With results of XIIth standard out, we are seeing faces of some of the brightest Indians splashed across newspaper pages. The real tragedy is that we are never going to see them gracing these pages ever again, as most of them will not be staying in India and if they do, given the nature of our system, such intelligent kids have chance of a bacterium engulfed by a microphage to succeed in India.
As these photos are curtsey various coaching classes engaged in helping students to cracks various entrances tests, it is clear that there is a universal and social acceptance of coaching classes as appropriate means of opening gates of all professional qualifications, so I have a very curious question.
If I can find dedicated coaching class for IITs, IIMs, NIDs and every other top class academy of India, why can’t I find coaching class for joining Harvard, Cambridge, MIT, Oxford or Caltech?
The answer to this question can be found in how the brain works and what real education is. Education is a process of programming human brain, so it is important to aim it in the right direction and where our education defers from the world is the objective we have opted for.
Education in India means ability to solve a limited set of problems and its pitfall can best be understood with sports metaphor. If one trains a person to have a perfect forehand, it is possible to do it by making him repetitively hit a million balls. After couple of years, he will have a bulging right shoulder and perfect muscle memory to do so. But, after that training, when asked to run hundred meters, he may fail miserably due to lack of overall fitness.
Another dimension of the same process can be seen in the way Russia destroyed the wonderful game of chess by converting it into a limited set of problems, mainly in the opening part of the game where variations are limited. This process produced winners, but the simplest way to rob these masters of their talent was to interchange positions of any two pieces at the start. As it altered the problem set, all the training became useless.
The real destroyers of learning in India are the coaching classes that want to play this game of reduction and create rote-machines having expertise in a limited set of problems. The process they follow to achieve this objective is repetition, a process of hard labor that converts learning into something akin to muscle memory in brain.
The main job of any coaching class is to find out an optimum set of problems, so they are focusing on keeping the examination system unchanged. The longer they manage this, the better they get at refining and limiting the problem set. We have taken this to such a high level that today there is hardly any exam dynamic enough to defeat this education-hacking.
The entrance exam system we have needs a complete overhaul. Coaching classes must be stopped as they are not only destroying the very essence of learning; they are also making it an uneven playing field. Talented kids without resources are pushed out by well-coached mediocre ones who manage to crack the system due to having access to system hacks provided by coaching classes.
If India wants Harvards, we need to aim for educating brains for overall fitness. The idea of deriving means of “cracking” exams must be curbed as it defeats the very purpose of such exams.
This is even more crucial today as the skills that we are providing to Indian kids are easy for a computer to acquire. In the new age where creativity will be the real key, we are heading for a disaster with producing rote-machines.