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Square peg in a round hellhole

  • Published at 11:00 pm February 8th, 2020
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Learning is about reading widely and deeply BIGSTOCK

Why our schooling system needs to be torn down and rebuilt

Finally, the government seems to have realized a very obvious fact: Forcing students to commit to a single stream of either science, arts, or commerce so early on in their schooling is ridiculous.

For many, this will come as a system shock. The practice of students at the end of Class VIII deciding on what they will study -- and what they will be forever labelled as -- has gone on from time immemorial. At the age of around 14 or so, you are meant to know your calling, your place in the world. 

This may sound practical to the outside observer at first blush. After all, what’s wrong with getting a head start? Go down the road of specialization early on in life, pick what you want to do, and don’t waste too much time learning or doing things that will not contribute to your future career.  

Makes … sense?

Except it doesn’t. This so-called specialization comes with no small amount of toxic baggage, and rarely ends up achieving its goal. Instead of child geniuses who go on to hone laser-sharp focus in their respective fields, our system churns out angry, disillusioned youngsters completely burnt out with the idea of learning. 

Also, far from being a system which equitably distributes children into groups -- the scientifically-minded, the entrepreneurs and MBA-chasers, and the humanities-leaning writers and philosophers -- it creates a hierarchy. No use denying it. Ask anyone who has been through the system and they will tell you the singularly brutal truth.

The story goes: Science students are the best. They study hard, they are good at algebra, and one day they will get into BUET or medical school, become successful professionals with decent salaries, and make their South Asian parents proud.

Commerce students are “meh.” They don’t quite cut the muster when it comes to academic excellence, but they’re not necessarily stupid. They are confident, and they are initiative-takers. They will never reach the doctor-engineer level of greatness, but they should be able to get some kind of cushy white-collar job at a bank, and that is nothing to sneeze at.

Finally, at the lowest rung are the students who pick arts. No parent wants their child to have to resort to the arts stream, because it is synonymous with loser -- academically speaking. But some children are told they are not bright enough to excel at anything else, so arts it is. Enjoy studying things that are useless and irrelevant.

If these characterizations disturb you, then that is the point. Because that is the level of absurdity our children are thrust into in our current academic system. It is a system where a bright, imaginative girl of 14 or 15 starts thinking she is worth less than her friend, because her grades weren’t good enough to put her on a road to future success. It is a system where every drop of the joy of learning is squeezed out in the name of specializing, whereas the only thing anyone truly ends up specializing in is anxiety. 

Most alarmingly, it is a system which does not at all understand the importance of disciplines interacting with each other, enriching each other. Science, the arts, and business do not take place in vacuums. 

Our education system, tragically, also fails to understand the fundamentals of how a child’s or a teen’s brain actually develops. Their minds need to wander, their imaginations need to take them places, they need to read widely and deeply, watch movies, smell roses, live life. 

Most importantly, they need to take the time until their brains and personalities reach some maturity before they can understand themselves well enough to know what their true signature strengths are.

Then they can specialize.

Is it a surprise that our cities are so unplanned, that our bureaucracy is in tatters, that our environment is on the verge of doom?

Is it a surprise that we have bred generations whose modus operandi is apathy and indifference? Is it a surprise that empathy has been drained from our souls, and all we want is to selfishly get ahead, stepping on others on the way if need be?

Our children shouldn’t have to keep paying the price for the irresponsible policies of their elders. After all, aren’t grown-ups supposed to be the responsible ones? 

Abak Hussain is Editor, Editorial and Op-Ed, Dhaka Tribune.