Herd Mentality in Education

Herd Mentality in Education

Submitted by alvin on Thu, 2016-10-13 10:03 Ramya hails from a disadvantaged family. She is the only daughter of a single mother Malli (whose husband expired a few years back), who works as a house maid in South Bengaluru. Ramya’s family hails from a tiny village in Tumkur, where her grandparents and maternal uncle live. Her grandmother Mayamma also worked as a house maid. Her grandfather not only lived out of his wife’s and daughter’s meagre incomes, but would spend disproportionately on his drink, as is the case in such families. They stayed with Malli, until a few months ago when they shifted back to their native village.Ramya is a first generation learner, and it has taken enormous guts and steely resolve on her part to just stay connected to the education system. Ramya’s grandmother was unwilling to allow her to continue her studies after she completed her PUC earlier this year; she was keen that her granddaughter pack-up and return to her native place. Ramya had to fight a determined and unwavering battle for more than a month to merely convince her grandparents and maternal uncle to let her continue her effort. They contended that further studies would be a waste as Ramya would have to be married off in a few years’ time.Ramya’s desperate pleas were heeded in the end. Her cause was helped by Malli’s decision to stay back in Bengaluru to earn her livelihood. However, Ramya somehow scraped through the combined family pressure and survived to continue her studies. Considering her circumstances, it’s remarkable that she is currently pursuing her 1st year B.Com in a private unaided college near her home (the distance and proximity to the college was one among many criteria that Ramya’s family had insisted upon), with some assistance from a couple of well-meaning families who employ her mother. Ramya had to struggle a lot when she switched over from Kannada to English medium in her first year degree (as it was inevitable), having studied in a Kannada medium school thus far. Her tussle with English continues, as she doesn’t have a conducive environment to converse at home. But she is chugging along single-mindedly, perhaps with a dream of completing her studies and getting a decent job which could help mitigate her mother’s struggles.Just as she won the battle with her family, Ramya had to contend with an alien and absurd practice in her college. She had to wear trousers, jacket and tie for the first time as it was prescribed as a compulsory uniform. Adding to her woes, she unfortunately got a badly stitched pair which did not fit her at all. She felt completely out of place. In the last couple of months, Ramya’s college had organised co-curricular competitions for students such as fashion parade and hair–dressing. My wife and I were left bewildered as we struggled to comprehend the rationale behind such practices by this college. Even assuming that it was introduced to instill a sense of professionalism in the students, and preparing them for future employability, most of the professional organisations would not expect its prospective employees to work with them in such attire. They would also not, in all probability, expect such students to appear for job interviews in this fashion. Then why introduce such a bizarre practice?There are many such non-essential - but increasingly being projected as aspirational - practices that have crept into the education system across various levels. It is worth illustrating a couple of instances more to bring out this point more clearly.Long ago, when my son was just about two years old, we were identifying a playschool to enroll him into. My wife came across a woman in charge of a playschool near our house, who assured that they would ‘prepare’ our son in a year’s time to be ‘selection ready’ to join 1st standard in what was considered a good ICSE school close-by. We were astonished to hear that kind of conclusive assurance about a child whom the woman had not even seen, as if it was some sort of a precise manufacturing process. There wasn’t even an iota of circumspection as to how the human dynamics would play out; whether the child would have any challenges growing up.Recently, one of my younger colleagues from my previous organisation (who too stayed in the same locality) had called me two years ago to check if I knew any good playschool in our area to admit his son into. I suggested a few alternative parameters to look for such as whether the playschool had trained teachers, whether they basically ‘cared for’ and provided a welcoming atmosphere for the children, and if its existence went beyond commercial interest.There are hundreds of advertisements on TV, radio and newspapers and magazines released by many private educational institutions, loudly proclaiming the ‘best in class’ facilities they offer – of course at a huge cost – such as fully equipped multi-media classrooms, provision of tablets and iPads for children, facilities for indoor and outdoor sports, swimming pool, art and music classes, full-fledged auditoria, apart from regular facilities like transport, attractive multi-colour uniforms, and preparing students from as early as the 6th standard for competitive exams like the IIT-JEE, CET, etc.Apart from the danger of ‘over engaging’ the child and taking him away from natural ways of growing up, this kind of competitive upbringing will orient the child to go after a certain pattern of self-centred success that runs completely contrary to the collaborative and inclusive work ethic that the child needs to develop - and consequently contend with as a social being - when he grows up in a complex world. The forceful manner in which Orissa’s young boy Budhia Singh was trained a few years back to run marathons allegedly by his coach is an all too familiar story – this was even produced as a movie. Multiple television reality shows in which the parents desperately graft their children onto competitions are also a manifestation of this trend. At this juncture, it is worth raising an unpalatable question: how meaningful are these efforts by parents and teachers alike? Are they focusing on too many non-essentials in education? Should we look at other alternate ways of bringing up our children?A simple question every parent or teacher needs to ask of themselves is where this unbridled competition is leading their child into: do they always need to fall into the trap of the ‘herd mentality’, which compels them into following the most commonly tread path, by a significant percentage of people, irrespective of whether it suits their child or not?One way to reassess our practices is through asking a few relevant, unpopular questions. This happened in one of our recent meetings with the senior functionaries of the state education department. The point of discussion was how we could increase the quantum of writing work that our children do in primary schools. One of the practices the group felt would be ideal to enhance children’s writing skills was the usage of slates, though this has now faded into history in most schools. My own positive experience of having been able to acquire basic Kannada language writing skills - when I shifted from an English medium school to an esteemed Kannada medium school for the first time in class three – reinforces this position.Following this, the crucial issue would then not be about making technology or infrastructure available for children but figuring out the most effective ways in which children would learn the basic concepts at different stages. This approach should not be misconstrued to mean that we should go for all things old. The key is to finding out the right balance and doing what ought to be done, irrespective of whether it is from the past or present. In one of his poems in his best known and profound literary work ‘Mankuthimmana Kagga’, translated as ‘Dull Thimma’s Rigmarole or ‘A Foggy Fool’s Farrago’ (by himself), DV Gundappa (popularly known as DVG) calls for developing a balanced outlook in life. The spirit of that poem, captured below, is very apt in our educational context.  “New leaves and old roots are what makes a tree magnificent, New Knowledge and old principles fuse to become dharma, (being righteous or justifiable to a cause) If wisdom of the sages can blend with the sciences, It would be for the benefit of the humanity.” Author:S V Manjunath currently heads Azim Premji Foundation - Karnataka as its State head. He made a mid – career shift more than seven years back, after spending more than two decades in the corporate sector. He had been a human resource professional, having worked in reputed public and private sector organizations like Bharat Electronics, Bosch and Himatsingka Seide, where he last held the position of Associate Vice President – Human Resources. Managing the Industrial Relations, playing a balancing role between the management and unions; aligning the goals of the workforce with the vision of the organization was his forte.