Recently, I came across a meme that made me consider the state of our education system – and not in a good way. The meme features a rage comics character with a single speech bubble, “Ye un logon ke liye hai jinhe abhi abhi 10th mein 10 CGPA aaya hai aur science lene ka mood hua hai. Just wait for your 1st 11th unit test to come.” (This is for those people who just scored 10CGPA in their tenth board exams and now feel like taking science.)
We’re all familiar with the pattern – As soon as students finish their tenth board exams, they have to choose between science, commerce and humanities. The top scorers go to science, the middle order files into commerce and the tail goes into humanities.
Another similar meme makes humanities the punchline by implying that science is so hard that people should take the easy way out with humanities. The line says, “Arts hi lena chahiye tha.”
The meme may be sarcastic, but it unintentionally points to a real problem.
As a young Indian, here’s my predicament: Our society is in a terrible state in more ways than one, but we have no clue about what we can do as basic citizens to fix it. Yes, we have the largest and youngest work force in the world, but most of us are trained for manual or vocational jobs, not intellectual. The lack of jobs is just one of the pressing societal issues India is facing right now. Gender inequality, income and class inequality, the persistence of the caste system – these are all socio-political problems that shape our lives.
So where did we go wrong? Did we pick the wrong leaders? Did we not study the right things?
Here’s my answer: We should have paid more attention to the stream of humanities. And I’m saying this as an engineering student.
The arts have answers that will surprise you as they did me when I stumbled upon philosophy, sociology, political science, history and even economics while studying engineering. I have to be honest here, I too laughed at people who took humanities/arts and thought these were subjects for people who lacked intellectual potential. Now, the very people I used to mock are part of a group that I learn from each day.
The way we’re taught science in India reduces students to mere binary thinkers. There are no abstract ideas, everything is empirical. Sadly life isn’t a binary, it’s rather grey and rather breathtaking because it is so.
We’ve imbibed the Silicon Valley mindset that every social problem has a tech solution, it just hasn’t been invented yet. Our belief that all our problems can be solved by science and technology is why we, as Indians, find ourselves in such a mucky situation.
The state of our nation is not unfixable. And the smallest step forward can just be spending more time in the non-fiction section the next time you visit a bookstore.
However, on a systematic level we need more jobs for humanities students if we want to transform the stream into a coveted course of study. We also need school teachers who are actually happy teaching history and sociology etc. Finally, we need people from other streams to recognise the value in other streams and types of thought – best done if we all engage with other streams sincerely and with open minds.
Sujay Pan is a 20-year-old engineering student in Bengaluru, who writes and makes films. Find him on Instagram and Twitter @sujaypan
Featured image credit: Reuters