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Debating Islam ( 20 Jul 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Musings on Mis-Education


By Yoginder Sikand, New Age Islam

20 July 2012

It isn’t just a few eccentric folks who are deeply disturbed about what is now widely-recognised as the major crisis of ‘modern education’. ‘I really hate school.  I wish I didn’t have to go there every day,’ said my irate niece, who recently turned eight, to me the other day. I knew exactly how she felt—I felt just the same way myself when I was her age and at school four decades ago. I wish I could have told the little girl that there was absolutely no need at all to continue with school and that she could drop out the very next day if she liked. 

After all, she wants to become a professional cook when she’s big and I know that twelve years of schooling and six years of university aren’t going to help her one bit for that role. Nor are they going to make her a better person. But I  bit my lip and kept shut because my mother was around and if I dared to  encourage her in her revolt I knew I’d be in for a bitter harangue.

It’s hardly surprising that my niece—like many, if not most, other children—hate school. We’ve all been through it ourselves and felt exactly the same way when we were kids. The amazing thing is that despite this and even as we admit that  we remember almost nothing of all that we were forced to memorize in school in  order to pass our exams (which is really what contemporary ‘mainstream’ Indian  school education is all about) we continue to compel our children to undergo  years of precisely the same torturous regimen. Frankly, I can hardly recall anything that I learnt in Biology or Physics, and if you aren’t a scientist I don’t think you do, too. I don’t remember (and certainly don’t want or need to) the name of the Emperor Asoka’s father or the Mughal ruler Akbar’s foster-mother and much else that we learnt in History. I hurriedly expelled from my mind all the rules of calculus and the complex algebraic theorems we were made to memorise the day I wrote my last Maths exam, and I suppose you did, too.

If you ask me, I think there was absolutely no need for me to have to suffer years of school, with all the fear, control and fierce competition that it entailed, only to have to promptly forget most of what I had to learn. What a tragic waste of all those childhood years! It pains me to think of all the fun and joy I could have had doing other things if I didn’t have to suffer virtual imprisonment at school all that while.

Honestly, little of what I learnt at school came of use in my later years. I didn’t choose to become a scientist, so virtually nothing of what I studied about Science proved useful or necessary in my life. I use a calculator for totting up my accounts, and so have never used anything (beyond basic addition, multiplication, subtraction and division) that I had to slog at all those years trying to fathom the mysteries of Maths. And so on for most of the many subjects I was compelled, completely against my will, to study at school in order  to pass on to the next grade and be considered a ‘success’.

Now, I don’t mean to say that nothing at all that I learnt at school proved useful to me in later life. The linguistic skills I acquired were definitely indispensible, as well as a basic understanding of some other subjects. But, surely, I didn’t really have to suffer twelve long years of school, almost every day of the year, just to learn all that! It wouldn’t have been difficult, I imagine, to have devised some other method whereby I could have learnt all of this in a much shorter time and in a definitely less stressful and more fun-filled and  friendly atmosphere. But, like most other parents, my parents had been programmed to believe that a child not going to regular school was simply and shockingly unthinkable, and they knew no better. My almost daily protests about hating school didn’t make any difference. They felt it was all for my good, even though they knew I hated every bit of it. You might not quite agree with what I say. ‘If kids don’t go to school,’ you might argue, ‘how will they become engineers or doctors or historians?’ My reply to that one is that most of what children are now compelled to learn at school can be put off till they reach the age when they can decide about their careers. So, for example, kids can be taught very basic Maths or History or whatever, and when they come to the stage when their careers become a concern, facilities 

Can be made available for them to study the subject of their choice related to the career they have in mind in greater detail. In that way, children would be spared the horror of having to memorize (and, soon after their exams, promptly forget) lessons and subjects that they simply can’t stand, and, of course, the ever-present fear of failure. This simple change would give children much more  time than they now have to study and do the things they like and want—such  as playing, travelling, exploring life on their own, interacting with and learning  more about their local communities and communing with Nature. But, of course the education mafia won’t allow all of this. Nor will most parents, driven by dreams of their children getting the ‘best’ education simply because that will drive them into the ‘best’ (that is to say, the most heftily-paid) jobs, look upon this suggestion with favour. And so little children, like my niece, will  continue to be compelled to slog it out, all against their will, day-in and day- out, at school, their poor little backs groaning under their increasingly-heavy  satchels, even as they continue to complain about how much they really hate  school.