Editorial: Invest in Learning

Because that is what education is really about The State Government has made an ambitious commitment to revolutionise education in Sikkim starting from primary schools and building up from that. This was an initiative well-intentioned, and welcome too because it identified the beginning of schooling as the most important years of learning. For far too long, primary schools have received only token attention when human resource should have been prioritised. Hopefully, that is what the government plans in its latest move. And now the State has also put together a State University. It is unclear what will be unique about this institution or what missing component of higher education it will provide a fillip for, but there really cannot be any complaints about more places of learning and there cannot ever be too many of them so long as they are about learning and not dispensing degrees. And please, when the charter of responsibilities is passed along, don’t impose employability as a criteria for the courses on offer unless they are technical and skill-imparting trainings. Make the institutions genuinely about learning and then the products will automatically become much sought after human resource for any sector they wish to join. Instill a keenness for learning, and you will have students who can adapt and pick up skills and expertise for any job that catches their fancy. Obsess over imparting employable skills and you will never succeed because the job market is huge and ever changing. The job market needs people with aptitude, not necessarily skills because those can be picked up on the job. Give the young confidence and they will be ready for the world. Obsess over school uniforms and discipline when the young should be discovering and expressing themselves more confidently in their college years and you are only producing order-takers in times which require independent thinkers. One also hopes that the current interest in revolutionizing education is not limited to civil engineering projects. Where so much money is expended on infrastructure, not enough attention is being paid to the education that these improved infrastructures impart. Education is introduced in every speech by every party as an empowering tool and if it were really so, students from underprivileged families would not drop-out from schools in such huge numbers. The mid-day meal scheme is all very fine if it is malnutrition that the planners intended to address, but if they thought this would keep children in school, then they should have invested in teachers first, on their training next and finally on an effective monitoring system to keep them on duty. And more importantly, the planners should invest on fashioning a syllabus that is contemporary and prioritises learning, not memorising. Students drop out from school not because they cannot afford it, but because they cannot understand how education empowers them. It carries no relevance either for them or for their families. Those from underprivileged families will drop out of school and the better heeled drop out from college. More students drop out because they want to start working at improving their lives, learning by rote does not open their minds to the appreciate how education offers a way out; but, if schools encouraged students to think for themselves, analyse information and situations, they will understand what education means and then struggle to stay in school. What this requires is not just for the syllabus to change, but also how subjects are taught in our schools, the manner in which learning is evaluated. There are those who believe that the Indian education system is the best, pointing out the achievers that our schools and colleges export. And therein lies proof of the drawbacks – the better minds still need to go out to deliver. As a nation, India produces a lot of educated people, but when it comes to thinkers and visionaries, people who give the world the next big idea, even when their nationality is Indian, they are products of education systems that are not on our shores. So yes, let’s invest in infrastructure, make sure that a well-provided-for school is the vicinity of every habitation, but also simultaneously, let’s invest thought into how this infrastructure can work with a syllabus and pattern that makes thinkers of the next generation, not just note-takers.