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