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29 August 2014
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More than schooling
A critique of the modern education system, by Sandeep Pandey.
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The process of education is considered so important in our society that no parents, who can afford it, can imagine having their children go uneducated. It has become such an integral part of our lives that for most people, completing the process of education appears to be a matter of habit. Others, who have so far remained outside this process, are now being covered by the literacy programmes of the government and various non-governmental organizations. Extending the privilege to everybody in the country seems to be a top priority for various governments representing political thought of different shades. Those outside the education system see it as a desirable thing and are quite eager to take advantage of the opportunity offered to them. But, why exactly is education so indispensable?

The need for such an examination arises because everything does not seem to be going alright with the education system. The ground reality is that in most of the schools and colleges of India, students, teachers and administrators are apathetic towards the process of education, fraudulent ways are beings adopted to complete the process and a large number of educated youth find themselves without jobs. It is quite anomalous that when the people, government and those involved in implementing it, consider the education to be a desirable thing, they choose to ignore the real state of affairs on ground. Policy makers, politicians, social activists and education experts are seen taking idealist positions when talking about education, most of the time. Do they really want to continue and expand the existing education system in its present form? Besides the degeneration of the process, education as an activity seems to be going on without any direction.

The purpose of education

More precisely, the perceived goal of education to make the individual and the society 'better' in some qualitative sense, seems to missing in its current form. In our rush to get everybody educated, we do not consider it important to ask ourselves why do we need education?

An idealist notion about the necessity of education has been taken for granted. If fact this notion has been so strongly developed that we are taught to overlook the shortcomings in the implementation of this activity. Both independent groups, who have chosen to work in the field of education, and expert committees have only suggested ways of improving the effectiveness of present education system without addressing themselves to the more basic issues of the purpose of the entire activity. Such people often choose to ignore the disturbing trends, mentioned above, associated with the education system.

Most of the people will refuse to link the malaise in the system to the basic nature of the system itself, considering it to be a disorder which could be taken care of by implementing a proper machinery. Such assumptions need to be questioned. In this article we will present an analysis of the present education system, which will raise questions at such basic levels. When so much resources and the prime time of our children and youth are being given over to the education system, we as a society need to find out the achievement of this system in real terms. However, in this evaluation one must be prepared to dispense with the assumption that the modern education system, or some close variant of it, is absolutely indispensable, for on close examination this kind of education system itself appears to be at fault. The present article will restrict itself to being a critique of the modern education system and will highlight its inadequacies. The solution in the form of a new concept of education derived from a newly established philosophy, Sah Astitwawad Darshan, of Nagaraj Sharma of Amarkantak, will be the subject of a future article. The concept of education based on this philosophy offers the possibility of establishment of a just human order.

Let us first take a look at why people perceive education to be a desirable thing. When several groups of people in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh were asked as to why they felt the need of education, the answers fell in broadly three categories. The most common answer was that education makes people progressive in some sense and is necessary for the advancement of a civilized society. Next, people thought that it imparts knowledge. Lastly, very few people admitted, and that too quite hesitatingly, that it provides employment opportunities. It is interesting that educated people in formal conversation find it improper to voice the most popularly held view among the people that education opens up more job opportunities. It is probably a sign of their being 'civilized', which is quoted as the most important reason for getting educated. We will take up the issues of what people mean when they say that education makes one civilized or imparts knowledge, later.

Education and Job Opportunities

First we will look at the notion of education opening up job opportunities. It turns out that when parents send their children to school they are essentially seeking a 'secure future' for them, which basically means that their children upon getting educated would become eligible for salaried jobs. Even if they do not realize it, the societal norm which compels them to have their children go to school is guided by the same motivation. In fact, this pressure is so great that no parent can even think of doing otherwise. Considering that modern education system incurs some expenditure on the part of parents, it can easily be identified as a middle and upward class activity. The roots of our education system are in the Imperial days, where it was essentially meant to produce a class of people who would assist the British in running the administration of this country.

Even today the education system continues to serve the same function.

It produces a salaried middle class which acts as an appendage to the ruling class and helps keep a primarily coercive administrative system in place. Since the nature of such jobs is essentially of clerical type and there is almost no scope to exercise an individual's creativity. Most people, even those possessing highest of academic qualifications, cannot derive satisfaction out of their jobs. To compensate for their unproductive nature of jobs they have to be paid higher wages than can be earned otherwise. This creates an economic gap between the salaried class and the class of people who depend on their hard labour and often engaged in production activities which sustain the economy. It is primarily this high salary level accompanied by the associated proximity to ruling classes which becomes the motivating factor for any parents taking a decision to get their children educated.

Since the education system is also designed to produce merely a 'clerical' class, upon the completion of their education programmes the youth seek fixed salary and low risk secure jobs. The top priority is often government jobs because there is remote possibility of getting thrown out of them, in addition to other financial and material benefits offered by them. However, the number of such salaried jobs is limited. In fact the number of salaried jobs which are primarily of clerical nature cannot exceed a certain limit because a large segment of the population would be needed outside it, in the primary and secondary sectors of economy, which incidentally also happen to be the source of income for governments from where salaries are generated. Hence, there is a practical restraint on the number of people who can be 'benefitted' by the present education system.

To present the idea of education in its current form as a desirable thing and involving large masses of people in it through literacy programmes, thereby making them aspirants in a limited (salaried) job market, is an irresponsible behaviour. Even though it could be argued that economic liberalization programmes are creating more job opportunities, the number of people receiving education and going without a job is growing at a faster rate. Experience of working in the Ballia district shows that a large number of youth actually fail to make it to the job system. The education system with its urban and elitist bias puts the students from rural and semi-rural background in a disadvantaged position to begin with. Since it is basically a job-oriented education system where people are prepared for subordinate roles, the process of training need not maintain very high standards of excellence. In fact, the general quality of education in this country is very mediocre and at a number of places the whole exercise has been reduced to a farce.

Since what is needed to demonstrate when applying for a job is the certificate and not actual competence, people have devised ways of completing the process of obtaining the certificates without actually putting in the hard work to go through the entire exercise involved in the process of education. The students, parents, teachers, other staff and education department administrators, for example, have evolved a system in Ballia district where almost all the students clear their high school and intermediate examinations, conducted by the U.P. Board, by mass- scale malpractices. This method suits everybody as the administrators and teachers get financially benefitted, students pass their examinations and parents do not mind spending an extra sum to see their children obtain the certificates without wasting too much of their time. This system enjoys full political patronage and has over aperiod of roughly two decades obtained social acceptability. So much so that anybody not resorting to cheating in the examinations would be considered an anomaly.

Since examinations can now be passed without a rigorous program of studies, the entire process of classroom teaching has been short circuited. The teachers are content drawing their salaries. As the number of people possessing certificates, diplomas and degrees has gone up, so has the competition for jobs and the number of unemployed. Since the education system prepares a job mentality in people, a person is called unemployed if he/she is not in a salaried job.

The concept of employment after education leaves out a host of other activities which are absolutely necessary for the running of our economy. A lot of people who fall in the category of unemployed, if they had not gone through the education system, they would probably be engaged in some fruitful production activity. It is a well known fact that our education system creates a mind-set which makes people move away from the basic production processes in the economy. In this sense the problem of 'unemployment' has been merely a creation of our education system. In fact, the education system can be blamed for ruining the best years of our youth, whether unsuccessful or successful in getting a job.

In this light, demands of groups such as AISA, of education and employment for everybody, where by education they mean only the present form of education and by employment they mean the commonly held view of salaried jobs, are meaningless. They are again guided by the same idealist notion that education is a desirable thing for everybody, completely ignoring the ground realities. Considering that majority of our people live in villages, townships and small cities, they are deprived of the fruits of modern education system and a majority of educated youth in this country actually go without a job.

Contrary to the popular opinion that education opens up more job opportunities, it rewards only a minuscule percentage of the population, mostly coming from socio-economically privileged groups. It is only the dream of getting these small number of high salaried coveted jobs that has sustained the view that education opens up more job opportunities. If we consider the hard reality, education system today makes many more people jobless than it is able to provide jobs to. In fact, the process of education is so lop-sided and strangulating that it saps the person of all his/her imagination and enthusiasm making him/her unfit for any other work. The state of unemployment in Ballia is such that people holding even Bachelor's and Master's degrees are forced to take up teaching jobs in privately run primary and middle level schools for a meagre Rs. 200 to Rs. 300 per month. Even a daily wage worker, involved in manual work can earn two or three times more. This crippling effect can only lead to frustration among the people who are unfortunate enough not to secure a job. The government and political parties only make the situation worse by creating an illusion that they can create more jobs. They only fuel the rat race of people going through the education system and then contending for jobs.

If we are to channelize the energy of our youth for constructive activity in society then we work to dispel the notion that education opens up more job opportunities. The sooner we agree to examine the myth that the present education system is a desirable thing, the better it would be for our society. A completely new form of education system with a different purpose altogether, has to be worked out for creating a healthy society. However, this will not be the subject of present article. Here, it is merely sufficient to mention that various efforts which have been carried out to make the modern education system more effective have failed to create an impact. These efforts either in the form of individual experts, independent self-motivated innovative groups or expert committees have not questioned the basis of the process of education. Most of them have concerned themselves with techniques and strategies rather than taking up the issue at a philosophical level.

For example, the vocational training programmes, including the ITIs, failed to motivate the youth to give up their salaried job mind set, because they were designed to merely supplement the modern education system. Such has been the fate of all innovative efforts. When they were incorporated in the education system, their role was limited to only a marginal one. Another example is the S.U.P.W., which was introduced in the C.B.S.E. syllabus. Kishore Bharati in Hoshangabad, working with the objective of inculcating scientific temper through education, was successful in getting books designed by it introduced in the state curriculum but was unsuccessful in qualitatively influencing either the process of education or lives of people in general.

So long as the primary function of our education system continues to be serving the interests of the ruling class, no change can be expected to be brought about by it. Fortunately we are forced to re- examine our education system because, firstly, it is failing to provide jobs to everybody, and, secondly, to the people it has provided jobs, it is failing to provide satisfaction. In any case, the myth that education opens up more job opportunities needs to be dispensed with.

Does education make individuals progressive?

Next let us come to the aspect of education which makes an individual progressive in some sense. The state always projects education as necessary for the progress of society when pushing its literacy programmes. People are made to believe through the state run media that education has the potential for providing solutions to a number of society's problems. There is so much brainwashing done that lot of educated people grow up with the illusion that they are more civilized in some sense that the illiterate people. It is not very difficult to detect the condescending attitude that the educated people develop towards the less educated or uneducated people.

However, when several groups of people, including school teachers and college students from Delhi, Kanpur and Ballia were questioned on exactly how they were advanced compared to people who did not get a chance to go to school, people were at a loss to come up with convincing answers. Because of education they had acquired the skills of reading and writing, but other people in the society possessed some other skills which were in no way less valuable. In fact, skills like farming, cloth making and house building, more basic to our living, the educated people were completely unfamiliar with. What is a part of living for most of the people in the country and where they spend a major part of their time is reduced in the form of mere commodities which the educated people learn to buy in the market in exchange for money earned as part of their salaries. This is probably a basic difference between the educated and uneducated people. However, whether this is a sign of progress has become a debatable issue now.

The educated people would readily agree that inspite of enjoying more material comforts they do not think that they have become any more happy than the uneducated people. Also, education does not make any person a better human being. The educated people are not any more sensitive or sympathetic towards other human beings. Neither are they any more honest or responsible. Education does not free a person of superstition or blind belief in hypothetical concepts of super natural powers. An educated person is seen to be as much of a fatalist as an uneducated one. People possessing highest degrees in sciences are seen to behave in highly irrational and inexplicable ways. A document published when the Kishore Bharati experiment was wound up, points out that scientific rational way of thinking evaporates when economic and political interests of the people come in their way. Hence upon an honest evaluation it turns out that qualitatively there is not much of a difference between the educated and the uneducated people.

Most of the people with whom it was discussed agreed with this conclusion. Then, in what way they thought they were more civilized left them thinking.

People agree that material advancement is not the only aspect of progress. In fact, it is the less important part of it. Most of the people were of the opinion that practice of human values, improvement on human relationships and a just order in society constituted real progress and those are the things they actually meant when using the notion of 'civilized' society. Unfortunately we have not moved ahead in that direction, and although the idea of education was conceived precisely for this purpose, we have so far not been able to develop the form of education, necessary to fulfil this objective. The modern education system is simply not designed to serve this purpose. All it does is only legitimizes material growth in the name of development. Modern science as an ideology, which has chosen to confine itself to only the study of matter, having gotten the support of the ruling classes, has exercised its hegemony through the modern education system to promote a material-centered thinking. This is reflected in the personal aspirations of a modern educated man as well as the development programmes of any modern state. However, that this is only a lop-sided view is reflected in the concerns of the people. Thus, the popular belief that education represents some kind of progress does not stand a deeper inquiry.

Misinterpreted Notion

Finally, we will take up the most profound and also the most misinterpreted notion of education as a means to seek 'knowledge'. The tradition of learning has always been associated with seeking of knowledge. However, what constitutes knowledge is highly debatable because before the advent of modern education system in this country knowledge was viewed only in mystical terms. Only a selected few with some special qualifications were eligible to acquire it. However, as the State patronage shifted from religion to science and a new education system was in place, more people were allowed access to the new 'knowledge'. Science was more successful than religion in penetrating different societies around the world and making itself more universally acceptable in the curricula of the education systems of the schools of the world. But it was soon discovered that it still remained pretty much in the hands of few experts. The 'spirit of enquiry', necessary for seeking 'knowledge', was in the domain of only those privileged few. Moreover, the direction of research was determined often by the state, which was funding the activity. The state had readily adopted the activity of science because it offered the possibility of vastly improved defence capabilities. Because of liberal state sponsorships, defence continues to occupy the interests of a majority of the scientists on earth today. In this light even the spirit of enquiry enjoyed by a few is restrained and the knowledge sought is with a very limited purpose. This explains why our programme of development is proceeding with an associated component of destruction.

Coming back to the education system in the era of science, what was designed for the majority of the people were skills and capsules of information necessary to sustain the efforts of the state. The science education in schools and colleges is no less dogmatic than the teachings of religion. What you can do in the name of science is clearly spelled out by the authorities, allowing no freedom for change even in enquiry. It obviously does not conform to the notion of science offering openness of thought and is certainly far removed from the concept of knowledge. It must be recognized very well that modern education system is not a programme of knowledge seeking even though it does maintain an illusion of that in the name of science. It basically consists of development of certain skills, like reading, writing, articulation, mathematics or giving out certain information through sciences and social sciences. It is a programme limited in terms of the content of curriculum and number of years required to complete it and can be completed by being successful in a definite type of examination.

The examinations, for which the skill of writing is necessary, can be passed by reproducing certain information or at the most by manipulation of this information. A person who is the product of modern education system and has completed most advanced of its programmes does not feel contended or knowledgeable enough to be able to provide answers to all queries relating to his/her specialization and certainly not comfortable answering the basic questions about life and existence in the realm of philosophy even though the education system may have honoured them with Doctor of Philosophy degrees. This is yet another proof of modern education system not being a knowledge seeking exercise. In fact, there appears to be a lot of confusion among people on what exactly is the nature of knowledge and the ways of going about acquiring it.

Most people are seen to use the term knowledge as a synonym for skills or information. Some people make it appear as something mystical, beyond the reach of ordinary people, and consider that knowledge or Truth can be obtained only through very specialized processes. However, such people are themselves not clear about the nature of knowledge or the way of obtaining it, as they have not experienced it themselves. Neither do they seem to have met anybody who has obtained knowledge. Hence, there is a lot of mystery about the mystical way. Like the first two popular beliefs about education, even the belief that education imparts some kind of knowledge appears to be a myth. While both the traditional and modern schools of thought use the term quite frequently, there appears to be no consensus or even clarity on its meaning. The Sah-Astitwawad Darshan has developed the concept of knowledge as a complete understanding of oneself and one's environment in relation to it, and furthermore, evolving a programme of living at the four stages of the self, the family, the society and nature, so that there is complete harmony among all the stages. The task of education is described as making people familiar with this entire concept. Under such a system the objective of education is determined as the realization of a just human order. This human centered thought identifies the two types of needs of human beings - material and human values - and offers a programme for the satisfaction of both. Education helps the human beings understanding these processes better and hence is more meaningful for life. This concept will be presented in detail in a separate article.

Conclusion

The purpose of the present article was only to point out the frailties of the modern education system and to show how some of the popularly held views about this system are merely myths, which are exposed on a closer examination. The education system is not serving any fruitful purpose in the society, except for keeping a handful of people in jobs. A larger objective of creating a healthy society, where all the needs of all human beings can be satisfied easily, is simply not on its agenda. The education system fails to provide intellectual satisfaction and hence a viable programme of living where mutually beneficial relationships can be established with other human beings, groups of people and with nature, which is necessary for the growth of society. As a result of the all round failure of our education system a need has been established for new thinking in this direction.

Sandeep Pandey
June 2001

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