Dad, please let me play the piano...
"Son, I never had the opportunities you have today. I want you to work on your Maths. Don't say you can't do it. That is not acceptable. I dream of you becoming a Mathematician some day," replied the crestfallen father.
"I would rather play the piano," said the boy. "I enjoy that."
"No, I have spoken to your Maths teacher and he has promised to make sure you become an expert in Maths. Don't worry, you just need to practice, practice and practice. Practice makes perfect," replied the father.
"I don't like Maths. I would rather play the piano. I will practice, practice and practice. I will become an expert piano player." the boy insisted.
"You do as you are told or I will give you a good hiding," replied the exasperated father.
This typical conversation between father and son describes the state of education in our society today. Parents want to live their dreams through their children. The schools instead of giving parents the appropriate advise, cater to the parents wild dreams and promise unrealistic things. The school system itself is cock-eyed and this coupled with the parents unrealistic expectations ends up spoiling many a budding child's future.
I have exposure to the schooling system followed in two countries. One is the Indian schooling system of which I myself am a product and the other is the schooling system followed in the United Kingdom where my sister is settled and about which I have heard a lot from her.
In India for some unknown reason Science and Maths are given too much importance and other subjects enjoy a secondary status. In my daughter's school, on Mondays there are two Science and two Maths sessions and half the day is taken up by these subjects. On top of this, there is at least one Science and one Maths session every other day of the week. This is wonderful for children who have a mathematical or scientific bent of mind. But what about those children who do not have a flair for these subjects? Are they to be ignored? Is it not the school's duty to make something out of every child to whom it imparts education?
Let us take the state of sports in Indian schools. There are generally two physical training sessions every week. And in ninety percent of the schools there is no organized activity in these sessions. And the worst part of it is, a teacher of some other subject who has been absent for a day or two targets these physical training sessions to catch up with the syllabus.
I remember these P.T sessions from my school days. We had one sub-standard P.T teacher who never used to attend to us in the P.T sessions. We used to do just as we pleased. We used to play football or squash: football without any goal posts or referee, and squash using our hands for a racquet and a tennis ball. Admittedly, there did exist some sporting activity and the school was divided into four houses but no one was nurtured with care to become a sports person. No wonder my Alma-mater has not produced a single sports personality.
Another problem with Indian schools is the number of students in each class. In my daughter's class there are thirty seven students and it is neither possible for teachers to pay individual attention to any child nor concentrate on a specific child's strengths and weaknesses.
From what I hear from my sister, the system followed in U.K seems to be much better. Sports is given a lot of attention. My nephew who is in his sixth grade is a budding young seam bowler and regularly plays cricket matches. Every child is given an opportunity to participate in several activities and there is individual attention given to children who are gifted with some special talent. The number of children who can be placed in a single class is limited to twenty two. This helps teachers to pay individual attention to each child. But such a thing is extremely difficult to implement in India because of the vast population and the number of children who have to be imparted education.
But even in U.K I was told by my sister that in the fifth grade, children are segregated into three groups of varying strengths based purely on a test of the child's mathematical skills!!!
Makes me wonder; why this insane insistence on Mathematical skills? You know there is a saying: Mathematics is the language in which God wrote the universe. I am an engineer myself and I too am very fond of Mathematics. But to say that Mathematics is the basis of intelligence in general, I feel, is indicative of a very prejudiced mind. I will give you one example. R.K.Narayan the famous Indian-English author who has penned such gems like the Malgudy days was allergic to Maths. He was often caught staring out of the window in Maths and Science classes. Can we deny the caliber of his intellect or his creativity?
So much for the issues with the current schooling system. The question that needs to be answered is what can we do to amend the system so that it does not destroy the futures of children? It is impossible to come up with a foolproof and flawless technique for imparting education. But we can definitely have systems in place that try to move towards this goal.
Sports, music and other such activities should not be treated as extra-curricular in schools. Children with such skills should be monitored and a system of specialized coaching should be instituted for them. Schools should not put too much emphasis on some subjects like Maths and Science which have a higher social standing. Too much importance should not be given to some subjects while neglecting others.
Finally we have to look at the education policy designed by the government. The ministry of education has to develop the kind of curriculum that caters to a wide range of intellect and talent. The people who sit in the board room and design curriculum are most often pedantic intellectuals who neither have an understanding of child psychology nor have any field experience. At least for children, educational policies should be decided by teachers with vast field experience and this should be done with the assistance of child psychologists.
Last but not the least, we need to give our teachers a certain amount of individual freedom. Most teachers are constrained by the fact that the school management wants to show good results on paper. This leads to an inclination towards rote learning without any actual understanding of subjects. Schools have to take the responsibility to weed out children's special skills. Children should be given the opportunity to develop these skills. Schools should make it a point not to insist on uniformity.
Each child is a gem in his own right. It is the duty of the school to find his or her ability and polish it so that the child has a bright future and can shine in life. We have a long way to go. This process is easier for some countries while it is difficult to implement in countries like India which are vast and diverse. It is definitely time we started taking steps in the right direction.