The 3 Idiots of the Education System
“I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built up on the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think”. ~ Anne Sullivan.
I was conducting a Discover Your True Calling workshop at IIM, Indore last week. I had the afternoon free and decided to see the much acclaimed, high-grossing Bollywood movie – “3 Idiots”. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, largely because it is a complete indictment of our education system. The message was strikingly similar to the theme of my workshop.
The film is about three students who do not really fit into the prestigious engineering college and are considered idiots by their professor. However, the movie clearly shows who the three real idiots are – the educational system, the teachers and the parents. Reflecting on the movie on the flight back to Mumbai, I realized that any real change in education is possible only by transforming these three constituencies.
Idiot #1 – The Education System:
Our current system is performance-oriented rather than mastery-oriented. The emphasis on examinations forces students to learn by rote. They focus on scoring high marks rather than investing the time and energy to understand the subject in depth. A system where true geniuses like Einstein and Ramanujan are considered poor students really needs its head examined. In the movie, this is brilliantly brought out by Aamir Khan playing Rancho – the truly outstanding engineer who goes beyond the book to gain mastery.
Idiot #2 – The Teachers:
Our current system of pedagogy is faculty-led and follows a fixed curriculum. The average teacher assumes that there is one right answer and that (s)he knows the answer. It is the rare teacher who has the ability to facilitate rather than teach, to nurture rather than preach and to support students who stray from the well-trodden path in search of creative ways to learn. Boman Irani as Viru Sahastrabuddhe does a superb job of bringing to life a dogmatic, highly competitive, over-confident college professor – the antithesis of an ideal teacher in every way.
Idiot #3 – The Parents:
When India’s HRD Minister Kapil Sibal suggested scrapping of the 10th grade exams, parents were the first to stand up against the proposal. Parents want their children to be at the top of their classes, get admitted to the best colleges and follow traditional career options – engineering, medicine, management and the like.
Parents rarely encourage their children to discover their true passions and pursue mastery rather than mediocrity. The movie’s middle class Quereshis, who want their son to be an engineer, and the poorer Rastogis, who see education as a way out of poverty, are typical of today’s Indian parents. They would probably be the toughest nut to crack.
The 21st century calls for talented people who are masters in their chosen fields of work. It calls for collaboration among passionate individuals, from different disciplines, to address the truly challenging issues and opportunities that the world presents. The current assembly-line approach to education falls severely short. We are not equipping our children to succeed in their world. The appeal of the movie is universal and obvious.
But what will it take for all three of the constituencies above, as well as the student community to rally around to a new educational order? Please share your perspectives. We need to work together to bring about transformation in this vital area of our society.