Image: Creative Commons, Akshayapatra
Last year, a 19-year old medical student in a large city in India, Pune committed suicide by jumping into the quarry waters of Vetal Tekdi. According to a note in her diary, she took the step after performing poorly in her college examinations. Also last year, a 17-year old girl, Kriti, leaped to her death in Kota after expressing her frustration at having been compelled to study engineering. With more and more stories similar to these; where does the blame truly lie? They are, as I suggest, vested into the society: and without rapid reform, we will continue to tell similar stories for generations to come. Read the textbook. Read it again. Read it another time until you have memorised each and every word. Repeat. India’s education has delivered many pioneering individuals; such as Amartya Sen, who has made notable contributions to welfare economics, and has been awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. However, this comes at a huge cost. It focuses hugely on rote learning rather than problem solving, it focuses on memorisation of facts, not critical thinking. All the necessary skills needed in the job market are evidently lacking in the students India’s education produces. This is deep rooted in the traditional values of families in India, who make every effort to ensure their children fulfil an elitist career, otherwise deemed a failure within the community. As a result, educational institutions have met these demands through their vigorous approach to studies, which has now become a staple part of the nation. With increasing pressure to succeed in the job market, and with no evidence of changing values; it is likely that the rote learning crisis will continue. Whilst India strives to become a global superpower; the educational sector has hindered this process. With institutions acting as a business; open bribery for admission in top courses is extremely common. I do not deny the fact that formal education in India has enabled it to progress economically and socially in many areas, however I do accept that corruption has meant that many capable students are being left behind. ‘Donations’ to schools almost guarantee a place at an institution, or alternatively, cheating is worryingly encouraged by staff, and has become a part of the educational system. The only real creativity in the system is that of learning the best way to cheat; not actually encouraging entrepreneurship. This is most certainly inherent in the society; India has a widely accepted caste system; the only way for the higher caste to maintain their position, and a lower caste to be accepted by society is through achieving top grades: even if there is no real content, and even if they are achieved through corruption. Actually tackling these problems will be a long process. The government have many bills awaiting discussion in Parliament; many of which have been brought to it for a while. Alternatively, many bills have failed to be passed; for instance, The Foreign Universities Bill was thought to facilitate the entry of foreign universities to establish campuses in India. Prime Minister Modi’s party, the BJP, opposed this – as it would exacerbate poverty in India: with the elite being able to afford the education, whilst the poor would struggle to even gain a basic education. However, the bill would have brought to India one of the biggest strengths of the western education: promoting critical thinking. Whilst lessons can also be learnt from India’s education, it would be appropriate to suggest that the nation needs to change their way of thinking for any progress to be achieved. This was depicted extremely well in the movie “3 Idiots”, a light hearted comedy, which I recommend everybody to watch - as it really hits home that children are forced to ignore their true passions, particularly within the creative field, due to parental pressure. Additionally, the influence of money in India for politicians is vast – the rich are able to pay their way into maintaining the status quo as they can afford open bribery, which the current system allows for. Whilst Modi has spoken heavily on wanting to tackle many of the reasons for the poor education system (such as the caste system), this view is not shared amongst all politicians. With a government opposing any attempt for reform, it is difficult to see change occurring soon. Perhaps then, other measures can be taken, such as regular debate or speeches on why there needs to be reform, which will allow the public to recognise the need for, and so the government are in a stronger position to pass the relevant bills. Some progress has been made in this field: however, I also think encouraging more women to study is key to tackling both the social disparities in India, and their education system. Having diverse views in classrooms, and more importantly – equality of opportunity for those entitled to study are crucial. Whilst the number of girls entering education in India is gradually increasing, there is still a lot of stigma attached, particularly in rural areas, where a “woman's place in society is considered to be in the home”. I would like to see the government investing more in this area: so that, education actually is a right, and not reserved just for men – who are thought to be superior.
I proposed in this article that the problems of India’s education are deeply ingrained into the society, which poses a huge challenge to reform, and until then: the suicide rates of students continue to rise – a true depiction of the brutality of India’s education.
Shanita Jetha, Politics