There exists a huge lacuna in the education system in some states of India. Because of the competition among the schools to produce 100 % results, the teachers are asked to train the students in mugging up the subject- be it arts or science subjects. The teachers mark the answers of the book- back questions in the book itself, and ask the students to write exactly the same in the examination. If a student writes the answer on his/her own, mark is deducted. The same practice is followed up to the intermediate board examination.
Then, the in the 10th board examination, only the 10th standard syllabus is included. In the board examination after the 12th standard, only the 12th standard syllabus is included. So, in most of the schools, the 9th and the 11th standard syllabi are not taught at all.
Starting from 9th up to the 12th standard, the schools keep tests almost every day or on alternate days. The students are grilled these four years. Thus, most of them lose interest in study. So, when they reach the under graduate level, they tend to relax.
Because of the wrong teaching-learning process in school level, the students do not know what a concept-oriented study is. So, they do not know at all that if a question is asked, they have to think and write the answer. Often, I find the students writing whatever they know in a particular topic, whatever the question may be. This is pathetic, and this happens because they do not understand the subject. This happens because they are trained not to understand, but to mug up exactly what the teachers have marked in the book.
I remember my school days in Calcutta. Instruction used to come from the teachers even in the 5th or 6th standard not to write exactly from the book. We were told that if the same sentence from the book wound be found in the answer scripts, marks would be deducted. So, we used to be very careful that we must not write any sentences from the book. And the result was complete understanding of the topic, and writing on our own. We were never, never encouraged to mug up. In this context, I find that writing summary, substance and the précis is extremely helpful in developing the habit of concept-oriented study. I remember that our English teacher used to give us lot of paragraphs as exercise to make summary, précis and substance of each one. It was a wonderful game to play with words, and a great pleasure to see how a big topic would shrink gradually from the original topic down to the précis, yet retaining the meaning.
I had the opportunity to teach the students of CBSE board. In this board also, the students get enough scope of pursuing concept oriented study, and they are never encouraged to mug up. However, I found that in mathematics, where a problem can be solved by applying logic, is solved using a formula. Eventually, remembering a formula requires mugging up. As for example, let us look at the question: if 500 people take 30 days to complete a work by working 10 hours per day, then, in how many days can the same work be completed by 17 people working 3 hours per day? This problem can be solved by using unitary method, and also by using a formula. If one uses unitary method, one need not remember any formulae. This is the beauty of concept-oriented study- you need not take the huge burden of remembering things. You just understand, and you will be able to answer to any questions you are asked.
I remember that I also trained my young one to pursue a concept-oriented study. When she was in her third standard of schooling, I presented her with an Oxford Dictionary on her birthday. To my pleasure, I found that in her free time, at times, she used to pick up the dictionary and choose any word she wished, used to mark it; wrote the date and signed beside the word, and learnt the word. Then, she used to find the adjective, adverb, noun/verb form of it and make sentences with those words. In my childhood days, I also used to study the same way. Exclusively for this word game I had a copy in which I used to write new words I learnt daily. I used to write separate sentences using the different parts of speech of the words. I am sure some people must be studying in the same manner.
Now, when I face the engineering students in my first contact hour of the new semester, I try to explain the meaning of concept-oriented study. I am quoting a part of my introductory lecture here: students, after you see a film, are you able to tell the colour of the artist’s dress if anybody asks you? The answer comes as a huge “yes.” Then I say to them, ”After you read a story, if anyone asks you question on the story, are you able to answer?” They say, ” Yes.” Then again I say to them,” Then why cannot you answer when a question is asked from your subject?” “Actually, my students,” I continue, “It is the matter of taking easy, and it is also the matter of involvement. You are able to tell the colour of the dress the artist wore, or you are able to answer the question asked from your story book because you take it easy, and because you become “one” with the film and with the story book. You know very well that you need not write examination, and so, you do not take burden on your mind. That makes big difference. However, when you study the subject, you are already biased. You are biased that the subject is tough, and you know that you have to write examination. So, you take enormous pressure on your mind while you sit with your book. Just take it easy. Just start with a curiosity to know what is written in the book. I know that a “subject” is not as easy as a film or a story book. Whatever it may, take it easy and start reading. After reading a paragraph, if you do not understand, read it once again within your mind. At this juncture, you need to see whether your basics are clear. If it is not, keep the school level books at your finger tips so that then and there you can clarify your doubt. Most importantly, after you study a topic from your text book, you need to study the same topic from a couple of other books. It is necessary because studying a single book the entire concept may not be clearly understood. It is because, in a particular book, a particular topic may be well written. In another one, some other concept may be well explained. So, in order to understand the topic clearly, several books have to be consulted. Moreover, I see Google as the best source of knowledge in any fields.”
I do not know whether in all states of India, in school level, the students consult reference books. Most probably, they do not. However, in some boards, especially in West Bengal, reference books are a must in all levels of education, starting from 7th /8th standard. The schools and the parents emphasize on using reference books- not one, but a few in each subject. I remember that especially in mathematics, no questions used to be asked from the text book, starting from 6th standard- be it weekly test, monthly test, annual examination, board examination or university examination. So, we used to solve numerical problems from the exercise of several books, and on the day of mathematics tests, I used to feel a bit nervous thinking what questions, how many difficult questions I would have to face. I find the concept of reference book missing in the school education in some states. At this juncture, I would like to mention that in higher education, all educational institutions must be extremely careful in suggesting the students a very good text book. If the text book is not legible, it is very, very difficult to take interest in the subject.
Next, the marking system is of great concern that the educational institutions must look into. Again, it is very much diluted in some states. In the rat –race of achieving centum result, the students are awarded very high mark. So many students get above 490 out of 500 in board examination. However, in West Bengal, in the 10th standard board examination, if a student gets 65% in aggregate, she is awarded the national scholarship. It speaks of the marking system there. It is very strict there. Unless a student is extremely talented, he/she does not get high mark. In the West Bengal board, a 75% mark in a subject is called as “letter” which shows that the awardee is highly talented. Similarly, 80% in aggregate is termed as “star”.
The practice of liberal marking system in the school level is also followed in the higher education system in some states. In the rat-race of securing near-hundred percent result, the teachers in all institutions award huge mark to the students- much more than they deserve. In addition, by giving more mark, the teachers can also avoid the complexity of revaluation and review of answer scripts. But nobody is bothered to think that this kind of liberal marking system is degrading the quality of education system. Like the termite takes away the life of a wooden cupboard, the liberal marking system also collapses the education system. A liberal marking system, needless to say, is full of flaws. In this system, a student not capable of getting pass mark also is awarded a pass mark. I do not understand why we do not think of our students as our own children? The purpose of teaching –learning process is to make the students life-ready and to help them grow into a good human being, as far as possible. If our children make mistakes, should we bring them prizes, or should we make them realize their mistake? If we get them prizes seeing their mistakes, are we not harming them? Similarly, if we make a student not deserving a pass mark, pass, are we doing justice to him/her? Are we doing justice to our profession? Are we doing justice to their parents? Are we doing justice to the society? What we are producing is a huge number of graduates, who will be inefficient teachers, who will again follow the same cycle. By this, we will be producing a huge number of inefficient doctors and engineers. Is it not a national loss? The noble responsibility of building the nation lies in the hands of the teachers. Why do not we make the inefficient student realize that he/she is inefficient, and that he needs to start from the scratch? Will the teachers pay little attention to this? Will the institutions look into it? Can we brainstorm? Will the policy makers look into it?
Do not the students fail in universities? Do not they fail in IITs, NITs and organizations? Why are we compromising with the quality of education? If we award the exact mark that the students deserve, then only they will realize that they need to do hard work. Then only the standard of the institutions will go high. Then only the quality of life of our students will be better.
Another matter of concern is the question paper pattern. Again, this is a grey area. I find that in all schools, and probably in all institutions of higher education of some states, a “blue print”, in which the number of questions from each unit is also fixed, is followed. The teachers are asked to follow the blue print and explain the same to the students. If a student studies according to the blue print, it becomes easy to get good mark, because then she need not study the whole subject thoroughly. The outcome of this is an incomplete knowledge.
There is the necessity of a remarkable paradigm shift in the mindset of the parents. Every parent wants their child to be an engineer or a doctor. Why? Is there no use of other professionals in the society? What about a chemist? The entire world is colourful because of chemistry. Is there no necessity of a physicist, a painter, a musician, a sportsperson or a bio-technologist? Similarly, there are several other fields the children can take up. It is the duty of the parents to identify the talent in their children. Why do they push them to a domain in which they do not take any interest at all? Why has a person to take up a profession he is not fit for? I cannot think of the unbearable agony of a person being in a profession he/does not like.
When I go for valuation, I get gloomy seeing the helplessness of the students. Once I saw one answer script in which the student had written his long-cherished nursery rhymes” Jack and Jill went up the hill……” Several times, I found students writing letters in the answer scripts addressed to his unseen examiner, “Sir, this is my third attempt of writing physics examination. I have tried to commit suicide twice. I failed to do so. If this time also I do not pass, I do not want to live in this world. Please make me pass.” Here lies the necessity of change of mindset of the parents. I am seeing that even the parents of very, very humble income group selling their property, availing loan from bank to get their children admitted to professional course. The result is a null result, mostly. The helpless children are forced to take up a stream they do not like at all. This results in frustration, depression, melancholy, destruction of self esteem, etc.
In this context, the policy makers, the entrepreneurs and the government also have enormous responsibility. If the funding agencies of our country generously fund setting up of institutions having multi disciplines, it will be wonderful. Long back, the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore had established his dream university- the Visva Bharati in Shantiniketan, where science arts, painting, music, dance, etc. are taught in the same premises. If the government of India encourages opening up of institutions of this kind, rather than only engineering or only medical institutions, I believe that the managements of the “purely engineering” or the “purely medical” institutions will be ready to accept the opportunity. As a result, many students will be able to take up courses they like. Those who want to study engineering will study engineering. Those who want to study literature will study literature. This will, in turn open up job opportunity in many fields. Will there be any practical difficulty? The policy makers will have to think upon this. Alternatively, the thousands of private institutions imparting higher education may be converted to institutions imparting knowledge in multiple disciplines.
Dr. Rajasri Sen Jaiswal