Saturday, 20 July 2013

The Paper Chase

When the teacher tells us to open the book, have we ever thought that we will learn something new? Have we ever thought that this will increase our knowledge and make us a little better person than we were yesterday? I’m sure most of us don’t do that. When we go to the class, we don’t think that we will learn something exciting today but we think of strategies and ways to understand the concept through rote-learning so that it can stay in our heads till the exams only. There is no guarantee of whether it stays there after exam or not. We have never thought of learning beyond school. I agree that calculus might not help you when you will be living a life you have dream of; but why not learn things with more interest in learning rather than achieving higher grades.

We all are going through this system and we are very well aware of what happens in a class room. A person who gets A+ in a subject automatically becomes the teacher’s favorite. A classroom is more of a race competition than a learning space. We don’t learn as much as we worry about our grades.

One of the major flaws in our education system is the characteristic of being extremely exam oriented. To quite an extent, classroom teaching at any level; be it primary, secondary or our colleges; is undertaken keeping in mind the “exam point of view”. Classroom discussion is minimal, and it generally takes place, if at all, at the beginning of the session and then too is quashed out in the race to finish the course before the exams. 

Students are, therefore, molded to care about the exam and marks rather than actually study a subject because they enjoy it. They are not encouraged to think creatively or to explore their subject in more depth, in fear of digressing from the prescribed syllabi. Learning is limited to what is in the textbook, and very few students actually think beyond them. Many of them lose interest and therefore the increasing trend among colleges to offer marks for attendance to make students attend classes.

Another reason for this may also be because of a deeper social problem. Students are often forced to study disciplines that they are not really interested in, because society considers other disciplines worthless as they deviate from societal norms. Therefore classes are considered to be a burden.

But even the students who choose a subject of their choice are often condemned to being incentive only by marks for attending classes due to the poor quality of teaching. Learning then becomes learning about how astutely to attempt an exam and maximizing marks from it. Exams also then become a burden because students are forced to study something they are uninterested and uninvolved with. Students learn very little about the subject. Very few graduates actually remember what or why they studied a particular thing even though they spent 3-4 years studying it.

This does not mean we do away with exams. Quite to the contrary exams are required to test how well students their subject. But it shouldn’t be the sole purpose of the educational institutions. Teachers should be encouraged to make the subject they are teaching as interesting as they can. Students will then be encouraged to study and understand their subject and actually enjoy it. Marks in the exams will automatically follow. Exams should be therefore made more challenging. They shouldn’t just test the reading of a textbook, but the application of the subject.

While attending Yale University, Fred Smith wrote a paper on the need for reliable overnight delivery in a computerized information age. His professor found the premise improbable, and to the best of Smith's recollection, he only received a grade of C for this effort, but the idea remained with him. Today, FedEx Express is the world's leading express transportation provider. Smith's professor at Yale may not have seen the need for overnight delivery, but today's business world depends on businesses like FedEx shipping all manner of goods around the globe quickly and reliably

The system, if ever changed, will take a long time to change but why don’t we try to bring a little change within ourselves by practically following this quote. After we finish our academic studies, we will have 40 or so years left to live a life we have been struggling for; then why not try to enjoy what we learn instead of trying to be a grade-holic. Learn for the sake of gaining knowledge – not because you have to but because you want to.

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