Need to overhaul education systemThe focus of education should not be fixated on marks, but it must promote students to inculcate sports and social work in their life in order to embellish their employability and making them a better person

Heraclitus, the great pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, is supposed to have said a couple of thousand years back that “only change is permanent”. But the education system in our country seems to be imprudently defying that dictum. Everything around the education system — technology, economy and societal values — has changed, but not the education system. It remains stultified, disoriented and insensitive to society. It is like one of the dinosaurs which somehow managed to survive and remains as an oddity and doesn’t even warrant a curiosity. Dead, dying and decayed.

A decade back, I had a wonderful opportunity to visit Stanford University in the USA. I was fascinated by the vibrancy of the place. One can easily feel the buzz of creativity by the blend represented by races and religions. Stanford University draws the cream from the world, and then embellish them into a better person, professional, etc. By constantly updating, the university has created a place for learning, discovery, innovation, expression and discourse.

As an educationist, we always wonder why there is a disenchantment among the students with studies, and most of the time we end up finishing the discourse by blaming them. We need to take a pragmatic approach. It is high time we gave it a thought what the successful universities have managed to offer to the students and what we have not. We can easily spot a pattern here. Let’s look from students’ perspective.

He or she has a few years to complete a course, there is a set syllabus for every year; there is a timetable with in which he or she has to suffer a monologue without active participation. It is like a mass production automated factory which is stuck in a rut. Come to think, even potato chips change in flavour and packing from time to time.

Legendary rock group Pink Floyd could not have put it more succinctly in their famous song “Just another brick in the wall”, a satirical take on old British education system. Yeah that is what we are doing. We are producing just another brick for the wall, not different from another.

What can we do? First, we have to completely overhaul the education methodology. Present syllabuses for the respective courses have to be made more relevant and tuned to the actual requirements. There should be enough flexibility in syllabuses for students to choose his or her topics according to their inclination. In order to involve students in learning, process of self-study has to be formally incorporated. Students should constantly be given assignments on topics related to their courses. The teacher related to that topic should only be consulted on deeper and finer points related to that course. The practice of one-way mechanical bombardment is only currently being followed in a few Asian and African countries.

But the education should not only be merely restricted to related subjects. Every student is a reservoir of myriad talents. We should be able to provide them a platform to unleash their multidimensional capabilities. Every successful university has a vibrant culture of encouraging various art forms such as drama, debates, singing, writing, poetry and so on.

On hindsight, sadly, once we had it all. Our founding fathers did provide for them in curriculum but somehow all these things gradually dwindled from the syllabuses.

Every college campus has a playing ground, almost always empty now. Compare that with the fierce rivalries among sporting teams of western universities, especially the intercontinental rivalry between Harvard and Oxford. Sports is an equal partner in western education curriculum. That is why they get so many gold medals in Olympics.

Another aspect of education should be to develop a connection to the society around the students. Western universities encourage students for social and charity work. It should be done in such a way his or her work becomes a part of the overall profile. Activities like these go a long way in increasing the employability of the students and making them a better person. Overall profile of the student should not be restricted to marks or grades in subjects but must include hobbies, sports and social work. Concept of marksheet has to be revisited.

Moreover, society around the universities too have an important role to play. We cannot be impervious to what is going on around. Wherever possible, we should offer our services to the university administration on pro bono basis. The top universities in the western world evolved, strengthened and acquired independence mainly due to the charities and contributions of a few philanthropists. The alumni too played a big role. Unfortunately, this part is conspicuously absent in India. Some billionaires rose from village schools and local colleges, but seldom come to help of the alma mater.

Another important factor that keeps the top universities on edge and motivates them to constantly improve is the competition among them. Numerous education bodies annually bring out the list of top most universities as per the yardsticks laid out by them.

We have a high mountain to climb. We have to bridge the gap between employment and employability. And we have no other option. This is the road taken by every successful university.

The great Mark Twain was once asked about his schooling. In a typical Twain style, he answered, “I did go to school but I never let it interfere with my education.”

A few successful persons from our universities probably followed his philosophy to the hilt.