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‘Modern’ (Mis-)Education: Ethical Concerns

By Yoginder Sikand

25 July, 2012
Countercurrents.org

The more I think of ‘modern’ education the more problematic it reveals
itself to be. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that it’s definitely one of
the major malaises affecting contemporary humanity. It fails miserably
as far as the ethical or moral development of students. And that is
something that even folks who aren’t interested in the extra-worldly realm
or life after death ought to be worried about.

‘Modern’ school education is geared essentially to imparting a body of
knowledge to students. The ultimate purpose of this process is to prepare
them for their future careers, through which they will assume certain roles
in the modern economy. That is why schools are conventionally judged in
terms of their ability to produce graduates who get ‘good’ jobs—by which is
meant jobs that come with hefty salaries and fancy perks.

It is thus hardly surprising that schools pay only lip-service to the moral
or ethical growth of their students. Helping their students to become good,
loving, kind and caring human beings, as opposed to ‘good’ (by which is
essentially meant rich) scientists or economists or whatever, is definitely
not their major purpose. They might make some cosmetic concessions to
ethical concerns by introducing moral science or civics classes, but these
are hardly taken seriously by both teachers and students. The latter often
think of them as a burden that they have to suffer in silence in order to
be promoted to the next grade. Other than this, schools generally have no
other arrangement for students’ moral or ethical growth.

In fact, contemporary ‘mainstream’ schooling is geared to inculcating a
whole set of negative attitudes and attributes, which so damage their
students that only some fortunate few manage to overcome them in later
life. One of these is fear. Most teachers maintain and reinforce their
authority over students by instilling abject fear in them. Students
sometimes cringe before their teachers and generally dare not question them
or ‘misbehave’ (and this may be just something as harmless as sharing a
whisper with another student during class-hours) for fear of being
punished—scolded or even beaten—by their teachers. I lived in mortal dread
of my teachers while at school. Some of them took sadistic delight in
beating us for even the most petty ‘misdemeanour’, such as for having not
polished our shoes or coming to class a minute late.

Then, of course, there is the ever-present fear of ‘failure’. Learning, for
most students and in most schools, is far from being a pleasurable
activity. It is the fear of failing that drives most students to study, as
well as the fear of having to face the wrath of their parents and the
taunts of their class-mates. And if children are so carefully schooled in
fear right from infancy, they carry on being fearful for the rest of their
lives. In turn, this plays havoc with almost all their relationships.

‘Cut-throat competition’ is also what schools actively work to instill in
students from a tender age onwards. Learning in ‘mainstream’ schools is not
a group process, something that students and teachers together participate
in and grow together doing. Rather, ‘learning’ in modern schools is geared
to train students to become aggressive competitors once they leave school
and enter the job market. The conventional examination system reflects that
purpose. Being structured in such a way as to produce ‘winners’ and
‘losers’, ‘toppers’ and ‘failures’, each student is made to believe that
his ‘success’ is dependent on the ‘failure’ of others, whom he comes to see
as his competitors, or even as ‘enemies’. He can ‘succeed’, he comes to
think, only if others ‘fail’ or, at least, fall behind him. It’s almost
like a war, with each student being set against the rest. This, of course,
can only produce aggressive selfishness in students and an absolute
indifference, or even hostility, to the welfare of others.

This tendency is further reinforced by the way school students are
carefully and deliberately insulated from the harsh realities of the real
world around them. This is particularly the case with the so-called ‘best’
schools, which, of course, cater to the rich. When I was at school we
weren’t given even a clue about abject poverty or, for instance, caste
discrimination or other such bitter facts of contemporary India. None of
our books ever mentioned such ‘unpleasant’ things. Presumably, these were
too embarrassing to recognize or perhaps too politically volatile to tell
children about. If you read the Civics and History texts which I studied
when I was at school, which is where one would have expected to find some
mention of such issues, you’d imagine that every citizen of what they
hailed as ‘the Independent, Democratic, Socialist Republic of India’ was
hale and hearty, perfectly contented and bursting with prosperity! I
suppose this continues to be the case today as well. How, I wonder, can one
expect students to have any social concern if they are left—and probably
deliberately so—entirely ignorant of such matters?

Of course, it isn’t just by reading about such social realities in
textbooks that students can be sensitized to the bitter social realities of
poverty and oppression that continue to plague India. Ideally, students
should be exposed to such realities through short field visits, including
to organizations and groups working on these issues, so that they can
witness them for themselves. But that, of course, doesn’t happen at all. At
least none of the high-brow schools I know about does anything remotely
like this. On the contrary, they do everything to make their students
completely blind and wholly insensitive to such realities, and, instead,
to programme them to accept Western-style culture and consumerist hedonism
as normative and ‘natural’ and, as it is now called, the ‘in-thing’. They
might have special Spanish dance classes, for instance, or arrange an
additional course for French cooking or even take their students for a
football course to Russia, but would they ever take their students to the
slum just next-door to learn what life is like for their poor neighbours?

If you really care to think, you might find that many of the ‘un-educated’
folks you know are definitely better human beings than those who’ve earned
fancy degrees and are therefore considered ‘highly-educated’. In fact, it
seems to be the case that the more ‘educated’ you are the less chances you
have of being a kind, considerate and socially-conscious person. At least
that’s been my experience so often that I am tempted to make almost a
generalization in this regard. And I don’t see why this shouldn’t be the
case, given the fundamentally flowed ethos, structure and purpose of
‘mainstream’ (mis)-education.

Yoginder Sikand is bangalore based writer. He can be reached at ysikand@gmail.com




 

 


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