Born and raised in India, I have come across many strange rituals, traditions and practices. Most of these have become a way of life, present in one form or another all around us. From the reaction of a group of friends to events such as birthdays, promotions or even break-ups, to certain administrative practices, our actions on all levels are influenced by this net of expectations that has enclosed itself around us. These traditions and practices aren’t a bad thing because they help us accustom ourselves to a level of certainty and uniformity. Some are vibrant and lively, filling with colour moments that snuggle their way into our memory. However some are downright appalling. Of all such appalling practices one that is most overlooked and disturbing is making compulsory the study of unnecessary subjects. And contributing to its stonewalled resistance to change is how students have come to accept it as a way of life.
Our schools do an excellent job of imparting only essential knowledge, scarcely deviating from the core concepts relevant to a particular stream. This trend, however, stops as soon as we enter college. No matter what the university, students have to face a number of flabbergasting subjects sem after sem. Unfortunately the half-hearted, sad-faced reply that I get most often at expressing my anger towards this is one of the following: A) But this is such a scoring subject, B) It’s lucky we didn’t have a harder useless subject and C) What can we do about it?
The realization that the all the hours spent on mugging up these subjects could have been used productively seems to go over their heads faster than any fighter jet, Soviet or American. But what is productivity? How would a student define it? Now this is where the unseen, insidious effect of such institutions can be seen at work. One who is in its thrall would argue, “Is studying a subject in order to get good marks (most kids’ dream) or even just pass (their reality) not productive?” The system of merit, based on pure and indifferent percentages, thus gives way to this attitude of blind acceptance. It goes on to redefine productivity as mugging up whatever it thinks is useful, disregarding the student’s needs and interests. Students know very well that in a few months’ time, no matter what their result, they will hardly remember anything useful. Bits and pieces of information from the topics they found interesting will sometimes surface, reinforcing their false beliefs about the benefit of having studied that subject. Such is the nature of the veil pulled over their eyes.
Pursuing hobbies and interests now becomes a task few are willing to brave. They become equivalent to unrealistic dreams of a child who grows up to realize that they are just not possible. All the hours, no matter how insignificant on their own, add up to weigh them down. The fact is that even with even a mildly active social life and daily distractions abound, there is little time to devote to hobbies. That along with the way students are fed notes and concepts like school kids are, reduces the respect they have towards the subject. And without respect, true learning is not possible. The objective changes from learning to getting good enough marks and attendance. It becomes increasingly mind-numbing and irritating to sit through a class for an hour, just to hear your roll call so that your voice can result in a little blue tick next to your name. The cumulative effect of this negativity rubs off on the course they are doing. Streams seem harder than they are, and various courses a drag.
A solution to a problem which has yet to be acknowledged is as weightless as a feather; it sail through the air of negligence without being given a second look. It is as meaningless as the advice of a madman. Unless the students wake up to this reality, any change is impossible. There is an entire system of learning based on credits; it allows students to choose streams and courses of their choice as long as they are able to gather the required credits by the end of the academic year. A number of universities in India have adopted this system. Until someone stirs the rest from their slumber, until they are shown the possibility of a better system of education, they will continue to study under unnecessary strain. Mediocrity will plague an entire nation, save a few. Until a time when true academic freedom becomes a reality for everyone, the rest of us will simply have to pinch our noses and gulp down whatever comes down the rabbit hole.