Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Modern Education: A Googly Affair!



Teachers Day came and went by. There were customary status updates and messages, though not as many as one sees on Valentine’s Day or Friendship day. On that day I sat wondering about my teachers. I grew up with the notion that teachers are Gods only next to parents. After all who hasn’t heard the saying... 
 
Matru devo bhava, Pitru devo bhava, Acharya devo bhava, Atithi devo bhava

But in today’s times the conventional role of a teacher and his position as a god appears to have been usurped by something called as Google. That’s the reason why i had only this to say on teacher’s day.

Happy Teachers Day! In recent times my biggest teacher has been Google. Thank you Google :)

Incidentally this tweet went on to become a ‘Top Tweet’ of the day on Twitter along with the legendary Amitabh Bachchan’s tweet. Even he speaks of his parents as his best teachers. An obvious notion since they are already placed first in the hierarchy of gods. But what about the poor teacher and his role in this age of Google Instant? Isn’t he relevant anymore? To find out, let’s dig a little deeper.

Oil for Society

Formal education isn’t something that existed a few generations back. A father would teach his son and a mother her daughter. These were skills that were passed on from generation to generation and were highly vocational and personal in nature. An evolving world made man realize that he had to function as a part of a larger being called a society. Advancement of society and the advent of the industrial revolution led to the demolition of vocational skills and converted almost all of us into machines that needed to fit into a system.

Education acts as the oil for the smooth functioning of a machine called society

Nothing wrong about it, in fact it is great that we have been able to create a process that took care of the then modern society. Teachers played a very important role in providing oil to this machine. How did they do that?

Walking Search Engines

In earlier times if conventional education meant gaining vocational skills, the rest was taken care by religion. There was an equal nourishment of the senses as well as the soul. Later on books were the major source from which we gathered all the knowledge. The size of the library defined the greatness of the college and the wealth it had to offer a student. However a teacher surpassed this library as he would invariably act as a human search engine to access the wealth in this library by sheer dint of his experience and study.

A teacher was and is nothing but a human search engine

With advent of Google we can now safely assume that teachers in their earlier avatar are no longer that relevant today. If the teacher isn’t that important anymore, where does it leave our current educational system? Can it remain unaffected, more so in our Indian context?

Multiplication Trap 

As a kid i remember making fun of my NRI cousin whenever we had to do any mathematical calculations. I could rattle out the multiplication table like nobody’s business and was very proud of it while my cousin would be lost without a calculator. I used to boast saying that Indians are great at mathematics, etc, etc. Today when i look back i realize how smart my cousin was, or rather how smart the entire western education system is. They didn’t bother to stress on the mundane things which any machine could rattle out. It might seem like they are lazy, but the truth is that out of this laziness stemmed a desire to do things easier, quicker and smarter.

I feel certain, neither Bill Gates nor Steve Jobs ever learnt the multiplication table like the Indians.

Instead of focussing on the specifics, western education focuses on the whole. Probably explains why they are so ahead of us in terms of creating new innovations. One might say, but most of the engineers who work there are Indians and we should be proud of them. Yes, we certainly must be proud of them, but remember, they achieved what they did while working on foreign shores working in a new culture that let them think beyond the ordinary. How many revolutionary new products can we think of that were created by Indians on Indian soil. Sadly i can’t remember any. Leave aside technology, how much have we achieved in other spheres of life like sports or scientific breakthroughs. Can’t think of any names. Hmmm! We certainly are going wrong somewhere.

A Focus Problem

What is the single most important thing we focus on all through our school life? Exams!!! More competitive an exam, more the focus.  A focus so great that it blinds us from everything else around. Forget sports, friends, cultural activities, etc; our only concern is to get better marks and grades. Because that is the only parameter on which the colleges grade us and the college which we go to eventually will define our brand value for the rest of our life.

The ability to mug up facts and reproduce them is an indicator of how knowledgeable or worthy a person is, what a Joke in the age of Google!

With Google taking away the need for any of us to ever remember any detail like the height of the Eiffel tower or the depth of the Pacific Ocean, we are left with no choice but to evolve into a different kind of education system that does not depend on doling out facts but on the ability to analyze and interpret facts and situations. A paradigm shift in focus is needed if education has to make a real difference to society. And teachers will have to play a major role here in not being just an interface between the book and the student but by being the oil that can light a fire. A small change in mindset is all that’s needed for a greater change in society. 

Our country can achieve a lot more if we move out of our age old notions of good education and placing importance on degrees. After all, no degree can get you ahead in life unless you are a great human being first. And remember, to mould someone into a great human being, the first position belongs to parents and next come teachers who lead by example. Google doesn’t figure anywhere on that list.

Google is god but it’s no alternative for a God like teacher after all

A New Beginning!

In conclusion i cant help but compare our current educational scenario to the good old days of Doordarshan and the single screen theaters. They were the only entertainment options available then. We were so used to watching whatever was dished out and never complained much because we didn’t know that there could be an alternative. Enter the 90’s and enter cable television and enter 2000’s and enter the Multiplex. We are now faced with a problem of plenty.

Cable television meant more variety and a vast improvement in quality. How many of us now go back to watch any programme on DD? How many of us would like to stand in a serpentine queue to book tickets and watch a movie with a sweaty audience fighting for the only available armrest? Not many, when the local multiplex is offering you the same content as a far superior experience at a premium.

So is the case with our outdated educational system. Currently we witness the burgeoning of a few different schools of thought and approach towards education. But we definitely seem reluctant or skeptical in accepting them. Don’t you think that since we are somewhere going wrong in our current conventional system, one of the new orders could be our solution?

It’s time we DARE TO THINK BEYOND THE CONVENTIONAL.