Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The knowledge of education - UOGP article by Shantanu Rajadhyaksha

It is a little known fact that most people in a metropolis like Mumbai in India do not have the time to look about and even at their own feet while going about their daily businesses in the local trains, buses, and even while walking from the nearby tea vendor back to their offices. The maximum effort that the normal working person will make here is to look down at his/her watch to check the time. Its normal one might suppose, to not focus on anything else and to mind one’s business. But yet, there is always time to curse why there are so many problems in life- why does India have so much political corruption? Why does the average Indian have to be so behind in the standard of living as compared to the ‘developed’ world? Why, must there be so much poverty, so much chaos, so much terrorism? The answer to all these questions, which of course are not found by pondering over them on the way to work, may be found by simply taking the time to just tilt the head a bit towards the ground, not look at the wristwatch, and instead look into the eyes of the little girl who has been standing for ten minutes tugging at one’s trousers in the hope of getting some coins to buy lunch.

Today, India is recognized as a nation about to make the huge step of becoming a true superpower. But what kind of superpower are we talking about here? If it is in terms of population, yes, India is certainly up there! But what happens to all these kids? Very few of the nation’s youth actually is lucky enough to obtain that golden chance to at least be able to read ‘The Jungle Book’ by Kipling, let alone be able to obtain a degree in Information Sciences and Technology at Penn State. Different education ministers come and go in the government, each establishing their own systems with their own personal political agendas mixed in, dividing educational privileges on lines of caste, religion and states, ultimately making the little child about to enter the big, bad world of schooling feel as if committing suicide is a better option than this slow torturous death. Greed on behalf of educational institutions for tuition, and stingy practices of hiring substandard professors to teach outdated syllabi, unrealistic and unrelenting pressure from parents…. The little girl tugging at one’s jeans has a far easier and stress free life doing what she does. And well justified from her viewpoint now isn’t it?

The reason behind so many of India’s youth not contributing to progress is certainly not a lack of ability or intelligence. Says Sylvia Menzes, a student at Penn State York - “ It has been fascinating to get to know more about students from India ever since the Initiative program began. Certainly its obvious that they have so much natural talent and appear to handle the education system here with ease”. Thus the fault lies not with the student, but with the kind of encouragement that the student gets in India. Those who are kids of rich parents living in posh South Mumbai can certainly afford the sky-high tuition of the ‘good’ colleges, but what about those who are forced to learn at one of the pathetically resourceless government colleges? Walls covered in mould, wooden benches falling apart, a professor who is on a Rs.1000 a month ($20) salary, and one has an experience which is enough to keep education on the back burner for the rest of one’s long life ahead. Why should begging and stealing be bad options then? After all, its better than wasting time listening to a politician’s false promises of good education and jobs. Why must terrorism and hateful thoughts of killing these corrupt government officials then be condemned in our ‘civilized’ news channels? If society was truly civilized, different educational systems would be unified into one (making use of all the good things from international systems such as the American method), education would be free of politics, government colleges would have the best of infrastructure, coursework and syllabi for subjects would be up to date, and people seeking jobs in teaching and staff in educational institutions would not be made to feel like substandard garbage.

Fortunately there is hope. It has taken some time, but after several years of effort, organizations such as Teach For India, Akanksha, The Miracle Foundation and even traditional schools such as the Ambani International School have made headway into solving India’s educational crisis. Teach For India, which is a sister organization of Teach For America, focuses on bringing together a group of focused individuals from all professional fields of study, to come and make a commitment to go into lower income schools, impart the right kind of education to all students, irrespective of economic status, caste, religion, color, and state. It trains these young innovators in specialized methods of teaching, and places them directly in schools. After placing its first batch of teachers in June 2009, the second major batch will start teaching this June of 2010. (TeachforIndia 2010) It’s comforting to know that the very youth who have gone through the very rigors of the educational torture system are now willing to make the change themselves, unlike leaving the task to others as has happened in the past. It was exactly the old theory of thinking which corrupt people such as Laloo Prasad Yadav, Bal Thackeray, Raj Thackeray, Mamta Bannerjee, Narendra Modi (the list goes on and on) have exploited for their own vested interests. In a true democracy, the world’s largest in fact, there needs to be true change coming from the common man. Teach For India, and indeed Teach For America, deserves a huge pat on the back for daring to do what so many have shied away from doing. And it is not only the common man who is realizing that change is desperately needed. The personalities and figures that everyone in India recognizes and idolizes more than politicians, Bollywood actors, are also getting in the act. Aamir Khan, with his team of young and fresh actors and film-makers (Rang De Basanti, Taare Zameen Par-Like Stars on Earth, 3 Idiots) (Khan 2010) along with authors such as Chetan Bhagat( Five Point Someone, One Night at the call center) (Bhagat 2010) have made India watch and listen to the current educational crisis and how society reacts to them. These efforts have helped increase the mass awareness of the gravity of the situation.
There still needs a lot of work to be done. Teach For India and Aamir Khan can only do so much in the end. But it’s a much needed start, not only for India, but to the rest of world as well, who no doubt faces the same problems. The proper education of our children is the key to the world’s survival. Maybe that would be our weapon of choice to end terrorism. Maybe that would make us bend down to that little girl and ask her about her name and where she lives. It is definitely not that hard to get an A in that easy subject of Humanity, is it?

Works Cited
Bhagat, Chetan. chetanbhagat.com. 2010. http://www.chetanbhagat.com/books/ (accessed February 2/1/2010, 2010).
Khan, Aamir. IMDB. 2010. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0451148/ (accessed February 2/1/2010, 2010).
TeachforIndia. 2010. http://www.teachforindia.org/media_picture_fellows.php (accessed February 2/1/2010, 2010).
TeachforIndia. What we do: TeachforIndia . 2010. http://www.teachforindia.org/history.php (accessed February 2/1/2010, 2010).


Chelsea Moyer said...

Thanks for your post, Shantanu - it really hits home (my sister actually is actually employed by Teach for America in Oklahoma) and I'm glad to hear that India has created a similar equivalent. Every step forward, no matter how small, is positive. Education and, as a result, awareness, really are keys to broad social change.

Cadence said...

As always, Shantanu, a really insightful look into cultural differences...and I think it's awesome that this program has taken flight.