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Indian Schools – Are they damaging our children?

Do you remember those books being thrown your way for not completing the homework? Your subjective answers getting marked down because they weren’t what the teacher taught everyone? Or being forced to solve problems with no heed paid to whether you had understood the concept? Well, this is the case for millions of students across India.

In these modern times, the conventional wisdom or mindset says that hefty fees, better teachers, more challenging curricula and more rigorous tests are a way to make students learn better. Parents send their children to school with a hope that they’ll become productive and happy adults. But what if I tell you that the real problem is the school itself?

Here are a few things which are psychologically damaging and failing our children today.

The Rote Learning Syndrome

Today, subjects like history have been firmly contained to rote learning of dates and places. Children are forced to learn the dates of wars instead of why they happened or what could have stopped them. Mathematics is all about Rahul having more apples than he could eat, or finding angles of triangles without being told how doing so was useful. When it comes to English, children are pressurized to memorize select poems and write down the notes the teacher dictated instead of being asked what their understanding was. Scoring more has always been more about writing the longest, most complicated answers for simple questions.

Good Grades = Intelligence

It is clear that the success of a student is measured in marks. However, it is comforting to know that some schools require students to explore their other talents like music, dance and sports activities but even this is stifled by the system. These activities hardly ever help in getting into a higher educational institution. Exploring talent seems to be a futile exercise as a good future is only when you get good marks. All these extracurricular activities are thought to be a waste of time by most schools. As a student, you either have to be the brightest or something has to be wrong with you. This seems to be the reality in most institutions. ‘Okay’ scores are never adequate, and students are taught to feel guilty about not scoring high marks.

Schools Have Started Resembling Prisons

Teachers have become increasingly lenient in areas such as respect for peers, bullying, and working with others, and increasingly strict in areas such as pointless dress codes, grooming regulations, and administering punishment. Everything in school is about doing things by-the-book. In simple words, if kids are clever enough to come up with fractions without drawing bizarre pictures, schools demonize them for it!

Instead of giving a student a mentor, helping hand, they give the students a watchman, an iron fist. Instead of making a student learn and become aware of his mistakes, schools simply administer a punishment that is very similar to solitary confinement in prison. In the recent decades, schools have also been compelling children to spend ever more time on the school campus, and there is strong evidence that it is causing serious psychological damage to many of them.

Dampening Creativity

As we all know, schools are a product of history; they were not created with the intention of making children learn. The age-old blueprint is still used in today’s schools, and children are taught to obey authority figures without questioning them. The entire concept of schools being a place for nurturing critical thought, creativity, self-initiative or ability to learn on one’s own — the kinds of skills most needed for success in today’s economy — is practically non-existent. In Indian schools, wilfulness is sinfulness, which is drilled or beaten out of children, not encouraged.

Failed Attempt at Reforms

Various attempts at reforms have failed time and again. Though the government has managed to tinker with some structures and syllabus, they haven’t altered the basic blueprint. The teach-and-test, top-down method, in which learning is motivated by a system of rewards and punishments instead of curiosity has failed students time and again. The system today is well designed for indoctrination and obedience training but not much else. It’s no wonder that many of the world’s greatest thinkers and path-breakers either left school early (like Thomas Edison) or said they hated school and learned despite it, not because of it (like Albert Einstein). It’s no wonder that even the toppers in school often report that they are “burned out” by the schooling process.

So, as a society, I am not surprised that learning is considered to be unpleasant by school students. In India, parents think of it as bad-tasting medicine, which is tough to swallow but good for children in the long run.

To conclude, Indian schools, while doing many things right, are focusing on many wrong things as well. Instead of teaching students ‘How to think,’ and ‘How to solve problems,’ they teach them ‘What to think,’ and what the solutions are. It’s as good as giving students cooked fish instead of a fishing rod or fishing lessons.

Much of the damage done by Indian schools is also because of the substandard teaching, or in many cases, a shortage of teachers. Read more about it here.

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