On Killing the Imagination.
– An opinion by Sunirmal Chakravarthi
Indian education has come a long way. From the much-vaunted ‘guru-shishya’ traditions of the past to the much hyped “99 and 100 percenters” of today! It has been a journey from the sublime to the ridiculous. We are constantly told that we live in a very competitive world; but when the competition involves the country’s two major school boards competing to see which one can give the higher marks at School Leaving examinations, then it is time to sit up, worry and hope like fury that good sense will prevail sooner than later.
Thanks to how the nation’s two major School Boards, and the multiple State Boards, function, our entire education system has been reduced to an examination system. Education, in my opinion, should ideally be the opening of the mind. Unfortunately, our Boards have succeeded in doing exactly the opposite.
Today, thousands of those going through our schools are NOT encouraged to open their minds. If anything, they are likely to succeed only if they SHUT their minds to everything else except that which is prescribed in their examination syllabus.
As a result of this peculiar stress to succeed and score in “the high nineties” (the low nineties do not count; as for the rest, who cares?) the colleges have ended up setting ridiculous cut-off marks. But why blame the colleges? After all, they have to find some way of selecting “the best”. But are they “the best”? Or are they only the ones to have done the best in the examinations by learning everything by heart and spewing forth in the examinations.
It is, indeed, most unfortunate that the term “education” has become synonymous with examinations.
Of course, examinations are a part of the education system, and they are important; BUT when examinations and students’ performance at examinations become the be all and end all of education then I think we are treading on very dangerous ground. Education should involve the opening of a child’s mind, broadening his horizons and encouraging a sense of enquiry and questioning, as well as sense of compassion and understanding. Instead, everyone (parents, teachers, students and even the press) is in awe of the two digits on a students’ mark sheet; but should those two digits define the quality of a person?
Indeed, I am entirely in agreement with Einstein, who once remarked, “Knowledge is not important. Imagination is.”
Would it have been possible for Einstein to have discovered his Theory of Relativity or for Galileo to question the rules of the universe or for Gates and Jobs to push the edges of the computing world only with what they learned in School and lacked the power of imagination? The power to imagine is fundamental to progress. Education should be interesting enough to tickle the curiosity of the young, and open their minds to the mysteries that surround us. Instead, what we have today is a drudgery of boring classes, following boringly written text books, and appearing for boringly designed examination papers that hardly challenge the imagination of the vibrant young. Under these circumstances, we can only encourage mediocrity and judge students by the two digits on their mark sheets, which tell us nothing about them except that they studied well for their examinations.
I would like to illustrate this with an anecdote that was narrated to us Principals at a Heads of Schools Conference recently.
The Speaker, who works with an NGO in the Sunderbans, brought home to us the difference between knowledge and wisdom. He said that if we asked an IIT/Star-college-qualified Engineer how much wood would be required to make the windows and doors of the Conference hall we sat in, he would take the measurements, go home to his computer, pump in all the data and return the next day with his assessment. (Also, he tartly observed, that it may not be accurate since his ability to take actual measurements were suspect). At the same time if we put the same question to the local carpenter, who as probably only a Class VIII-passed, he would give us an accurate estimate then and there. He was absolutely spot on in describing how there was a serious disconnect in our education system, even at the highest levels.
There is a keen need for us to understand that there is a definite and very important difference between “knowledge” (that is information) and “wisdom” (that is how that knowledge is applied). When we understand and accept this, our education system will, perhaps, return to an even keel.
The overemphasis on examinations, achieving high marks, setting ridiculous cut-offs is killing the imagination of the young. To my mind, that is criminal.