Why Our Younger Generation Refuses to ‘Think’ Today
In his speech at ‘Skill india’ 2015, Narendra Modi recounted an incident which he witnessed some decades ago.
An acquaintance walked up to Modi’s mentor and said:
“Sir, I’m now a graduate. Please get me a job.”
“Good”, said the mentor. “So what kind of job are you looking for?”
“I don’t know sir. I’m a graduate.”
“Okay. But what can you do? Can you drive, sort files, handle cash registers?”
“Sir, I’m a graduate.”
The mentor sighed.
India has progressed in leaps and bounds since those days. The liberalized budget and Y2K scare gave our economy a much-needed boost. Industries have flourished, creating millions of jobs in both, the corporate and educational sectors. But what has barely changed is our mindset. We still look at education as a means to get a job that we often don’t like. We still prefer comfort and security over pursuing something constructive and gratifying.
The fault does not lie in our stars. It lies in India’s educational system. It’s ironic that a system which, centuries ago, educated children to apply the teachings they learned in everyday life is now churning out remarkably identical people, like vehicles on an assembly line.
The problem begins right from school. These early years are when children’s minds can be moulded; when they are most creative and innovative. But look at how stressed school children are during these formative years. These are times when the should be made aware of their strengths, encouraged to use logic and reasoning, and be set on the path to find their calling. Instead, the educational system needlessly burdens these minds with mountains of unnecessary theoretical information, which will be forgotten as soon as the exams are over. The result? Children have little (if any) time to focus on what interests them. While children of many other countries find their calling at early ages, our children simply look to become ‘engineers’, ‘doctors’ or ‘chartered accountants’ according to their parents wishes.
How can this be addressed? Well, I would have suggested introducing the choice of subjects in school too. But unfortunately, this almost certainly will lead to arts and language being ignored for math and science. Instead, academic boards should look at the higher studies syllabi and device how much knowledge children need to form the base for those subjects. Retain those topics in school, and eliminate the rest. Give the child time and space. That way she will retain more of what she learnt; she will think, discover what she has a penchant for, and pursue it. We will encourage more scientists, mathematicians, sportspersons, artists and entrepreneurs from within our own country instead of trying to share the glory with a foreign land when an NRI’s child bags the top spot at an MNC or wins a global award. I won’t suggest anything for parents because frankly speaking, I doubt whether they will ever be able to care about apart from maintaining the status quo.
Higher studies is no better. Let’s take the example of software engineering. India is the largest software exporter in the world. Yet, by technology’s standards, the education that our institutes offer lags behind by centuries. Engineering students still learn C++ and Pascal in a world where far more advanced softwares languages are the norm. We want students to think for themselves, but fail to give them even the basic tools to do so. It’s like we expect a child to differentiate between the stars but give her binoculars in a world where the Hubbell Telescope is the norm.
How will students think for themselves when they don’t know the possibilities? It pains me to see the colossal number of ‘freshers’ stepping out in the corporate world not knowing how to contribute qualitatively or how to live up to expectations on the job. Companies don’t want to invest time and resources to train these freshers; they believe it is the duty of educational institutes. And they’re right. But what about the students? They either spend so much time hunting for jobs that they get demoralized, or join any firm which offers them peanuts for salaries. The educational institutes make money, corporate entities hire software engineers for negligible pay — it’s a win-win for both parties. Who loses out?
Yes, there are NIITs and similar institutes that teach the latest software, but how affordable are these additional options for parents of lesser privileged children who barely manage to put together the fees for college?
Narayan Murthy caused a furore when he said that no major invention has come out of India in the last 60 years. Well, guess he hadn’t heard of Mitticool or the Simputer (unfortunately, the latter never took off). But even if we look include these in the larger perspective of things currently, the situation looks grim.
Children need opportunities to think in their formative years, which will set the stage for them to achieve greatness in personal life and contribute to the development of mankind in the process. We must understand that each child is as unique as her fingerprint. Thinking in the formative years will open a child’s mind to reason, to adopt logic. And trust me, you can amass all the knowledge in the world, but if you cannot use logic, you will stay as dumb as a rock. Children need to find what they are inclined towards early; we have to encourage them to build on those strengths so that they can pursue what they like doing and spend the rest of their lives happily. That will also make this world a happier place.
Rather than thrusting bowlfuls of ‘knowledge’ down a child’s throat which she vomits in the exam hall, education has to encourage a child to figure things out for herself. And this type of education does not only apply to typical children — it applies to special ones too. Some teachers, like the ones at SAI Connections, are leading by example here, encouraging autistic individuals to think for themselves and build on their personal strengths rather than fit a frame that society has prepared for them. These schools are helping affected children become independent and live live with dignity, something which most of the other institutions are incapable of offering.
I know that educational systems cannot make children think; expecting this is like a utopian state. But if a change can be brought about (and God knows we need it), it’s this system that can and will do it. I don’t think parents are mentally strong enough to fight peer pressure or teacher pressure, or even question the system (well, they may question it but will toe in line at the first instance when they are commanded to do so). For them, it’s not about what the child wants, but what they want. It’s like they are punishing the child for coming into this world. And almost always, the child gives into social pressures and gets onto the assembly line so that she can be fitted with a brain identical to everyone else. I wonder how long this charade will continue before we fall apart.
In the end, I request you to watch this amazing TED Talk by Ken Robinson on how schools are killing creativity. It’s great fun, the video. But it also gives us a lot to think about.
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