A Travesty of Education

Current Scenario

From my experience of working in the education industry, living in three different countries and meeting students from a cross-section of universities across the world, I can safely observe that the current state of education is in a deep state of disarray. I believe that richer countries like America and Australia can somehow live with this trend because they have built a certain level of efficiency and productivity into their societies and systems but countries in Asia (I will not comment on Africa as I have never been there) will pay a big price if the policy makers there keep playing deaf to the call of the day. Even in countries like the US and UK, which are so advanced in terms of human development compared to the rest of the world, it is deeply troubling to see many schools survive and prosper with sub-standard curriculum’s and callous faculties. Whether private or public, these schools have survived mostly because the world economy has been growing post-WW II. Except a few hiccups in the 70s and 90s, mostly the world growth has been positive, till now. Post 2000, the world has been growing exponentially, thanks to China entering WTO in 2001 and India bidding adieu to Hindu rate of growth. This has prompted corporations (mostly based out of US/Europe) to expand and get a large share of their revenues from the growing Asian and Latin American populations, which compensated for the slow growth in their home countries. This has further led to the demand of managerial talent and hence management education. Which has in turn led to the growth of business schools across the world. Entrepreneurs in the private sector and public schools under the aegis of incompetent Government bodies, took advantage of this demand. While some of these schools, a minuscule, are truly thought-leaders, most others are just shops. Public business schools are under-funded and hence under-staffed. They make do with a nonchalance attitude to education. Living life on a quarterly basis with no focus on the longer term aspects of what they are imparting, these schools seldom try sincerely to hear what the travails of students are. Private schools are better equipped to deal with these issues because they are financially independent. But they often care only about the “success” of their alumni and how large the checks these alumni would cut in the future.

Current Trends

Modern education is evolving into a beast. The objective of real education is not to confer degrees with fancy titles. Education, in any discipline should be about kindling the fires of the mind and not filling it with nonsense. Curriculum’s should lead students into a direction that allows them to explore the world and see things that are above and beyond the grasp of text books and case studies. It must be about teaching humility and honesty and live a life with fulfillment and contentment. It must fire the imagination and awaken the creativity that has led to so many great innovations in the past few decades. Is it pure chance that most of such innovation came from the streets and not the schools? Is it just a constant coincidence that creativity comes from areas one least expect?

Concerns

But modern education instead instills either pride or self-doubts in the minds of the student. Pride comes from association and exclusivity. Self-doubts are born out of delinquent pedagogy. From the course structure, to the assessments and the mode of teaching in between, everything has gone wayward and misdirected. Business education is in a bigger state of disgrace as compared to other non-mainstream disciplines. Media is busy with ranking schools based usually on the cliched metrics of salary levels achieved and placements generated while accreditation companies are filled with people who seem disconnected from reality. It does not matter if the top management of the the Enron’s, Global Crossings, Lehman Brothers and Satyams of the world were educated at the best schools in the world. Were these people not imparted with values that should have stopped them from doing what they did? Accreditation companies fail miserably in gauging the efficacy of their accreditation just like ratings companies fail to properly predict the bankruptcy of a AAA rated company. Life looks good when these people look down from their high-rise glass buildings but the reality in the schools/companies they rank, rate and accredit is different. Back in the olden days in India, apparently good kings roamed the streets at night, in disguise, so as to see how their citizens are living and what their problems are. Maybe accreditation companies and journalists should enroll as students to see what a travesty modern education has become.

In India, the emphasis in most schools is on rote learning rather than building analytical skills. It is surprising to find that a similar model is followed in most schools in the UK and the US as well. Scranton tests are the enemy of creativity while being a matter of convenience for the faculty. Such tests destroy the soul of education. One can get A’s in these tests and fail in the real world. This model of education is akin to missing the forest for the trees. The point of good education is help a person do their job with diligence and propriety while staying within a framework of ethical and moral respectability. This requires analytical skills and a sense of what is right and wrong. Multiple-choice tests cant teach this, only interaction can. It is the duty of the teacher and his/her discretion to think through these issues. Its the job of the teacher to develop values and real knowledge (lets forget wisdom, it cant be learned in a school) in a student. Teachers are responsible for inspiring or destroying the students. Why don’t teachers take this to heart? Why do elite schools fail to instill values in their students? Why don’t lesser than elite schools focus differentiating themselves by creating such niche?

Big picture

The problem is not in the schools but in the way society has come to evolve. Focus, from childhood, is put on being “successful” in life, which usually means making money. Big businessmen and successful actors are the role models these days instead of people of character, integrity and selfless leaders. Greed has come to replace altruism, which fell out of fashion decades ago. Media reflects (through movies and fiction) these trends by portraying success as the be all and end all of human life. Every person I talk to, these days reflects a sense of dissatisfaction with his/her current situation regardless of the fact that they have a job, a car and a house. They all want to be somewhere else, do something else and look like someone else. And yes, these are also men and women who come out of good schools and even elite schools. Why does this happen? While elite schools instill “bragging rights” in their students, lesser ones often are left feeling inadequate. Regardless of professional choices, both seem unhappy about their lives in general because they are not “successful” enough. Somebody else has more than you, always. This stress and the ensuing pressure cracks families, neighborhoods and finally nations. Everything begins at the schools. If teachers did their jobs well in the first place, there would have been more secure people in the society. Kids growing up in single parent homes have lesser opportunities to be nurtured compared to kids who grow up with both the parents. But fathers and mothers these days are busy earning bread and promotions so where do they have time to talk to kids? That leaves the teachers to do this job. But sadly, teaching, just like all the other professions, has become a wage job so nobody takes it passionately. If this is the bottom-up analysis for the breakdown of modern education, the top-down looks even more disturbing.

Education is NOT business

The deans and heads of private and public schools treat their schools and universities as a business. They act and behave like modern day CEOs. You could ask me what the trouble with this attitude is. Here is what is wrong. Education is NOT business, and it should never be. They are two totally separate fields. While business schools impart students with a set of heuristics on how businesses are run, education is actually about uplifting the soul and ennobling. Its another question whether business education can ever be uplifting, but it surely can be ennobling. There are capitalist philosophers and men/women of vision who made this world a better place through merchandise. Whether public or private, elite or street, its about showing such light in the darkness of daily din. If universities are run like businesses, their focus is on profits, growth and power. To obtain these ends, universities will make any compromises. Such compromises could be in quality or in morals. Complete this quarter, update the roaster and file away a few more students, irrespective of how we taught what we taught or why we taught what we taught. So from the teacher to the university, there is nobody who truly cares for the student, which they can do by taking some time out to understand what this individual actually wants. Humans are treated like sheep with no respect paid to their independence and personality.

Conclusion

A large part of my essay is trying to expose the current problems, hence you could ask me what the suggestions are. I do propose a few. More specifically, business schools should revamp their curriculum’s to include brave courses on sociological issues and philosophical subjects, not just the usual accounting and marketing rigmarole. There has to be a cross-pollination of ideas in curriculum’s. Business schools should include a few art classes to encourage the students to think out of the box for solving business problems. Inter-disciplinary studies are important for enhancing a person’s critical thinking. Furthermore, universities should ONLY and STRICTLY be run on a non-profit model and any profit made should be sunk back into building libraries and sports facilities. Teachers should be regularly evaluated irrespective of whether they are tenured or not. Likewise, feedback should be 360 degrees and not just students ranking teachers. Finally, for the younger section and maybe not at the graduate level, home schooling could be an alternative and this is already becoming popular in the Western world. Children could be exposed to classical education and this will enhance their worldview in a way, current curriculum’s cannot. While its true that experience is the best form of all educations, its equally important to have a basic training in the functioning of the world. “Ipsa scientia potestas est” or knowledge itself is the real power. All forms of power corrupts, but real knowledge liberates.

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