The Trajectory of Education


Ever watched Rick and Morty? If you have, you can recall Rick saying “School is a place for stupid people.” For those of you who aren"t familiar with this TV show, Rick is a scientist who takes his grandson Morty on all sorts of inter-galactic adventures which makes Morty miss all his classes at school. Rick receives a lot of criticism for this from Morty"s parents, who believe that school is essential. However Rick seems to think that Morty could learn a lot better outside school, traveling with him. Rick is not necessarily the most selfless and caring grandfather but it seemed as though he really had a point there. Is school necessary?

Schools are "environments" that are made of components that are sort of arranged together in an attempt to create the right conditions for learning. However, it seems that it is not learning that happens in schools. Rather it is a sort of "progression", for the sake of it. A student is put through each grade or standard, on the basis of their proficiency in core subjects. The intention of schooling, and the aim for each student, becomes graduation, and not learning itself.

In the past few decades, this discrepancy has been identified by some who have then tried to create alternative schools that focus on "non-conventional" methods and subjects. Some notable schools such as these in India have definitely succeeded in creating a better caliber of students, whose focus lie more in learning than in mere competition. However, after school education these students get assimilated into systems that force them to be as competitive and goal-oriented as the others. Another problem that alternative education schools run into is that they attract very wealthy students for the most part, creating a hypocritical educated elite.

Accessibility of education has been on the agenda since the 1986 National Policy for Education in India. This policy emphasized strongly on reducing the disparities in education. However, more than three decades later the gap has only worsened. The difference in the standards of education, perceived and real, between private and public education institutions. The plight of public schools has been worrisome for a long time now. As per the Annual Status of Education Report 2019, more than 55% of children in class five are unable to read, and more than 70% of students in class eight are able to perform division exercises.

The reason behind these problems lie not only in teaching methods, but in the infrastructure itself. The popular blog Youth Ki Awaaz(YKA) points out that “There is often a  dearth of hygienic toilets, electric fans, libraries, and even potable water.” There are also fewer teachers in public systems, who are mostly indifferent towards the performance, or even the presence, of the students. This is an empathetic stance, rather than a cavalier one. Teachers in these institutions belong to similar class/caste backgrounds and are thus understanding of the reasons that students provide for their absence of underperformance. Moreover, YKA highlights that “some schools have just one instructor for all subjects, teaching all classes. The teachers are also over burned with other responsibilities like election duties etc, which makes them distracted, and thus they are unable to direct their complete focus on children"s performance.”  Meanwhile, the private education sector, is dominated by the upper caste Hindus, and children of upper class citizens. These institutions are mostly concentrated in the urban parts of the country.

This major disparity has only been made worse during the pandemic, with education becoming more of a privilege than a right. The shift towards online education, which logically implies greater access and equality, has in fact had the opposite outcome. Public institutions have further loosened their grip over the students" well-being, whereby the bar for bare minimum performance has lowered. In Tamil Nadu for instance, education in public institution during the pandemic has been through mass media – television programs. Teachers have no sure shot way of confirming whether or not the students have watched these programs, much less understood their content. Even in private education institutions, where students have access to unlimited internet, the teachers are still detached from the teaching process. The efficacy of these education systems are falling rapidly.  Hence, the question of what the purpose of schools are is thus more relevant now than ever before.

For far too long now, schools have functioned as a system that makes one ready for work – to sustain yourself. The matter of interest, passion and contribution are sidelined as privileges. An integration of multiple approaches with regards to the primary functions of schooling need to be undertaken. Paul H. Hanus, the author of “What Should Modern Secondary School Aim To Accomplish?”, lays down a set of primary functions that can be taken as a basis to shape the schooling system.

“First, to promote the pupil"s normal physical development. Second, to stimulate every individual to aim at intelligent self- support or some worthy form of life-work, whether he inherits an income or not; and to give him general preparation for such activity. Third, to stimulate and prepare each pupil, so far as his age and the time limits of secondary education permit, to participate, intelligently and helpfully, in promoting the welfare of the society of which he is to form a part. Fourth, to prepare and to stimulate each pupil to carry for- ward his own development uninterruptedly, so far as his circum- stances permit, through self-teaching, whether he continues his studies in some higher institution after his school life is closed, or whether he enters at once on his active life work.”

Taking these goals and applying them evenly to all types of schooling is necessary. Moreover, school systems cannot be money-making businesses. Public schools must be invested into, their infrastructure made better and the trust in them, improved. Teachers must be trained properly, to teach and track the participation of students. The government must monitor this. Most importantly, all parents must be motivated to enrol their children in public education institutions, which can only be accomplished if the trust in public institutions is raised. The Periferias Journal points out that “The flight of elite groups to private schools has also eroded accountability in public schools, with government officials and political leaders no longer having personal stakes in their performance. Even public school teachers and administrators prefer to educate their children in private schools, indicating their lack of trust in the system.”

 "Learning: Education:: Work: Job"

Terry Heick, a visionary, humanist and author, coined this equation. He notes that by calling it "school" and not "learning", and "job" and not "work", a subtle implication is made. These terms, he suggests,create a convenient pathway from "doing good in school" to "getting a good job" rather than "finding and using information," "figuring out who I am" "learning to read closely and write deeply "or "to do good work."” Specifically in the Indian education system, the excessive emphasis on marks, rather than on personal growth, and overall happiness, is a result of such unconscious associations that are made with the terms used to describe education and work.

Education must now move towards a sensitive, and inclusive, path. The words used, the mindset furthered, and the methods implemented, need to be put under higher scrutiny than the results of the students. This is the first step towards changing the atmosphere of education at a systemic level. Moreover, in the present scenario, with the use of digital systems, education needs to be made a lot more cheerful and entertaining, given that children are more isolated than ever before. The primary goal needs to be to keep children healthy and happy.