At TEDxSPSU – Part Two

TEDxSPSU was held on March 12, 2011 at Sir Padampat Singhania University, Udaipur, India, with theme Order from Chaos. This series of posts are what my TEDx presentation was based on. There are six parts that shall be published sequentially over the next few days. This is Part Two.


Why is it that our children are trained to lose every shred of empathy, curiosity, interest and creativity?

It’s all very good to have a national policy on education that promotes critical and creative thinking and all that great stuff.  It’s great to recognize the impact of technology in education. But on the ground, this translates into the ability to orient and train teachers to bring in these skills, to build the infrastructure to support the development of these skills and attitudes in students and to align these developments to what we need as a society, as a culture and as an economy.

Curriculum designers could tell you that if they were to put every little bit of detail in the textbook, it would grow too large to handle in the time they had to teach the children about Gandhiji and the Dandi March.  As it is, there is so much to cover and such little time.

If you were to look at the curriculum, you would find that the average topic of instruction does not allow for more than an hour or so of average classroom time per topic. And this includes reading the book, explaining segments, answering questions, giving homework etc.

Consider the learning objective:

“Discuss the critical significance of Nazism in shaping the politics of the modern world”

In case you are wondering if I have made the transition to an under-graduate class in Political Science that would be slightly incorrect. This is part of the Central Board of Secondary Education (India) curriculum on Social Science for Class IX

For some people, this would perhaps take a lifetime to discuss. So one would say, we don’t want a PhD thesis in class IX, just want the salient/critical points for them to learn about.

What in effect we are saying then is that we do not want understanding, but an ability to repeat the writer’s belief in specifically those words that the writer has penned down. Not only that we will assess how closely the answers match with these words because our teacher may not know how to handle a perspective not expressly recorded in the book.

By the same argument, our children make the case that they cannot answer questions “in their own language” – i.e. in a language that is not the language laid out in the book. In the epic movie 3 idiots, this contrast is sharply brought out. The informal, meaningful way of describing a machine is:

“A machine is anything that reduces human effort and saves time”

While the formal, a book centered exam-accepted definition is:

“Machines are any combination of bodies so connected that their relative motions are constrained. And by which means force and motion maybe transmitted and modified as the screw in its nut or a lever turned about a fulcrum or a pulley by its pivot etc. especially a construction more or less complex consisting of a combination of moving parts or simple mechanical elements as wheels, levers, cams etc”

No guesses on which answer will get you marks in the exam. 

<< Part One >> Part Three

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