Humankind has come a long way since the invention of the wheel. Through the ages, humans have learned a lot, from the discovery of fire to the creation of the pyramids. Along with his several other inventions, humankind has also discovered an efficient method of recording the past and documenting the present for the benefit of future generations: Books.
As religion, science, art and literature flourished, so did the concept of formal education. The University at Taxila, now in Pakistan, was the world’s first university. The university followed the then popular gurukul method of teaching, one where the shishya (student) stayed with his guru (teacher) for a number of years, acquiring important skills to including those which would help in daily life. At the end of his tutelage, for which the guru did not accept any fees, the shishya would offer his guru a ‘dakshina’ – a form of gratitude and respect, either in monetary terms or otherwise.
Today, education is far more commercialized, and is radically different from the teaching methods of our forefathers. More than the acquisition of knowledge or life skills, a formal education is sought after by millions for the employment opportunities it brings with it. While there are many even today in the United States of America who would be the first from their family to go to college, such ambitions seem very lofty to the average Indian. In a country where the literacy rate is at a mere 74%, high school remains a dream for many.
Despite public schools which offer affordable education, and several attempts by the Government to incentivize schooling (including a mid-day meal), literacy levels remain chronically low. More than its reach, however, the problem with education today is the fact that despite huge advances in the fields of technology and behavioral psychology, the formal education system remains almost unchanged from what it was a hundred years ago.
While the idea of chalks and a blackboard might leave many nostalgic, the fact remains that today there are far more efficient forms of education than the traditional schooling system, which is reflected in the occasional smart board or digital learning program. These need to be inducted into mainstream education, and given due importance. In a competitive world where jobs are becoming increasingly difficult for people without an area of specialization (and proof of that) to find, many feel that the education system today has stopped teaching people how to think and is instead producing mindless machines.
Experts argue that students nowadays seem less knowledgeable about their course material and more adept at simply passing examinations. Archaic teaching methods combined with outdated syllabi characterise the education sector in most countries, and poor infrastructure (especially in poorer countries) only aggravate the problem. Moreover, the fact that education is, to a large extent, standardized means that a number of children whose talents lie elsewhere are forced to study subjects they have no interest in or use for, and often have to deal with the burden of being held back should they fail to pass their examinations in these subjects.
Under such circumstances, it is no wonder that despite going to school, many children today depend heavily on private tutors to guide them. With the creation of the world wide web, and its access made relatively easy for the public in the last few decades, many have contributed to it extensively, making the internet the biggest source of information in the world today. Despite a large part of this information being available free of cost, there are a great many people who cannot afford a computer, much less a paid online course.
Where the internet has succeeded, however, is in moving education away from the classroom and also making it far more student-friendly. As such, most people who study off the internet do so of their own volition, with the lack of strict rules and conventional methods of teaching actually working to the benefit of the student in this regard. As internet-based learning slowly spreads as a phenomenon, one can finally see hope for progress in the field of education. The way forward need not necessarily be one that is completely dependent only on internet-learning or classroom-teaching, but one that strikes a happy middle-ground. One thing, however, is clear at this point — the world’s attitude towards education needs to change if the current level of innovation and creativity is to be sustained and perhaps, one day, surpassed. The future of humankind rests on the future of education.
-Contributed by Prithviraj
Picture Credits: sec-ed.co.uk