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How Teachers Built A Shallow Society

Nandkumar M Kamat

Self righteous teachers alienated from realities of knowledge around us build an alienated generation disconnected from dynamics of a changing world. As a guest speaker last year in a reputed institution I was aghast that very few students had visited three important institutions, store houses stimulating knowledge, located within just 300 meters from their campus- the Goa archives, the Goa Museum and the Krishnadas Shyama state central library.

Such brutally sanctified alienation is rampant in Goa and we face its tectonic effect at higher levels of education. The extent of dumbness of a student scoring 90 percent marks at graduation and similar high percentage at post graduation was once exposed in my class while discussing the idea of plantation of trees to absorb carbon dioxide and reduce global warming effect.

When my ecology class was asked to identify suitable locations for planting trees either in their own residential villages or towns this candidate (who still remains for me a perfect example of mastering the art of memory based performance in written tests) said  – “we can plant the trees in potholes on roads”. Taken aback by the answer but recovering fast from the shock, I asked for elaboration “why in potholes among all places?” and pat came the explanation –“Sir, I was traveling by bus when I found that some people were planting small trees in potholes on that road”. The student obviously had failed to understand that it was an attention seeking but illegitimate public protest and due to complete lack of reasoning had no idea that roads can never be used for tree plantation.

The University is least concerned about such “scholarship”. If this is the status of the “best” student in institutions of higher learning then what one can expect from others with less percentages in their mark lists? Frankly this is just one of the hundreds of such experiences, some being so worse that you hang your head in shame as a PG teacher and then develop profound pity for such graduates who admit that they have wasted their 15 years “learning” absolutely nothing.

Do you want to test them- just ask how a ceiling fan works or why Sun rises in the east and not in the west?  For me spoiled by vast reading and philosophers -Socrates, Russell and Popper, a teacher is a continuous learner and innovator and a student is a potential teacher and new knowledge creator. I have tried every best practice in pedagogy that exists on this planet in past 25 years without any success which includes multilingual explanation of even most difficult scientific concepts in theory and practical to PG science students having problems in English.

But it’s difficult to teach in a society which has become shallow and dumb and runs away from admitting this naked, provable, testable reality. I am very much pleased that my predictions about failure of a system of education based on testing memory of students for 17 years and not anchored in understanding and grasping, the command over concepts are coming true with poor results of every government screening test for jobs. The directorate of higher education would face stiff opposition if it conducts a comprehensive survey of reading habits, reasoning and general knowledge of teachers in our institutions of higher education.

We don’t need to be told about exceptions because in any state one would find some extraordinary teachers and few exceptional students. But in small, affluent, highly urbanised state like Goa with a huge middle class, the shallowness and dumbness can be easily exposed when you meet and interact with any graduate in any subject. The degeneration was set in with revolutionary hike in pay-scales of teachers after the fifth pay commission from 1999 because suddenly teaching profession became economically lucrative.

Multitudes of those who had no idea what learning ecosystem is about rushed to join teaching to get a good pay packet. It is agonising to see that BEd colleges are admitting candidates the majority of whom are totally unfit for a missionary vocation like teaching. It’s a shivering thought that 300 such candidates would be churned out now every two years to build a still shallower and dumb society in future. A shallow and dumb society of people smart only with gadgets and other technical skills but hyperactive on social media is emerging in Goa thanks to consistent and serious contributions from teachers over past two decades.

As post graduate teachers we are best judges of quality of graduate degrees when we are shocked by the shallowness and dumbness of the fresh graduates who admit that they have done nothing but answer examinations for 15 years based on memory. Sample this confession from one of my students, a topper in a local college within weeks after admission to post graduate course “actually after your every lecture, me and my friend’s wonder -what we are actually doing with our lives. Everyone is confused. But according to me your lectures make us motivated and make us rethink on the useless activities that we deal with. I don’t know whether it sounds like flattering but my relative says that teacher like you should have come into our lives long back as these days there are many changes that are taking place after your every lecture in my life. One of that is reading newspaper. I know it sounds weird, but I never used to read newspaper. We are extremely opposite to what you say and expect. We are trying to start from zero. Sometimes we feel very bad when we realise that we can never be good students like how you expect. We have been susegad throughout our life and now we are trying to speed up.”

There are countless true stories like this which I can share anonymously and publicly confirming how successful this state has become in building an army of shallow and dumb graduates. The worsening situation, our mass plunge in abyss of shallowness can be viewed by sampling a few episodes of campus based ‘Yuvapanti” programme of a local TV channel. Smart diversionary tactics being used to justify mass failures in screening tests won’t automatically make graduates intelligent and competitive. We need ‘Deep Work” and “deep workers” (in sensu Cal Newport, 2016) and not “Shallows” (in sensu Nicholas Carr, 2010).

Categories: Commentary
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