Students’ sad story

There is much hullabaloo over the SC judgement on the RTE Act. But two more suicides by city students this week show that the statutory right to the three Rs, that the judges, activists and rulers are so obsessed with, often goes against the larger right to life and livelihood of us students. The basic question arises if we should at all be put through this education wringer only to emerge in shreds.

Much of the current debate is over managements, money, minority institutions etc, while the real stakeholder, students, are sadly missing from the scroll and have no say. So, here is my argument, backed by experiential evidence. The original sin lies in the motive of education. That I am born to earn, not to learn, has been written into my genetic code by parents and society alike. This makes education a preparatory experiment for lucrative jobs with schools and colleges becoming training and testing labs. This skew at the start can never be straightened out.

But the real devils lie in the finer micro details of student life, from plus two to placement. So, granted that the education system is totally tuned towards securing jobs and ensuring the security of those jobs, has it at least served that purpose? Colleges routinely brag about their job placement record to propagate their educational ‘service’ credentials. But does not the real test of their claim lie in job continuity of the students? The real story is that out of every 250 students selected with great fanfare on campuses, just about hundred last, while the rest get dismissed or drop out quietly when companies perform the aptitude and other skill tests! Why? To the fatal flashback now.

We get decisively ‘marked’ as a perennial target by the brutal education apparatus right at Plus One. (Actually from pre-KG) Eleventh Std is when the life-determining professional group decision is taken. But we are made to falter at this first step itself. Day one of ‘professional’ education starts with the invocation that mugging, memory and marks are paramount while concepts and comprehension are downplayed. With huge portions and limited time, automatically the rigmarole of ‘Important Questions’ and an attitude of ‘this is enough’ takes over. Also, when question papers follow a predictable pattern, and with distractions galore beyond classrooms, will not even the diligent ones be tempted to choose the easy and lazy way out? It is a tragic spoof on education that some of my mates could leave out Calculus in 11th and still emerge with flying colours in Maths!

But the carried forward baggage comes to roost in 12th. The real pressure of future professional education is centred in this year whence even a fraction of a mark counts. Here too questions are finite and answers and valuations almost predictable. The stair to centum which is the ceiling is well laid out and available to any mechanised student. And with perennial tuitions, peer pressure and parental prodding, many hit the roof, making for a crowd at the top. Quotas and cash queer the rest of the roof. Ironically, high marks turn nemesis for some as even three centums may not get the seat in a college of their choice.

It’s no different once in college. Only that it is four more years of chasing marks plus a few other quantitative parameters, now for placements. There are problems and perversions here too. Students from Tamil medium in school find the sudden shift to English shattering, even fatal, as happened with the girl who ended her life this week. With many minority linguistic institutions admitting students from other States/lingos, even Tamil turns Terminator for some. Also, while Education has come to be synonymous with Engineering, the latter too now means IT alone! So, barring probably Marine Engineering students from almost all branches of BE or BTech are selected by IT companies where anything goes, making a joke of the serious stream-selection process in year one! But to stay put in the job, conceptual understanding, not academic achievement, counts and this is where the ‘marked up’ products of the education ‘assembly line’ come a cropper, and get condemned to the piling garbage of the educated unemployed, rather, unemployable! In college or school, they can at least copy if they cant cope, with or without help from teachers. There are no such options at the workplace. The noose hangs even more tantalisingly. Aah, how my education can ultimately fail me!

I can pursue knowledge only at the cost of marks or opt to chase marks, shun real knowledge and remain a dud at office and life. Learning and Marks converge in very few. On the contrary, the divorce, enforced by law and society, between them is very telling and tragic. Learned judges and agitated activists, high on points of law and policy, simply cannot stoop to look at this ‘petty’ burden on our backs and minds. So, a right to education, for free or fee, means little to us as long as this stifling stranglehold of Syllabus-Exams-Marks prevails. All you wise men may wax eloquent on this right. But we are not exactly ‘enjoying’ it.

So here goes our dissenting judgement: The system is screwed beyond salvage. Actually, with rising population and raging competition, trying to fix it may only make things worse. Now, let me get on with attending to the approaching Arrears!

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Jawahar T R