Ninety nine point nine

-Ibrahim Hafeezur Rehman

In came the message on “WhatsApp University” that the young man had secured over 97% in CBSE. Everybody joined in the euphoria, cheering and celebrating the grand success of the ‘wonder’student. The celebration was concomitant to the “Breaking News’’ that the topper had missed the cent per cent ‘Bus’ by one mark. Further highlighting the stupendous achievements of the students, the ubiquitous anonymous WhatsAppian philosopher and thinker, pointed out that not so long ago numbers such as 97, 98.4 usually referred to body temperature and only rarely to  academic feats.

It was only in the late 90s and particularly in the first decade and a half of the millennium that the students transformed the pyretic numbers to represent their marks going beyond 98 and entering the fever zone of 99 and above. The appalling scenario is that the 99 plus disease has acquired epidemic proportions as it is not one or two who have succumbed but hoards of students are afflicted. Currently, the marks fever is threatening to touch 100 and clearly requires some kind of divine and human intervention to bring it back to some normal (sane) level.

In the 1980s when I appeared for my Class 10th examination and secured over 60% marks there was celebration in the family. Congratulations along with the gift of a Guitar were in order from a stern sister who also affectionately chided that proper studies and hard work could have produced an even better result. The positive reaction to the first Board Examination outcome helped one immensely to gain confidence and self esteem. Move to 2018 and one shudders to think that a student who had secured 59% marks in Class Xth examination committed suicide.

A recent analysis of marks obtained by students in the last few years has indicated that there has been a quantum jump in the number of students scoring 95% and above. Obvious conclusion to such a growth would be that academic excellence or mastery of the subjects is on the way up. This implies that since the time when I obtained that shameful percentage there should be plethora of brilliant academicians, scientists, mathematicians, thinkers, philosophers, etc., doing path breaking stuff in the country. Yet we see that scientific innovation or discovery or new theories in liberal arts have not shown the vertical rise that the number of students securing absurd percentages have.

Globally, particularly in the developed countries, these kind of percentages are produced occasionally by prodigies or possibly by a handful of students. In our country the abundance of gargantuan numbers attaining these heights is less related to the rise of genius and more to a system which is now governed by rote and commercialised tuition or coaching at the student level and some kind of crazy moderation at the examination level. It is a system that forces students not to master the subject but garner and develop expertise in  examination ‘cracking’ techniques.

An analysis of the recent CBSE 2018 result has indicated that majority of students obtaining 90 plus percentages are from metros and big urban centres where the requisite commercial infrastructure in the form of public schools, coaching institutes, tuition bureaus are in abundance. Of course, nobody is bothered if this puts an intelligent and less privileged rural or even small town student at a distinct disadvantage. The sad part is that it is the parents who propel their children into such a mechanised and mercenary oriented education system. If not from primary school then definitely from middle school students are enrolled in tuitions and coaching centres that promise to take them onto a path of ascendancy and success. Thousands of guides and examination aid books are produced each year to ensure success for these students. It is obvious that with the kind of investments that parents make in teaching their ward the primary aim of the student and the guardians then is to go onto a path where education related expenditure can be reclaimed with maximum profit. This has converted the whole system into a crass commercial enterprise often devoid of values and wherewithal to constructively contribute to society.

Even from the established parameters of societal success which demand that education should lead to a successful vocation a total overhaul of the entire system is required. A more rational system would push only the academically oriented towards higher education and facilitate transition to skill oriented activities for others. In this context, the ‘Make in India’ programme, needs a direct connect with education system wherein it should facilitate and encourage introduction of vocation based learning rather than the mad chase for nineties. For entry into college and university it may also help to introduce tests that really examine the aptitude, grasp and holistic understanding of a particular subject for which admission is sought.

Aping and replicating the western education model is certainly not the best way forward for there is enough richness in the sub continent in imparting traditional wisdom in addition to modern scientific education. Some of the good elements of the traditional forms of learning in Asia such as service orientation, emphasis on moral as well as societal values, practiced by the Gurukuls and Madrasas need to be made an essential part of elementary education in the country. An important constituent of the educational effort also needs to be a focus on sports and extra curricular activities that contribute to overall personality development. Consequently, more emphasis needs to be put on character building rather than merely on enhancing information and skill levels to take up specific jobs and professions.

To quote Saji, “Not everyone in school is learning. Not everyone learning is in school”. It is dangerous to reduce education to a mere chase of some absurd numbers and fancy jobs that can provide for material benefits. It is equally important to question and examine whether the students scaling such lofty peaks of marks have learned the humane values to contribute to larger society and acquired the required skills to deal with challenges and travesties of life.