Whenever I pass through a forest or roam through a sparse vegetation on the outskirts of a town, I see so many trees I can’t name. I hear a lot of different chirps, and I wonder which bird it is. I don’t know why, but its really frustrating for me to be unable to recognise a tree by its leaf and a bird by its sound. Now on the other hand, do you remember the number of times you learnt World Geography? The Prairies and the Savannas, each and every continent, their countries, climates and crops, their minerals and industries, trade, culture and people, everything? I remember learning it twice during my schooling years, and the way our teachers taught it, the only message that reached my brain was – wow, thats a lot to remember! And now comes the funniest part of it – I remember very little of it ; actually, except the world map maybe, I remember nothing. So I often wonder why my teachers didn’t curtail one year of World Geography and rather taught me to recognise my own surroundings. Hadn’t I felt a greater sense of belonging had I known them better? Hadn’t I learnt to protect them and cherish them, had I known them as one of my own?
In Maharashtra, where I studied, the state board textbooks teach us the Indian Freedom Struggle in three different classes during schooling. For the first time in class 5, then in class 8, and finally in class 10. Each time, the chapters add more dates, more names, more data to remember and rote. In class 5, we come to know that Mahatma Gandhi carried out the Dandi March to mark the beginning of Salt Satyagraha. In class 8, we come to know that it started on the 12th of March 1930 from the Sabarmati Ashram and we came to know of every leader who took part in it. In class 10, we came to know that it lasted for 24 days and 390 kilometers over 4 districts and 48 villages, we studied the entire map route of the March and the precise timing when the Mahatma picked up a fistful of salt from the shores of Dandi.
I know it is really ungrateful to be so sarcastic about our honourable leaders. To be honest, I respect them all from the bottom of my heart. But I believe that the purpose of history is not to honour the dead, it is rather to inspire the living. Studying the Freedom Struggle once is a must, twice is good – to know more details, but thrice is so unnecessary! I often wonder how many of us have ever been encouraged by our glorious history the way we learnt it in school. And I also wonder whether it would’ve been much more fruitful if they had instead compiled the history of Indian industrialists – The Tatas, the Birlas, the Ambanis, the Mittals, the Mallyas- all of those who gave India an identity in the World today. And if to this compilation they had added the stories of Jagdishchandra Basu, Meghnada Saha, Ramanujan and C V Raman. And if they had been accompanied by Kapil Dev and Dara Singh, and P.T. Usha and Subbalakhshmi.. If instead of telling us how the Dandi March was carried on, they had told us how the IISc was established, and how India launched her first rocket and won her First World Cup… That would’ve inspired me a lot, I am sure.
How many times have you learnt about the Four Types of Pollution and all the blah blah about it during school? How many times did you learn in Environmental Studies, that you shouldn’t waste water and electricity, that they are precious? And have you seen those huge neon sign advertisements every meter away on city streets? Well, I come from a town in Vidarbha where we get drinking water from the Municipality every 15 days, and during summer there is 14 hours of power cut per day. Yes, a day has 24 hours. I sometimes wish that students from the cities should sometimes be taken to visit such towns instead of making them recite the types and sources and all the crap about precious resources. I am sure those students know about such living conditions, but if they saw this with their own eyes, and lived through it for a day or two, it will be a lesson well learnt.
There is just so much more that I can add to this list. There are just so many things I wish to change about the way things are taught in India, especially at the school level. Someday, I believe I will.