Covid-19 has transformed numerous aspects of our lives — including how we live, work, worship, greet, meet and even study. However, with the all-too-important board exams cancelled for 2021, I’ve realised that more things may be changing for the better.
As a board examinee back in February, I felt a lot of uncertainty. I didn’t know if the exams would be conducted. But what I did understand was that marks will not matter much in the post-pandemic years. In fact, over the short-term or even within the current year itself, it is likely that most colleges will value entrance tests and skills more than board examination scores.
And Covid-19 will possibly have acted as a catalyst in transforming education into a more wholesome concept-oriented system rather than a mere rat race for marks. Already, most of what we learn in school–except for the communication part–becomes less important immediately after board exams. It is, therefore, long overdue that we stop giving undue importance to marks and distance ourselves from primitive notions that only a 90 percent score means success in future life.
Is self-reliance the purpose?
The more pressing question on my mind is, “What is the basic purpose of education?” To me, it is self-reliance (or ‘aatmanirbhata’ as India’s ruling administration puts it). But do we really become ‘aatmanirbhar’? Are we moulded into the self-reliant humans once we go through the grind of 12 years in grade school?
If we ask a group of academic toppers to fix a broken tube light, they might not be able to. They will, however, be able to identify trigonometric values immediately, and maybe even numerous principles of physics.
In most cases, students are not exposed to financial management or budgeting, which are valuable life skills. So, do we not see a lack of practical application of what we learn because most institutions do not teach us basic life skills? We could have perhaps received more real-world insights into financial planning, into what is a home loan, and especially into what are credit cards. Good financial planning skills are more important in the real world than Archimedes’ principle.
A growing number of people today are reluctant to deposit money in a fixed deposit account. This is despite being assured of low risk and steady returns. The underlying reason for this hesitation is inflation because it offsets the gains made from interest earnings. The deposited sum, therefore, actually depreciates over time.
The same phenomenon applies to schooling as well. My grandparents say that ‘in their time’, one was ensured a job even if one had only graduated from high school. However, much has changed since and what is certain is an ‘academic inflation’ of sorts. The value of degrees has depreciated over time. Given this scenario, what else should a child be encouraged to do besides their formal education?
I feel the solution is to promote creativity or skills among children. Encouraging creativity could lessen or offer alternatives to the problem of short attention spans.
Discovering one’s passion
Schools could be locations where students discover their natural capabilities, stimulate their creativity, and explore their talents. However, if you ask most students as to what they are good at, chances are you will draw a blank. Some will even say, “Nothing”. But then again, creative pursuits in schools succumb to the pressure of a vast academic curriculum. Schools alone cannot be held accountable for this. It is just how the Indian education system works, and mindsets also seem to go in tandem with the broader system.
Regardless of the curriculum’s limitations, schools must consider promoting creativity in any manner they can. It is not simply about ‘artistic’ activities such as painting, dancing or theatre. Rather, it could be in the form of developing leadership, honing their speaking abilities or even gardening.
Promoting creativity allows children and young adults to express themselves freely. It is about making students feel comfortable, and with being incorrect at times, rather than stigmatising an event where errors happen. Ken Robinson put it precisely when he said, “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”
The German education system
The undue importance laid on marks, over other merits, are a bane of the existing academic system in India. This warrants an analysis of what certain developed countries are following in their school structures. In this regard, Germany stands as a fine example of the wonders that vocational training can yield for students, right from a formative age.
In Germany, children are assigned to one of three types of schools depending on their academic abilities — namely the Hauptschule, Realschule and Gymnasium. Students then graduate from these institutions. The academically bright ones are usually sent to a Gymnasium.
Following graduation, students begin vocational training. This ensures optimum utilisation of their natural abilities as well as assuring economic independence. Besides, after high school, there is no rigid stream–such as a science, commerce or humanities–that must be followed. Children can choose any subject based on their interest. It is possibly this system, based on theoretical knowledge no doubt, that has helped Germany become the advanced manufacturing and technical hub that it is today. And in the process, they are producing self-reliant, confident individuals.
Similar was the case in Singapore following its separation from Malaysia. Founder Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew laid strong emphasis on vocational training. The outcome was a skilled workforce that attracted numerous mutli-national companies to set up shop on the former fishing village. Mr Yew’s vision was precise; it delivered the desired results and the Singapore of today is an example for emerging economies to follow.
In Canada too, there is strong importance accorded to developing skills. In most cases, a skilled worker is more sought after than one with a broad degree. In fact, a skilled college graduate often sits in a higher income bracket than one with a university degree.
There are changes underway
India’s National Education Policy, that was launched in August 2020, does attempt to address some of the present system’s shortcomings. However, it will realistically take a generation or two to shift focus from simply achieving sky-high marks with little real-world skill.
What is both interesting and alarming to note is the fact that depending on whom you ask, there is a wide variation in perception of India’s young population. One school of thought suggests that India’s youth are an asset who can offer their services to global manufacturing companies. A more well researched viewpoint seems to suggest that India’s youth lack skills–and more so soft skills–that make them mostly unemployable.
Come to think of it, there is no point in having surplus engineers with a deficit in skills! As I prepare to graduate and embark on the next phase of my life, I am hoping there will be changes for the better. And that mindsets will begin to shift from astronomical marks alone.