It’s high time we ask ourselves whether the kind of education we receive at our schools is liberating or confining us. Are we becoming creative souls or estranged beings devoid of any aesthetic, artistic and humanistic abilities?
Is the education system betraying us each and every day?
Let me begin by narrating an incident from my life. Every class 10 student faces a dilemma when he or she has to make a decision about which stream to opt for when it comes to class 11. Often, this decision is manipulated and influenced by choices made by parents and the value society has associated with each discipline – even if the entire notion of placing a particular discipline over the other is problematic. Nevertheless, society functions on these hierarchical lines.
My close friend
A close friend of mine, who wanted to take commerce, was forced to take science in class 11 by her parents. Being an engineer himself, her father said, “As our entire family has studied science in school, that’s why it is the only stream that you are going to opt for. Science is the only subject that will ensure a bright future for you.”
Since she had no interest in science, she couldn’t perform well in class 11 despite her best efforts. As the days went by, she started losing interest and thus began her story of alienation. When test results were announced, she was too afraid to approach her parents even after discussing her problems with her teacher.
The teacher called her parents and convinced them to let her change the stream as this was not what she wanted. She told them that it was pointless to force her into studying science as this kind of imposition won’t fetch desired results.
On the other hand, her father was embarrassed and humiliated by her daughter’s ‘failure’ and started scolding her for not being able to carry forward the family’s legacy. Even at that moment, he was more worried about her ‘low grades’ and couldn’t see through the tears of her daughter. He couldn’t understand the trauma that his own child went though for one year.
The father couldn’t fathom the situation and the mother kept quiet.
Since it’s a predominant belief that the male lead of the house should take all the decisions, her father made her choose humanities without even asking what we wanted to study and said,” agar science nhi padh sakti to arts hi padho. tum isi ke laayak ho (If you can’t understand science subjects, you must take arts…you are nothing more than this).”
This strengthens the notion of graded or differential value associated with each discipline and shows the extent to which vague stream-based hierarchies have contaminated our minds.
For my friend, the process of alienation intensified further. The entire class 12 was nothing but horrifying for her, so much so that she started detesting the school, books and even education. Amidst the suffocating classrooms and textbooks, she cherished her pencil and drawing file the most. My friend had an excellent artistic and creative abilities. From painting to drawing random things to sketched portraits – she did wonders with her hands.
After discovering her area of interest, she decided to pursue fine arts after class 12 but she couldn’t tell her father about her dreams. She couldn’t even gather the courage to show him the drawing file. When she scored 75% in boards, she was yet again subjected to her father’s anger. The constant comparison and ridicule took her away from her home, parents, education and life. She began losing herself every day.
Once again, the father didn’t ask her interests and forced her to take admission in B.A program at the University of Delhi. The first year of college, which is usually quite happening and refreshing for every student, was extremely taxing and daunting for her. Even during that time, she was constantly asked to score the highest in class.
Towards the end of the first year, her father started pressurising her to pursue civil services. I remember she came to my place and was extremely disturbed. She started crying and her tears could speak to me. I could sense the pain that was piercing her heart. She broke down and told me that her father said that if she didn’t crack UPSC in the first attempt, he would get her married.
The burden of exams, grades, UPSC, of broken and shattered dreams, of probably getting married this soon, of ‘failure’ was piercing her soul and was ripping her apart. I asked her to speak to her father, at least once. I asked her to let him know about her interests. I told her that I could speak to him on her behalf. But she kept on repeating, “woh nahi samjhenge. Woh kabhi nahi samjhenge (he will not undestand, he will never understand). And if you will talk to him, he will scold me for letting you know everything. He will say ghar ki baat bahar kyun batati ho (why do you tell these things to your friends?)”.
A few months passed and she was struggling every day. She tried to study for UPSC but she couldn’t force herself this time. The fear was absorbing her gradually. She wanted to breathe peacefully. She would always say “I want an escape from all the chaos”.
In mid-October, she strangled herself to death. She committed suicide.
She was not alone. Her suicide was not merely hers. She, like all of us, was a product of this oppressive, intoxicating and harrowing system of education. Her death was manufactured. This cruel system plotted her death. A system devoid of humanistic essence; a system which blinded her parents to an extent that they couldn’t look beyond the constrained idea of ‘success’, ‘grades’ and ‘excellence’.
Now after almost four years of her death, her younger sister, who is in class 10, is also being asked to take science. This shows that they still haven’t realised what their idea of education has done to them. How it has failed them entirely.
I wanted to narrate this extremely personal account to emphasise the fact that personal is always political. What we fail to acknowledge is that our personal or individual experiences are in fact always shaped by the social and cultural forces that surround us.
After reflecting on my friend’s suicide, I realised how flawed our entire system of education is. How it has failed to invoke empathy in us. How instead of sensitising, it has de-sensitised us in a ghastly way. How we have lost our ability to care for people around us. And how we are blinded by this reckless, fallacious and mythical idea of ‘success’.
‘Is there a way out?’
In difficult times like these, it isn’t an easy to task to think of an alternative model of education. However we must begin by exploring the dynamics of education. What we as individuals should immediately realise is the need to unlearn. We need an alternative model of education that doesn’t rest on homogeneity and conformity but rather creates space for diversity and creativity to prosper. A model that encourages students to look beyond what is given in a dialogic environment, and invokes the creative/critical faculties of mind. A model that runs on the principle of learning by doing and makes the students realise the importance of sharing and caring rather than pushing them in a competitive market of capitalistic education.
This is the kind of model that we must work and strive for.
Apoorva Pandey is a masters student at centre for the study of social systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Featured image credit: Ye Jinghan/Unsplash