“The secret of education lies in respecting the pupil. It is not for you to choose what he shall know, what he shall do.”
-Ralph Waldo EmersonGrowing up, a lot of us have been at the receiving end of many a lofty quote about the differences between ‘learning’ and ‘education’ and the advantages of being ‘educated’. But when we really think about it, the very basis of our personality is rooted in what we’ve gained from the team-building games during physical education classes, the abridged novels we found scattered around the house and National Geographic channel as much as, if not more than, what we learned within the walls of a classroom.
That our formal education system is flawed is a well-known fact that has been broadcasted like a broken record for a while now. But it was kind of a wake-up call to find that little to no positive responses came our way when we asked youngsters in the city about the state education system. Regardless of whether we were talking about college administration, credit systems or extra-curriculars, the reactions ranged from frustrated to apathetic, replete with a lack of faith in the system. The barrage of horrified reactions to our ‘These 10 Excerpts from Indian Textbooks are Seriously Terrifying’ piece, that featured some real gems, is itself testament to the magnitude of change that needs to take place.
In a country where more than half the population is under the age of 25, there was a unanimous vote cast that an overhaul of the system has long been overdue.After ploughing through our survey results, here are some of the valid areas and suggestions we received, amidst many other valid points, to present to our new state government.
I. Get By With A Little Help From Your Friends
(Because No One Else Will)
“My problem with Mumbai University is they don’t put up the timetables for board exams at proper dates,” says 21-year-old Bhanu Babbal, a BBM student.
Haven’t we had enough of surly office staff members making us run around for hours to submit one measly form? Why is it that in an era of such advanced technology, word of mouth remains the most reliable means of figuring out when your next assignment’s due? What do you do if you have no friends?
Digitizing administration processes in schools and colleges could be the best thing that could happen to students, who needn’t ever worry about their documents getting lost in a tottering pile or their grades getting switched due to a mistake. Corruption, bribery and errors in administration could be obliterated with just a click.
II. Practical Thinking
“I think there should definitely be more practical exposure in courses. The current portion doesn’t make sense if you go looking for job opportunities in real life; it's been the same for years.”Let’s face it: most of the real learning only happens out of the classroom. College students who are itching to get out into the big, bad world should be given the opportunity to do so.
Take up that internship, volunteer at a local NGO, or do your bit for society through a CSR programme – you shouldn’t have to worry about whether it ‘really counts as education’. Education can made into a more cohesive experience, pushing beyond the boundaries of Monday morning classes and pedantic examinations. Working out a system that actually includes the preferences of those it targets would be a great place to start. Credit systems could be put into place for those choosing to work a few extra hours along with regular college courses.
III. Not That We’re Complaining But..Holiday, Again?
“There are so many mornings when we walk into college in the mornings only to realise the first class is at 3PM.”Although this can seem like a legitimate enough reason for celebration initially, it can get really frying after a while, especially for students who have to travel a lot to get to college, which is a majority of them.
Monitoring the attendance of school/college staff electronically would help keep track of the real figures of who really turns up in educational institutions in the state and allow students to stay in control of their schedules.
“Wha...we have a college library?”
What should be basic facilities, like well-stocked libraries including publications and audio-visual content and screening rooms are often found only in fancy, private institutions for very specific courses. For a field dedicated to moulding young minds, we have to admit this is a major let-down. Background reading doesn’t need to be a pain if it’s within our reach.
Equip libraries with literature and reference books, DVDS and computers with internet access to give students a shot at exposure to material that's not just relevant to course, but also really broadens their understanding of the world. It would be great if they were encouraged to spend some extra-curricular hours in the library, as well (you manage catch them as they're sprinting headlong for the exit with the last bell).
V. Keeping up with the times“Our world isn’t insulated anymore, education needs to stay true to that.”
News doesn’t need to be boring – students should be made to realise the kind of world they’re going to be living in, working in… and ultimately going to be in charge of. We’re not just talking local news, but international news as well. Considering, particularly, the critical juncture at which we are today, globally – there is a very evident interconnectedness in global affairs, and it has an effect on us all.
The Newspaper in Education (NIE) course in the state curriculum is a great example of this, but it can’t be an initiative that eventually loses steam and fizzles out. The idea is to inculcate this as a habit, until everybody inadvertently starts keeping an eye on the latest headlines of the world.
VI. Good Ideas get goodies“Government needs to provide grants that encourage innovation for sure! Young people usually have the best ideas.”
Remember the two 15-year-old boys in the news recently for inventing that device for shoes that could charge mobile phones when walking? Pretty cool, right? The sheer talent, spanning all spectrums, in this generation is quite mind-boggling, if they’re given the means to explore their potential.
Encouraging good ideas and innovations with government grants and subsidies is a surefire way to open up minds and cajole students out of their comfort zones to innovate. It’s also of utmost importance if we want to keep indigenous talent on home turf to improve things here because the fact is: if we don’t do it, other countries eventually will.
VII. A Little something on the side“Government study centres should be set up for free educational counselling and advisory services, these centres can double up as places to sign up for government jobs.”
We all need that extra push sometimes – hey, life is stressful (especially as a student as a part of the system).
Counselling and placements might help take the weight off students a bit as they try and find their own niche. More than anything, students need to be made to feel that the education system is actually there to support them, not just terrorise them with its pedantic rule-mongering.
VIII. Kickstarting a Start-Up
The sheer number of spectrum-straddling ideas germinating in minds across the country are quite overwhelming. Resources, on the other hand, are another story. If an idea with real potential doesn't get the leg-up it needs, when it needs it - chances are, it's never going to explore it's whole potential.
“You need to see what Kerala's state government is up to, to understand this.”The Kerala government is doing a fantastic job of supporting student start-ups in knowledge and technology domains through incentives and by setting up Technology Business Incubators and Science & Tech Parks across the country. Most important of all, home grown (cough) companies are finally receiving the recognition they deserve, and being provided an environment in which they can germinate. Technopark Technology Business Incubator (T-TBI) is another initiative that provides more than 200+ of India's most promising startups the infrastructure, facilities and – ultimately – the leg-up they need.
“More importance should be given to higher education. Ministry and UGC should offer M.A in more colleges rather than just in Mumbai University.”Masters in certain subjects like psychology or English literature are only offered in a few colleges such as Xavier’s, Jaihind and Ruia. This bias may cost many the degree they covet, but miss out on, because of a lack of access.
SolutionOnce other college broaden their horizons to include more subjects, there’s bound to be a decided emphasis on the importance of higher education as well. Keeping up with international trends by way of including upcoming courses, especially digitally, is definitely the way to go to keep our education system at par with the times.
X. Is there anybody there?"The disorganization at an institutional level is absolutely appalling."
20-year-old Karishma Venkat shared a disquieting tale with us about how she walked in to SNDT college, for a class for her M.A. in Political Science to find three students looking back at her. So much more motivation to make it to your first class right? There’s just a total lack of organization when it comes to these processes. Just take a look at the cluttered Mumbai University site – it’ll leave you seeing stars.
Make college and university websites an accessible and user-friendly interface for the administration to send over notices and announcements for college activities. If the students check up on the website half as much as they currently check their Facebook notifications, we reckon they'd be pretty sorted.
XI. Quality Stuff
“They need to think about the quality of education the state board offers. Some children can’t afford to go to CBSE or ICSE board schools and hence attend a SSC school, the education quality of which is not as great.”Karishma Venkat underlines the very basis of the issue marring state education – its exclusivity.
Raising the bar of the curriculum would automatically mean opening up doors to a whole new world of opportunities for a lot more students.
XII. Real Talk"I think introducing basic sociology at a younger age would actually do wonders in encouraging young people to think from a more human perspective. There's a need for that in this world."
We get so lost in this flurry of report cards, projects, deadlines and attendance woes that we forget to talk about the things that matter the most. What use is a degree is chemical engineering if one is still flailing to understand the basics of human psychology?
Despite the condescension that the arts have been at the receiving end of by traditional Indian mindsets, there’s a need now more than ever to introduce subjects like sociology and psychology, with their distinct humanities slants, at much lower grades for all students. Come on, folks - these are subjects that aren’t just fit for arts students at the college level, but – beyond just academic interest – are something that every child can take away from, for life.
XIII. Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V“They could replace tests altogether with projects where students don’t just mug up answers and write it on paper. It would be great if we they could teach us concepts through various projects and make exams online.”
Isn’t it refreshing to find yourself working on a project that you actually have to wrack your brains for, and not just copy-paste your way through? Okay, so you actually had to put in some effort here – but you’d find yourself almost impressed with your teacher for having encouraged you to discover something new. Exams that don’t involve the mug-up-and-regurgitate routine can actually leave you with something to take home from.
XIV. Clubbing Subjects
“I would really like to study Accounts along with French,” confesses 21-year-old B. Com student Anisha Muravne. “I don’t think there’s a course that would allow you to study Accounts and a language together, though.”Want to major in biology and have a minor in human rights? Why the hell not? Youngsters in the city have voiced their complaints at feeling constrained within their university subjects. Having a diverse range of interests shouldn’t be something that you should be punished for, and as 22-year-old Sneha Gupta, a BBA student, points out – why can’t you combine chemistry with performing arts? Students in the city are looking to find more ways to pursue their academic interests simultaneously within the same university, without needing to do correspondence courses or diplomas.
XV. The Birds and the Bees
“Educating the educators should be the first step and they should be open to kids approaching them with question, and not shoo them away. Kids sometimes prefer asking and talking about sex to teachers, rather than their parents.”The issue of sex education has been discussed to death in the media recently, but it still remains a subject inciting abashed reactions and coy blushes.
For the kind of population we have, it’s high time our country moves on from its collective mental block to just sit down and have the big talk with confused youngsters, and clarify the importance of not just safe sex but also other serious issues pertaining to sexuality, reproductive health and other such aspects that all come under this space.
XVI. Is this seat taken?
"It feels like the college we land up in after our boards has as much to do with the reservation quota, as our marks."In attempting to thwart discrimination against one community, appeasement seems to have turned into a double-edged sword in recent times, due to the reservation quota in the Indian education system. There are millions of dreams shattered every year when deserving candidates are turned away from their first preference of colleges solely on the basis of that check-mark next to the 'Open' category.
The reservation quota should be reduced, at least, to support those who are the most deserving of a seat in the university of their choice. A more merit-based system would also go a long way in empowering the students who are raring to take on the role of India's future workforce.
After the overwhelming response from the Mumbai youngsters regarding education, we can’t help but feel like the problems are being recognised and the solutions proposed above are barely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. It’s heartening, though, to see so many suggestions coming in that can actually be implemented, giving us a theoretical glimpse into what we can change the system into: a place where the students would be the actual benefactors, as it was supposed to be in the first place.
This is not the sound of self-satisfied teenagers living large without consequence. This is the sound of democratic participation, in the midst of a new awakening. We hope you feel inspired to join in the conversation too. Drop us a line with your thoughts in the comment section below or email us at [email protected] If your suggestion is valid, we’ll be sure to include it in the final version of the manifesto too, and credit you for the same.
Stay tuned for our Homegrown X Operation Black Dot series of articles, which will be shedding light on Public Infrastructure tomorrow, as we move forth towards the upcoming State Elections this October the 15th.
Words: Aditi Dharmadhikari