What have you ‘learnt’ today?

Since the time I can remember I have always being against the current Indian system of education where an unnecessary premium is paid on ‘rote learning’, ie, learning lessons and topics by-heart rather than understanding them and applying them. How many of us reading this post can truly put their hands up and say that they clearly understood all that they learnt in school in the various subjects such as Math, Science, Social Studies, etc. All of us put in efforts to ‘mug’ these subjects, the lessons in them purely with the intention of replicating them in our answer papers during the various examinations. In my opinion, all of us swallowed mundane facts, figures, etc. and then ‘vomited’ them in appropriate places in the examination answer papers without necessarily ‘digesting’ them properly.


Net result, most of us have a half-baked knowledge of all the subjects. We have only enough knowledge to figure out basic math and not necessarily understand how complicated equations such as the ones that measure the distance between stars and planets are measured. In fact, not too many of us even know the ‘concept’ behind such measurements, let alone understand why we need to measure such distances.


While Math historically has remained a reasonably insurmountable barrier to most human beings (beyond normal arithmetic), Science as a body of knowledge which is so very important for our everyday survival suffers from the same fate. How many of us really know why ‘deep depressions’ are formed in the Bay of Bengal which results in all roads of Chennai being flooded due to subsequent rains? How many of us are truly aware of the effects of ‘global warming’ (if any) on the Chennai weather? How many of us really know about the effects of our ‘carbon footprints’ we all generate as part of our daily lives? These are fairly simple concepts and topics which most of us read about daily in newspapers, but how many of us really understand them enough. Why is it that we struggle to learn something really new? Because our brains have been conditioned to ‘learning’ new things only when we see any ‘material use’ of such ‘learning’. Right from the time we joined schools, we have been taught to learn only when it is required to replicate such learning in an examination somewhere. When was the last time we really learnt anything just for the fun of learning it? Probably never…


I read this brilliant article on The Hindu website (http://www.thehindu.com/education/careers/nobler-than-a-nobel/article4136659.ece?homepage=true) which talks about how we Indians as a society place such a premium on recognition, rewards, trophies etc. in every field that we inherently forget that there is more to life than just these things. The article quotes Nobel Prize winner, Venkataraman Ramakrishnan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venkatraman_Ramakrishnan) where he says that before he won the Nobel Prize, his lectures used to be attended by around 300 people, and now that he has won the Nobel Prize, his audience levels hover around the 2500 people mark. The sudden surge in numbers is not because of increased audience interest in his subject or his lectures, but is more to do with the fact that Indians just want to glimpse a ‘Nobel Prize winning celebrity’, want an occasion to hear him talk in person, if possible shake his hand and take a photo with him. That is the kind of deification that is promoted in India today. For somebody to claim that he is good at what he does, he better have a few international accreditations, some medals, some prizes, some mentions in the Barrons/Forbes/Time Magazine lists, etc. Otherwise, he is not an ‘expert’ in his field.


The article goes on to highlight the fact that for somebody to truly excel at his field, the first prerogative is that the person should be deeply passionate about the field, should be completely committed to excelling at the field, and should be more than willing to put in hard work to excel at whatever he is doing. The fact that the Indian media and Indians in general overplay an award or an international recognition goes on to distort all of the above pre-requisites that are required in the first place.


Tying the first part of my post which was a rant on how I absolutely detest the ‘rote system’ of learning and the second part of my post which talks about the pre-requisites for excellence, I personally believe that the current Indian education system still has a long way to go before we can truly claim that we can produce ‘world beaters’ in any field. All credit to the true ‘geniuses’, if any, will have to go to the individuals and their support systems and NOT to the education system. The system, if anything, probably proves to be the biggest hurdle to be crossed by the genuine achievers in India. Wonder when that will change…

Image courtesy: http://www.cartoonmotivators.com

7 thoughts on “What have you ‘learnt’ today?

  1. I remember barely passing Math in college; and now that I use Coursera to study it , it fascinates me. You can see the stark difference in the manner of teaching, where one wants you to remember things, and the other wants you to grasp things

  2. In my school days , I understood a part of the curriculum and rest I mugged up. Now when I teach my son or read his text books , I find it so simple , easy and interesting. The simple reason is I am reading it for my knowledge and not to undergo the rigors of exam.
    Jairam , there is a difference between ‘Vidyarathi’ and ‘Parikishyarathi’.

    • @Kalpana, so true, and that precisely was the point that this long rambling post was trying to make 🙂 And loved how you called all of us parikshyarathi when we were back in schools 😉

  3. True words Jairam, although I had a kind of fascination towards learning something new.. ( Civics, economics and social science were exceptions though 😀 ) But yes, the education system, coupled with the society’s outlook gives a false impression to the youngsters. Change has to be initiated from home itself, for a start. Parents can guide the children in such a way so that they develop a broader outlook. Able teachers can further mould them. With each generation, this situation is getting better, is what I feel. Hoping and wishing for a brighter tomorrow 🙂

    • @Vaisakh, I don’t know any school going kids nowadays to agree or disagree with your statement there but trust me when I say this I would be the happiest person if parents and teachers nowadays are encouraging kids to actually ‘learn’ a subject rather than making them ‘mug up’ the portions simply to vomit it all out on an examination answer paper 🙂

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