that says the purpose of school + college is prepare the student for a job/career, the Indian system does well. If you’d rather have these institutions prepare children and young adults for this thing we call life, no one in the world does that well. Western systems tend to emphasize creative problem solving and team work, which we are just starting to do in India. I think your dad’s profession is an amazingly cool and critical one, and I’m thrilled to hear that he believes our system is working fine. One way to gauge a society’s values is to observe how well they treat their own teachers. On that front, we led the world 3,000 years back. And now we’re abysmally negligent when it comes to respecting or nurturing learning environments and teachers. like I said, I can write books. I might have just completed chapter 1 already!

        There is no perfect place or system any where. If it existed, we’d have found it by now 🙂 more later.

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        1. We don’t treat our teachers well at all. In any average school the parent-teacher meetings are one jamboree of accusations against the teachers who have to defend themselves tooth and nail! And What ho! don’t you dare speak like an antiquated specimen living in the past 😀

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          1. I agree Zephyr, at grassroots levels, our teachers are really not treated well…until we change that, its difficult to bring about a total revolution…surprisingly though, I hear that college profs are paid well…I mean unless the foundation is right, will the building stand well?

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          2. It is not just about being paid well. it is about being given respect as a teacher. Today even school teachers earn as much as 30-40000 in addition to tuition but they are still treated as paid servants by parents.

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    2. apologies for the terrible typos and grammatical mistakes in my above comment. that’s what speed typing combined with lack of adequate quantities of caffeine will do to you 🙂

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    3. You are right. China must have indeed hand-picked the students while we might have resorted to random selection or marks-based system of selection both of which can be bad for the results. I even suspected that it was based on backwardness but TN and backward? No way! So your theory stands. And I agree that honesty or other virtues don’t get awarded from prestigious institutions which meet the demands of the job market as well as the marriage market, but that’s another post 🙂 And do let me know when you are writing the book because from reading your other works at least partially 🙂 I can vouch for its readability 🙂

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  30. Be it be any subject if you do not know how to apply what you have learned it is not education it is more of a “Course completed”…

    The education system in India needs a paradigm shift in this front

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    1. There is a shift for the better but it is not enough to change mindsets yet. Besides a large section of the educuation system is still following age old methods of learning by rote.

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  31. I agree! ‘Education’ is a much maligned and misunderstood word!

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    1. So why do we still use it synonymously with a degree? 😀

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      1. Cliched stereotypical phrase lol!!
        A Fatwa be issued immediately to stop the usage of the word and all those ignoring the fatwa will be transported to the Education ministry forthwith!

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        1. Now that sounds like a deadly fatwa enough to deter anyone using the term!

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  32. I read about that in TOI too, and I have my doubts about the selection process of students that were sent for this. I completely don’t believe that education has declined so much. I have two sons studying in schools, and there are a lot of good things that I see in the new way of teaching. Lesser emphasis on rote, more on application and co-curricular activities. They solve worksheets and do projects. The only grouse I have is in the dumbing down of syllabus. It was tougher in my days, and I see my son not being challenged enough by the current Maths syllabus. There is also a problem with no real Grammar book being taught in both Hindi and English. That definitely leads to the decline in written English, but his widespread reading helps him know better vocabulary. So, I completely disagree with this evaluation they conducted. Definitely, the emphasis needs to go more and more towards application than rote. But, there are many things to be proud of in our older education system as well. Else, Indians would not be sought after in so many areas globally if we were just dumb muggers. My 10th Standard ICSE Maths textbook (Sinhal) was the one I used to brush up certain concepts when studying for my MBA entrance!

    About the educated part having less to do with degree, I do agree with your view :). It is not necessary that all those holding fancy degrees are cultured or knowledgeable even in their own areas. There is a gap there. But from this larger perspective, can we say the same for everyone globally? I don’t think that varies so much in India as in the rest of the world.

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    1. I did mention that had the sample of students been taken from the metros or at least carefully chosen, the results would be different for sure. But again, this is about the average school child and not children studying in good schools using the latest and creative ways of teaching. I do agree that things are changing, but as far as state Boards go, there is no change. ICSE has always been innovative, so that explains your personality 🙂 Do read What ho’s comment about the organization conducting the study.

      And hey, I never targeted Indians, only took off from the Indian perspective of what education means. In the US, they go to ‘college’ for ‘higher studies’ and don’t use the blanket term of ‘education’ for any course or degree. That’s my grouse. My grandmom never went to school but had really forward looking ideas. She passed away in the 60s, which says a lot about it, right?

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      1. So my intuition about the sample being chosen in a certain way is right. The question remains — what do we expect education to provide? A logical, analytical mind, career-specific skills or imparting values? If education is about knowledge in terms of your sphere of work then dumbing down of syllabus to reduce pressure on kids is not working and ends up not stimulating or challenging them. If we are looking at education to give an analytical mind, then definitely, the new mode of teaching is working towards that end (though there is a long way to go). If we are looking at education with imparting real-world skills that are job oriented and morals and values, then there is some failure here. For the second part, we all have to take a stick if we are unable to bring up honest, hardworking kids who don’t know the difference between moral and immoral. A traditional mindset does not necessarily go away with education. There are a lot of factors to mould one’s personality, and education is one among many. In the same vein, a liberal mindset has much to do with other factors including education :).

        By saying that some of the best known corporate criminals come from IITs or Harvard, I hope What’s Ho is having statistics to prove that vis-a-vis lesser known institutes. Also, most of the CEOs and top performers are coming from these places too. Just because a few high-profile defaulters come from here, we cannot run down these prestigious institutions. I have done MBA from NMIMS and though our methodology was really good, it stands nowhere close to the IIMs, and the same applies to IITs. My husband is an IITian. I hope people understand what they are saying and the reasons before making lofty statements.

        Sorry for the long comment :). Hope you understand the points I am trying to make.

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        1. When you say a liberal mind requires education also, I tend to differ. Because totally unlettered people (and here I am not even saying uneducated) can have values and virtues while the converse is also true which is the point What ho is trying to make and not run down any institution. The final point is that the institution one goes to can get the person a good value in the job market, but need not necessarily in the business of life. There are exceptions to this statement too, of course 🙂

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          1. No, I did not mean that a liberal mind requires education. I meant that we expect an educated person to have a liberal outlook, so is education expected to broaden the mindset? We can debate till the cows come home, but we are saying the same thing :).

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          2. LOL We are indeed saying the same thing but probably not able to make the other person that we are 😀 One thing I appreciated in your comment (and you, my dear Rachna) is that we have to take responsibility for the way we are bringing up our kids.

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        2. Hi Rachna, you make valid points. What I said was the following –
          1. There is little or no correlation between the quality or brand of institution and things like honesty and other virtues.
          2. Some of the best known fraudsters have indeed come from top colleges like IIT. The most recent example is Rajat Gupta of the ex-McKinsey and insider trading fame.

          In no way am I running down any institution’s name or fame when I say #2 above. These institutions cannot be held responsible if a few alumni go rogue. Neither am I implying that all alumni of top colleges are fraudsters.

          I’m not advocating that colleges should start preaching morals. One man’s principle is another man’s anathema. That’s a slippery slope. The point remains that colleges – good or bad – at the end of the day serve the more pedestrian and utilitarian purpose of churning out resources for the job market and nothing more. There is very little to support the extension of educated = liberal or humane or compassionate or virtuous.

          Having said all this – I wonder how many of us would opt to send our kids to a school or college which emphasizes virtue over employability?

          FYI – There is an attempt being made at University of Pennsylvania to design a system which measures and fosters “virtue” among school children. Will post the link on here if I can get around to finding it. It’s a pretty interesting initiative and I am sure this audience will like reading about it.

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          1. Well, you have already explained the points I had reservation about. Besides, I think it is school education and the initial growing years that are most important for moulding a child’s character and imparting the right values. We can’t put the blame on the education system only and take away the role of parents, elders, society and experiences from it.

            Thus, it is pointless to blame colleges.College education is meant to steer you towards a job and give you the required skills to hold one. Apart from knowledge, one would want vocational skills to be imparted too. Why grudge them when they are doing what they are meant to do? It is another thing that many colleges are offering shoddy knowledge or inadequate skills.

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  33. So true….the degree holders are not always educated in true sense. There remains a large gap to be fulfilled…..

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    1. The gap is in our minds thankfully and if we begin to understand that the two are not synonymous, half the battle is won.

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