With examinations being held online due to the pandemic, the cry for originality while writing answers in tests have taken the centre stage again. But how can minds, mostly trained in authoritarian classrooms, form original and different answers?
In the film 3 Idiots, there was a classroom scene where the professor asks Rancho, one of the protagonists, to leave the class when he defines ‘machine’ using easy to understand language. On the other hand, Chatur, the other student, is praised for parroting a bookish and predefined definition. The film released in 2009, but sadly, such is the state of affairs in most universities and colleges in India, even till this date.
Colleges, or educational institutions in general, are the antithesis to creativity. So, the easiest way to please the authority is to mug up predefined answers and write those down in your papers. To put it simply, follow the tradition, earn good scores and ride up the academic ladder. And in a country where marks continue to define our future prospects, and even admissions to top institutions, who really care about originality of thought?
Indian classrooms are the most undemocratic spaces for discussions. The authority figure, that is the professor, is always supposed to be right – at least that is what we are trained to believe. Having a different opinion, in most scenarios, means being unnecessarily targeted and ridiculed in class. In such a scenario, who would want to be in their professor’s bad books knowing well that he or she is going to decide their final grades?
In many institutions, classrooms are treated as training centres where often the professor tries to propagate their ideology while teaching, and some students even get influenced by them. If our opinions and how we study a text are dictated by the views of the professor, how will our answers be different from our peers?
Moreover, students are never encouraged to form their own opinions, and those who try are labelled as ‘backbenchers’ or ‘intellectually dumb’. So, in due course of time, they lose confidence in their own answers. And when marks are at stake, the easiest and most suitable option is to either copy the answer dictated by the professor or take help from what is available on the internet, which more or less regurgitates what is believed to be common.
In some institutions, even the professors purposefully advise students to the use the internet so that they don’t have to prepare notes for class. There are teachers who don’t even bother to take classes regularly or for the entire period of the class. Isn’t this practice as unethical as the copy-paste culture in exams? And what else would a student do if professors are not even taking lectures regularly?
Our education system is filled with teachers who have no passion for teaching and so, the process of learning from them is mechanical and always an adjustment. How can a dispassionate system produce passionate students? In many universities, they keep repeating the same questions every two to three years and therefore if you can get hold of the question papers of the past few years, you can answer most of the questions in your exam. If the salaried figures of authority are not working hard to come up with innovative questions, how can you expect original and innovative answers from students?
How many professors truly believe in inculcating democratic values in their classrooms? How many would openly admit their faults in class if they are found to be wrong? How many actually encourage their students to form their own opinions? How many take an extra hour to explain complicated concepts and help you articulate a well-informed argument outside the allotted time of the schedule? And most importantly, how many allow their students to fail and encourage them to try again?
I guess, there are only few such professors in each campus.
But I strongly believe that we’d see our system transform when there are more such professors in our colleges. Professors not only teach us what is prescribed in our syllabus but many things beyond that, often unconsciously. And, if we want students to be original and innovative, the same should apply to professors in the classroom and outside of it.
But, the blame can’t be put on the professors alone. Professors are also the products of the same system that promotes this culture. Many factors are responsible for the lack of originality on the students’ and professors’ part. Most admission policies give priority to your marks over your originality or your creativity. Syllabi are not updated with the current socio-political trends in most higher educational institutions. Professors and teachers are not provided professional value-addition training programmes. Our institutions are undemocratic and the system overall favours and awards students with only a surface-level understanding of almost all subjects rather than in-depth knowledge on specialised topics. The system was historically designed to produce ever-obeying clerks for the British Raj, and it has remained as such till date.
Yet, this article focuses only on one aspect of the entire system – the professors, why? Because we, as students, look up to them and are inspired by what they do. Blaming only the students for the current scenario will be akin to blaming the symptoms. Through this piece, I want to emphasise the issues from a student’s perspective and in no way, I want it to be perceived as the entire-truth. It is just a version worth seeing.
I believe if professors would be passionate about originality and creativity and appreciate it inside the classroom, the mindset of students towards education can change. But first, we have to be on the same page and desire the same goals.
Sutputra Radheye is a poet and commentator on themes affecting the socio-eco-political scenario. His works have been published on Frontier, Countercurrents, Janata Weekly, Culture Matters (UK) and other platforms.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty