Thursday, July 31, 2008

Education in Kerala - What a Shame!

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.


  1. I always used to wonder this..
    In my parent's generation securing a first class was a BIG deal!!

    how could, in two or three decades, the marks climb from first class to 99.9%???

    Are the students more brilliant??
    or are the marks being awarded for free??
    Of course, tuition centres, the scramble for seats in prestigious schools/colleges etc have raised the bar..

    but has it raised the standard in education..I don't think so..

    Evaluation should be made strict in the first place..
    Every Tom, Dick n harry gets a 95% and above now..

    How can thousands of students be equally competent in English, history, geography, hindi, english, maths, science and computers???

    Either the quality of education is very low..
    or the marks are awarded for the percentages sake!!

  2. Completely agree with the point you are making. My grandmother who is 75 now, can easily beat any of the post graduates now, in terms of English vocabulary, grammar and word power. We need to do some serious thinking in education sector. Not sure why Politicians are giving marks to SSLC students, they dont even have voting rights, or is it like a welcome kit for joining their student wing when they reach college :)

  3. I thought I left a comment here before. Anyway agree with the idea. Used to be awed by my Grandpa's vocabulary. Not sure if it was the education system back then though. Could be self initiated efforts to outside-of-curriculum reading.

  4. A Last Minute Crammer11:13 PM, August 02, 2008

    I feel the system of rotating / recycling question papers every few years (even in professional colleges) has something to do with this. The concept of "study hols" is a boon to last-minute crammers. Neither of the above, helps the student in the long run.

    As for the trapped expression on the faces of students when asked to answer questions in class..... it's probably bcoz memorising everything is predominant in Kerala. I recall being told that I would score high marks in the SSLC exam, if I regurgigated word for word from the text book.

  5. @ a last minute crammer
    yes. the predictability of the question papers does a lot of damage to the exam system. That encourages learninng by rote too.
    @cris, ajith & deepak
    shudn't we bring this to the notice of the powers that be? can u think of some way of doing this?

  6. Powers??? I guess they are the ones responsible for this mess.

  7. For the past 2 days, I have been thinking of ways to overcome the problems that exist in our education system!

    And I realized one's easier to blame the system than change it :-D

    Jokes apart, I had a few observations.
    The problems are not inherent to our state.

    1) Awarding high marks have become a norm now. In the early days ICSE/CBSE boards had a more stringent criteria for awarding marks. But with the rise in competition and the scramble for seats in prestigious colleges, even these boards have started awarding marks quite liberally so that the students studying in schools affiliated to these boards are not at disadvantage.

    So the problem of everyone scoring a 90% and above is not limited to our state.
    Hence, to ask our state boards to go back to strict evaluation and a lesser pass percentage would be unfair to the students of the state board.

    Now I mentioned this point first, because in today's world, it has the highest priority with respect to a students career and future.

    "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"..

    Well we can see for ourselves that the situation is totally different from those good old days.
    Today, everyone wants to go for higher studies. A graduation is a minimum qualification..
    And as we all know admission to any prestigious institute is based on marks and marks alone!!!!

    It all comes down to this one point! Everything else is part of the vicious cycle..i.e. predictability of the question papers, populist reforms etc.

    So what's the solution?
    Well, the all round growth of a student must be considered for admission to a college/institution.
    In foreign universities, a big factor for consideration is the flexibility of students.
    What are his/her interests, What has he/she done for society, what sports does he/she play, what kind of books does the student read, what kind of causes have the student taken up...all these should be taken into consideration.

    And marks should be given only a percentage of importance while considering for admission.
    This would change the "marks oriented" attitude of the students and probably help them to appreciate their subjects more.

    Now how do we implement this?
    That's where I have no answer..I request you to share your knowledge and experience on the same.

    2) Spreading awareness about alternate career opportunities.

    I remember discussing the same in an other post of yours. In our country, especially in Kerala everyone wants to be engineers and doctors. Part of the reason lies in the fact that there are lesser job opportunities (rather lesser lucrative job opportunities) in other fields.

    Let's face it..

    IT/medicine/mba are the best options (and probably the easiest) for more money and respect. Unless this changes, student's and parent's attitude towards subjects such as arts/literature/social science etc will never change.

    How many students in the current generation wants to become a historian? or an english professor ? ;-)
    I'll be honest..I don't want to be. Not because of lack of interest (I'd love to be a teacher)..but ever since time immemorial I have been conditioned to think of a white collar job, me sitting in a cosy cubicle, minting money at will!!!

    So what's the solution?
    Well, I have a solution for this. Start form our own families. Don't force your mindset on your children. Let them explore their areas of interest. Support them. They will have more quality and will be more knowledgeable than if forced to take up engineering/medicine.
    If your friends decide to take up unconventional career tracks encourage them. Don't impose your fears on them. Stand by him/her if she fails in his/her first attempts. Never tell them that their decision was wrong. If it was wrong they will understand it themselves!!!!! All they need is our encouragement and support.

    These are 2 ways by which we can improve the standard of education/quality in our current student generation. Rest of the options (like trying to change/reduce the government's involvement in academic policy making, altering the mindset of student political parties etc) seem too futile.

    Just my 2 paisa.

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  10. @ Deepak
    good to see youngsters like you turning these issues over in your minds.
    Like u said, the issue is very complicated and complex. all the problems u mentioned exist in addition to still more of them. the point i was trying to make is this: every sector runs into problems over a period of time, with changing times and demands of the new order. When these problems surface, changes have to be made in the system; otherwise that sector becomes ineffective and its products, irrelevant. Thus too with the education sector. The problem with kerala is, no change can be brought about 'cos of the heavy political interest in all decisions. that is what staggers progress in the education scenario. Remember that kerala was the last state to delink pre degree from college.this was because the interest of the lecturers had to be protected. what if education suffered in the bargain? i can go on and on with examples-
    reg marks raising the level of marks awarded, i dont think it matters- what was first class(60%) in my days is 80% today-it's only a matter of scaling it up. but setting a pass percentage before the valuations begin and gifting away marks to achieve that figure is ridiculous(as it happened with SSLC results this year). that again is a political decision.

    yet another problem with kerala is the quality of teachers here - but that is changing with NET & SET becoming a necessary qualification and improved qualification becoming a criterion for NAAC accreditation of colleges.

    if education can be freed from the politicians hands, things will change.

    tho i wrote a blog on the craze for docs & ngineers in kerala ( to which u had responded, I feel that the IT boom has done kerala a lot of good- the unemployment problem is more or less taken care of now. my only quarrel(in that post) was with forcing children to become docs or engineers when they want to do something else.

    No. there is no simple solution as things stand. but if there is political will, and the students unions are reined in, miracles can happen in kerala education sector.

  11. The Layman said...
    "If there is political will and student unions are reined in.."

    How do we solve the "if"?..
    Guess the answer lies in the hands of us youngsters.. our generation..

    Hmmm...interesting thought! :-)


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