A friend who wished to start a school of his own approached me the other day with a request: “Please draft a vision and a mission for the school.”
“The vision: Earn profit,” I said; “The mission: Earn more profit.”
Being familiar with my cynicism, he said without batting an eyelid or even smiling, “Of course, you’re absolutely right... I’m here to get a vision and a mission that’s different from the ones we usually see on websites...”
I drafted something which I can’t recollect now! [You can guess how serious I was about what I wrote.]
Education today is another commercial enterprise. Students as well as their parents want it that way too; they have been “schooled” to want it that way!
In 1971, in his book, Deschooling Society, Ivan Illich blamed the education system for institutionalising values. He argued that the schools put undue emphasis on process rather than substance. “Once these become blurred,” wrote Illich, “a new logic is assumed: the more treatment there is, the better are the results...” The pupil is thereby ‘schooled’ to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence... His imagination is ‘schooled’ to accept service in place of value. Medical treatment is mistaken for health care, social work for the improvement of community life, police protection for safety, military poise for national security, the rat race for productive work.”
Four decades after that was written, we are in a position to see the consequences of following such an education system. The worst consequence is that we have commercialised everything. Education is a commercial product today as much as medical care is. Beauty is a product on sale as much as love is. A lot of additional products are available in all these ‘industries’. Coaching of all kinds is available in education sector, insurance of all types is available in the medical sector, beauty shows assume various forms in various media, and love is sold both in wholesale and retail markets both by men and women. Commerce is the largest process – with whatever substance it may have.
What is a teacher’s role in this commercialised process that education sector is today? To prescribe as many guide books, workbooks and other books as possible so that the school makes more profits? To take as many coaching classes as possible so that the teacher’s poor salary (in private schools, particularly) is enhanced? To give as much work as possible to the students so that the parents are impressed? To follow academic coordinators and other such “experts” who are appointed by the school and who offer their suggestions with unwarranted generosity? To attend workshops every month and learn the latest theory in educational technology which will help in boosting the profits of the school?
What has teaching become today? A job meant to entertain students who want to pass their time with as much “awesome fun” as possible? A job meant to “manage” students who will pass their exams “somehow” and “somehow” get into an institution of higher learning (engineering, medical, or one of those courses that can make them Civil ‘Servants’)? A job that has become a joke, thanks to programmes and policies such as CCE and extremely generous assessment tools?
I’m waiting eagerly to see how our new Prime Minister is going to enlighten us on 5 September, Teacher’s Day. Is he going to give a new direction to the country’s education system? Although many states have not warmed up to the recommendation that the PM’s address to and interaction with students must be made compulsory viewing to students and teachers, Delhi has ensured that its school teachers and students will view the programme. Is the programme going to be revolutionary?
A new direction is what the educational system needs actually. But whether our Prime Minister is the apt person for digging that new canal into the arid landscapes of the country’s academics is a question that I prefer to leave unanswered. After all, he is a person who has elevated our country to a higher plane using the sole lever of commerce! What the system needs, I think, is to be weaned away from commerce and the utilitarian as well as materialistic values spawned by it.
A paradigm shift is what is actually required. Can Mr Narendra Modi bring that about in a country which has a shortage of over six lakh teachers at the primary level alone? Does Mr Modi possess any vision beyond trade and commerce? I keep my fingers crossed.