The earlier system of education focused on academic excellence and competition. The results in written assessments determined the future of the students. One obtained the career of his choice depending on the scores obtained in various exams.
The system engendered a lot of frustration among many students whose career aspirations were snuffed out by the rat race. Quite many lives ended even before they began. Suicides were not uncommon even in institutions of higher learning. Educators and other guardians of the society were alarmed. They came to the conclusion that a change in the system was called for.
Coupled with the gloom of frustration and suicides was the awareness that arose in psychology that IQ (intelligence quotient) was not necessarily the measure of a person’s intelligence. Psychologists as well as educationists came up with theories that pushed abstract intelligence out of the limelight. Robert Sternberg (1949- )posited the triarchic theory of intelligence, according to which people possess 3 different types of intelligence in varying degrees and each type is important in attaining success in different fields. The 3 intelligences are: (1) analytical intelligence (measured by the normal IQ tests), (2) practical intelligence: the skills needed to cope with everyday demands and to manage oneself and other people effectively, and (3) creative intelligence: the skills needed to deal adaptively with novel problems.
Another psychologist Howard Gardner (1943- ) spoke about 9 intelligences. According to Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, the ability to dance, play games, understand and relate to others, etc are all intelligences.
Educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom (1913-1999) had already suggested that education should take care not only of the cognitive domain (traditional education) but also the affective (emotions) as well as the psychomotor (practical skills needed for wielding tools, etc) domains.
Educationists all over the world (including India) adopted/adapted these theories in different ways in order to make learning creative as well as interesting. CCE (Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation) became a fad in the Indian educational system. Students were to be awarded marks for anything they do that may reveal a spark of creativity or at least some skill. Students suddenly started getting a lot of marks for they knew not what.
CCE could have been a successful venture had teachers been given the necessary training to implement it. The fact is that a sizeable proportion of teachers do not even know what its spirit is. So the letter of the law is practised and the objectives remain farfetched.
Worse, education has become a big joke for the students. In the name of activities, they perform any clowning and are awarded marks. In the name of projects, they copy entire texts from the internet and attach some pictures copied again from the internet and are awarded marks. Teachers cannot give below pass marks in any of these. In fact, teachers are encouraged to mark generously by the system itself.
As a result, learning is farce rather than fun, self-destructive rather than creative. More menacingly, the entire value system of the students is turned topsy-turvy. They learn to manipulate the system rather than use it creatively. Life inevitably seeks the paths of least resistance. The teacher becomes a kind of clown in the circus trying to maintain a sane balance between stunt and buffoonery.
Add to these the eradication of punishments. It’s not just corporal punishments that have been abolished. Anything that a student can interpret as “intimidating” can be reported and the teacher may be replaced with a fresh hand that the management is happy to take on for a lesser remuneration. The teacher can count herself fortunate if her “intimidation” does not land her behind the bars.
Then there are the gadgets like the smart phones and the tablets with which students keep themselves busy during their leisure. Real human society is substituted with the virtual world of SMSes, chat sites and social networks. It’s a world without real responsibilities. The farce becomes complete.
Oxford historian, Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, argues in his eminent book titled Civilizations that civilizations do not grow or develop or evolve; they just change in different ways. We interpret the changes as growth or development or evolution according to our needs or perspectives. Is the current phase of education a growth?
“We need to feel badly about ourselves if we are going to make ourselves better,” he says. Perhaps, it’s high time we began to feel “badly” about the current education scenario in the country. The rising crimes among youngsters is a good enough warning. If we still continue to think we are “growing or developing or evolving” toward a more humane society by mistaking pampering for affection, then the system will teach us some lessons in its own characteristic ways.