Why are our kids not learning meaningfully? (Part6 of series on Education)

 

In the first 5 parts (Part1Part2Part3Part4Part5) of this series on education, we have understood that an education model built on Questions (Curiosity), Stories (Interconnections) and Theories can drive a deeper appreciation of concepts from a fundamental clarity perspective. At this juncture I am sure a question that will cross minds of lots of us is that all this is fine but will this eventually lead to kids making sense in this real world. After all it doesn’t matter what we feel about marks/tests/etc. but the reality is that they are very much a part of life. So let’s continue to journey forward. Before saying anything else let me share an article that I recently came across.

‘I’m happy I failed my entrance test’

This is the story of Jacin who is a final year student at Forest Research Institute, Dehradun. He in his initial attempts at clearing the MBBS entrance exams failed and then later discovered his passion and ended up topping the entrance examination to central universities and securing 12th rank in the entrance exam for the Forest Research Institute.

Most of the time such examples are quoted to prove that appearing in popular engineering and medical entrance exams is a stupid thing to do. Even 3Idiots movie despite having a great message, in my view could not make the message stand out. What stood out was that Fungshuk Wangdoo became successful because he despised his engineering degree and professors and was thus not a part of rat race. I have heard so many times people arguing using this movie as an example and making statement like:

  • Parents unnecessarily create pressure for their kids to clear engg./medical entrance exams.
  • Schools create unhealthy competition by putting undue focus on marks/exams/etc.
  • Kids should be allowed to follow their passion.
  • Why should everyone become engineer/doctor?

etc. etc”.

The intensity and the intent with which these statements are made by the speakers most of the time means as if the most stupid thing to do is to be interested in Science/Engg/Medical for they cannot be passion – they are boring rat race subjects – the passion of most kids lie in becoming cricketer/actor/painter/dancer/musician/etc.

Let’s understand this – Fungshuk Wangdoo succeeded not despite his engineering degree – he succeeded because he studied the subjects in his engineering course with the intent to learn well and believing in the fact that if he learns well he will get marks/degrees also. It’s just a coincidence that engineering college and degree were the backdrop of this story. Engineering course is not the problem. This is the challenge with most of the parents – they want their kids to follow their passion but when the kids do so, they never ask:

  • How much are you enjoying?
  • What is the new thing you learnt today?
  • Are you happy with your choices?

Instead they ask,

  • How was your exam?
  • How many marks you got?
  • What’s the salary you are getting?

etc. etc.

We think that by just letting our kids choose a non-popular subject, we have become good parents for we are not like father of character Farhan Quereshi in 3Idiots movie. Let’s get this correct. The message of 3Idiots was simple:

 

“Success and Happiness lies in single minded pursuit of learning for the fun of it. It doesn’t matter which subject one chooses because the choice of subject does not decide whether you are in rat race or not. It’s the approach and respect for learning for its own sake that decides whether one is in the rat race or not.”

 

As long as we don’t understand that Education is in the process and not in the subject or end result, we will always be driving our children to rat race despite letting them choose their passions. So if they become painter we will be waiting as to when will their painting sell at a price more than of Hussain; if they become cricketer we will be waiting when they will break all records of Tendulkar and so on. This is as much a rat race as making them do engineering.

The intent of sharing this article is therefore not to highlight that it’s not worthwhile to pursue the popular entrance exams by being in rat race. They have their merit and each person has to make their choice. What I want to highlight is the following statement this guy makes in this article:

“This time, instead of mugging up for 12 hours a day — as I had done during my MBBS preparation — I started enjoying what I was reading. I studied about three hours every day and surfed the Web for matter.”

This statement of Jacin is a message for all of us. One can clear the so called difficult tests/exams with far lesser efforts if the attempt is made with a genuine interest in the subject. I have faced this question many times when I have tried to explain my science course Eklavya to parents – “Your course will help them understand concepts better but how do you think your course will help my kid in the real world where eventually marks/degrees/exams do matter?”. I would say it’s a very valid question but it also shows a deep malaise that inflicts each one of us. By asking this question we are implicitly asking, “Understanding a subject is fine but how will that lead to getting marks”. In essence we are saying that it was luck or was some superhuman intelligence because of which Fungshuk Wangdoo learnt well and got marks also – in normal life, those who learn well don’t get marks and those who get marks always never learn. In short, 3Idiots movie though quoted enough remains a movie of entertainment value only – it’s not reality. This is why I said that in my view the message of the movie didn’t stand out though it was a big commercial success.

 

“In reality, actually message of 3Idiots is not a reality, not because it’s not a reality in reality, but because most of us don’t believe it’s a reality and thus we don’t follow it thereby ensuring it never becomes a reality.”

 

But when people like Jacin imbibe the real message of movies like 3Idiots it clearly shows that it’s a reality. When he pursued what interests him, at one fourth the effort, not only he could crack the exams with stupendous success but also enjoyed the entire journey.

There are two models to crack the difficult entrance exams or in larger sense live a meaningful life:

  1. Tuition Class model: This model is typically followed by tuition classes that prepare our kids in mass scale for the popular entrance exams. In this model the approach is to solve a certain number of problems every day (like 30-50 everyday) over the 2 years period post 10th standard which is where most of the kids start their preparation. That way one solves a large number of problems (something like 20,000-30,000 problems) before appearing for any exam. Now it’s a probability game. If one has solved so many variety of problems then the chances of getting a variation outside this is pretty limited. So, it’s a game of long hours of mechanical working to win a battle on the sheer strength of unskilled but a larger army. This is what I have seen in corporate life only. Whenever a problem is faced, the best approach is to talk to few people (inside and outside the organization), and collect various tried and tested alternatives. Then use some operational constraints or so called logical filters to reduce the available solutions and then try out one by one. In short, like tuition classes, look at large number of comparable solutions available and assume that life will be somewhere between them and take a shot. It does work a number of times but like in tuition class model, there is no real learning, there is no fresh approach, there is no healthy discussion – all this because in the absence of an attempt to get deeper clarity, all that we can do is play the probability game.
  2. Fungshul Wangdoo model: This is the model of conceptual clarity. From an entrance exam perspective, when one follows this model one may solve just couple of problem every day but he or she will try solving the same few problems through different approaches and with different starting conditions. The entire intent is to put one’s arms and legs around the concept and not just focus on how many problems are solved. This is where one spends far lesser time and is having fun playing with the problem as new layers of conceptual clarity emerges and strengthens one’s ability to apply it in various situations. It’s an approach of winning a battle by having a smaller but highly skilled army. Similarly, in corporate life when one is faced with a problem, the first step should be to understand the problem from a fundamental perspective by asking questions and not picking one of the available comparable solutions. When one follows this approach, the comparable solutions are just another data point to drive clarity on the root cause of a problem and not to be used as it is believing in assumed similarity and law of averages.

Am I sounding as if “Fungshuk Wangadaoo model” is the best and “Tuition Class model” is the worst? If yes, then that’s not my intent. The intent is to bring out the following two facts:

  • First, “Tuition Class model” is a probability game and thus full of stress for it gives us no feeling of control over the outcome. We may believe that by trying various problems we are reducing the uncertainty but the mind knows that no matter how many we try, we don’t know what problem will come up tomorrow and then we may be defenseless. This is an important property of mind – a feeling of absence or presence of fear is far more important than actual absence or presence of fear. However, that doesn’t mean this model doesn’t give results. It gives results but it also ensure that we cannot enjoy the journey for we are always afraid.
  • Second, the same results can be obtained by ignoring the results and focusing on learning by following the “Fungshuk Wangdoo model”. It cuts uncertainty because the mind feels in control of facing an uncertain future based on better understanding of principles that drive.

Let’s understand this simple thing – focusing on joy of learning doesn’t mean marks are out of the window but getting marks doesn’t mean you have got the joy of learning. The only way to get joy of learning is by focusing on conceptual clarity, which in turn means that process has to be the focal point that will in turn drive the result.

 

“Arjun didn’t hit the fish eye because he focused on fish eye – he hit it because he learnt his archery very well which allowed him to focus on fish eye.”

 

If we continue to aspire for our kids to learn well and be happy while simultaneously believing in the fact that “joy of learning” is just a philosophical concept and not a part of reality, all our efforts will remain meaningless irrespective of the fact whether our kids follow their passion or not. The choice is ours after all the destiny is ours.

 

About DreamNobel

DreamNobel is an education initiative to teach Science subjects to kids in a way that original & independent thinking and empathy becomes an integral part of their personality. We have developed a unique and revolutionary course (Eklavya) whereby a kid can be taught broadly all the Science subjects (Physics, Chemistry, Biology & Geology) in an integrated manner, through a unique story and rationalization led pedagogy.

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