Friday, 16 December 2011


“He writes answers in his own words”, our son’s teacher commented.

Bursting with pride I replied, “That’s great isn’t it?” Taken aback, the teacher just nodded her head, speechless, unable to comment.

As a student I was never a big fan of the rote learning method… which child is? A product of Kendriya Vidyalayas (Central Schools), I never had a strong foundation in most subjects and my understanding of the most basic concepts was always very shaky.

Wasting all those evenings mugging up lessons was not my way of spending time productively; and the sad part is that I suffered. My Mathematics skills never came up to the desired levels and happy to be given a choice between Maths and Home science, I chose the latter in the XI, against all advice.

However, the only way I cleared my exams, and yes sometimes with flying colours, was to pay attention to what the teacher said in the class and to try and understand concepts on my own. I had a knack of making sense of things in my own particular way. 

Seeing our son Aaryam do the same pleases and frightens me at the same time. Pleases, because I see him turning away from becoming a “rattu tota” *like others, on his own initiative. (A “rattu tota” is my term for one who writes answers from memory, without comprehension of the basics) and frightens me because our education system doesn’t favour students with a mind of their own.

I had promised myself that I will ensure that my children will study in schools where the teaching methodology was totally different, schools which believed in the overall development of the child and did not focus on rote reproduction and regurgitation skills. I did just that but then not all cities have such schools and I was forced to put him in the same old familiar pattern again.

Truly fed up because neither his school nor his teachers after repetitive feedback have taken cognizance of my suggestions of incorporating activities, interactive sessions in the class, internet and book study, I undertook the task of researching the net and talking to other parents on the same topic. While doing so I came across some very interesting and enlightening but already known facts.

  • ·         According to a recent comparative study with the Geneva-based International Baccalaureate (IB) and Britain’s International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) on curriculum, the World Bank has shown that the Indian syllabi only encouraged rote learning rather than creative thinking. 
  • ·         With respect to mathematics, there is a surprising amount of similarity in the topics and subjects addressed, although each curriculum has its unique features.
  • ·         “Concerning the sciences (physics, chemistry and biology), the Indian curriculum is distinguished from the international one mainly by the teaching approach and the focus on rote reproduction skills,” the study said. Like the Indian mathematics syllabus, the science syllabus was not taught in a thematic manner and contained an abundance of standard exercises, which are directly related to questions on the certification examination.
  • ·         In our country, pupils have no option but to become rote learners because of the extreme importance attached, both by their parents and teachers, to their performance in a three-hour written examination.
  • ·    These examinations, however, are not a real test of a child’s comprehension ability. In reality, if the children are able to regurgitate all that they have memorised from their text books, they score top marks.  
  • ·         One of the biggest fallouts of this system of education is that it completely annihilates any imagination that the child may possess. 

What scares me the most is the indifference, lack of awareness and the will to explore and expand horizons of all those involved in the education system. I have always believed that an educator plays a very significant role in the life of a child; the child carries the teachings of his educator throughout his life. It’s their guidance which makes a child “a successful human being”, a human being who is well adjusted and well behaved on top of being an achiever with a mind of his own.

The only ray of hope I can see is the changing mindset of certain people around me and in the government (if they are to be believed i.e.).

According to reports, from later next year, lives of school students across India will transform. Under the Model Rules of the Right to Education (RTE) Act circulated to school education secretaries, rote learning will be replaced by a system of “Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation” that will take into account the talents of children in fields such as music, dance, art, writing and oratory. Students will also be evaluated on life skills such as thinking ability and emotional skills, attitude towards teachers and understanding of values.

However, at the cost of being cynical, how much of the above will be implemented is the question of the hour. As mentioned in an article I read recently, the challenge faced by most schools is the lack of untrained teachers. It also seems that the country will require an additional 5 lakh teachers once the RTE Act is notified to maintain a mandated pupil teacher ratio of 30:1.

It is for parents like you and me to bring about this change. And if we want our children to possess free and self thinking minds we need to begin by letting them write in their own words.

*Our son laments the fact that once the syllabus of a semester is covered by the teacher, they actually have to mug up the answers loudly and repeat them in the class every day. 


  1. CCE is already a part of the Syllabus in CBSE Schools and I learnt when involved with education for some time that a lot of schools under Maharashtra Board too had decided to implement the same. It is a wonderful concept. My own thing about education would be even to give the time as required by the child... we all have different speeds to eat and digest.. and when we offer food to people we never force them to eat in a specified time.. can't the same be done in schools.. A lovely write this.. keep it are helping in making the world around a little more your own subtle way..

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  3. Darling,
    What a topic you have chosen; one very close to my heart. But let me tell you a story first, written by George Reavis, an American educator when he was the Assistant Superintendent of the Cincinnati Public Schools back in the 1940s! So, here’s the story
    Once upon a time the animals decided they must do something heroic to meet the problems of a “new world” so they organised a school. They had adopted an activity curriculum consisting of running, climbing, swimming and flying. To make it easier to administer the curriculum, all the animals took all the subjects.
    The duck was excellent in swimming; in fact, better than his instructor. But he made only passing grades in flying and was very poor in running. Since he was slow in running, he had to stay after school and also drop swimming in order to practice running. This was kept up until his webbed feet were badly worn and he was only average in swimming. But average was acceptable in school so nobody worried about that, except the duck.
    The rabbit started at the top of the class in running but had a nervous breakdown because of so much makeup work in swimming.
    The squirrel was excellent in climbing until he developed frustration in the flying class where his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of the treetop down. He also developed a “charlie horse” from overexertion and then got a C in climbing and D in running.
    The eagle was a problem child and was disciplined severely. In the climbing class, he beat all the others to the top of the tree but insisted on using his own way to get there.
    At the end of the year, an abnormal eel that could swim exceeding well and also run, climb and fly a little had the highest average and was valedictorian.
    The prairie dogs stayed out of school and fought the tax levy because the administration would not add digging and burrowing to the curriculum. They apprenticed their children to a badger and later joined the groundhogs and gophers to start a successful private school.
    (To hear a wonderful song on the same theme, please visit the following site)
    Does this fable have a moral?
    Of course it does. Isn’t it obvious that Mr Reavis is talking about our education? Whether a dear child is inclined to learn science or not, she is f – o – r – c – e – d to submit to the curriculum, sacrifice her own talent and creativity and let the honours be stolen by the most mediocre. It saddens me dearie to think that though these thoughts were articulated decades ago, our education system has remained the same. Hope your expectations bear fruit and we do see some change for the better. Let me remind you that our present education system was designed in the West to train a work force for their industries. A work force needs no initiative or originality.
    But such was not the case in our historical past. Our education was our strength and we knew much more than we are credited with today. We need to wake ourselves up and revert to our time tested methods and stop imitating the West. Let our children not “learn only to earn.” The inimitable Paramhansa Rama Krishna refused to submit to such a scheme of things and the rest is history. Imagine if he had been just another bright student, what then?
    Anyway, just now, they have been thinking up about change much more than us and below are two resources from where all visitors to your site can find more material on the above theme. The first site is from where the above fable has been taken and the second site is where Mary E. Ulrich has revised the Animal School story to suit the times today.
    Read on and do your bit for your children who will inherit our legacy. It’s up to us to give them a heaven or a hell here on our very own beloved earth. Just now it seems rather bleak, don’t you think?

  4. Yes, the scenario looks quite bleak. Aaryam just 7 years old mentioned that he liked challenging assignments and gets very bored with the normal stuff they have to do in class everyday.

    Our education system refuses to provide a challenging environment to students; instead in the quest for ensuring that each child clears his or exam they want to dumb down the curriculum.

    The point I believe should be to make them learners for life not degree collectors..."learning only to earn".

  5. Yes, finally help them become life long learners and help them learn to be responsible for the choices they make...I think world will become a beautiful place for future generations... and very nicely put by Aunt Agony..good to refresh our minds with such a great story leaving a very profound message.. Thank You..