A few days ago I was reading an article by an eminent Indian educationist and came across a reference to a 1991 report “Learning without Burden” and its conclusion that “the problem of curricular load is rooted in the system’s inability to distinguish between information and knowledge”.
An analysis of this statement reveals its various components (Note that the analysis is based on the above statement alone, and not on the original document. I can barely wait to lay my hands on the report and read it cover-to-cover
The malaise: Curricular load of the Indian student is high
The source: Inability to distinguish between information and knowledge
The breadth: System-wide
What intrigued me about the statement was the insinuation that the nearly the entire population of India (constituents of this system – policy makers, the schools, teachers, curriculum designers, examiners, parents and students; past and present) has failed to do something (in this case distinguish between information and knowledge). Quite a LARGE problem, I would say!!
The other issue that struck me was the source of the problem itself – our inability to distinguish between information and knowledge. This is a life skill that we practice every day if not at every conscious moment, and therefore should be the one skill that we are most proficient in. What troubles me more is that this deficiency is aggravated at the very institutions which should be responsible for honing a child’s skill to master this competency. If we are not teaching our children to gather and organise and analyse data into information and skills to make informed and competent decisions (knowledge), then what exactly are we teaching our children?
While acknowledging the fact that a considerable proportion of us (including people in the workforce) do give more weightage to the data and information rather than the conclusions / interpretations that can be drawn from the information, I do not think that this is the main cause of the problem being faced by Indian education. At best, it is a manifestation of other more severe issues that should be addressed on an urgent basis.
I think that one of the biggest issues facing teaching learning in Indian education is the excessive emphasis on 2 events is a student’s life, to the absolute exclusion of all other events and achievements- the 10th and 12th class board examinations. Schools / parents / teachers and community at large recognise the importance of these two milestones in a child’s life and have developed processes that would maximise the probability of scoring big in these exams.
* Parents are known to discourage all activities that would impinge upon study time which would result in a compromise of even one mark. The period before the board exams are one of the most strenuous for most parents, I personally know of parents who stay awake late at night with their kids administering regular doses of tannins and caffeine to induce insomnia in extend the hours of study.
* Most teachers also are resistant adopting alternative teaching practices. In a fact finding interview, on teaching practices and the development of creative skills in students, some teachers replied that “they have never felt the need to acquire such skill” and that they did “not think that there was any relevance of promoting creativity in a classroom in so far as performance in the examination was concerned”.
My observations, while may be a bit simplistic, provide clear direction on where the problem lies and the vice like grip it has on the choices of the various stakeholders of the Indian education system.