By Prof. SP Bhattacharyya
To write something on education and school education in particular, is indeed a most daunting task and I feel like the blind men in the well known story ‘Six blind men and an elephant’, each coming up with the description of the elephant in his own way (one who touched the ears thought the elephant was like a fan etc etc). Though not physically blind and in spite of being associated with education (the elephant) for a long time, I am yet to comprehend the full meaning of the word ‘education’ which is certainly much more than just getting a degree or diploma or simply the process of teaching and learning. School education is the foundation of all higher education and the teacher-student relation is the mainstay of this system through which the teacher helps kindle the two eyes ‘desire’ and ‘curiosity’ which eble the student to see the world in its myriad forms and colours and find one’s own place in it.
Over the years, the institutiol learning system is one in which knowledge is sought to be imparted through well-planned curriculums at every stage from kindergarten onward, though there also exists a vast informal education sector like distance learning etc which has been kept out of the present rrative. Formal education system essentially comprises of three main components viz, students, teachers and the necessary infrastructure which includes organization. Let us consider the students first. We must not fail to see that today students are no longer like students of yesteryears for whom the chant was Chatram Adhyam Tapah, nor are teachers like Guru Sakshat Parama Brahma. The present day society has shown that honesty and integrity, knowledge and culture have become almost secondary and to some extent even disabling traits of character for becoming respectable in public life. All that matters is power and pelf, no matter how these are acquired.
And there are many shortcuts to success without burning the mid-night oil like in the earlier days, though there is a small section of students who still attach importance to learning and character building and cherish high ideals in life. Also, we must not lose sight of the fact that while the majority of students in private sector schools are drawn from more or less educated and well-to-do households, the students of government schools come from the poorer section of the society where many children suffer from disabilities like malnutrition, ill-health etc., for which they cannot participate in the teaching-learning exercises in the class rooms like their counterparts in private sector schools. This is one of the main reasons for high rate of drop-out in schools and failure in examitions in government and government-aided schools.
The next important element in education is the role of the teacher. It is said that good teachers are born, though the teaching capability can be markedly improved through appropriate teacher training programme. Also, we cannot, in general, compare the present day school-teachers with our illustrious teachers of yore, when there were hardly any suitable jobs for the educated job-seekers except a few teaching or clerical jobs here and there and one had to be lucky to get even one of these. Education at all levels has expanded during the last half a century or so, which has inevitably brought about some dilution in quality in every field including education. Even though many lucrative jobs are now available both in public and private sectors, the numbers of these are still far too less compared to the demand, and most of these are cornered by candidates having better academic records.
As a result, the majority of teaching jobs in schools are, perforce, filled up by candidates who are academically and temperamentally not suited to the profession and join as teachers to somehow earn a livelihood. In the circumstances, teaching and attending classes, which should normally have been a pleasurable experience for both the teacher and the taught, ceases to be so and fails to create the necessary interest for learning amongst students. We all know that a teacher has a pivotal role in our system of education, though unfortutely for many a reason the teacher’s image in the present day society has taken a beating. While it is the job of the social scientists to suggest ways and means as to how to improve the same, ridiculing them in public for their shortcomings will hardly do any good. If anything, it will only further demoralize them and worsen their performance.
Next to students and teachers, the other most important component of institutiol education is the ture of infrastructure and organisation available at the school. Most of the government schools at the district and sub divisiol headquarters during the British days had well-furnished buildings (by the then standard), adequate and qualified teaching staff and other facilities for all-round physical and mental development of the students. The few mofussil schools were also not far behind. Every school had a football field where sports and other extracurricular activities used to take place for the all round development of the students’ persolity. There was an efficient local administration with the Headmaster/Principal as the head of the institution under the overall control of the highest departmental authority — the Director of Public Instruction (DPI) — who was invariably a seasoned educationist. Any act of indiscipline on the part of students or teachers (uuthorised absence etc.) was always dealt with promptly and seriously. Unfortutely, this legacy of discipline of the British days has all but vanished now from almost all spheres of our activities including education.
The other most important aspect of education is the system of examition. It is well known that the result in examition either makes or mars the career of a student. Though a lot of changes have been brought about in the system in course of time to make it more objective, yet the subjectivity in examition, by the very ture of it, cannot be elimited altogether. Moreover, our society is passing through a technological revolution (knowledge explosion) and it has become increasingly difficult to re-jig the school education curriculums all so frequently to keep pace with the fast-changing needs of society. Certainly, diagnosing the ills of the system of education and suggesting corrective mechanisms is not an easy task in a society like ours, burdened as it is with unbearable population pressure and all-pervading commercialization of education from the primary level itself. Only time will tell whether government initiatives in this regard (through gunotsova etc.,), will be able to produce the desired results.
(The author is Retd. Principal, Assam Engineering College)