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What makes formal education an aimless exercise?

We cannot meet the purpose of education when schooling becomes a mere ritual and its delivery on a sheer commercial term. Parents spend a staggering amount and their precious time on their children’s education, finally for no return. There is a remarkable fault-line between our educational system and parents’ expectations.  

Ram has been craving for education and in search of constantly. After a long search, he could find a guru. The guru lived in a forest near his Gurukul. Ram expressed his desire and appealed for the guru’s discipleship. The guru happily consented. 

As Ram settled in the Gurukul, theother children followed his ways to ultimate wisdom through education. Contrary to his expectation about education the guru made him do all household chores and works – sometimes to collect wood and honey from the forest. Sometimes cooking and so on. Many such works scared him as they were ordeals and trials. Going to the forest was a scary adventure for him. It continued for a long time. Though many works were not easy but discouraging, he did everything with utmost dedication and honesty. Still, he remained confused and was waiting for his real education to start. 

After a long time of the same routine, he once gathered the courage to ask the guru, when would he start the proper education. Guru replied, “you have completed the education to live this life happily and successfully, and this is all you need.” The boy stood in astonishment. Later the guru explained to him the inner meaning of his sayings.

You are here with a blessing, a beautiful life. You need the education to know how to live this life. You would need to take care of your day-to-day needs, find means to eat and protect yourself from adversities and dangers. You also may need to understand others and yourself. Here, you have learned all these and many more. The rest you will learn through your life.  

Now our kids are missing this. They are seemingly learning everything from their school or college, except wisdom and touch with the prudence of nature. When this is missing, everything is missing. As a result, they have lost a sense of logic in every action that influences their life.  

Now schools are reopening after 19 months of shutdown. The conventional system has already crumbled. Academicians have clarity on how to rebuild a judicious system that can encourage children to be back on track. Nineteen-month is a long enough period to wipe out what children learnt once. Even now most parents are not keen to send their children to school due to fear of the pandemic. Those who ordered reopening of school haven’t applied their brain on this fact, thereby no thought on a solution. Other than the reason for fear, some parents are also reluctant to send their children to school. They see formal education as not any solution for the challenges children face. Better schooling versus a better living. They matter to the latter. They have realised that formal education is not necessary in the modern world. Children need to be competent. That requires sufficient exposure to the real world outside the walls of classrooms. This system is growing up now. One cannot be astonished if alternative education and focus on skill development courses replace the conventional straight-jacket classroom studies of the rigid syllabus.

Another big challenge our children face is their parents’ imprudent sky-high ambitions. They spend unreasonably huge money on their children’s education. While many children never reach the position their parents dreamed of, some children miserably jump their track. Often, they find the courses they have completed prove to be invalid. They lose the money and precious time in that tribulation.

The post-Covid-19 world is new because none may be able to restore the earlier world order. As I mentioned in my recently published book Camouflaging Corona, there is a division in human history into Before Corona (BC) and After Disease (AD). The era has changed as BC and AD. The post-Covid-19 may be more challenging and uncertain. 

But I am afraid that our education system will see an inevitable overhaul. The chance is narrow. The rituals of reopening school in June, compulsion of children below five to join formal education, teachers’ welcoming them with a smile, and more frequent exams do not delight children. Yet, that was a routine, a convention before the pandemic. Nevertheless, everything collapsed suddenly. None questioned the closure of schools and colleges at the time board exams were nearing. Parents and children did not take the matter seriously. Initially, they celebrated the shutdown. When the second wave came, everyone was afraid. The break became longer. No one expected the long break to change the system. 

Whether the schooling is good or bad, we have adopted it voluntarily or forcefully. Like every illogical system, we have borrowed the education system from Europe that we have been following over decades has been bad enough to make us intellectually poor. Even after 75 years of independence, we face this setback. And we continue to blame foreign education for every problem we face. When India’s 1.5 million schools are reopening their gates, we ask ourselves whether we can see any change in the post-Covid-19 era. Children may return to school slowly, though with a drastic drop in attendance. Even if, on average, ten students drop out from one school, the total number could be a staggering 15 million. Online education alienated poor children in urban areas and most children in rural India. A recent estimate posited out as many as 30 million Indian children did not have access to online classes. Right to Education Forum policy brief, early this year, estimated a drop-out of 10 million girls from schools due to the pandemic. A survey in 2019 pointed out that only a quarter of Indian households have access to the internet. The post-pandemic time is a breakout period in education also. Going by the rule of nature, nothing can mend a broken piece in the same form that nature has created. 

We haven’t developed an alternate system to the packed-classroom system. This is where our first problem is. The second problem comes from our difficulty to take a deviated path on the mid-way of the conventional system. Children are confused about this with many questions. All of which are unanswerable. It is typical of modern human beings’ nature. We create a system that is easy to manipulate, but with a limited way for an exit.  

Children are not prepared to face any hiccup and natural interruption. In urban conglomerations, children do not know farming, the fundamental thing for the sustenance of life. It may not surprise anyone if they do not know whether a factory produces milk or it comes from cows and buffalo. They are untrained for meeting the primary things and many urgencies in life. Formal education does not touch these aspects, making children unable to meet emergencies in life. It is a compelling reason for us to rethink other options. We should not deprive our children of an education that can make their life easy. 

As schools have become business establishments, politicians and educationists hand in glove run most of the schools in India. The social assets of charitable trusts have become commercial assets of businessmen. Local satraps, as well as ethnic and religious institutions, have become owners of schools. That sets the government free from all responsibilities of setting up social infrastructure. Consequently, the owners of schools become rich.  

More than 92,000 elementary and secondary schools have one teacher each, a pre-Covid-19 Unified District Information System of Education (UDISE) statistics indicated. It is not imaginable what these schools might have been teaching. Worse imagination is the pandemic time of virtual classes. Children passing through such misfortune remain unfortunate throughout their life.  

Most parents spend a substantial part of their savings to give quality education to their kids. Institutions take away the parents’ hard-earned money for no gain of the children, barring narrow exceptions. Though no parent would like to keep a balance sheet of their investment in children’s education they must not refrain from assessing the result of their time and money spent on dreaming a future for their children. Money has no value, but children’s future has. Loss of money is not as regrettable as the loss of time caused by wrong education.  

Sajikumar Nair

Sajikumar

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