I was talking with my 80 + & 90 + in-laws, and once again the thought came to me - it comes every time I converse with people of that generation - that they had a much better education than what Kerala offers in the present day.
Their comfort level in English, their awareness about the world around them, their sense of history, their knowledge of geography are way above that of the students I had to deal during my teaching days. Even as a young school and college going student, I’ve heard my parents talk of the school system they had in their time – and seeing the product that the system produced, I begin to feel that we should go back to those days.
All schools were Malayalam medium till 4th standard. A student who wants to continue in Malayalam medium gets promoted to 1st Form and goes on uninterrupted till she reaches 9th standard, which is the school completion point.
The student who opts for English medium education goes, after 4th standard, through the Preparatory class which gives them intensive coaching in basics in English. After that they go to the 1st Form. School education becomes complete with 6th form.
And I find that, that generation was educated in the true sense of the word. Being a teacher by profession, I can make this statement with authority. Our parents did not have tuitions, or ‘educated’ parents to help them with studies at home. But their standard in written English (spoken too if they were employed in positions which required them to use it) would put not just today’s SSLC students, but also graduates and post graduates to shame. I am not resorting to hyperbole to drive home a point- it’s the plain simple truth.
Yes. I think the education minister should sit up and take a look at what education has come to since the time of his parents, and try remodeling on those lines. Am sure it’ll produce marvelous results.
Of course, a necessary condition would be de-linking politics from reforms relating to education sector. Take a look at this case to see how different things are in other states. A Polytechnic affiliated to the SNDT University in Mumbai offers, among other courses, a diploma in Office Administration and Secretarial Practices. The students are screened for their competence level in the English language the very day they join – an entry level test as it is called. Divisions A & Division B are formed based on the results. Intensive training in spoken and written English (an imperative for the profession they are trained for) is given to the Division A comprising low scorers in the English entry level screening test. In the second year, both the divisions sit together, for, the students of A division would have improved their communication skills in English. There have been instances where those who scored high in the entry level screen test opt for A Division on account of the intense coaching in English they would get.
Try introducing this practice in Kerala. The DYFI and SFI and KSU and SUCI will be on the streets destroying public property and indulging in murder and arson to end the ‘bourgeois, elitist discrimination’!
Of course, it is not fair to put all the blame on the govt and the system for the decline in the quality of education in Kerala. Over the years, Keralites have grown to take education for granted. Our rulers in the pre independence days did us a wonderful service by starting schools in every nook and corner of the state. Our parents’ generation was the first full fledged takers of this education. They valued it. I remember my father telling me that he used to walk miles and miles to attend school. Today’s generation skips classes on a hartal day if they have to walk only walkable distance to school or college. And with subsidies and stipends, education has become cheap. And what comes cheap is not valued, but taken for granted.
And the fees my parent’s generation paid might sound trivial to us in these days when we speak in terms of crores. The women in the thirties had to pay Rs3 ¾ pm whereas men had to pay Rs. 5. The fees for preparatory around that time was Rs.2 ¼. In the school which my mother-in law attended, the boarding fees was 22 idangazhi of rice (1 idangazhi = 1 ½ kg, I think) and Rs. 4/. My father who graduated from Maharaja’s College paid Rs. 5/pm as his hostel fees. All these people I had spoken to sometime or other, swear that their families had to make immense sacrifice to make that kind of payment in cash or kind.
That generation PAID for their education - paid through their nose. They were not imparted education with the tax payers money. So they valued it. And the beauty of it all was, they had no mercenary attitude to it. Education was not considered a mere stepping stone to a job. It was a simple case of love of enlightenment, love of education for its own sake. Many beneficiaries of education in those days went back to their agricultural occupation which they could have managed without formal education. And most women remained housewives. But their education gave them a certain quality difficult to describe. To say that they were resilient, faced life’s wear and tear with a philosophical shrug, and became addicted to reading (and to Malayala Manorama in the Mid Travancore region), is to illustrate only some of the ways in which education impacted them.
The present day scenario is very depressing. As a teacher I have seen how students come to class and sit there bewildered when I start to teach in English (unfortunately, I am a teacher of the English language). If I ask them a question and insist they answer in whatever broken English they know, they’ll look at you with such a trapped expression that you excuse them hastily lest they send you running for smelling salts! Of course there are exceptions but the general rule is this.
What has gone wrong? Where and when? All the ‘progressive’ reforms have only made matters worse. Why isn’t anyone doing a serious study on this issue?
This year Kerala registered an all time high in SSLC pass percentage. That it was a political decision, there is no doubt. The situation at the moment is: there are many students who cannot not be accommodated for Plus One, despite the tall claims of fair admissions through Single Widow Admissions. The best beneficiaries of this crisis are the political parties. All those SSLC passed students who are not likely to get admission into schools form a veritable goldmine for parties to get recruits
What has gone wrong with Kerala education is, as I see it:
Politicization of all decision, including reforms related to admissions, examinations, pass percentage, fees - the works. The populist reform of introducing group system in SSLC to allow more and more students to pass was the first major death knell to education in the state. More and more electorate friendly reforms followed.
So, what is the role of academics in this scenario? Well nothing - except be happy tools in the hands of politicians and political parties.
What a fall from the days of yore!.
In the meanwhile, I hear the requiem being sung for quality education in the most literate state in the country.
And the red carpet that had been rolled out for mediocrity has been extended to welcome sub mediocrity.