Why Our Students Disappoint

1 Sep

And what about the students? What do they bring to the table? No, we are not blaming them. They are a product of our investments and choices. But maybe some of the choices we made along the way need a rethink.

Yes, we have the data now that proves that students in class 5 and 6 can often read only upto class 2 level. We know that our students scored badly on a global test. We know that some of our children reach class 8 or even more without being able to read a page of text and make sense of that page, let alone analyse it. And then, in contrast we know of many of our students who managed to ‘crack’ some of the toughest exams in the world, scoring ‘full’ marks in global university qualifying tests.

And yet, the same students often have been found wanting in many ways..

(and I pull out of my bank of quotations overheard and collected over the past two years)

“Yes Ma, I am an engineer. You need a mechanic to repair this” – engineer from a reputed centre of excellence

“Who is Parashurama?”  – A student of a University college famous for its high cut-off marks to qualify for entry to that college

“The teacher has said I don’t need to bother with atomic numbers, it won’t come in the exam”  – a student of a premium school in a large city

“What is a preposition? Why do I need it? ” – a student at a premium reading and language class who should have been taught this three years back at school.

What is the common thread in all of this?

Easy to say – school, teacher, system. Yes, we need to work on those. It is easy to turn this inot a moanfest, complaining about all that is wrong. But let us reflect on our students too.

Students too, have often, too often given up too soon. On their questions, on their desire to learn, on their own exploration and on their drive to know more about more. Student life is about that hunger for knowledge, about understanding their world around them. Sadly, whether it is the ‘best’ or the ‘worst’ – this is getting lost somewhere. The best suffer from too much focus, the worst from too little. Both, and those in between are suffering the consequences of the need to be led.

Which is a phenomenon in itself. The need to be led.

A student is a seeker. The word for this in Arabic has been sadly usurped by violent terrorist groups, and thus deeply corrupted. The word is  – Talib.. a seeker.. someone who is desirous of getting answers. The word for a student in Hindi is vidyarthi, a combination of vidya+ aarthi.. one who seeks and works towards a body of knowledge. The onus of learning in both these words is on the student. The quest, the hunger, the work comes from the student. The teacher provides the structure and the stories.

Our students today have a wide array of resources available to them. The internet is available to many, at least in the cities. And is steadily progressing towards the interiors, albeit slowly. They work and learn differently from previous generations both inside and outside the classroom. Their incentives, their stimuli and their curiosity follows multiple pathways, many that were not known or not available to the previous generation. Accepted. But that can only mean that we expect more from this generation.

What excuse has a student from an urban elite school have for not knowing their history – the story of independence, of the emergency, of economic reforms? This influences their lives even today, and must influence their voting choices. What excuse do students have for not knowing the names of great scientists and their achievements? What excuse can they offer for not being able to summarise great books in the literature of their main languages? What excuse do they use when they know little about their own bodies and how they function when they choose to follow fashions in diet and exercise?

Try this at home today. Ask the young people around you to name their favourite book. And why it enhances their life and thought. Try another: ask them the name of the second prime minister of Israel, or Sri Lanka. Or, even India. And here is a third: Ask them, today, on Independence Day – how the various strands of the Independence movement disagreed with each other, and how one narrative gained dominance. And how they worked separately, yet, towards the same goal. Take it a step further – as them how these translate to lessons for development and civil engagement today. If a thirteen year old, and above, ask them these questions.

And if you don’t find answers, ponder why. What blinkers have these students worn that keep them away from learning and thinking. This is not just about schools and teachers. GK (General Knowledge) tests may help learn facts by rote, but that is barely scratching the surface.

What is it that stops our students from caring enough to learn, think and apply?

 

 

This was published in the Times of India blogs on August 15, 2013 and is linked here and http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/entry/our-students-disappoint

 

This is a part of a three series published that week across different blogs, magazines and newspapers

 

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