A few days back, I was deeply disturbed whilst engaging with nearly 80 postgraduate students studying humanities at the University of Delhi. The cause of my dismay was simple enough. While interacting, I learnt that these students had never heard of the town of Wardha nor could they tell me whether the Rig Veda was from the pre-Christian era. This meeting was a consequence of my decision to learn first hand from students about their career aspirations.
A dismal discovery
There were two features that were common to this otherwise arbitrarily chosen group of students. I realised while talking to them, they were mostly keen on entering what they termed as ‘government service’. I have anecdotal evidence of an overwhelming nature forcefully indicating that students — similar to the cohort that I have mentioned above — are mostly ill-prepared or even ill-trained and not really in a position to do well in life. We must remember that most jobs that the government doles out require being successful at competitive examinations that deal with awareness and some knowledge of a discipline. So, it is a no-brainer that India faces a daunting challenge in the form of the urgent and grave need to meaningfully educate the teeming millions of its youth. The worrying part is the very poor sense of general awareness amongst students like the 80 mentioned above. The concern gets compounded when we try and imagine the state of these students prior to the time they entered and spent more than four years at a venerable and much sought-after institution like Delhi University.
It is truly worrying when we think of the very large numbers of school-leaving students spread all across the nation. The numbers are truly staggering. When I last checked, the certifying boards of the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, as also the CBSE, between them, had produced more than 4 million high school graduates this past year. There is very little evidence to indicate that any significant numbers of these students are educated in any consequential or relevant manner. A truly immense number of these students are not likely to enter into a university or college programme of any consequence. I say this since I have before me the sorry story of the 80 postgraduate students of the University of Delhi as recounted above.
An old experiment
So, we can well-imagine the generally poor level of the students when they have had no exposure beyond the high school. More importantly, what can we do to remedy the situation? This urge to seek a remedy for the dismal state of affairs compels me to describe some very interesting experiments that I have had the good fortune to undertake over the past several years in the realm of technology-based learning. In 1992, I delivered six live and nationally televised lectures to a nationwide audience on the calculus. The format had some interactivity in the sense students from about a dozen schools across India could interrupt me at any stage and ask questions and in turn I could pose questions to the entire nation. The students from at least these dozen-odd schools could certainly answer live. A month after my lectures had ended, I was pleasantly surprised to encounter sacks and sacks of what the television studio described as my ‘fan’ mail. The most common refrain in these letters from all sorts of individuals — including large numbers of school students — was that they had, for the first time, really understood and liked the subject matter. Another persistent request was to continue with more lectures. This just indicates how easily we can create meaningful learning for our students. Since that time, we have had the advantage of the Internet and the power of search engines and the endless knowledge stored on the World Wide Web.
I have recently conducted another experiment where a gifted teacher engaged with about 20 college students of Delhi University through the broadcasting app Zoom and via smartphones brought these students up to speed in the context of self awareness, English language speaking and writing skills. The students participated from their homes all across the city. In another amazing story, I have come across a 12-year old schoolboy who has taught himself the calculus through videos on YouTube. My final story concerns two undergraduates who are very poor at English; yet they have taught themselves in two months very advanced uses of Microsoft Excel and can write macros and perform experiments in probability theory through it. Most importantly, these two tell me that this is the only meaningful thing they have encountered in their three years of college life. My role was to just mentor them. I did not teach them at all. The point I am trying to make is that the salvation of India’s endeavour to meaningfully educate its youth lies through the path of technology-based education.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)