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July, 2002

The Illusory World Of Education : A Case For Soul Searching


Education is an integrated enterprise. Unfortunately the society at large as well as the Government look at it in a segmented way – Elementary Education, Secondary Education, Higher Education, General Education, Technical Education, Vocational Education etc.

There is confusion also on the objectives of education, particularly the model of human being we want to develop through education, the processes through which the objectives can be reached, the modalities of monitoring and evaluating the progress towards the objective of the kind of human being education is attempting. The present reductionist approach, in curriculum framing, its transaction, evaluation as also in structuring in classes, makes the confusion more confounded.

A series of question can help us think and find our own answers to the enigma of education.

Accordingly I present a large number of questions grouped under some broad headings, although grouping itself is a source of confusion, we should all look for answers based on our own experience, understanding, thinking and analysis. However, there are three caveats:

Firstly, answers are to be based on ground-realities, not on what is claimed or stated but what is actually happening.

Secondly, they should be based on the general situation, on what is generally happening, not on isolated, rare or exceptional cases.

Thirdly, those like me, who have involved for a long time in education should not think in a defensive mode. Let us now ponder over the questions; undertake frank and deep soul-searching and search for answers that may lead us to reconceptualising education and effective ways of translating it into reality


1.1 What is the relationship of what is learned in the school with life and society?

1.2 What is the percentage of information, knowledge obtained in the school that is never used unless one becomes a teacher to transmit the same information to the next generation? Is the divorce between the world of education and the world of work, of dichotomy between learning in the school and the life outside justified?

1.3 What is the relationship of the curriculum with indigenous wisdom and knowledge systems?

1.4 Are we teaching concepts, theories and ideas in the various disciplines only as presented in the Western tradition of knowledge or are we also taking into account our own cultural and traditional knowledge systems? For instance, in the school curriculum, is there any place for the long tradition of civics and political science or economics or indigenous system of medicine? In other words is it correct to say that the ghost of Macaulay is still stalking the world of education and haunting us? Is it also correct so say that Clive’s victory in the battle of Plassey may have been undone by obtaining political independence, but the battle of Macaulay won viz-a-viz Adam to introduce and propagate the western knowledge and sciences through western education system has become ever lasting victory of the whole of South Asia, by the Western world?

1.5 Does our educational system develop, a mind to accept as scientific and valuable only what is certified by the West? Are our indigenous systems of knowledge worthless and non-scientific so long as they are not taken by the West for patenting as seems to be happening with increasing frequency in the recent times in the World-Trade-Organisation Regime of world economic order?

1.6 Does the education system taken into account learning that takes place the children join the school or outside the school during the period the students in the school or in the curriculum and its transaction negating all these?

What is more valuable knowing: the classification of Flora and Fauna or being able to identify plants and animals, knowing their characteristics and use. Who is superior – a boy of an elite school who can answer the questions of Botany and Zoology in a written examination or a tribal boy who knows the flora and fauna around his village so much as cannot be learned by the elite boy during his whole life? Are the curriculum, the pattern of examination and the total education system geared towards favouring certain groups of people at the cost of others? Does the system operate in such a manner as to insure that the children of the privileged group achieve higher than the under privileged?

1.7 Whether the aim is all round development of personality or enabling total development of the full potential of the individual or developing ideal citizens or all of them or even something other than this in the system achieving whatever it claims to?

1.8 What are the kind of values inherent in present educational structure, management, content and process?

1.9 What are the kinds of planned efforts made for inculcation of values in the students?

1.10 Is education to help the individual to cope with new challenges and developments or to bring about changes. Does it only enable to respond or to be in the driving seat? What is our education system actually doing in this regard?

1.11 Are the democratic values being inculcated through the education system? Does the educational system emphasis the ideal of equality or of inequality?

1.12 Coming more specifically to school education or its equivalent like non-formal education alternative-schools, distance education etc., what do they strive to achieve through the “Education” imparted by them?

1.13 What is the concept or model of Human being the educational system has? Does the educational system emphasise the ideal of equality or of inequality?

1.14 All South Asian Countries have independent democracies, although of different kinds. Is the education system in these countries suitable to the needs of an independent country or is it still the legacy of colonial period perpetuating attitudes and values of a colony?

1.15 Is education making us a social being or a self centered individual? Is a student happy to find his class mate getting higher marks? Does the present education system inculcate the value of cooperation or of competition and success at any cost? Is the whole system not designed to give higher value to competition and selfishness than cooperation, interdependence, mutual help and support?

1.16 How far is John Holt right in alleging that the schools make the children afraid, bored and confused for their whole life?

1.17 How far does the system make children capable of independent thinking, learning and creativity?

1.18 Have any attempts been made to ensure that discipline-wise educational objectives contribute to and get linked to the larger objectives and purpose of education in general, and at that stage in particular?

1.19 Is there clarity about the objectives of every level of education of every discipline in the curriculum and at every level of every discipline?

1.20 Has any thought been given to defining the age from which preparation for a vocation and successful life in the usual worldly sense should start and the age upto which the children should have the pleasure of life without the perplexities and worries of adult life?

1.21 Can a system in which there are classes. Standards, in which learners are assigned grades or marks and divisions ( 1st , 2nd 3rd ), to make them unequal, inculcate the value of equality? Is the system not giving a clear message that inequality is highly desirable that the children when grown up should consider themselves as higher and better than others or lower than and inferior to others?

1.22 Does the education system develop a vision of just and social order and capabilities to bring about necessary social changes or does it act as an instrument of socialization to the extent that it makes the individual to fit into the existing order?

1.23 Have these been visualized in a holistic manner or only in a fragmented/segmented way or have they not been visualizes at all?

1.24 Are we differentiating between information, information-processing, understanding, knowledge, wisdom, skills and application of knowledge? Do we test all these properly and adequately?

1.25 What is the vision of the ideal society that our educational system wants to move towards?

1.26 How far is it correct to say that education today deprives the children of the unique pleasures and experiences of childhood which are critical inputs to the development of a healthy personality?

1.27 Is the present education system leading to homogenization of people world over or is it helping preserve the diversity of different cultural groups?

1.28 Is it entirely incorrect to conclude that the system of education is not performing, is not achieving its aims, goals and objectives and is either a make believe system or a non existent one?

1.29 Do they learn skills of interaction with local community?

1.30 Do they have respect for wisdom, understanding and knowledge of the people at large?

1.31 Why has the entire range of important dimensions of values and attitudes received such scant attention?


2.1 By the expression education system do we refer to only the web, network and arrangements of institution, persons, and structures that are engaged in the task of formal teaching and learning or do we also refer to all sources, processes, institutions and structures that provide education. In other words does informal education come within its ambit?

2.2 Is the system suitable for tribal societies in South Asian Countries?

2.3 Are we expanding the same system of education in tribal societies or are we developing systems appropriate for them?

2.4 Why does the wide spread concern about the rot in education not get translated into similar wide spread movement for change?

2.5 What is meant by education? Does education include everything the child learns from the day he is born or only what happens in the institutional settings of a school, KG etc. In actual practice, not just in theory, do we really differentiate schooling from education?

2.6 Is the School Management democratic?

Does the teacher have the right to question the Head Master’s wisdom or decisions?

Who controls the education system-the people, the students, the teacher or the higher authorities?

2.7 Why do so called Public Schools which are really private exist for the rich? Are urban and rural schools providing similar facilities? Are so called non-formal educational centers or alternative schools really of the same level and the standard as the formal schools?

2.8 Who prescribes the curriculum? Who determines the examination pattern? Is these any democratic process or it authoritarian?

2.9 Does the relationship between the teacher and the students and amongst the students have any of the democratic characteristics?

2.10 Why despite awareness of the serious deficiencies in the education system in South Asia, no serious attempt of radical reform has been forthcoming?

2.11 Does an educational Administration where there are Directors, Jt. Directors, Dy. Directors, Head Masters, Teachers of different grades give a message of equitable society or of Hierarchial unequal social order as desirable and inevitable?

2.12 How many hours of a student is spent in learning in the education institutions?

2.13 Should the working days or working hours be the criteria for assessing the functioning of an institution?

2.14 What are the steps taken in the institutions to develop aesthetics and creativity in the students? Can education be organized in a holistic fashion in which pre-primary to University, liberal to purely professional and formal to nonformal and informal education are conceived, planned, managed, coordinated and implemented as an integrated whole?

2.15 Why are only symbolic measures of change initiated, that are soon co-opted by the present system keeping the main edifice of education intact and unaffected?

2.16 What have been the problems in the concept and scheme of autonomous college? Should the scheme be scrapped? If not what steps should be taken for smooth functioning of autonomous colleges to enable them to achieve the basic objectives of high quality demonstration institutions?

2.17 Why is the system of common school and neighborhood school not accepted in any of the South Asian Countries? Is the system designed to perpetuate the existing social hierarchy? Is the system meant to support favour and reinforce the status quo in the society?

2.18 Why is education in South Asia being looked at in a fragmented and segmented way with different stages, streams of education?

2.19 What should be the powers of the head of the institution and the teachers to ensure high quality education? What should be the mechanisms to ensure accountability of the heads of the Institutions?

2.20 Has it been forgotten that this system was connected favorably by the British when they came to India and infact was extended to other countries by them?

2.21 Should there not be autonomous schools like autonomous colleges? What should be the main components of such a system that draws upon the lesson from the experiment of autonomous colleges?

2.22 Why have the extremely valuable recommendations and reports of eminent educationists in the South Asian Countries been unable to bring about desirable changes?

2.23 Are there dependable methods of monitoring process?


3.1 Is there any rationale for having different subjects or disciplines at different stages of education?

3.2 Can knowledge be compartmentalized into disciplines and subjects in a water-tight manner, as seems to be the practice in education today?

3.3 Is this approach better than the one in which the holistic nature of knowledge is the basis?

3.4 Is it possible to have interdisciplinary research, understanding and learning when higher education system emphasizes the discipline-based curriculum-framing, evaluation and certification?

3.5 What are the respective roles of teachers and text books? If test books are readable clear and explain adequately and lucidly, what is the use of a teacher? If on other hand the books are so written as to require the mediation of teacher, what is the use of such text books? Should the text books not be used by the students without the help of teachers and should the teachers not help the students to go beyond the text books?


4.1 Are the teachers willing to adopt the role of Co-learners and pursue learning with the students?

4.2 Is the system of class room teaching only focused on average students? If so, what is being done to help the students below average to catch up with the average?

4.3 Are we familiar with the age-old indigenous practice of bright students being used as monitor for helping other class fellows to learn and catch up with the class?

4.4 What has education to do with our environment and the local context? Why is it that when schools reopened after the Earth Quake in Jabalpur, the teachers started teaching the next lessons instead of discussing the most traumatic event the children had faced a few days ago?

4.5 In the class room do we make children learn or do we teach them? Do we make them understand? Do we enable them to integrate their learning with their understanding and knowledge acquired earlier?

4.6 Is there any serious and planned attempt for the psychomotor and physical development of the children?

4.7 Despite all latest developments in psychology of education and learning, is pedagogy continuing with or limited to the Herbertion steps? Is again the ghost of Herbert haunting the school class room of South Asia despite our claim of child-centered learning and numerous models of teaching methodologies of teaching-learning developed by a host of educationists and psychologist (Models of teaching : Bruce Hoyce, Marsha Weil; Prentice Hall International 1985 – only a small example)

4.8 Is our education really child-centered or teacher-centered?

4.9 Is teaching-learning activity-based or is it only a slogan?

4.10 Is learning life – oriented?

4.11 Why is the learning in educational institution drab, uninteresting and boring?

4.12 Is it necessary to have a clear-cut dichotomy between learning and enjoyment as at present?

4.13 Why does education system concentrate on the content of education, to the neglect of process in the class room?

4.14 Has the monitor system now degenerated into appointing of a student to mind the class in the absence of teachers, with the limited role of maintaining discipline? How many schools have a well defined role of monitors including of the academic area?

4.15 Why are coaching institutions flourishing? Why are even very young children required to go for tuition? Is the learning in school becoming irrelevant and inadequate and therefore has to be supplemented by coaching / tuitions.

4.16 Why are coaching and tuitions more popular and enable better achievements in the examinations?

4.17 How can those University teachers who are recruited on the basic of their specialized knowledge in a subject or even in a branch of the subject, be made to have a cross-disciplinary approach, understanding and research?

4.18 Does the process in the class room possess any element of democratic values and tradition? Is teacher considered to be fountain of all knowledge or can his knowledge be questioned by the students?

4.19 Are teachers willing to accept their inadequacy of knowledge or need of further learning in front of the students? Are the teachers happy or unhappy with students who like Nachiketa keep on questioning endlessly?


5.1 Is vocational education meant to give some life-oriented useful skills and knowledge along with the ability to think, to question, to be curious, to incessantly innovate or only to fit into pre determined roles that confirm to existing socioeconomic order?


6.1 How reliable are our examinations and scores obtained? Is there an attempt to educate the parents and the children themselves about the limitations of the examination system? On the other hand are we not creating an impression as if scorers obtained are sacrosanct and measure the competence or attainment of the children.

6.2 What is the impact of the scores obtained in the examination on the children?

6.3 Why do some children commit suicide after failing or after obtaining low scores in examination?

6.4 What is the rationale for having 1st division, 2nd division, 3rd division at currently specified percentage or marks?

6.5 What is the rationale for a line dividing those who have passed and those who have failed?

6.6 What is the rationale for believing that those students who have obtained 33% of marks (or any other percentage) can cope up in the next grade/class? Is one third a standard or class good enough foundation for studies in higher classes?

6.7 Can the marks obtained in different subjects be added to give his score as is done in many examinations?

6.8 Can the social, emotional, physical and psychomotor development not be tested, in similar manner or with the same accuracy acceptable for traditional examinations.

6.9 If education claims to develop all dimensions of personality why are the other dimensions of personality not tested?

6.10 Do we not see any contradiction between our claim of developing good human being, making man through education and of highest score being obtained by the most selfish, self centered, cruel insensitive individual? Is that our concept of an ideal human being?

6.11 Can the evaluation focus on competencies rather than on contest? What steps should be taken in this regard?

6.12 Why is there a requirement of passing the NET examination for being eligible to be appointed as a college/university teacher? Does it indicate the absence of confidence in the Universities? If so, how do Universities accept such a situation? Its it not ironical that the UGC which is supposed to ensure high standard of teaching learning in the Universities is showing lack of confidence in the Universities and developing a system of nationwide testing to reinforce this lack of confidence, instead of taking steps to improve the Universities and make them worthy of confidence world wide?

6.13 Do the examination boards and Universities consist of democratically elected bodies or nominated bodies or a blend thereof? If a blend is desirable what should be its nature?

6.14 Is the curriculum so framed as to make all the subjects integrated in a manner in which shortfall of achievements in one is indicator of inadequate achievement in other despite high marks? If so what is the validity of marks in one subject? If not, is the present requirement of minimum pass marks in all the subjects at a time not is national?

6.15 How can an external evaluation through a script written in 3 hours be better than the internal evaluation by the teacher who is interacting with the students in the whole year?

6.16 What are the possible methods of internal evaluation that will be more objective fair and dependable?

6.17 What are the possible pitfalls and how to take care of them?

6.18 Would it not be better to have a national method of standardized evaluation/testing of the institutions through student-performance than the present system of certification of each student; with the students having option to appeal in tests that certify identified competencies?

6.19 Which system is better-where all the students pass and get high marks or where the percentage of success in the examination is low?

6.20 How is it that a system that encourages wastage is considered to be superior or of higher quality than the one which enables everybody to achieve the required package and level of learning?

6.21 Should the learning and evaluation be based on well laid criterion or only be relative to the group?

6.22 Are the scripts in the examination being evaluated with care? Can the examiners be reasonably certain that the marks given by them will remain the same, or roughly the same whoever be the examiner or when they themselves examine the same scripts at a later date?

6.23 Why can’t the answer scripts of the examination given back to the students with an opportunity to them to understand their own inadequacy or strength to enable to improve further and the direction indicated?

6.24 What do passing of stringent laws to curb unfair means in the examinations and use of police and magistracy to ensure fair examination indicate?

6.25 Are the problems related to examination academic or administrative (Law and Order related)? Can there be legal and administrative solution to academic problems?

6.26 Even if external assistance is required in examination why do we use Police and Magistrates why not voluntary agencies? NGOs.?

6.27 Why is assessment limited to summative evaluation? What is the extent of formative evaluation actually used in practice in our institution? How much of diagnostic testing and remedial teaching is prevalent in our schools?

6.28 Why do children adopt unfair means in the examinations? Is it not clear contradiction of any pretensions of inculcating values the education system may have?

6.29 Technically how is a system of marking different from the system of grading? Which is superior?

6.30 Even if information is tested, is it memorized information or understood information? Even if it is memorized, is it lasting or is it transient? Is it incorrect to say that after the examination, even the information crammed evaporates?

6.31 What do we assess in the Examination? Are we really able to test “Level of education” achieved by the children?

6.32 Do we assess the ‘knowledge’ attained or the information gathered, or the extent to which and the manner in which the information given can be processed by the child or bare, naked and undigested information?

6.33 Do we test physical, social, emotional, psychomotor development? If so in what manner?

6.34 Has the concept of comprehensive continuous evaluation remained a slogan or have any concrete steps been taken in this direction?

6.35 Is the practice of Unit tests now prevalent in the schools a step in the right direction or has it created further problems?

6.36 Can all the facts of academic achievements, mental abilities, intellectual growth, tested through written examinations? Are we adopting methods other than written examinations? Are the so called practical examinations in some subjects testing any identified competencies education is seeking to develop? Are there no other methods of testing information, knowledge and mental development which are superior to the prevailing methods?

6.37 For educational reform is the best strategy to focus on changing the examination pattern at the levels of secondary and higher secondary education in such a manner as to test competencies rather than knowledge. So that teaching learning at all earlier stages get attuned to this and higher education also can build upon this?

6.38 What does the number of marks obtained by the students indicate? Does the examination really measure anything? Is a student getting 80 marks more competent or better than one getting 75 marks? Do we not make the society and common people believe that through the examination and by assigning marks we measure the competence of children in the same precise manner as length, height or weight can be measured? Has there ever been an attempt to educate the people at large that the scores given in the examinations are at best only ordinal measurements and this is a very far cry from measurements like height, length, weight etc/?

6.39 Why is a student required to pass in all the subjects in one examination? If marks obtained indicate his achievement, why should the students not be allowed to achieve in different subjects at different rates and acquire the necessary credits?


7.1 Is the present education pattern culture sensitive and language sensitive? How many languages have died since the introduction of the present system of education?

7.2 In the name of use of standard language for education how many millions of children became low achievers and lose self confidence since their mother-tongue (euphemistically and erroneously called dialects) is not the medium of instruction?


8.1 Do we train teachers or educate them?

8.2 Does one teacher training education system equip the trainees to be effective and good teachers?

8.3 Why is a hospital not manned by an untrained, unqualified person while the school has untrained persons as teachers?

8.4 What are the methods of teaching used in teacher education institution? Are they learner centered? If not how de we expect the teachers coning out of such institutions to be capable of or inclined to use learner centered approach?

8.5 Do the teacher education institutions inculcate democratic values, a vision of a just and equitable social order, gender sensitivity?


9.1 Is it acceptable that people can and should have a role in deciding what their children should learn? Is it acceptable that people can judge and should evaluate what the children have learned?

9.2 Education is for the people but what is the role of the people in education? What is the role that educational administrators are willing to grant them? What is the role that the educationists are willing to give them?

9.3 How do we ensure the accountability of educational institution examination boards and Universities to the people, parents and learners?