Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.                                                                                     William Butler Yeats

I have been motivated to write this series, following recent experiences in supporting a young man of 17 years, a relative of mine with the aftermath of plus two results. Let us call him Divakar, as I do not want him to feel embarrassed or identified as a result of this blog. The focus on this series is on the education system in Tamilnadu, particularly the SSLC and HSC system and how that shapes individual intellectual and emotional development and it’s impact on long-term mental health. I will also link this up with our current understanding on adolescent brain development and parenting.

Divakar is tall, lean energetic boy passionate about football and reptiles. He got excellent marks in tenth public exams with centum in Math and Science. So, one can imagine the level of expectation placed on him for plus two. Whenever I have discussed with him over the years about what he was interested in he always said he wants to research in reptiles, snakes in particular. I have also had discussions with him a lot about what he learnt at school, only to find out that all he learned was what was in the text books repeatedly and many a times without understanding the content or context. I can recount a number of amusing anecdotes based on these conversations. But one would suffice to get a peek into the system. Once I saw him studying about AIDS in his science book. He was sitting in a corner and was memorizing certain paragraph over and over about AIDS repetitively. I stopped him and asked him what he was studying and he said he was preparing for a test. I asked to see his textbook and asked him if he knew about what he was studying and he nodded yes. I then asked him how AIDS was caused and he did not know, but proceeded to say, “my teacher asked me to read only these paragraphs for the test”. I did not know whether to laugh or cry. Is this only a problem with his teacher or with our entire educational system? Maybe there are other teachers who would teach for acquiring knowledge. But talking to other parents, students and families widely I began to realize that this was more the norm than the exception.

These made me reflect on my own school education thirty odd years ago and it was difficult to recall accurately due to the layers of life learning in the past three decades. As I have been successful in studying what I was passionate about, my memories maybe biased. The system was still geared towards the quantity in terms of marks rather than the quality of education. The number of subjects that was available for plus two students appeared to have remained the same all these years. I had another look at the available subjects in plus two and was disappointed to see the same limited subjects with the same rigid combinations with the same possible trajectories in future.

Coming back to Divakar’s situation. He got very poor results in plus two compared to his performance in tenth with a total of 880 and relatively lower marks in his core subjects. So what is going wrong here? Clearly he is capable of getting marks. There maybe n number of reasons for this outcome. But to me what seems to be the core issue is the lack of an education system that creates enthusiasm and passion in individual students. I have seen a progressive loss of interest in studying well in him in the last twos years and have heard comments such as how many times to learn the same things? It is boring etc. There were no opportunities to learn about what he was interested in. He did not have opportunity to play football at school or in a team. All he could manage was play in the local playground with his friends. When the aim of education is repetition, memory and marks, how is that going to induce a love of learning? Our children in India, at least majority of them are disadvantaged by our education system in improving their knowledge or discovering their passion. I can compare this with the Australian education system. Ultimately even there at the end the outcome is based on performance in exams, but the journey is certainly different. There was expo at my daughter’s school regarding subject options for year 11 and 12. She goes to a public, government-funded school. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that she had a choice among thirty plus subjects, the traditional Math, Science, Language, and also subjects such as outdoor education, psychology, media, music, drama etc. There are no rigid combinations; a student can choose any combination of subjects provided they are available in that school.

The first and foremost problem in our education system is that it has not changed in decades, probably since colonization by the British. It has not grown to include creative expression, range of subjects available for school aged children and methods of instruction. I understand that changes have been designed in early education, but have not translated well in practice.

To be continued….

Dr K Porpavai