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Learning To Unlearn: How Our Education System Has Failed Us (And How Do We Bounce Back)

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Being a seemingly unemployed graduate, this Dashain showered me with a range of strange blessings from my family and relatives. ‘May you be granted Visa’, ‘May you earn a lot in the days to come’, ‘May you get a name and fame’ were the ones that topped the list. My cousins, some of who are still school-goers, received blessings of being doctors and engineers and standing first in their classes. No one cared about what we’d love to do with our lives. We were offered lengthy hymns of blessings, but what we wanted to become later in life was never cared for.

This is my personal experience, but I bet thousands of others can relate to this.

This led me into a brief contemplation and I couldn’t resist myself searching for a connection between our social and cultural upbringing and our education system. A question evolved in my head, ‘isn’t this why our (education) system has failed us?’

Inside the pages of our bulky books that we carried reluctantly to schools, there’s a fine-tuned version of our best selves in making, fabricated in utopian silk. It’s something to ponder upon. During the six long hours in schools, our kids are taught, sometimes with batons and ‘sit-ups’, to be disciplined, to behave in a civilized way. These kids yawn their jaws out for the rest of the day, and on their way back home they buy noodles, savor the MSG adulterated snack and throw the plastic wrappers away on the roadside. They rush home; they’ve got an assignment to do: the teacher had told them to write an essay on ‘Earth and Environment.’

Chapters in the schoolbooks tell our kids not to litter, but these lessons are lost in translation.  The way we tend to make people understand things involves a lot of mugging and dictating and memorizing at the expense of understanding and applying. Instead of being a productive and inspirational guardian angel for our students to sharpen their creative processes, our curricula rather narrow the choices of our pursuits. It was meant to plant seeds of progression, humanity and beautiful changes, but on its way it guided us to be even hungrier for power and money.

Far from their genuine purpose of delivering wisdom, classrooms are dull and boring bubbles where indifferent teachers come for money and uninterested students listen to them out of fear. Schools, instead of helping students to unleash their productive capacity, tend to normalize each and every child to a standardized line of measurement. Amidst chalks and talks, a child who recruited in pre-school swiftly turns into a high school graduate, but he himself doesn’t realize what he’s going to do with his life. This is how strangely our education has failed us, repeatedly. It’s not hard to comprehend the development of this social paradigm if we care enough to think a bit about the political inclination, degree of unionization and politicization of our school systems, teachers and institution operators.

Children are trained, not taught. They are trained to memorize formulae and count words and score high on tests. Their curiosity is clawed by the fear of under-performance, their uniqueness is paralyzed by the compulsion of conformity that our system dictates. Their differences in opinion are barely celebrated, their creative endeavors seldom admired. A kid is expected to believe that a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, but how? He’s barely shown. Showing them takes pragmatism, and our schooling system is tragically poor in it.

We have been so inured to a corrupt system that we have constructed a social concept of ‘you’re doing great as long as you’re making money’. Ethics and morality, dignity and righteousness have been left behind far away in our journey to this point in the history. We tell our children to study hard so that they can earn money later in life, but we never tell them that wealth is not the answer to everything. Every time, generations by generations, a large mass of tender youths are brainwashed by our education system to fit into places, to compete, to outrun their fellow mates.. We have sadly been convinced that money can buy respect. We then fight with each other, we pull strings to get better off than the ones around us. Mutualism and co-operative spirit die a brutal death. In this competition of achieving more and earning a good fortune, the real joy of living is often compromised. The end result: a person, who as a kid, sang songs brilliantly ends up working as a salesperson, a kid who dreamt of pursuing career in robotics gives up his passion and settles for a 9-5 job that he has been persuaded to believe is lucrative. The pursuit of creativity fades away in an irreversible way and the whole nation bleeds in agony. We talk of brain drain, but we never seek out solutions.

In this ever changing world where technological triumphs have been advancing each day, we’re still stuck in a conundrum of setting up a reliable system. Though we’re lagging, it is never too late to make amends. The conservative methodology of our education system needs to be overhauled with new measures. We need motivated teachers who understand child psychology; mentors who love value-based teaching that can incite imagination and curiosity inside classrooms. We need newer techniques of making kids understand the primary phenomena of the world, earth and human relationships. More than notes and chalks and dusters, our kids need to be habituated for learning with multimedia and similar interactive approaches. We may give lengthy residential trainings to teachers, we may change the grading system for a hundred times, but our kids won’t grow up to be wise citizens unless we celebrate their creativity and encourage rather than suppress their differences in opinion.

We, the ‘grown-ups’, the parents, the teachers, administrators and policy makers are yet to unlearn the beliefs that are engraved deep into our psyche. Before we can make our children learn, there’s a lot in reserve for us to unlearn. We were fed stereotypes, and we were subjected to confirmation. First, we need to wretch that out. We need to mold ourselves into more pragmatic, more reasonable and logical beings before we set up any standards for our kids to live by. We must question everything. Our kids will learn by our examples, not by our dictation. Only when we show them by throwing garbage on the dust-bins can we make them rational enough not to litter. There is no other way.

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