Y. Satyanarayana

"We don't need no education

We don't need no thought control

No dark sarcasm in the classroom

Teacher, leave them kids alone"

Pink Floyd's iconic, artistic indictment of the educational system in UK, was embraced by the world nearly four decades ago. Needless to say, students universally identified themselves completely with the sentiments articulated by the singer.

In our country, students in schools and colleges facing stress is something like the weather in Mark Twain's words--it's something everyone talks about, but no one does anything about.

Closer home, for many years now, corporate colleges which have mushroomed all over the two telugu-speaking states, have been driving students into pressure-cooker classrooms. With each passing day, the level of stress gets higher and students are driven to perform and outperform. Learning is stressful, while teaching is drudgery.

In the bargain, their creativity, self-esteem and their entire approach to the acquisition of knowledge undergoes a sea-change. Unfortunately, teachers seem to play a very active and collaborative role, bordering on insensitivity in this process. Parents are equally responsible, often foisting their dreams on to their children, scarcely realising the heavy price that students have to pay in psychological terms. The experience leaves them scarred for life and many are driven to desperate measures like suicide. Others suffer irreversible loss in terms of personality development.Can it get worse?

Where have we failed our children? Why do we push them into a system which stunts their personality? To begin with, it's the school system which needs a complete overhaul. When Kapil Sibal took over as the HRD Minister in UPA I, he promised a slew of measures to tone up the entire school and collegiate education system. Years and other HRD ministers have meanwhile gone by and we have been waiting for this transformation to come about. Why is it that a country with the kind of human resources we have does not pay attention to its education system? Learning ought to be fun--yet how many children in schools across the country look forward to going to school. Most perhaps, dread the idea of having to go school. What about funds which are assigned to school education? Do they really percolate down to the schools in villages or even cities? The question is actually a rhetorical one.

With a rising population of youth, we should have been prepared to empower them with sound education by building a system firmly in place. Instead, we have allowed 70 years to go by with no change taking place and have let the entire process slip into a state of near-total anarchy. The images of mass copying in Bihar's examination centres, with people risking their lives clambering into examination halls to help their friends or relatives copy, went global, and are symptomatic of the malaise. The much-maligned state is not alone in the pervasive prevalence of such decadent practices,but what was worse was the manner in which politicians rushed to the students' defence. The story of Bihar's "toppers" again, is all too well-known. Has anybody tried to address the issue in Bihar or elsewhere?

Our schools and colleges, including some which provide professional education, are woefully short of basic amenities and to expect them to have counsellors on their staff is a bit much to ask. On paper though, all regulatory bodies of collegiate and technical education, be it the UGC, NAAC or AICTE, insist on counselors as a mandatory requirement and in several institutions, the compliance is complete--on paper. A closer scrutiny of all institutions, which rarely ever takes place, would throw up some unpalatable facts.

The quality of research in our universities leaves much to be desired. While this is true of all disciplines, it's much worse with arts and humanities. And many premier institutions have turned into hotbeds of political activism--hardly the ideal scenario, as politicians have allowed the grass to grow under their feet over seven decades. University appointments including those of vice-chancellors are predicated on factors other than academic merit and the result is institutions wallowing in mediocrity.

The Telangana state government over the last couple of years has tightened the screws on professional colleges on issues of compliance of stipulated requirements with respect to infrastructure as well as human resources. Its crackdown, if one were to chacterise it as such, led to the closure of several engineering colleges, while many others were forced to fall in line. However, the one area that the government or universities such as the JNTU, have not paid serious attention to, is the dire need for counsellors for students. In fact, all high schools and junior colleges should have counsellors for students, considering the stress levels that kids in our system face today, which we have not been able to alleviate at all. We have sadly, institutionalized "thought control" and do not seem to be showing any signs of moving towards devising a system that makes teaching and learning interesting activities which appeal to the imagination of the teacher and the taught.