Thursday, July 7, 2011

Indian education system

Note: *This is a tad too long!
*And this is based on my experience (…though a few things quoted here are experiences of some friends). Other students may have had similar or different experiences.

When I was counselling in India, many parents would ask about how to improve their children’s academic performance. Unfortunately they would ask this question too late i.e. when the exams were fast approaching and when time was too short to do anything useful.
This piece below has all my thoughts about the  factors which influence academic performance of students and my thoughts about education in India
Indian school system:

Children’s academic performance i.e. comprehension, absorption and application of subjects taught in school is influenced by a whole range of factors. These factors are those within the student (such as motivation, IQ, memory, attention, presence/absence of dyslexia, etc) and those in the environment( teachers, good schools,etc) of the student.
Needless to say, a student who has good physical and mental health, adequate nutrition, sleep, lives in calm and peaceful surroundings at home and school, will have less problems to distract him or her from studies. Of course, having all these factors in itself will not guarantee that the student will study well.
 If quarrelling parents think, that kids are not affected by their fights, think again.
If these parents think that avoiding fights in front of kids will fool them, think can sense undercurrents of hostility in the family and these family hostilities affect most children.
Teachers with a reputation for being ‘strict’ or ‘harsh’, induce fear in students and fear can seriously interfere with studying. Similarly, teachers who are ‘partial’, who sneer at, humiliate and ‘pick on’ students, are seriously detrimental to students and studies.

Teacher qualities:
Teachers who (1) Like students (2) Like teaching (3) Love the subject they are teaching (4) Have excellent teaching skills and (5)who have the capacity to inspire the students are the ideal teachers. But tell me how many teachers have these qualities? In all my school life, I had 2 teachers who were ideal! And 9 ideal teaching staff between PUC & PhD i.e. over a period of 9-15 years! This number is less than 20% of the teachers I had. Most teachers in India are the type who will kill whatever little interest you had for a subject! I had many teachers who were bitter and took out their frustrations on the students! They were bitter about their salary, life in general, the school authorities, etc. More than half of them had poor teaching skills; many of the science and mathematics teachers had poor knowledge of the subject, and I doubt if even one of them had become a teacher by choice.(teaching in schools in not one of the most sought after vocation in India)
Other factors influencing education, especially  text books:
Included in factors influencing students are: good text books, laboratories, libraries;
Space, time and equipment for sports activities and most importantly,
 A safe and student-friendly environment.
The texts I studied in school, (1971-80) ranged from good to mediocre.
My favourite ones were the English texts i.e. New Horizons, English by Stages, Radiant Readers and various MacMillan publications for non-detailed texts. The English poetry books and a few English texts(English by Stages: part one, two, three, etc) I had in primary school were printed in England and I still remember how engaging the stories, how smooth & glossy the pages, and how lovely the illustrations (woodcut lithographs) were ! I still have a clear memory of the illustrations in the English texts. These were the prescribed texts in the National English School in Rajajinagar, Bangalore in case any one who studied there remembers…around 1974-77 maybe. I remember the stories even to this day as they were so interesting and well written. Hats off to the person who selected the stories for the different classes…he or she did a good job by selecting stories appropriate to our age and abilities…not so simple that we get bored and not so difficult that we lose interest.
The texts for social studies, mathematics and science were not the least bit inspiring and were barely informative.
To me, a text should be attractive, inspiring, exciting and evoking curiosity in the student. The information should not be a stream of facts; instead there should be an emphasis on “How” things happen ; there should always be some content explaining how this information is applied and is useful. The texts I had (published by state government of Karnataka) simply gave facts and there was no explanation of what caused the phenomenon;
As far as I am concerned, I simply could not remember the facts, without knowing why and how something happened. The history texts would talk about a war i.e. who fought in a war, where it took place and between whom, but there was hardly any information about why the war took place. How the hell can I remember the dates and names and places of different wars?  …The first battle of Panipat took place between so and so; it took place in the year so and so. Then the second battle of Panipat. and so on and on and on.  I know that most battles were fought to annexe the kingdom or protect it. But damn it! Can’t they say something more unique and interesting about each war, so the students can remember it?

When I was a school student, there were no good libraries with science, maths, history and other books for school kids; there was no internet; there was no television beaming science or history or life science programs. 
There was no access to information, for students who wanted something more than text books. A few rich kids may have had well stocked libraries at home maybe, but not all. The less said about school libraries the better! Our school had a few books kept under lock and key, issued only to the staff! However I had cousins and friends in other great schools which had fantastic libraries in from which even the lowly student could borrow books; also these schools even  had books which children enjoyed ! (My school did not have any engaging story books for kids in the school library; my school library was a small cupboard with less than 50 books!)
Another factor which interfered with my studies was the fact that I was terribly sleepy after lunch break and struggled to stay awake during the post-lunch classes! How can I understand what is taught when I am so sleepy? Some of the teachers too were sleepy and in one class, the teacher fell asleep while dictating notes while we sat silent, trying not to giggle! The heavy rice based lunch in your tummy, sitting in the warm sunshine streaming through the windows, the  streets silent outside(due to less noon-time traffic) combined with  the monotonous drone of the teacher dictating notes in class were like a recipe for slumber.
Note: Anna-sambar lunch is like a potent sleeping pill to a school-student! The South-Indian student’s lunch menu has to change, if kids have to stay awake in post-lunch classes!
Meaningfulness and relevance of the subjects to the students:
My teachers taught me stuff such as formula in geometry and algebra but never ever told me why those formulae should be learnt nor did they tell about the applications and uses of the formulae. “Why should we learn this formula? In what way is it useful?” …were the questions constantly in my mind. If I knew why I had to learn it, (besides 'for passing in the exam'), I would have learnt or tried to learn without any resistance.
 I was learning mostly because (1) I was scared of failing in the exams,(2) I was learning the subject lessons  to avoid punishment and humiliation by the teachers.
When I am learning lessons for such negative reasons, how could I possibly be enthusiastic about studies?
Because of the apparent meaninglessness of the formula I was forced to learn, I simply could not learn or remember them. I still remember how meaningless the damn a+b whole square and a-b whole square stuff seemed to me in school. It was only recently, while googling, that I realized the practical applications of algebraic equations in measurements when quantities are unknown. If my great Gurus in middle school had explained at least briefly, why we should learn these algebra and geometry formulae, it would not have appeared like a purposeless, meaningless jumble to me and I would not have rebelled so much against learning them.
Someone should tell the teachers that learning and remembering meaningful things is easier than learning and recalling meaningless things. I remember an experiment we had in psychology where we had to remember lists of words and lists of meaningless letter combinations…we could remember a lot more of the meaningful words than the letter combinations.
Similarly, many students today, question, the relevance of studying Sanskrit and ‘Hale-gannada’ i.e. old Kannada today. There are pretty good reasons why these ancient, languages which are no longer spoken  continue to remain relevent even today,  but the teachers do not convincingly defend the importance of studying of these languages today..
Being forced to learn these ‘dead’ languages, which they perceive as useless, the students soon develop resentment and boredom.  They hate Sanskrit but can’t escape it! If they flunk in Sanskrit, they cannot go to the next class!
Hands on learning or Practice driven learning (instead of theory or text book driven)
When I was in school, I was taught mostly with text books and the black board. A few experiments were conducted, in class, in high school while most of the lessons were taught from texts. I found it easier to remember the lessons better when the experiments were conducted or the laws were demonstrated. When a chemical formulae was taught from the text and not demonstrated, it was difficult to remember. Use of visual aids in teaching is important but often not used in Indian class rooms due to various reasons.
Hands on learning also helps students understand and learn better than simply reading facts from the texts. There should be work-shops and labs right from grade one so students enjoy what they learn, remember what they learn, apply and make sense of what they learn. A recent study done in Toronto stated that students forget upto 30% of what they learnt in school over the summer holidays! I strongly believe that they would not forget, if it was hands on learning.
When I suggested this to a mother of two, she said she can teach ‘orally’ about 5 science facts in one hour while it would take her more than an hour and a lot of work, equipment and trouble to do one experiment to illustrate one fact. I tried to convince her that the kids will never forget the fact if they  actually did the experiment but she was vehement in her arguments saying that the syllabus was simply enormous, the school was not up to speed and she had to rush through the syllabus before the exams started!
If prohibitive costs is the reason, which prevents schools in India from providing hands on education, then the government should have science museums accessible to every child (have museums in all cities & towns; provide free transport to museums; village kids too should have access). These museums can be equipped with the contents of   the school syllabus. Schools can take turns to visit these museums. I simply love the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto, which has so many experiments and machines which the children can try out themselves and learn!

Demonstrating facts (of science or whatever)in daily life:
I have seen only 3 people in my life do this(and none of them were teachers by profession!). These three people  spontaneously explained the laws of physics or chemistry acting on matter, in the day to day things used at home, in the kitchen, etc to their kids. If teachers and parents spontaneously brought up discussions about  how things work, it will inspire the kids to think deeply, and try to understand why & how things happen. It will also arouse their curiosity and interest. ( I have observed that some  parents sit silently with their kids in buses while some parents talk to their kids, pointing out the passing objects and are pretty lively and interactive with their kids)
I do know that most parents themselves do not know the reasons for certain phenomenon  but today thanks to the internet, one can search and find answers!
 Imagine a mother who tells her child why she uses baking soda to make cake, why she puts it with the dry ingredients, why she mixes it only briefly after adding the baking soda. Now imagine a mother who tells her child, “add one tsp baking soda to the flour”, period. Which child understands the value of baking soda in cake better?
Giving examples from daily life to illustrate the facts learnt from school lessons  will make kids understand the cause-effect relationships better. They will never forget what they learnt in class, if they had examples from life to anchor the facts in their  memories.

The increasing size of syllabus in India especially of the ICSE & CBSE boards:
The syllabus is huge in the two central school boards i.e. CBSE & ICSE. It is simply impossible for the teachers to teach well and also complete the huge syllabus in the time frame of one year. Remember that in India, (at least in Karnataka) the government declares unexpectedly, that the schools be closed when some VIP dies and this further cuts into the time allotted to cover the syllabus.  A class consists of a majority of average, and a handful of above and below average students. The syllabus is such that only the few above average kids can comfortably study the CBSE or ICSE syllabus. For the remaining majority of students, studying the entire syllabus is a nightmare!
In order to finish the syllabus in the given time frame, the lessons are crammed and there is neither  joy nor meaning in the teaching and learning…
the goals of the schools and parents, is to finish covering the syllabus. Whether the student enjoyed learning, whether he found it meaningful, whether he was inspired to do something different with this learning, are not in the equation at all. Majority of the kids end up with facts crammed in their heads and most of the time, these facts make no sense to them. A bright young lad I know protested when his mother asked him to study by saying, “ I am not going to be a human pen drive”. To me, the purpose of Indian education system seems to be to make  students, human pen drives who transfer matter from text to exam paper.
The state syllabus is supposedly simpler and less crammed but I do not know how the situation is today, in the different states.

Use of films, books, multi-media, etc to make teaching more interesting:
I think all schools should  get educational films from agencies such as National Geographic, BBC, NASA, etc. Seeing a volcano erupting and listening to the information about the volcano simultaneously has a greater impact on the student than reading about volcanoes from a text (with lousy black and white illustrations). I still remember the chapter on weather we had to study(in geography) in 4th or 5th standard: we had a chapter on winds  and how they affected the monsoons in India. It just did not make sense to me and I had great difficulty remembering them as the teacher (or text) never explained what caused the winds, why they happened during those months, why they changed directions, etc. My dear reader, please note that neither I nor majority of students during the 70s in Bangalore, had access to information from internet or encyclopaedias or television in those days.  So if the teacher or text did not tell us, we were stuck. 
While private schools do provide some books and educational films, the majority of students in rural schools, small towns, and government run schools have no access to any source of information other than the boring text books.
In this context, I must mention that the absence of good libraries and good books in India , even in major cities like Bangalore is a huge huge disadvantage to middle class and lower class students and people. Today, thanks to the internet, maybe it is not as bad, because people can access online, the information they want, but in those days, we were hungry for information but information was simply accessible. The situation is unfortunately still the same now, in villages. There are no computers in villages as yet   because  they can’t afford to get them; besides even if they get pcs, there is  no electricity most of the time, the villagers do not know English well and hardly any worthwhile information in is available in Kannada on the internet.

Bangalore did have  the British council library in Shivajinagar and  the World Culture library in Basavanagudi, but only people living close to these libraries could use them. The fantastic libraries in University of Agricultural Sciences, in IISc and other such academic institutions in Bangalore were meant for use by the staff of these institutions only and not accessible to the general public.
To discover the wonderful and free libraries in Toronto when I first came here (and such libraries are all over USA & Canada even in small towns!) was a wonderful surprise. To see the millions of books for all age groups, covering all subjects and also the novels and magazines and comics was an amazing experience for me! My first thought  when I saw the libraries here was that this is exactly what students, children and people in India need the most! With libraries like the north American ones in India, education will no longer be a struggle or a pain for Indian students!
The emphasis on rote learning, the non-encouragement of  questioning & debating; creativity and independent thinking, the emphasis on conformity are all the damages done to millions of students’ psyche in schools, decade after decade in India. Sometimes I feel that I learnt to think independently, trouble-shoot and think logically, only after I started working! I had to unlearn what I had learnt in schools and colleges, and completely rewire my thinking style!
 To me, kids in India are born normal…..once they start school the process of brain and soul damage starts and continues till your education ends! Later, the lucky few, manage to unlearn and recover from the systematic damage caused by the education system and society!
I am not even going to go into sports for students and children in India. Majority of schools do not have playgrounds and those who do have playgrounds do not spend enough time on sports activities. I am seeing that most urban kids in India today are not exercising and many many are overweight.  Kids do not get space near their homes to play nor do they get companions of their age to play for various reasons. Most parents are busy making the kids complete homework or attend classes (like drawing, dancing, singing, Karate etc) after school and so kids have limited opportunities to play after school. These days many kids prefer indoor activities such as television, music on ipods, internet surfing, etc to physical games.
When I was in school, I remember playing on the street in front of my house: games such as throwball and tennicoit, tag and hide & seek. My nieces today spend time on the internet or watch television, and not allowed to play outside by their parents who worry about their safety(sexual predators is another huge problem especially for  young girls and women….you will find boys playing on the roads but not girls due to this problem in urban India). Due to a combination of these reasons, many urban kids of this generation are overweight.
In India, use of physical and mental punishments by teachers and parents to make students study better or stop misbehaving is common. By mental punishment, I am referring to use of verbal abuse, threats, humiliation, shaming the student in front of peers, etc. I am very relieved that this has reduced considerably in ‘convent’ schools in urban areas but not so in rural areas. I remember when I was punished (which was frequent as I was weak in all subjects except English!) I was filled with anxiety, shame, fear, and these emotions  interfered with my learning rather  than make me learn faster. Why cannot teachers see that?
There are also several teachers (even in colleges and universities) who are less focussed on teaching and more focussed on demonstrating the power they have over students. This power is displayed when they are punishing students for silly and irrelevent things like ‘haircuts’ (Boys with long hair are accused by teachers of being more interested in ‘style’ than studies), dressing (girls in jeans in college are threatened with fines or being expelled;) and mixing (boys and girls talking to each other are punished).
When the teaching staff are more bothered about how long the hair of a male student is, and not bothered about explaining or demonstrating the theories in a text, then they should not be teaching. They should probably emigrate to Saudi Arabia and become moral cops over there !
I had a tough time studying even when I was not anxious and my brain simply froze when the teacher yelled at me or hit me. Unless teachers identify, why a student is not able to grasp a lesson, they should not take any action. Why dont teachers analyze what is the problem with the student or what is the impediment which is hindering the student from learning? Why do India teachers perceive brute punishment as a solution to all of the student's problems?
A good teacher, who is not overburdened with too many students may be able to give individual attention to each student and know each students style of learning, strengths and weaknesses and may identify the problem. However some times this is not possible. Then the student can be referred to a school psychologist who assesses the child.
The problems of referring a child to a psychologist in the school: One, most schools do not have psychologists; two: very few psychologists have the training, to identify and deal with student issues; three: the stigma attached to visiting the school psychologist as you can see by this incident: My friend was a psychologist in a school while I was a psychologist in a hospital; I once had a student from her school come for psychological consultation at the hospital; I asked the student’s mother why she did not approach the school psychologist and she replied that her child would be teased by his classmates if they found out he met the psychologist and she didn’t want that.! This is another issue in India….the shame, secrecy, stigma around seeking help for psychological problems.
To me, learning requires the following qualities in a student and deficits in any of these qualities can hinder learning:
Motivation or interest to study: A student who is interested in learning a subject, who finds the subject interesting and exciting, will study, inspite of obstacles in his path.
Attention: a student with adequate attention will be able to focus. A student with attention deficits, who is hyperactive and cannot focus on one topic for a sustained period, will have problems. If a subject is interesting for a student, if the teacher makes it exciting, then, even a student with poor or inadequate attention can focus.
Comprehension and learning: A student needs a certain amount of intelligence to understand what he is learning or being taught. Like all human qualities, this too varies from person to person; the more intelligent will grasp quicker while the less intelligent need more time to comprehend.
Memory or working memory: Once a matter has been learnt, the student has to remember, at least long enough to spit it out in the exams. It would be preferable however if he retains it forever and applies the learnt information when needed! Students with a poorer memory have a harder time as they seem to forget what they learnt and fail to do well in exams. In India, most exams seem to be tests of memory than anything else.
Application of what we learn: This is the ultimate point of education. If a student cannot apply what he has learnt, the whole purpose of schooling is lost.
Persistence/Dedication to studies/hard work/discipline: I am not going to elaborate on these qualities. Suffice it to say that I know a few students who were brilliant but did not work hard and they did not do as well as the hard-working brilliant and hard-working average students. Students who are disciplined, develop good time management skills, they do not pursue ‘fun-activities’ all the time but focus on and study even the boring subjects, do well. Students who ‘give up easily’ do not do as well as students who ‘persist’. The presence or absence of persistence is one major personality factor which determines whether a person succeeds or not go far in life. I have seen the role of this particular personality trait in many people’s lives and am impressed by the power of this trait. It seems to trump even factors such as intelligence and creativity! The tortoise wins!
Sound knowledge of basics before moving on to higher levels: This is my biggest peeve and I am going to dwell on it awhile! What I mean by this phrase is that the child should know the basics thoroughly before he moves on to the higher levels. For example, know your additions, subtractions, divisions and multiplications thoroughly before you move on to higher level maths;
My marks deteriorated as I went to higher classes, especially in subjects, in which I did not have a through understanding of the lessons covered in the lower classes. (like physics, chemistry, all branches of mathematics i.e. arithmetic, algebra, geometry)
Lack of understanding of the topics were due to factors such as
 (1)the teacher explaining once and I did not get it and was too ashamed or scared to ask her to explain again;
 (2) I missed the class as I was sick and when I went back, the teacher had moved on to a related topic but I did not understand it as I had missed the previous class; (3) Teachers rushing through syllabus without giving the students enough time to fully understand and assimilate what is learnt.
(4) teaching in a superficial way…by superficial I mean the topic is not taught indepth and all aspects are not covered; for example, in maths, only one type of problem is solved by the teacher and she moves on to a new topic entirely. But the students cannot/have not learnt to solve problems which are slightly different from the example she taught.
(5) teachers were teaching some difficult things only once and this was definitely not enough for the average student. Let alone those who were below average.
(6)At times, for some reason, one aspect of a topic remains unclear, inspite of the teacher trying her best and the student trying her best. Any matter, which is taught about this topic in higher classes, is doomed to failure as the basics are not sound.
I find that lack of basics is the biggest issue faced by students in India. I am not basing this statement on any research but basing it on my own experience and that of students around me, now and before.
If you had a lousy teacher in 5th standard, there is no point in getting a good teacher in 6th standard, as your basics are poor!
Things will work out for you only if (1) the 6th standard teacher, makes an effort to check out your 5th standard basics,
(2)repair them if needed and
(3)only then start on the 6th standard syllabus.
Students have many gaps in their understanding of many subjects by the time they reach high school and the high school teachers simply do not have the time to ensure that all the students are completely confident with their basics i.e. middle-school syllabus, before embarking on teaching the high school stuff.
I have to mention this here though it is not relevant. So please bear with me! (Writing this stuff is a heady catharsis for me!) I had a maths teacher who would work out sums on the black board, which were already worked out in the text book ! She was clueless and taught classes, year after year! And when the wrong answer was printed in the text, it was impossible to convince her! For her, it was “ The printed text is right; You ignorant student, you are wrong” .
To me, a murderer is less worse than a bad teacher; the murderer kills one person. But a bad teacher (especially maths, science, grammar) kills and keeps killing several students, year after year, until he/she retires!
Another miserable thing which happens is that these students opt for science subjects in standards 11 and 12 (PUC), which dooms them still more! How many students with mere 50-60% opt for science subjects in Bangalore.  How can they even imagine they will understand what is taught in classes and labs in the 11th and 12th grades, when their high school chemistry, maths and physics is shaky? (I still remember my dad’s disgust when a graduate student of his told him that Bangalore received 100 inches of rain the previous night! This guy with his masters degree in science should know about rainfall measurement and cannot be excused)

These students, who get into these courses, with inadequate basics, end up  being very mediocre in their professions. Of these, few, if any, bother to work hard and improve their knowledge and skills.
In my opinion, the abysmal quality of manpower in India is due to poor education and of all the aspects of poor education, I think, poor basics is the most influential.
Effect of lack of basics as you move to higher grades:
There is such a huge snowballing effect as the stuff you have not understood properly, accumulates as you go to higher classes, that in the end, you feel completely helpless. This snowballing of what I did not understand in science and maths started around 5th grade and by high school, nothing the teacher taught was entering my head l! I was desperately trying to memorize what I did not understand and you know how difficult this can be! (for your information dear reader, I barely scraped through with a third class (between 35and 45% in maths and science!) in 10th standard and I thanked God that I passed in one attempt! If I had failed in that first attempt, I doubt if I could have ever passed again! My motivation to study was already so low, imagine studying the same stuff again, when all my classmates have  moved on !
I vowed never to take science and maths in my life again.
I am ashamed to say, that when I received my 10th standard results, I did put on an act of being shocked by the low marks and went around saying that I will apply for re-correction and re-totaling as there must be some mistake! My act fooled many, as I had been perceived as ‘bright’ by the sweet  and trusting souls around me!
I put my foot down and told a firm no, when my dad asked me to take science in college. Only after joining the humanities stream in college then did my years of low-self-esteem, shame and anxiety cease! I was finally doing well, I understood what was being taught and was enjoying the subjects thoroughly.
The snowballing of the stuff I did not understand in school, had played havoc with my self-esteem to a great extent! In school, I was convinced that I had some amount of mental retardation and memory problems. I often spent time day-dreaming of various victories of mine, to escape the unpleasantness of life in school. 
This brings to mind two more school memories. Day-dreaming and reading novels. These were two escapes for me from the unpleasantness of classes in schools. I have spent hours day-dreaming (the usual fantasies of adolescents…adventure, finding treasure, saving someone’s life, some fantastic guy falling in love with me, etc) I was a pathological day-dreamer (pathological because of the huge number of hours I spent daydreaming); these two pastimes seriously interfered with my studies but my need to escape from my studies was strong.
I also spent time reading novels and adventure books(James Hadley Chase was my favourite after I outgrew Nancy Drew, hardy Boys and Enid Blytons). I was so addicted to reading that I hid the book inside my desk in class or inside a book and continued even after being caught and punished by the teachers!
Unfortunately I am more hedonistic than disciplined and this hedonism seems to dictate the choices I have made in life.
When students seek to escape from studies, the teachers have to recognize that there is a problem. I cannot imagine how I could be so addicted to these two things (daydreaming and books) that I was ready to jeopardize my academics (which in turn will affect my career which in turn will affect my life) by neglecting studies. I would start studying with very pious intentions initially (“ I will complete studying chapters one, two and three today, come what may”) but within a few minutes, would land up day dreaming!
While my laziness and hedonism were partly to blame for poor academic performance, I also think that if the classes were more interesting and made sense to me, I would have done better. At least in the 4th, 5th and 6th standards, I was quite interested in all subjects. But when I stopped understanding, I rapidly lost interest, got lost in story books and had anxiety attacks at test and exam times and this pattern continued  till I finished school.
When ‘normal’students in India have such problems in school, imagine those with diagnosable problems such as children with dyslexia and other learning difficulties.  {And children with impairments of attention, who are hyperactive, who have below average intelligence, children who have other neuropsychological deficits, who have any problems which impair learning such as language issues, (there is a whole range of language disorders), students with hearing and vision loss which are not corrected, students with autism, anxiety, depression, etc.}
 Studies have shown that at least 15% of school age kids have some problem or the other. A new study done in one of the Scandinavian countries puts the prevalence of physical and mental disorders as high as 45% ! Which means that one in two kids has some problem or the other!  
Most Indian schools have no section for kids with different abilities; many of even dull average intelligence are treated so cruelly by teachers for poor academic performances, I do not want to dwell on the lives of the poor learning disabled kids.
Let me give you an example of the teachers harsh and negative attitudes to learning disabled students. When I was a counsellor, I had found a boy to be dyslexic and conveyed this to his mother along with suggestions. When she conveyed the same to the boy's teacher, the teacher sneered at the mother and told her that while 'poor' parents accepted that their child is dull, the rich parents prefer to call their child dyslexic instead of admitting tht he is dull! The mother was in tears as she recounted this to me and I felt really sorry for this poor child and mother. Note the teachers attitude: She has no respect for dull or dyslexic children; she is harsh to any child who does not do well academically and will not do anything positive to help these children.
I have noticed in India that neither teachers nor parents take an analytical view of their kids inabilities to learn. They do not try to find out why the child is doing poorly in studies. They attack the child or push him to study, without taking the time and effort to find out the exact areas of concern and trying to work on those specific areas. I have had parents making statements such as “ You better improve , or else….” Or “ I will buy you a computer if you get 90%....or “ If your marks do not improve , you will have to stop playing cricket in the evenings”. These threats are  irritating to the student and also, often ineffective.
The feedback about academics is mostly is only in the form of marks cards or results. The teachers would not clearly identify the areas of weaknesses and strengths in students. A better and more detailed feedback will help the student in identifying areas of weaknesses in order to improve.

Safety of students:
Some new problems in some cities I have observed is the lack of safety for students which is a shame on Indian society. How parents and teachers can expect students to be focussed on studies when safety is a concern?
Girls especially those who have attained puberty, are not safe from the leers, dirty comments and even physical molestations from men and boys on the streets as they walk to school or ride the buses. Several girls have been molested by the autodrivers and school van drivers and hardly any action is taken. The girls are too ashamed to complain and the situation may continue, leading ot sever psychological damage to the victimized students.
Sexual molestation  is also common in areas where the poorer sections of society live or in crowded areas. I am assuming that girls are safer in villages, which are smaller and everyone knows everyone, but this is only an assumption. Many girls form lower sections(by lower I mean, those who are economically not well off) are made to drop out of school and get married or work, even if they want to study, for security reasons. As if marriage will protect the 14 year old!
Other safety issues for students include brutal physical punishment in some schools (I read of at least 2 deaths due to punishment each year in India from the newspapers).
Ill paid and over-burdened teachers in a society which does not really respect school teachers is a calamity for education, students and society itself. People in India do not respect school teachers as much as they did in the past. Teaching was (and still is) a respectable profession; however as it is so poorly paid, many people do not opt for teaching and as people seem to respect those who earn well, teachers, do not get as much respect as before. The poor salaries paid to teachers, is not attracting the best to teach.
And what about parents of students……..I can write tons about this but let me just stick to what makes the Indian parent different form parents of other countries. Many Indian parents are more controlling and have a bigger say in their child’s education than in the west, where the kids seem to have greater autonomy. In most middle class families, parents pay for their kids education. And in return, the kid is expected to toe the line! study in a course of parents choice(most south Indian urban parents want their kids to study engineering, medical or dental than opt for other courses) and even marry a person chosen by parents! Kids of parents who are educated, who can and do teach at home, kids of parents who value education above other things, are kids who are lucky in education. ( I always find that kids whose parents are science grads can help their kids out in science and maths which is a big blessing as most teachers do not do teach these subjects well. I must mention here, what one of my favourite psychiatrist colleagues used to say…he used to say that the unluckiest child is one’s whose parent is a school teacher! This was because teachers were generally strict in his days and to have teachers at school and teachers at home too is a piece of real bad luck for the hapless child!
From my experience with south Indian parents, most push their kids to study hard because they, the parents are anxious. They fear for their children’s future, fear that, in an increasingly competitive world, their kids will find it hard to get jobs, to earn a 'decent' living and hence they push their kids. And seeing the increase in population, the increase in demand and less of supply, their anxiety seems logical. Parents worry that if their children, study less and enjoy life more, they will be left behind; that if they study hard now, they can enjoy life later. But the later never seems to come! It is like getting on a treadmill for life, for some kids! What is the right thing for parents to do? Push their kids or go easy on the kids?  There is no easy answer for this.
For all my rhetoric, I am pushing kids I know, like any other well-meaning but anxious parent!
One wise psychiatrist had told me once, that while it is easy to criticize parents who push their kids, it is really difficult for parents to  not push the children…
....especially when these non-pushy ones see the pushy parents  racing ahead with their kids. The laid-back ones  join the rat race too....
Imagine how you feel if you are standing and others around you, are rushing off towards some unseen goal post in the distance .....You will feel like joining the runnerrs or at least start having doubts about your standing is it not?

A last bit about colleges & universities:
Colleges and universities in India have their own share of defects and problems.
A few which come to mind are given below.
Once again, mediocrity is the King. Most staff were mediocre, very very few are good and some staff are downright terrible. In my time at the college and university, (81-88) we had lecturers who dictated notes, nearly all the time and put us to sleep! There was little or no teaching at all by some. One staff did not take classes at all (he was a film actor) and the college could not take or would not take action against him! There were some staff whose spoke in such a boring monotone that it was impossible to stay awake in their class but one had to attend the class; if you did not have attendance (75%) you were not allowed to take the exams and that means you are stuck! Why do colleges insist on attendance but have such boring lecturers? If the lecturers were good, we would attend even if attendance was optional!
Since I studied in a government college, I had an excellent  library (adequate funds for libraries from the government) and I cannot complain. We also had a damn good librarian.
What  irked me in my undergrad days was the absence of discussion and debate about the theories we studied (sociology, psychology) and  the lecturer’s refusal to talk of the applications of these theories in the Indian context.
It was like they were scared of debate, scared of being questioned. The professors were unsure of defending the theories they werre teaching and so did not let us discuss them.(Let alone debate!) I felt we were forced to accept the theories which were conceived and developed in the west, in a completely different culture and impossible to apply here.  I had only a  superficial understanding of the theories and the professors would not go into depth;  my mind could not even imagine a hypothetical application of some of those theories in the Indian context but the professors never encouraged discussion and it was a real stress for me to learn and  accept what I did not agree with! (…for example, Durkheim’s theories of suicides and  Freud’s theories of child development, many of Jung's ideas, etc) Indian teaching is very very autocratic and not democratic.
The two crappy things in Indian education which must go is the reservation system and the donation system. For those of you who do not know, reservation is the reservation of a certain number of jobs and seats for staff and students belonging to some sections of society such as the lower casts, tribes, students whose parents served in the armed forces, etc. As the criteria  to join are relaxed for the students and staff who come from the reserved category, they are not competent. And as these seats exceed 50%, more than 50% of the staff and students will be mediocore or worse!
The donation system is through which students who scored poorly still manage to get into higher education by paying ‘donations’ i.e. buying a seat in a college or course by donating a huge amount of money to the educational institution.
This, brilliant but poor (economically poor) students are deprived of getting into colleges as most seats are gone to the reservation students or the donation students.
There is a huge demand for professional courses, such as engineering, medicine, dental and these courses are filled with a majority of mediocre students who are either rich or belong to the reservation category.
These students are generally taxing on the teachers and I need not continue to explain what the end results are! Can you imagine a motivated professor who is stuck with this kind of students? And he is rapped on the knuckles if the college’s results are ‘poor’!
This in turn leads to crimes such as leakage of papers, buying question papers, bribing to pass the exams and so on.
Recently the CEO of a multinational company in Bangalore, said that 75% of the engineering grads from India are unemployable! His statement reflects the poor standards of Indian technical education.
Now coming to the PhDs in the Indian universities: Thee is a lot to say but I am confining myself to two observations: Lack of use of the research work and lack of independent thinking of our professors
India has or produces the highest number of PhDs in the world. But the sad thing about our PhDs are that the research work, remains unused or unimplemented. The goals of PhD seems to be to get a degree and the goal of degree is to get a promotion or job. The content of the PhD is never used and often not published. Unless, we Indians, find a way of making use of the enormous research work done, it is hours and money down the drain. For example, a relative of mine did a PhD wherein she devised a more fuel efficient stove. But the stove has not been manufactured and marketed. Her idea got her a PhD, probably a promotion and raise but the stove idea remains in her thesis, now gathering dust in the university library!
One feature I have observed in many professors in India is their need for approval from the west and their lack of confidence. You will understand what I am saying if you read this true incident I have given below.
I know of at least two guides (i.e. PhD student’s supervisors) who suppressed results i.e. research findings ! They did this because the results were dissimilar to research  findings coming from the west (USA, Europe)! There were valid reasons why the findings were dissimilar; the variables in India were different from the west but they simply would not hear the student’s arguments. They insisted on suppressing the results. I find such behaviour so gutless and terrible, that I do not know what to do! The other reason, why results were suppressed was because the results would prove that the work being done by the government of Karnataka were a failure; this professor did not want to publish the results either because she was afraid that the government would do something to her or what, I do not know! No amount of arguing would budge these 'professors' from putting the true results in the thesis! According to me, there is no need to fear; I am 100% sure the government would not do ‘anything’ to this precious professor or her department. This lack of confidence of the professors certainly does not evoke respect in the students. What is the purpose of education or research if you are afraid of the truth?
Another feature of Indian professors who guide PhD thesis or other thesis is that they expect the student to collect an unnecessarily large amount of data and the student spends several months of data collection. I know for a fact that many students fake data!
Poor knowledge of statistics of the students & their professors coupled with  uncooperative statisticians who act pricy, often leads to very basic analysis of the huge amount of data collected. The humanities students, who did not study maths or statistics after high school are often weak in statistics…jus' like me! 
There are other issues too but I am not going to dwell on them.

I hope and pray that the education system in India improves. I am more worried about the quality of basic primary education and education in rural areas and small towns. To me, education is the only legal way to escape from the cycle of poverty in India. If the Indian government neglects the schools in villages, small towns and the government run schools, it would be the most  heinous of all crimes.

 Everyone wants to escape poverty; denied education, people will resort to escape poverty; the truth is as simple as that.

I also hope that Indians stop perceiving  education  merely as a tool to obtain good jobs but start perceiving education as a tool which helps make you a better human being…Education should make  you decent, kind and rational. What is the point of education if you are a criminal without character?

..........Oh my God ! I suddenly sound so damn preachy! What happened to me? An attack of the pious blues? Hope not! Dear reader in case you are worried about me, I am still a (happy)petty criminal, stealing paper clips which are lying around!

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