Friday, July 30, 2010

An Ailing Educational System

I seriously want to punch the person/people who came up with the 10th class exams. The schoolkids, up to 10th, have tons of enthusiasm, are filled with questions, and can actually learn. After 10th, they turn into zombies who may eat brains but have none of their own.

I might be exaggerating a little. They probably don't eat brains.

I'm jumping forward in time from my narrative, but I had to get this off my chest. We visited a degree college here in Hyderabad today, and talked to some of the teachers.

These students are getting Bachelors degrees in Biochemistry, Microbiology, and the like. And yet they have no clue how to formulate an answer from information they know. All they know is the answers, word-for-word, to the questions in their study guides. One of the teachers told us what happened when she asked something very simple of them: "Describe the room we are sitting in."

She was looking for something along the lines of, "It has one door" or "There are four windows" or "There are desks in the center". What she got was silence. And then one of the braver students asked, "You tell us first, ma'am. Then we'll tell."

They are no more than parrots, though their squawking sounds more like "DNA is transcribed into RNA" than "Polly want a cracker!"

Why is this?

I've come up with a few reasons, but the major one is the tests. The questions on the tests must be exactly the same as the ones in the books. I'm serious. Even math problems.

Forget changing the numbers; if the math problem in the book says "Sammy has 4 apples..." and you change it to "Sammy has 4 bananas...", it becomes out-of-syllabus! That's not allowed on the exams. So what do teachers do? They have the students write out each of the allowed problems 20 times, the students memorize them, and regurgitate the ones that show up on the exam, and nobody ever learns anything.

Up until 5th grade, kids can't fail. And many schools have requirements that teachers can't let their students get below 80 marks (out of 100) or something like that. So the tests are basically rigged so that everyone passes. The students get good marks, and then they don't even realize that they know absolutely nothing. After all, they got good grades!

Example anecdote: A new teacher, who happened to be a scientist mother on leave, agreed to teach UKG (kindergarten) at her son's school. So she did. After the first month, the kids had unit tests. Some of her kids got as low as 40 marks, and the headmaster and other teachers came after her and asked just what she was teaching. She told them numbers, colors, etc. Well, in UKG, apparently, teachers are supposed to teach three colors: red, green, and yellow. That's all they're supposed to teach on that subject, grinding it into the kids' heads for a week. Since that's all the kids are tested on, they do great on the tests. And then they have no idea that there are more than 3 colors in the world. And any kid who answers "blue" on his homework gets the answer wrong.

If the kids aren't getting high enough marks, the parents threaten to switch their kids to another school, regardless of whether the marks actually mean anything.

The problem is, this isn't simply up to 5th grade. The tests are like this all the way through college. The state syllabus is actually not that bad, though the science is quite outdated (anybody who quits after high school will know not a single fact about DNA or genes or genetic diseases). But because of the nature of the tests, nobody learns even what little is there. They study, study, study the answers to the questions they know will be asked, with no idea what they mean and no idea how to answer if a single word is changed.

That's the state of education in the state of Andhra Pradesh. There is no creativity. And it's not even about creativity in the form of art or music - many of the older students lack the ability to form a coherent thought of their own! But how can they help it? After all, any sort of independent thinking is systematically beat out of them.

I respect the RDF even more now for trying to encourage some creativity in their kids. Hopefully they'll grow up to be leaders someday and change the whole thing from the inside out.

1 comment:

  1. That doesn't sound like education to me. School is supposed to open the young mind to all that is out there and more.