Evolution in Education
If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants. – Sir Isaac Newton
Many of you may know of Sir Isaac Newton as the brilliant scientist who discovered the laws of motion, or maybe as the person who didn’t understand the phrase, “An apple in hand is worth eating and not writing a seminal work of mathematics on!” But one thing is clear, given all his brilliance he still believed that leveraging the discoveries of his predecessors and thinking beyond that is what got him proven wrong by Einstein. However, it is this simple little fact of leveraging and innovating that people seem to have forgotten nowadays and the system which is most slow to adapt to this entire process is Education.
Yes. Would you believe that! Often enough schools keep talking about the revamping of their systems but this is nothing more than modernizing the existing methodologies with just newer technologies like smart boards. We, as a nation, have still fundamentally failed in redesigning how people learn. Our textbooks still focus on subjects that have become obsolete over the decades and we consistently rely on the same. We have reached leaps and bounds ahead in the domains of customization of products and services but still the same spirit has not been brought to the domain of education.
Growing up I hated history and geography. It wasn’t the concept that bothered me, but rather the way in which we concentrated on learning them. State boards still consistently rely on a system of mugging (for our non-Indian readers, that does not mean being beat up on the streets but an Indian word for memorizing facts which we may never have any use in our life past 1 examination) for arts related subjects and not on the learning to be derived from them. All I remember from those days is primarily though assisted media and major blockbuster flops like Mangal Pandey (mangal mangal hoe!)
Going ahead on to my high school years, I finally hoped I would’ve a chance to showcase my talent and select the subjects which I truly had a flair for Science (no surprises there if you were born to a quintessential Indian family with aphorisms like, “Mera beta engineer banega!“) But alas this was not to be. The schools don’t have an option to select topics of your interest and allow students to go deeper and beyond the prescribed curriculum. That must come from yourself, or if you are preparing for IIT-JEE, from your coaching classes. The very fact that we need a separate entrance exam to many higher educational institutions in India implies the fact that they do not trust the scoring and learning imparted during your high-school years and need another layer of check for your abilities.
I finally made it! Yes, I got into IIT-Gandhinagar post my high school and actually had an encounter with how I could grow and apply my knowledge to real world skill. But this is where it gets interesting. People assume that the education in prestigious institutions is what is making these students excel worldwide, but to me, that wasn’t necessarily the case. Yes the classes were easy to score, but I realized that most of the skills I needed to engage and my talents, I had already learnt. I had been able to develop a knack for learning and that was my biggest strength. Using this it was possible to apply myself to any given field with the strength of the internet!
And that is where all of this comes down to. The internet has fundamentally changed how knowledge is captured and disseminated. Long ago and by that I mean merely a decade ago, it would not have been possible to learn subjects such as advanced fluid dynamics or their like on your own at home. The internet has made the concept of a shared learning process highly possible and to a great extent the need for the day. Educational institutions should not just concentrate on sharing knowledge as that task is already done. What they really need to focus on, is the application of this knowledge to the real world. Educational institutions, can in fact, be run as companies with long term project in various fields and the students are simply the Human Resources which keep getting recycled every 4 years or so. That is absolutely true in many IT companies around the world. But only through the continual application of knowledge can anyone be truly expected to imbibe and stand on the shoulders of giants. Envision a future where institutes expect you not to select courses, but projects to work on during your 4 years there. You are given deadlines and ample resources to learn them, may it be professors or books. We could truly make some marvelous discoveries in institutes themselves and not keep it as an option for students to pursue.
We have on our hands as human society a brilliant opportunity to finally shorten and strengthen our knowledge base. It would lead to many more empowered individuals, who could execute projects independently, right out of college. This could be one of the possibilities for redesigning the educational system. It may not be the perfect one, but this thought would change the roles of academicians in the process. Such a change will require disruption and lead to a new order, but that is the need of the hour for us all to grow, develop and evolve.
Maybe then we will truly understand what Newton meant and perhaps to greater justice to the people who have gone before us.