Fizzed-out futures

Initiatives are arising to plug holes in the Indian education system, or so they claim. Many are ambitious, some even overreaching, but they also exist in the company of those that are honest. However, the cause for concern is that such projects are being viewed as extracurricular to the prevailing education system-even by those who have founded the initiatives. Thoughtful engagement is sought after, an awareness of the “outside world”–a summation of the realities extraneous to the student’s chosen field–is deemed lacking and designated a goal.

Most such initiatives are by students, or recent graduates, and with them, they carry fresh memories of incomplete lessons and half-mentored theses. As their activities grow in scope–which they surely do–there is an attrition between a tendency to remain experimentalist and the certainty provided by going commercial through installing a secure source of support and a fundamental incentive. The last is necessary even though many students remain in denial of it: one man’s idea cannot be shared with the same intensity throughout unless there is a need to depend on it. Money, many fail to realize, maintains currency, too.

The prevalent belief is that the Indian way of learning sidelines the humanities: if a job doesn’t fetch a fat cheque, it concludes there is no point in studying for it. Unfortunately, however, such a view also degrades the pros of technical learning. Subsequently, the responses are disappointingly reactionary. If a student has found it difficult to inculcate a skill, he simply participates in the overarching institution of frustration and dissatisfaction, and assumes the problem is faced by everyone. That is never true, has never been. However, it finds enough purchase to surface as fixes.

In many parts of the country, young graduates and final-year students gather in small rooms on terraces and in garages. For the most part, they discuss the different activities they could perform to compensate for what they think they ought to have learned in the classroom but didn’t. They quickly conclude that original thought is missing-which is very true-and proceed to talk about what they’d need to inculcate it. These are, obviously, surface-level problems. As time passes, the incentive to meet each subsequent week and debate and act or whatever peters out. Essentially, such students’ and graduates’ concerns have been for the short-term.

The long-term concern, it seems, can be addressed more effectively at the individual level than at the systemic level. The institution can encourage extracurricular tasks, point at the dearth of invention and abundance of innovation, and build up an army of youngsters to fix the nation’s most pressing problems. However, the only solution that can pluck India out of this moshpit of unoriginality is to do what is required of all youngsters no matter where they are these days: ideate. Ideas, whether original or otherwise, are necessary; even better when they are distilled out from a knowledge pool that is vast.

Whatever the most dollar-guzzling problems are, the ones that are solved by continuous ideation are what will keep the machine from descending into a standstill. May the humanities be sidelined, may the rote-learner be celebrated, may technical learning signify the staple diet that deprives most Indian students’ of the indulgence of the arts-we are not in need of a paradigm shift to rectify matters. What we need most is to build ourselves to achieve even in the absence of expectations. What we need most is to transcend our cubicles and classrooms and disintegrate the institutionalized frustration. By not doing so, we are letting our communal objectives be defined by a chance mistake.