The Carrot, the Question and the Stick

Image courtesy Lisha Menon

“Life is a race. Agar tez nahin bhagoge toh log tumhein kuchal ke aage nikal jaayenge.” Most of us would have heard this dialogue from 3 Idiots, spoken by the Principal of ICE, Prof. Viru Sahastrabuddhi aka Virus. He says this dialogue after narrating the story of the koel bird. He says “Koel does not make its own nest. She lays her eggs on other birds’ nest. When the eggs are hatched, what do the ‘baby koels’ do first? They kick out the other eggs from the nest. Their life begins with a murder. That is nature. Compete or die.” Through this story Prof. Virus establishes his rank in the pecking order; puts fear in the minds of the first year batch of students by openly telling them that they need to compete just like the baby cuckoo birds. “If you don’t run fast enough, someone will overtake you. So move faster,” he tells them. Sticks.

If this is not enough, and if by chance someone is left standing unafraid, Prof. Virus has a plan for them. He knows that dangling rewards would work for this bunch, in comes the anti-gravity pen. He says, “I have been waiting for 32 years to hand this pen over to an extraordinary student.” Carrots.

For me the schooling system of today represents these two scenarios – Carrots and Sticks.

Let’s start from the beginning. Shall we? Remember the time when you were young, remember the time when you were woken up early one day, your parents getting you ready for the school. If you were to ask, “Why am I going to school?” I am sure you would have got this nice reply, “See them, children! Nicely going to school. Don’t you want to be a nice girl, or boy? Don’t you want to go to school with them?” Carrots. 

Alternatively, you would have also got another reply, this time with a stick. The typical 30 cm ruler in the hand of a frowning teacher or a parent.

Fast forward now. The carrots and sticks still remain. Exam, in a way, is a simple evaluative tool the society uses to administer carrots and sticks in real life.

If you were to dig deeper these outdated ideas of evaluation and assessment are actually self-generated. As the population increased, the competition for the same kinds of well paying jobs increased. In comes schooling: score well in school exams, score well in entrance exams, get into the right school, vie for the right degree, the coveted job is yours! Thus the ultimate glory of getting the coveted job starts early, which are handed out only to those promising students who had scored well in all their exams and are willing to submit their brains, their thinking ability, and their creativity to the teachers and schools.

Just in case you noticed, I too am giving an outsiders perspective into the education system, but that perspective is also biased. This perspective is fueled by yet another single story, with a consumeristic origin. Let’s say I want to live a life of luxury in 30 years time. Sorry, let me first define what luxury is as understood by me, based on advertisements swirling around me. A high-end apartment or a bungalow, a private swimming pool, an expensive car or two, children attending the best schools in town, chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and a fat bank balance showing that I have enough money for a trip to Europe or weekend getaways. To attain such standards, I need a good job. To get a good job, I need a degree. To get a degree, I need to get into a reputed college. To get into that college, I need to score well in my qualifying exams. To score well in the qualifying exams, I need to go the right school.

You see the vicious cycle begins all over again!

Thus like the proverbial case of blind leading the blind, we are in this rat race or rather the rabbit race in which we are running not against one another but together, in different directions following the carrots that are hung in front of us.

It was through Google that I came to know that India’s state boards, ICSE, CBSE and ISC systems of education train us only for organized sectors which constitutes only 6% of India’s workforce. Not one search on Google gave me any data on the number of other professions/livelihood options – such as handloom and agriculture – which are supported by the unorganized sector.

Let me ask you a very simple question: How many of us need food? All of us, right? And who gives us ‘this food’? You are right: it’s our farmers. An interesting bit of data for you: farmers constitute 52% of India’s labour force and this 52% so closely linked to our land and food, aren’t supported well enough by the small organized sector that I have mentioned earlier.

Now back to the basic question I started with: What is schooling for? I believe our ability to think and make meaningful choices for ourselves need to be independent of what the industry-driven education system wants; I believe our ability to question the existing status quo and upset the apple cart need to be extended to the world of ‘carrots’ dangled in front of us.

And all these need to start in school.

Being a part of a more privileged society, I urge each one of us here to look at schools as a space where each one of us enhance our learning experience beyond exams, where we learn to decolonize our minds from all the carrots dangled in front of us. The skills, the rigour, content are one part of the equation. What is on the other side of the “equal to” sign, the choices I make? This, for me is schooling. This answers the question – what schooling is for?

Vivekananda had said that education is meant to enhance an individual’s potential, so as to bring out the knowledge stored within. I too think that education is meant to help us cross safely through this river of life and for this we would need a ledge called know’ledge’.

Joy Relan – Class 10


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