Does Indian Education system breed innovation?

Innovation, much like a distinguished jurist said about pornography, is easy to recognize, but hard to define. If we are serious about innovation, we might as well ban this word from usage. It stands today in the annals of the most abused words of our age, with reams of literature and legions of innovation consultants still arguing to find its meaning . It has become a joke now. I am not going to use it any further because, using this i-word doesn’t make you innovative.  As I write this, I am reminded of my favorite sufi kalaam by Hazrat Zaheen Taji, 

Pani-Pani rat'te rat'te pyaasa hi mar jaaye

(One who chants 'water' endlessly dies of thirst)

Kids today suffer the same fate of the ignorant seeker the poet vividly describes inside schools. Kids are lulled for hours inside class rooms to believe in, what John Dewey called,"verbal knowledge". Ask any kid what he learnt in the school today. He  would probably say, (depending on his mood), "..Hmm..I learnt about leaves ...photosynthesis..microbes.,etc". Ask again, "What did you learn about them". I did this once with my eight year old niece. She gave me a wry smile and fled saying, "Mama, I can't answer your question."

With technology's infinite supply of stimulation, we are facing a huge risk of unbundling knowledge from words, and its varied forms of expression. In case you are puzzled about this unbundling thing, let me make it more familiar for you.Haven't you tasted the strawberry milk-shake in a McDonalds? Do you seriously think strawberry was involved in making it? With 59 laboratory made synthetic ingredients, we happily believe that we are tasting strawberry fruit, while we are consuming a cock-tail of chemicals. Its simple. We have  unbundled taste from food. 

Aren't we guilty of embalming information, and thereby killing knowledge, inside  cloistered boundaries of subjects and forcing kids to become its consumers, without allowing them to feel its texture, shape, relevance and above all its taste? 

One of the etymological roots of the word 'education is,   "to bring out". We are bringing out ignorance and throwing away wisdom in the name of education. 

Ask any business men what education means. He will tell you the truth. Leading profitable business in our country, run by retiring politicians. Education is now a forlorn euphemism for institutionalized ignorance. Until a few decades ago, we were Macaulay's children, as British intended, to create coolies and clerks who would essentially be...coconuts..white inside and brown outside. As our economy opened up in 1991, we aspired to be  McDonald's children, which would ensure that our beloved aloos(potato) turn into standardized, crunchy French Fries, conforming to global standards. 

What else can we expect from our fast-food model of education system, which impoverishes our spirit and energies, as much as fast food depletes our physical bodies? It's obvious by now that our schools are factories in which raw materials--children--are fed  for the limitless growth of our economic system. Our current model of schooling  originated from Prussia to cater to the state's need to create obedient soldiers to the army and subordinated clerks to the industry. 

How could we, living in the twenty first century, where rapid change is the only thing that could be talked with certainty, be so naive to expect innovation to happen inside factories built during 19th century?

Let's make it simple.

Factories don't produce innovation. They only produce similar goods which look the same, think the same. They are deified by the unquestionable faith in the divine gospel of success: Study well ->Get good marks -> Get a good jobs -> Get a good Life

The crux of the problem is that we have messed up learning and earning. We say, we want to learn, but, ultimately what we mean is, how much do we get to earn. While we wax rhetoric about learning, we care only about earning. Gullible kids, who once had an innate curiosity to learn, are anaesthetized enough by the system to care only about how much they can earn. And now we think we can talk about innovation? Seriously? Are you kidding me?


Have you ever been to ration shop in your local neighborhood? You see people standing in serpentine queues, haggling with the store keepers, waiting endlessly to get their quota of essential food items, below the market price? The place is always a mess. Nothing works properly. Measurement systems are never accurate. One kg is never one kg. 

These ration shops came into being during the Bengal famine of the 1940s. Built on the idea of scarcity,they breed insecurity and drive hoarding behavior. Whenever scarcity impulse is triggered, our Pavlovian response has always been to hoard as much as possible, as if famine were just around the corner.

Unfortunately,this is what we have been doing in the name of education. The archetypal Indian student is no longer satisfied with one degree. He hoards degrees in a desperate attempt to win the rat race. With double MBAs, double Ph.Ds, double MAs, we are experiencing severe academic hyper-inflation of unparalleled magnitude.

Why do we give degrees? Aren't they surrogates of learning? The faulty measurement systems in our ration-shops have given us perverse understanding of the meaning of intelligence. If a student scores the highest in a certain subject, most likely, he has to be the most ignorant student of the subject than anyone else. I am sure anyone who has sufficiently endured Indian class rooms would agree with that. 

Not just that. We have romanticized scarcity in our country. We have christened it with a puckish Indian name, driving  management gurus on steroids: Jugaad. I-word gurus have written books on Jugaad. We claim ourselves pioneers in jugaad, callously mistaking survival strategies for innovation.

Let me give you an analogy to put jugaad in the right perspective. 

If you look at kids living in slums, they are often found to be more strong and resilient than any average urban kid. Their adverse living conditions demands  such a response. But that doesn't mean, we start building slums all over to create strong kids.

Whatever little innovation we see around, it is happening because students are so frustrated with the system. Why do we see so much innovation to book a tatkal ticket  in IRCTC? Can we naively suggest that IRCTC breeds innovation?  The hacking impulses are triggered simply out of the sheer desperation to get access to essential services. The current furore over scrapping IIT JEE due to the mushrooming of coaching  centers arises precisely from this. We are willing to hack every examination system because we feel there is scarcity and thus everybody wants their share, at any cost. 

Indian education system breeds innovation through frustration. Haven't we seen innovative ways of copying, innovative ways of landing jobs (IT?) with fake experience?If you want that kind of innovation, please don't change the education system. Indian education system is the best in the world. 

PS: I wrote this for a debate I participated on the topic this blog post title alludes to

PPS: I won the Best Speaker. My team lost the debate though.

You can check out my 3 minute speech here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tyLwg0xgD3w&feature=relmfu

12 comments:

Chaitanya Kishore said...

:-). Great insight!. You should have been in the rebuttal role! Would definitely have been more challenging!:-).
Of course, personally I agree with you! :-) It was a debate dude, I have to go for the weak links!. :-).

Venkataraman said...

Of course, you had to:) Yeah, I realized that in retrospect. Anyways, it was a good learning, especially in this kind of a format.

Venkatesan Govindharajan said...

Saw the U-tube vdo.. it was good. May be the continuity was lagging a bit and the examples which you ve put forth for innovation is not that relevant. you were breathing heavily . participation is more important than winning and thats where & how " the innovation " in you comes out :) .  Can you share the person's vdo who got the first prize ?

was it a last minute preparation,like on the spot topic ?

Swathikota said...

PPS: I lost the debate.Were you not the best speaker ?? !!

Hariharan K Srinivasan. said...

Well what you have pointed out is what the education system lacks, there should be some conclusions on what can be changed in the system to make it innovative. Perhaps that is what the judge(s) were also looking for.

Amit Deshwal said...

On use of libraries and now Google - Yes I think about
this, but am not very sure of what you say here. I sometimes do feel that it
does nothing to takes us away or bring us closer to knowledge... like this
world we are in – a distraction and yet necessary for us to find ourselves (so
have many said), like language which does help and yet if not careful we would
be left bound by the illusionary understanding that it creates for us. 

Regarding Jugaad and Innovation in Slums - Interesting point...
We should not start building slums, and yet I feel there are somethings we need
to emulate, somethings we need to discard when we begin to learn from the environment
in a chawl... Necessity does push a certain kind of innovation... In fact I was
thinking it would good to live with children in a similar environment or
artificially create one to help them learn to innovate... once they realize
that they do not money to buy bucket and yet fetching water from somewhere is
an absolute necessity, they would innovate... and once they do they will
realize the innate possibility... the possibility of self freedom, the
possibility of doing things with their own hands... which otherwise would
remain only in words..! 

I am sure there could be other ways to do this too... but providing a safe secure environment within four walls of a class and subjecting the children to our whims of what education should be like would surely drain out any bit of creativity out of them :)

Venkataraman said...

Yes, I was. But our team lost no??

Venkataraman said...

Hmm..thanks for your feedback. I did prepare well..I'll be conscious about my breath next time. The examples I had put were metaphors to think about the issues that were plaguing Indian Education system. May be they didnt come out forcefully as much as I had expected..

Venkataraman said...

Hmm..Thanks for your feedback.

Venkataraman said...

Excellent points, Amit. Regarding the libraries and Google, I wanted to highlight the fact that we have come to know education only through consumption. I see that same attitude upto MBA. Where Business is understood more from ideas/books on business rather than doing business.  Regarding  jugaad and innovation, I think, poverty trips cannot be effective in conveying the learning needed. The child looks at them from the perspective of entitlements. I feel it would be better if the community has that kind of diversity where the kids are exposed to every levels of living. Unfortunately, that isn't happening in the cities..I have to respond to your other points which you mentioned me by email. Those were very much profound. Will definitely add those comments and add my thoughts, it will help me learn as I write.

Khyati Jain82 said...

Very thoughtful! Keep it up:)

Venkataraman said...

Thanks Khyati!