Category Archives: Education

Education in India, School is a Scandal

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It has become imperative to talk about the education system.

It is too old fashioned to talk about education system.

The bare fact is that education in India now is nonviable.  So we simply maintain the education system. Maintaining the system requires periodical overhaul as the system has the callous habit of biting every now and then.

The teaching mechanism (it is a mechanism not because of the its programmatic condition but also because it is mechanical) weighs everything by the self-sustenance coin. Whatever happens the show must go on.

A very large part of what happens in schools, colleges, universitites, research establishments is pure ‘time pass’. No body who goes through this machine emerge any better because of it, but despite it, thankfully.

A very very large part of the books meant to be studied in our state, central and international schools are optical illusion.

A large part of the professional education in their books, lab work, practical work, apprenticeship – in every detail – in our medical colleges, engineering colleges, MBA etc are totally maya.

Out there on the street if you dont know how to use ma-behen gali you can hardly cross the street, and here in the schools we learn pious diction!

Out there on the street there are rapes taking place, we dont discuss it anywhere.

Out there in the homes, drunk father abuses the daughter for clinging to the mother whom he is berating for refusing to part with her daily wages, and here we ask the girl if she has finished her homework.

Out in there, the society tells the callow youth to join the electioneering and earn a bottle for the night, and here we ask the boy to learn about Renaissance.

Out there the government snatches away the small piece of family land for industrial estate, and here we ask the children to do a project on local governance.

Out there in the courts everyone with grave ernestness utters pre-determined lines to produce a prescribed verdict, and here we ask the child to learn duties of the citizen.

Which course in which level of our education teaches us how to survive the corrupt revenue office, the devilish netas, the adulterated food products, the profeeteering in hospitals, the doubly-lying ‘factual’ reports…. Where do our children go to learn to deal with a system that toils day & night to produce ever greater misery for the common people?

Every soul associated with education in India – from the education ministers to administrators, management, textbook writers, teachers, clerks, students – know that they deal with two distinct spheres daily. As they enter the ‘education sphere’ – the campus, the classroom… – there is this world of hallowed ideas. You step out of the class, the textbook, the building, and you can completely ignore everything said and heard in there.

Given this conditions, how do I place any trust in what I read? How does it matter how I writer what I write? How does it matter how I get my grades? Passing, marks, degree, everything has lost any meaning. Because, education is completely irrelevant now. It is a holding area.

What I experience in the society and what I learn in the book seem to lye on either sides of the mirror.

There in the texts only the sacred speaks. Here back home, there is nothing akin to it.

I go to the class and be one person. I come out of it and be another.

Schizophrenia.

School, ah, it is a scandal.

Freedom Writers – Inspiring tale about education

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from: freedomwritersfoundation.org

from: freedomwritersfoundation.org

I saw this film “Freedom Writers” the other day without knowing anything about the freedom writers experiment. When I saw in the titles that it is based on a true story, it blew me. So I checked out and read about them. Now where I teach, I have begun in a very small way experimenting in my teaching. I mean, I have begun to change my role as a teacher. I was inspired by this story. Let me quote from their website.

Following the Rodney King Riots and the O.J. Simpson trial, the mood in our city was unsettling, and on our first day of high school, we had only three things in common: we hated school, we hated our teacher, and we hated each other.

Whether it was official or not, we all knew that we had been written off. Low test scores, juvenile hall, alienation, and racial hostility helped us fit the labels the educational system placed on us: “unteachable,” “below average,” and “delinquents.” Somehow, Ms. G recognized our similarities, and used them to unite us. She gave us books written by teenagers that we could relate to, and it was through these books that we began to realize that if we could relate to a little girl who lived on the other side the world, fifty years before we did, we could certainly relate to each other.

We felt like Anne Frank, trapped in a cage, and identified with the violence in Zlata Filipovic’s life. We were so inspired by the stories of Anne and Zlata, that we wrote letters to Miep Gies, and to Zlata, in hopes that they would come to Long Beach and share their stories with us. When Miep visited us, she challenged us to keep Anne’s memory alive and “passed the baton” to us. It was then that we decided to begin chronicling our lives.

We began writing anonymous journal entries about the adversities that we faced in our every day lives. We wrote about gangs, immigration, drugs, violence, abuse, death, anorexia, dyslexia, teenage love, weight issues, divorce, suicide, and all the other issues we never had the chance to express before. We discovered that writing is a powerful form of self expression that could help us deal with our past and move forward. Room 203 was like Anne’s attic or Zlata’s basement, it was our safe haven, where we could cry, laugh, and share our stories without being judged.

We decided to call ourselves the Freedom Writers after learning about the Freedom Riders who fought against segregation during the Civil Rights Movement. When we began writing these entries as a simple English assignment, we had no idea that they would one day be collected and published in a book, The Freedom Writers Diary.

Since graduation, we have kept our promise of trying to change education. We are pursuing our undergraduate and graduate degrees, many of us at California State University, Long Beach, while continuing to share our story and mentor students across the country about what it’s like to receive a second chance.

English Education in India: Cannon Fodder

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It was in the 1970s that in Indian universities the English departments began to be opened up. What was a shamefully colonial institution – the English department and its syllabi – began to break out into other streams of literary studies. !970s was way too late for this ‘reformation’. If we consider the changed world order, 70s certainly is a couple of decades late into the arrival of US into the superpower status. Hence, for Indian universities to look beyond ENGLISH literature in the 70s is already a sign of time lag. Secondly, becoming independent in 47, if we could not wake up to the need to come out of our awe of ENGLIT for two decades, it is again a sign of a mind shackled to colonialism. But let us leave the bygones and ask what is happening now.

In the 1990s there was a lot of talk about the crisis in English Studies in India. The funny thing is that even our ‘crisis’ was borrowed! The advent of poststructuralism had put the US English academy under pressure to move out of its humanist framework and this was generally referred to as the crisis in the academy. And, bingo, there it was in India, the crisis, albeit a decade later.

Now this crisis in India led to a lot of reviews and revisions of the way English studies was structured those days. There was intensification in the effort to make the English syllabi to include wider areas on the one hand and also to overhaul the manner in which literature gets taught in the classrooms. I am not going into that part of the debate here. But regarding the nature of the syllabi, this crisis led to a wider acceptance of the idea that there should be lot more than the staple diet of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Eliot in English syllabi even at undergraduate level. I guess most universities now have implemented this logic and have a spattering of American lit, African lit, Indian English lit, European lit, and even Indian language lit in translation. The choices here are not very radical, most simply stick to the established canon; but it is a bit of an improvement nevertheless.

This is the situation that I want to consider in this post. My experience as a student, researcher and teacher of English literature has been that exceptions apart, the western-canon, be it in British, American, African, etc., of literature is hardly suitable to us in India. I have noticed for example that teaching Conrad, Hardy, or Joyce is a sure shot way of benumbing the students. The same students who progressively show less and less enthusiasm for the text being discussed in the class wake to vigorousness if they are reading a Premchand, Kamala Das, or Khushwant Singh. This is of course no new discovery, all of us know this and people have written scholarly tomes on these issues. (I have noticed that students respond better to works by female writers than many male writers, except I think to Jane Austen).

Now what I want to share here is about the irrelevance of English Studies. I think we need to realize that literature is no more merely print lit, and hence we need to find ways of bringing in more relevant literary studies into our syllabi. This I believe applies, to a lesser degree, to all arts departments, not only English departments. One of the ways to negotiate the students’ familiarity is to bring in film and TV studies, along with our present study of narratives of any kind; bring film and pop songs, including advt jingles along with the study of poetry; bring in journalistic writing along with prose writing; and these have to be done seriously.

Sure, some of the institutions and departments are up to this already. But that is usually in places where studying Homer may also work! An elite place having radical syllabi is neither news nor radical. We need the number-rich, mass-ive state universities to do these at all levels.    

Teaching Samuel Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith, William Thackeray and suchlike, not excluding Shakespeare, in a classroom today serves little purpose in terms of what the students learn about novel or narrative, or language or discourse. They would understand the mechanics of narrative and its social effect better if their familiar world of narratives is roped in during the learning process. Or else, it remains, nothing more than a disciplinary clinic – making learners passively pick up whatever rubbish that the (often incompetent) teachers throw at them. By squeezing out all relevancies from their classrooms we are successful of course in making them less and less independent and more and more submissive. But that we should not any more continue to do.

Art education in India is presently the last resort of a student; often it is the lot of the poor and rejected students to do arts. Is that why this field of education is in bad shape and receives such little attention? For art education to become meaningful it has to engage with the contemporary modes of art and entertainment; contemporary practices of texts and languages. Past and distant literatures are very useful; but definitely not enough. Got to cross the stupid colonial framework (whether of the old or the new variety) and begin to revise and devise frameworks of study that is historically and socially relevant to us.