Nobel laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote a lot on education. This was one of his key areas of concentration. He found out many problems here, which still exist as before. The core message of all of his writings on education is reflected in his famous The Parrot's Tale. The end part of this story is:
"The nephew said, 'Sir, the bird's education has been completed.'
'Does it hop?' the Raja enquired.
'Never!' said the nephew.
'Does it fly?'
'Bring me the bird,' said the Raja.
The bird was brought to him, guarded by the kotwal and the sepoys and horse-riders. The Raja poked its body with his finger. Only the dry leaves of its inner stuffing rustled.
Outside the window, the sprouting new leaves with their deep sighs in southern wind overwhelmed the sky above the forest of flowers."
There is little improvement in our education system from this scenario since that time of Tagore. Only the way of the bird's death has been easier at most. Our national education is getting fulfilled in this way. And the number of slanderers has come down alarmingly. "There is no end of power exercise by the nephews. Repair is continuing day and night. Above all, the noise of sweeping, wiping and polishing made everyone say" on radio-television and in papers that "development is happening."
Yet in Poor Economics, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, who received Nobel prize in economics in 2019, said about education in developing countries that education fails to accomplish two of its basic tasks: "giving everyone a sound basic set of skills, and identifying talent." Their conclusion, therefore, is that "the current system delivers essentially nothing to a very large fraction of children."
No need to think that education in developed countries is free of all such ills. Sweeping, wiping and polishing continue there, too, yet development is coming within their reach and nephews are compelled to see the limit of their power. With the propaganda of development marching ahead, the news of death of the bird can also circulate freely in those countries.
The success of the education authority in every country is in saying "the bird's education has been complete." But when this proclamation does not apply well for some naughty birds, it hurts the minds of nephews. One such indomitable bird is the Swedish school girl Greta Thenburg.
When she asked the world leaders to move away from fossil fuel immediately in the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2020, Trump nephew Secretary Manuchin gave some 'important' advices to the 17 year old Thenburg. He asked her first to complete her study of economics before talking on such things. The education that he glorified is pure capitalist.
Former Greek economy minister Yanis Varoufakis answered Manuchin by saying, "If Greta were to study mainstream economics, she would spend several semesters studying models of markets in which neither a climate disaster nor an economic crisis is possible. Time to transform both economic policy and economics!"
This is the default setting of the capitalist education system. Here the market model is taught as an infallible theory, its regular failures and big disasters are considered exceptions. Bad things happening here are viewed as things irrelevant to theory. Reality must adjust to theory, not the other way around. So if there is any environmental problem for any economic activity, solution can be found by changing, or if necessary annihilating, the environment itself, not stopping the activity. If any community or population is harmed by any economic enterprise, its responsibility falls on the suffering population and the solution can lie in their eviction!
Lots of Manuchins are produced out of this industry of education, rarely Greta Thenburgs. Greta still remains good because she has not gone through this big machine of crushing humanity. If this is the case of education in highly developed countries, what can we expect from ours?
In a country like Bangladesh, children are used to hearing that cars belong to those who study in school. What is the more anti-knowledge philosophy than this view of education? If children are taught from their early age that the goal of education is merely making journey by car possible, it is natural that they would find a lot more effective ways to do that than having any real education.
There is a magic capsule in our education system to poison the minds of children from poor and backward families. The Bengali stock of words is, perhaps, rich for such depressing expression as 'your head is full of cow-dung.' This frequent discovery of cow-dung in a child's head is to hide the truth of lack of food in stomach and nutrition in body.
Telling a lie is one of the main teachings in our education system. They learn during their childhood how to cheat their friends. Parents of rich families teach their children to deny to their classmates that they have any notes provided by the home tutors, rather to collect notes from others. Teachers instruct their students not to tell the answers to their classmates in the exam hall and, if obliged, to tell the wrong answers. This system of examination which teaches children to tell lies and cheat their friends when necessary, is it not good for morality to abolish that altogether?
In urban areas of Bangladesh, many parents bring their children to school from not-far-away homes. For what purpose? For comfort of their children or showing off their boastfulness? On the other hand, in Japan children come to school on foot by leaving the car away from school. This is the rule in Japanese schools because every child might not have a car, so none should be allowed to show their boastfulness and make others fell inferior to them in the class. This is what real education is.
My little daughter studies in a private school. Children take some snacks from their homes to have during the Tiffin period. We used to give her simple food like banana, biscuits, etc. For this, a few of her classmates who used to bring burger, sandwich, etc. asked her whether she was from a poor family which sounded like taunting to her. One day she told me about such incidents. I told her to reply next time any one told her such things that, "Yes, my father is poor, but this is not any guilt, it is guilty to be a thief or a bribe taker."
Karthik Muralidharan, Professor of Economics at the University of California, San Diego, wrote in his article, Reforming the Indian School Education System (in the book 'What the Economy Needs Now' edited by Abhijit Banerjee et al published by Juggernaut Books in 2019), of two broad purposes in the design of an education system. One is "to impart knowledge, skills, and shared concepts of identity and citizenship." This can be referred to as the 'human development' role. The second purpose is "to assess and classify students on the basis of educational ability and achievement and to select higher achieving students for higher education and occupations that aim to attract the meritorious students." This can be referred to as a 'filtration' system rather than an 'education system.'
Passing exams with good marks is the focus of this filtration system. This has led to "an education system characterized by rote learning to pass exams (often through cramming of past exam papers) as opposed to conceptual understanding that can be applied and used in practical situations," according to Professor Muralidharan.
'Inclusive' is an often-used term nowadays in the education system of the developing countries prescribed by education consultants from developed ones. But keeping the filtration system of education intact, 'inclusive' is no more than a fashionable word only. In the system in which falling behind and dropping out is inevitable as part of filtration, inclusiveness is quite meaningless.
According to Abhijit and Duflo, schools fail in these regions because "both the curriculum and the teaching are designed for the elite rather than for the regular children who attend school." The "entire point is to prepare the best-performing children for some difficult public exam that is the stepping-stone toward greater things, which requires powering ahead and covering a broad syllabus."
In such a system, leaving most children behind is not any accident, but inevitable. The hidden agenda is "a more or less explicit policy of expelling the bottom of the class every year, so that by the time the graduation exam came around, it could claim a perfect pass record."
The current system of education, which is standing on its head in developing countries, needs righting up. This requires some fundamental changes that can be brought about with bold, visionary, patriotic and pro-people political steps taken by future leaders committed to making education fruitful in these countries.
Alamgir Khan is Editor, Biggan O Sangskriti
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