Board exams or not, Indian education system continues to fail our children

Aleena Udas Sharma
Aleena Udas SharmaMar 02, 2018 | 10:34

Board exams or not, Indian education system continues to fail our children

There are very few films that have the power to over and over again wrest the same attention and draw out the same excitement from a viewer.

For me personally, 3 idiots is one such movie. I have watched this movie more than once and every time I watch it, it makes me laugh and cry exactly like I did when I first watched it in 2009. 

Despite there being no suspense left as to scenes and dialogues as I always knew what was about to come, I still can't resist getting glued to the TV set every time there is a rerun.

3 idiots beautifully highlights an array of emotions demonstrated by the three friends of an elite engineering college. They are the perfect archetypes of the new-age students who have the courage to question anything, look for an answer to every "why" and choose to live life on their own terms.

The film perfectly echoes the shortcomings in our education system and helps us identify with the three idiots in it who demand a complete overhaul.

Obsession for grades

The story line revolves around the societal and parental pressure on students to get good grades and this resonates with many of us. The movie reminded me of what Charlie Brooker, an English satirist and writer once said - "Your grades are not your destiny: They're just letters and numbers which rate how well you performed in one artificial arena, once."


Grades are indeed just letters, but for students in India it means more than just that. It is an embodiment of success, a gateway to the best of colleges and a sanction for societal acceptance.

And why not?

When the college cutoffs are so high as 95 per cent and 99 per cent in Delhi, the mediocre students are left behind to chalk out their own destiny. Some survive the brunt of our education system and many are forced to take subjects which they are not interested in and there are some who find ending their lives much easier than getting admission in a college of their choice.

According to 2015 data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), every hour one student commits suicide in India.

This data makes me wonder what exactly defines a good grade.  And does grade guarantee success?

In a system where 93 per cent is not a good enough score, my heart goes out for the students who barely get a passing mark.


There is something wrong somewhere, either the marks below 90 per cent carry no or minimal value or there is a fundamental folly in our education system. The transition from school to college is a time of intense confusion for both parents and students as one never knows whether to be happy to have scored around 90 per cent marks or to be sad at not having a chance to get into the college of one’s choice.

Reliance on rote-learning

Rote-learning is the fundamental learning methodology adopted by students all over India. Students are expected to memorise definitions, formula, and multiplication tables for faster calculations. However, this is just half the work done. There are too few schools which give equal importance to the application of knowledge and equip their students with the required skills.

Our system is more inclined towards testing knowledge than teaching such skills. Perhaps, it fails to understand what Tony Robbins, an American author and life coach, believes in - "knowledge is not power, knowing a concept is only potential value. The execution of knowledge is where the power lies."

Schools should focus on knowledge coupled with learning and not just be inclined towards academic excellence. This reminds me of a recent conversation I had with my niece who is in Class 6. I was helping her with some science revision for her upcoming tests.

I asked her: "Can tumblers be made with a piece of cloth?"

She replied: "No, it can only be made with plastic and steel." 

"Why? Why not, with a piece of cloth?" I asked.

She replied, "Because tumblers can be made only with plastic and steel."

She was correct because that was what she was taught, but her answer was incomplete and it got me thinking. I wondered why students are not thinking beyond what they are being made to study. Why are they not able to think beyond their class notes?

Maybe we have conditioned our children, from their formative years, to simply memorise ,or may be knowing a concept is all it takes to get "good grades", or perhaps there are some teachers who always positively reinforce learning by memorising giving a completely wrong message to the students.

It is sad that even today our education system is so primitive that it refuses to digress from the teaching pattern which was once introduced by our colonial masters.

No space for creativity and curiosity

During a class on solar system, a Class 5 student, Raman's curiosity egged him on to ask: "If Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun why is Venus the hottest planet? How long will it take to travel to Mercury? What is the distance between Mercury and the Sun?"

"Sh... Sh..Sh.., just concentrate on you work" was the answer he got.

There are many students like him who want to know things beyond the class notes, but there are very few teachers who feed the student’s curiosity.

Sad, there are many teachers who are more focussed on completing the syllabus than on encouraging the child to think out of the box.

This worries me because Raman may eventually stop asking questions and will concentrate more on taking notes.

I am not sure if schools want their students to become note-taking robots or grow up to be adults who can think on their own.

Critical thinking, creativity, imagination and life skills add beauty to the academic knowledge students acquire, but this is seldom encouraged by our system.

I remember my son coming home after school one day and when he dropped his school bag at the door, I could sense disappointment and frustration emanating from him.

He said: "Mama, I got B+ in my project, you should have been more creative in making it. You should have seen how creatively Amit’s mom had made the project for him. It has been selected to be shown to our principal. Why don’t you watch YouTube videos to learn how to make fancy borders and decoration?"

"Excuse me! But is it my work?" was my reply, but my mind was not at ease.

I was not happy hearing this and at the same time I was not sure if the teacher was assessing my creativity or my child's?  

Can a teacher not differentiate between the work done by the student and work done by parents?

Why do parents make the child’s project in the first place? But unfortunately we do… let’s accept it.

It is not because we like doing crafts rather it is because we don’t want our child to lag behind their friends who get a good score with the work done by his/her parents.  So we stay awake till late in the night creatively completing our children's school projects.

But the question is - will that make our children creative?

The only approach to encourage creativity and curiosity in children is to let them make their own mistakes, let them paint outside the lines and let them not hesitate to ask questions.

When schools focus on developing children into individuals who are prepared to fail, to make mistakes and learn from it only then will students learn to dust themselves and move forward after a fall. They will dare to think out of the box, and it is only then that our children will discover the real joy of learning.

Aamir Khan’s famous quote from the movie - "Kamyab nahin kaabil hone ke liye padho. Kamyabi jhak maarke pichhe aayegi (Learn for excellence and not for success)" - is what the schools, teachers and parents need to instil in children.

Let us empower our children to question every rule in the book. Let us pledge to never question our children's curiosity. Let us not grow children as robots. Let us build thinking-feeling individuals who excel to succeed and not succeed to excel.


Last updated: May 29, 2018 | 14:25
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