In the Name of Education, Are We Misleading Our Children?

Photo by Yogendra Singh on Unsplash

I recently designed a story-cum-quiz program for my students, to creatively engage them during this period of lock down and remote teaching. The program intertwines the formats of story-telling and treasure-hunt. The story is embedded with facts and riddles, urging students to follow the crumbs and search for answers. Correct answers to the questions, move the story ahead.

It was a first for me. Excited, I decided to narrate the program to a friend.

After I had finished, she said after a long pause, “What I don’t understand is, who wins?”
“Everyone” I replied. A little surprised by that question.
“But there should be only one winner.”
“Why?”
“Because, it adds incentive. That’s why.”

I took a deep breath.
“The incentive here is for the students to seek answers, and acquire new information. If every student takes up the challenge at an individual capacity, each one can determine for themselves how deep they want to go in terms of learning.”
“How can a quiz not have a winner?” she asked.
“But, there is! Everyone, who learns something new is a winner.” I said.

However, it got me thinking… (and it ended up as this blog).

Photo by Jess Bailey on Unsplash

This notion that the conventional education system has adopted- of one person getting the first rank and having only one winner, sadly makes everyone else, feel like a failure. This whole focus on, ‘No one remembers who came second,’ is defeatist in principle. It implies to the students, that they must win, must aspire to be numero uno, or not bother at all. If you pick up any college-drama based movie, chances are that the story revolves around the protagonist- who despite all odds, or perhaps because of them, wins in the end. We root for the underdog and like for him/ her to win. Winning, at the end, possibly at all costs, takes too much importance. Don’t you think?

Now, some may argue that our everyday life isn’t as exciting as the silver screen. I beg to differ. If only you could squeeze an average person’s life of 70 years (that’s over 25,500 hours) into a 2 hour movie, you’d be in for a shock. Most of us do not project our days against the larger backdrop of our lifetime. We let our day to day mundane existence fool us into believing that we are ‘ordinary’ and not ‘hero-material’.

When we begin to equate life with binary systems of zero or one, losing or winning; we reduce it to an instant, an hour, or an event. Life is the sum total of all moments and experiences. It is an ever-shifting algorithm. Every breath, every sensory experience, every stimulating conversation, every person you meet, every word you read, everything you notice around you, every mindless motion you engage in during the day is constantly shifting the karmic algorithm of your life.

The perception of conventional education, that largely believes in teaching students the ability to cram & score, is highly limiting and possibly detrimental in the long run. I can understand the reason for it, but I do not agree with the necessity of adopting the same system, all the time! Education encompasses more.

It’s time, parents, teachers & guardians realized, that education cannot be force-fed. Students who engage with books only for marks or to avoid punishment, wait eagerly for the day they will graduate and finally escape the drudgery of school.

When did schools and colleges become prisons? I am sure that was not the intention, when organized education started: To keep children within the confines of a room or campus; to force feed them information they may or may not use in their professional life; to keep them under control by hanging the sword of marks and performance reviews over their head.

And, sure enough there are students who wait for the last bell to ring, so that they can escape, for the day.

How many grown-ups do you know who voluntarily read books on a regular basis, just for fun? Most professionals don’t read often (not counting the newspaper). The last book they read was probably in college. You may have heard the familiar complaint, ‘Where is the time!’ There seems to be time aplenty for Netflix, a game of football, sleeping in, eating out, movie night. We make time for the things we enjoy and love to do. The sad truth is that many people don’t equate reading & learning with fun activities.

Does the education system scar them so?

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Some who continue to learn well into adulthood, consider learning as a career investment, something they need to do, to get better at their craft, which may in turn hopefully lead to a better pay check. And once again, learning becomes a means to an end.

What about joy? Whatever happened to the joy of learning?

The few who love to read, experiment & learn new crafts, are usually the ones who have had a healthy experience with learning, while growing up. It’s proven that in households where parents enjoy reading, children too acquire a love for the written word. You just have to catch ’em young.

Ever watched children play? They are naturally curious & learn so much without being taught in as many words.
I often tell my students, “Today’s marks, are tomorrow’s currency. Be careful.”

Today, if we encourage them to score and compete; tomorrow, they will take these very same lessons to the board room & strive to ‘win at all costs.’ And yet we often find ourselves questioning, why a certain colleague or professional is so mean, greedy, power crazy, corrupt, selfish or dissatisfied? Duh!

Today, we cast the future.

Educators have that opportunity, however briefly, to influence young minds and shape them into happy, confident, righteous youth of tomorrow- who shall seek knowledge & enjoy the pursuit of education for its own sake.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

My friend broke into my thoughts, “I still think, someone should be the winner. It encourages others.”

I wanted to scream, ‘It also discourages as many’, but decided in favour of silence. I am aware that, sometimes people find it difficult to accept that which they do not understand.

I sincerely hope though that we shall soon be able to steer towards an education system, where students embrace education, not for the advantage it gives them during exams or board room negotiations, but because they genuinely enjoy learning.

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