Raghav Podar talks to SHALINI SAKSENA about what ails the education system and what can be done to change it

What is the problem with our education system?

There are many challenges; the most fundamental is centered around the pursuit of the “Holy Grail of Marks!” What is the purpose of education? Why do you send your child to school? Unfortunately, for most, it is so that their child can get into what they consider is the best college, which is further considered to be the sure shot way to achieve success in life. The fundamental purpose of education is “learning”. Yet the dominant culture of education has become about “testing”. This needs to change.

Solutions that schools can come up with.

Since schools are affiliated to Boards, whose rules they have to follow, there is only so much that schools can do. However, with that being said, what is required is a mindset shift, for all stakeholders, including parents. Schools can sensitize parents that just because their child did not do well in an exam or does not do well in a particular subject does not make their child any less worthy. If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, you will convince that fish it is stupid for life.

Why the delay in taking corrective measures?

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and changing mindsets that are so culturally ingrained in us is not something that will happen overnight. We need to move forward from cookie-cutting children into molds of pre-conceived notions of what is considered “the good Indian child”.  Parents need to start celebrating their children’s successes, even if they are not geared towards becoming traditional doctors/engineers/CA’s. The top 10 most in-demand jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004. We are preparing children for jobs that don’t even exist today, to solve problems that aren’t even problems yet, using technologies that haven’t even been invented yet. It’s time for parents to wake up and realize the growth and success stories their children will have in very different fields than what they had when they were growing up.

How difficult/easy is it to empower a student today to take the correct career path?

We are a society that excessively emphasizes very few, traditional career paths as the road to success. Under these circumstances, it is difficult for a student to go against their parents, and popular societal opinion to choose what they think is a correct career path. Parents should be the guides, aided with professional career counselors, but the child’s own aptitude and volition should not be drowned out.

Do you think that there is a lot of pressure on students today to deliver good results? Who is to be blamed?

The overemphasis of marks is the bane for so many children, that don’t thrive in such atmospheres, but that doesn’t make them any less capable. The blame has to go on all of society. Why not project stories of those children who didn’t achieve anything close to a perfect score in an exam, but yet succeeded so greatly in life? Why not celebrate students who may have been terrible in science, but were excellent sportsmen? I am not propagating that studying is not important, and to leave it aside, but don’t forget to celebrate what the child is good at!

A lot of schools have project-based teaching methodology yet, there is rote learning. Why?

Rote learning is what gets children the marks. It is the “one right answer” policy. If a child doesn’t learn rote and doesn’t give the answer in the format that is required, they don’t get the marks for it, which in turn paints them as a weak student. The education system needs to change from this obsession over marks.

How well are we preparing children to face the challenges of the 21st century?

The world economy in the 21st century does not reward you for what you know. Why? Because all of us have access to infinite information at our fingertips. You are never going to know more than Google. What is critical is what you can do with what you know, or how you apply the knowledge that you have! Children in school today will be retiring in the 2070s-2080s. We have no clue what the world will look like next year, yet we are preparing them for their lives decades ahead. The pace of change is staggering, the uncertainty is fascinating.

Basic rule every student must follow.

Don’t worry, don’t let others worry about you, and be happy. There is enough to worry about when you grow old, enjoy your childhood, you will not get it back.