Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Education, and the ability to think

Monday's edition of The Hindu carried a news item titled, "CBSE questions to test thinking skills." Which, in itself suggests that the current model does not. In case anyone is wondering what the hell the CBSE is, it is the Central Board of Secondary Education, that handles course material for schools across the country, and conducts the All India Secondary School Examination. So, back to the news item in question. The headline suggests that the current question paper model does not, in fact, test thinking skills. So, what else does it test? The answer is evident to anyone who has been through the grind. It tests rote memory, like all other state education boards and a majority of universities in India. You see, out here, thinking is a bad thing. Anyone who bothers to use their brains is deemed to be arrogant and disrespectful towards elders.

I have ranted quite a bit earlier on the state of education in India. This post is, in a way, an extension of the earlier ones. Our system lays much emphasis on learning by heart and repeating what one learnt. Given such a situation, how can a child suddenly be expected to be capable of answering questions that require application of knowledge and not learning? Is the capacity to think not cultivated from kindergarten? There is simply no point in blaming the educational system alone. We, as parents and family are equally responsible for this situation. How many of us take time to explain things to a child. A child is expected to listen and blindly accept all the parent says. Any attempt to question is immediately discouraged and the poor kid is labelled arrogant. In this situation, how do we expect children to think and apply their mind to anything? They are so used to accepting what adults (teachers, parents or others) say, that they become incapable of thinking.

Having said that, I think the CBSE's attempt is a step in the right direction. Change has to start somewhere. And a public exam at the age of 17, which tests application of knowledge, is bound to force teachers and schools to cultivate the ability to think. I just hope that the CBSE does not give in to pressure from parents and students and change its mind any time soon.

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