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November 01, 2017 Wednesday 04:01:05 PM IST

Schools Without Books, Teachers?

Guest Column

I was attending a seminar on educational reforms. Experts were participating and their speeches were well prepared. They were fully aware of the changes taking place in society and the power of emerging technologies. They accepted the fact that every generation has to wrestle with addictions of its own and the present is addicted to brands, drugs, pills, gambling, sex, gay relations, pornography, junk food, selfies, work perfectionism, trolls and fake or guided news.


I was a bit upset when I left the premises. I felt something was wrong somewhere and I could not pinpoint it. Is it because we are so much mentally fattened with knowledge and wisdom from books that our emotive ability to understand the effect of the addictions is almost curbed?


I remembered an old personal experience.


Two Decembers back, my eight-year-old grandson, Adwaid, then in class three in a CBSE school, came to me with a handwritten notice of the Xmas celebrations he and his friends in their residential apartment complex were planning.


The notice was short and pointed.


Welcome to Xmas celebrations.


Sunday evening, 4.00 pm, December 20, 2015


Only boys from age 6 to 10 allowed. No girls.


Bring Rs. 50/- cash for party and gifts.


Chief guest..........


Adwaid wanted an advance of Rs. 1000/- from me which he promised to return after the event. He told me the ban on girls was only because they were a “nuisance” in the jolly atmosphere. After the function, he telephoned me and said the function was a grand success.


Since then, I have narrated this story to about 15 people in the educational field, including two celebrities at the national level and asked them to guess who Adwaid and his friends invited as chief guest. I was stunned. Only one could give the correct answer in spite of the fact that I gave all of them three options and whatever inputs they wanted about the children and their parents’ stature to get VIPs easily for the event. .


The chief guest was the watchman of the residential complex.


It was a tragic but real fact that only 1 out of 15 of the experts in the field could enter the mindset of the children, around 6%. Very dismal. Of course, they countered it almost convincingly with their wisdom and ability to find excuses for not finding the seemingly obvious answer. It was almost as if the children were at fault for not selecting their choice.


It was for me an indicator that something was wrong somewhere.


Byju Raveendran, creator of Byju’s Learning App, the present sensation in the Indian educational system needs no introduction. Son of parents who are teachers in a Government school in Azhikode, a village in Kannur district, Byju was educated in the local school. He graduated from Kannur Engineering College. Within the span of a decade, he could invent a teaching system based simply on the revolutionary receptive conduits of the changing generation of students and make learning an interesting computer game.


Byju says: “I advise all students that there are a lot of things that you need to learn from books, but there’s a lot more that you can learn outside classrooms by playing multiple games. One is to learn real-life skills, which is helping me to make a bigger and bigger impact and that forced me to learn on my own. So from the beginning I used to learn below and above the curriculum. The subjects I used to like I used to learn, and the subjects I kind of never used to like, I used to still follow. What almost all students do today is memorize, replicate and then forget.”


He mixed 2D, 3D animation and characters with real teachers’ communication methods and created inroads into the minds of new-gen children through their favourite pastime, playing computer games.


An interesting side comment was his statement that the most difficult part of his operation was to convince his teacher-parents that teachers as we understand today are not necessary for teaching.


When Ekalavya was denied  education, he did it his own way, just placing Drona’s effigy as a symbol and outclassing the best of Drona’s students including the great Arjuna.


Change is unstoppable and our only hope. Whether you like it or not, want it or not, you have to accept that change is inevitable.


Now let’s examine our subject. Skill defines success.


But what is success?


To almost everyone, success means power, wealth, fame and status.


For the vast majority who are just ordinary with limited basic raw material for development like heritage or talent, the accepted norm of success in life is acquiring wealth. Unlike in power or fame or status, wealth is easily measurable, thanks to the simultaneous development of arithmetic and economics.


Success is not measurable. The idea is vaguely present in our minds and we with good intentions try to bring changes. But the unfortunate part is all these changes are initiated and executed by experts who are part of the system and they have limitations in even thinking about a total revolution. In simple terms, the experts in reforming educational system can accept internet in place of books; but can they accept education without schools or teachers?


Let’s think different and try to get an answer.

K . L. Mohana Varma

Kochi-based novelist, short story writer and columnist.
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