Having done my schooling in the seventies through the nineties, I went through a fairly joyous primary education – when things seemed meaningful to a great extent – a very confused middle school and a totally disconnected high school education. After this I had to select a ‘group’ based on my performance in the subjects that I had studied in Class X.
I grew up in the city (which, in those days, was an advantage when it came to schooling), was sent to a very good school (English medium school that ran CBSE curriculum which was a rarity in those days) and I did well in academics. I had the fortune of having parents whose support enabled me to complete school and pursue college education. This meant that I was highly advantaged as a student.
Despite this, when I had reached college, I felt that there had been a lot of unnecessary struggle that I had to go through learning stuff at school just in order to get marks and fulfil the criteria set by school for all students. I felt that a lot of my time was wasted in doing things that I never wanted to do and studying subjects that I never found use for!
Yes, wasted time it was. All that time that I studied about unification of Germany and Italy, about the geography of Tanzania, Uruguay, Iceland and every country on earth. All the time that I spent in remembering the year when Jahangir threw Shah Jahan into prison and wondering why a son would do it to his father. All the time that I had to spend to learn the names of grammatical elements in English although my English was considered very good by my teachers and friends. The time that I spent in learning to read, understand and write in Hindi while all I wanted to do was to learn how to speak it! All this wastage of time happened during my middle and high school years.
And then, I had some wonderful learning experiences too! I loved painting classes - though I was nowhere near the best in the class - but we had only one period of it in a week! I loved craft class, especially embroidery although even in that I was just doing okay but again we had only one period of it in a week. I loved Mathematics and Physics and would have happily swapped these classes instead of History of Europe or Geography of Latin America or having to write tough Hindi compositions! In hindsight, I would have loved History if it was of our own country, especially of Tamil Nadu. I might have enjoyed Hindi classes had we been taught to speak the language rather than sit through the study rote that made it extremely tough and senseless when no opportunity was created to speak the language.
And I was not at all alone, the reverse was true in fact! We had discussions among friends on the subjects we enjoyed and detested and these were intense involved discussions where we spilt out hearts out. My closest friend hated the time that she had to spend making chits of mensuration and trigonometric formulae to learn them by-heart. Some of my friends did not care that they scored low in some subject although they were not viewed with mercy either by their parents or by the teachers. At least a couple of my good friends sigh when reminded that they were great at sports at school.
My sons started schooling in the 2000s. It was still the same story, the only difference being that now the students are more comfortable with English and lesser so with Tamizh, our mother tongue! Nothing else has changed. Yes, the Government on Tamil Nadu says that they have removed pressure on students by doing away with entrance exams for Engineering courses but many of the students who go to college end up struggling and some even fail in the first year of engineering.
Just as most anxious parents are, I ensured that both my sons went to CBSE schools. Students from state board schools fall way behind CBSE students when it comes to critical and independent thinking. This was so when I was a student and it is even more so today.
All these said, there are wasted school years in both CBSE as well as in Tamil Nadu State Board Schools but, in the State Board Schools the wastage is even more as guidance for students to maximise their potential is much lower.
In short, the education system has done little to make it more relevant to the students. In the case of the State Board, it has deeply worsened as they have totally lost vision of the crux of education – which is tapping into the student’s potential – and have watered it down to merely making it easy to score marks!
Will there be an education set up where precious student years are not wasted? Will there be an education set up where students enjoy learning and doing what they will eventually use in life? Will there be an education set up where students feel challenged to maximise their potential in the fields of interest and will not be forced to compete with those whose aptitudes are different? I am waiting for an answer. Hopefully, the vision of NEP2020 will concretise into reality in the years to come; let us do our bit towards this.