During his recent visit to India, Google CEO, Sundar Pichai spoke about the Indian education system at length. He emphasized the need for greater creativity, exploration and risk-taking that our education system lacks. Here are some insights on it.
There is perhaps no other country in the world that glorifies examination results and starting salaries the way we do. In most cultures, talking about these things is considered offensive. But in India, it is the stuff of front-page, prime-time news. Public transports, bus stops and buildings are plastered with images of top rankers who have cracked significant exams and topped standardised tests. We put starting salaries and entrance exams on a pedestal and force a singular definition of success down our mind. Is the purpose of education really to crack standardised tests and rake in the cash?
Most Indian parents today, who have themselves undergone the instructional model of
education replete with corporal punishment, senseless cramming and regurgitation of facts, would agree that this system, devised during the Industrial Revolution, is not at par with the requirements of the contemporary society. At the same time, there is huge anxiety among parents, teachers as well as students in India as we have grown into a society where 99-per cent cutoffs are the new normal for college admissions. Multiple voices battle inside the heads of everyone involved. Shouldn’t education be about a holistic exposure to all aspects of life instead of cracking tests? Shouldn’t education take use to the path of peace and help in overcoming prejudice? But the material world doesn’t reward these qualities! Yes, I want my children to be imaginative and curious but hasn’t our education system and the values embedded by the conventional Indian schools made us a generation of high-achievers? Will new-age approaches to education turn my kids into under-achievers?
Several researches have shown that personality attributes such as grit, curiosity and self-control are stronger predictors of achievement than IQ. Writer Paul Tough in his book, How Children Succeed, challenged what he called “the cognitive hypothesis” or the belief “that success today is based mainly on cognitive skills — the kind of intelligence that gets measured on IQ tests, including the abilities to recognise letters and words, to calculate, to detect patterns. Instead, Tough offered a character-hypothesis or the idea that non-cognitive skills such as persistence, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism and self-control are more vital than raw brainpower when it comes to achieving success. Tough believes that character is created by coming across and beating failure. A culture that lets children explore, take academic risks and learn from failure creates curious, passionate, confident and empathetic adults. As Einstein famously noted, “Imagination is more important than knowledge”.
An education system that values imagination is one that makes an effort to spark thoughtfulness and independent thinking, teaches students how to learn, instills a lifelong love of learning, motivates the students to find their own interpretations and builds a strong moral compass. Creativity in education has to do with a constructivist approach to education where learning is an active, contextualised process of knowledge construction that develops on prior knowledge, social interaction and authentic tasks instead of passive receiving of information.
By glorifying starting salaries and standardised tests in our country, we also promote a singular definition of intelligence that tilts our incentives and priorities in unhealthy ways. This creates, for example, a society where blind bend to corporate imperatives is given greater value than the pursuit of teaching or arts. To be fair, this is a flaw inherent in capitalism but one that is at least recognised and partly redressed via generous subsidies and grants in the developed world. Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner launched the theory of multiple intelligences in 1983, and stated that IQ was an inadequate measure of human ability. Beyond the linguistic and logical-mathematical skills that IQ tests entail, Gardner proposed musical intelligence, spatial intelligence, bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, intrapersonal intelligence and naturalist intelligence as the chief expressions of the human ability that find relevance in a large variety of professions. Gardner’s research lengthened the idea of intelligence. It would be good if we understood such an expansion in India.
A society that values multiple intelligences, supports exploration, accepts failure, awards environmental conscientiousness and allows people to define success on their terms is what Pichai had in mind. However, for India’s over-populated, hyper-competitive environment, this concept may still be a while away. But it’s a goal that’s well worth aiming for.