“I don’t want to go to School!”, protests my daughter with angst very morning. Like her many of her friends tell the same. She is 2.5 years old and this anxiety has nothing to do with age. I see my nephews climbing down the stairs every morning gloomily.

“Hey, will you take me to your football practice at the club today?” I try to cheer up the 4 yr old.

“He woke up so late”, says his elder brother, 12, making gestures with his eyes. He himself looks like someone put cold water on his face.

Growing up we all have wanted to not go to school, anyone wants to deny that? As I stand at my window and watch the school buses halting one by one. I see boys and girls with their shoe laces tied with two similar loops and their hair parted neatly, so unnatural of them. Mothers carrying their school bags and other paraphernalia in one hand and in other the child’s hand firmly. What if they run away seeing the school bus? The cross road would look like a merchandise sale with labels of Disney, Ben 10, Barbie, Doraemon, etc.

Back to the fundamental question, why do we need schools? Schools by itself is probably not bad. The thousand years old institutions and its philosophies have pushed us human civilization into advancement. Imparting education and storing knowledge generations after generations happened in these establishments. Questioning this hegemony would be radical but the wave towards changing them has already begun in the society. The pulse of society is reflected in how its accommodating this change within its institutions.

The current education system is known to be prevailing since the Industrial Era. Anne Knock says on her blog that we can not be critical about that education and its style then because it was designed for a specific purpose for which it was responsive.

People moved away from an agrarian society to cities where they began working as individuals. A more skill and community based working style was replaced by routine application of works in the machine run manufacturing. The biggest leap in population growth happened in this Industrial Era. The society began to consume and we became an economy that was consumer driven. In factories thousands of workers begin work at the horn of the siren and stop work at the horn. The workforce would stand in series and do repetitive works that was told to them, slowly replacing critical
thinking and self inputs. There was no opportunity to collaborate. Work was segregated and compartmentalized. And thats exactly what has happened to our schooling.

Our education is segregated and fitted in different subjects and time slots. Children are segregated in different rooms according to their age. What they do and how much they do through the day is predetermined. They will be tested at the end of the year, bad pupils will be reshuffled or discarded and good pupils will be put on further on the conveyor belt. If this looks like a job being worked on the manufacturing unit, this is exactly what has happened to all of us.
There is an interesting Ted talk by Sir Kenneth Robinson, educationist and advisor to various Governments, who says that schools kill creativity. He emphasizes that for the current education system to succeed they should foster diversity by offering a broad curriculum and encouraging individualization of the learning process; it should foster curiosity through creative teaching, which depends on high quality teacher training and development; and finally that it should focus on
awaking creativity rather than standardized testing, giving the responsibility for defining the course of education to individual schools and teachers.

John Holt, the renowned educationist, says that schools have failed us. In his books, How Children learn and How Children Fail, he mentions learning stops when you start school. This is a very powerful statement. He sat through classes of 5th graders and observed them. All of them day dream and their mind wanders to where they can freely think and be themselves. Children even of that age begin to think of strategies to avoid confrontation with teachers. The dogmatic, regimented and authoritative style of teaching leaves no room for individuality. According to Holt, the top 10%
and below 15% of the class do what they do for claiming their fame, to get recognition. The middle 75% of the kids in class keep their heads low.

Sal Khan, the founder of Khan Academy has written in his latest book, The One World Schoolhouse, “What I didn’t want was the dreary process that sometimes went on in classrooms—rote memorization and plug-in formulas aimed at nothing more lasting or meaningful than a good grade on the next exam”. Personally I think I have done this same thing. Sometimes I have not wanted to over or under perform to not get into the eyes of teachers and my parents. I just do enough so that they don’t bother me. The schools can’t accommodate the requirements or individuality of several kids in a class, so they create a production line and conduct tests to perform quality checking. Holt questions the concept of pre-announced tests and pre-decided sets of questions in the examinations. And why do we accept 80% correct answers and push the kids to the next grade.

All this states one thing and which is pretty clear. Schools are failing to deliver their objectives. They merely function as day care centers for the kids. But there is hope on the way! There are schools of very different kinds, even if very few in numbers, all across the world with a different philosophy. One such school is Summerhill which is an independent British boarding school founded in 1921. The underlying philosophy here is that school should be made to fit the child, rather than the other way around. It is run as a democratic community; the running of the school is conducted in the school meetings, which anyone, staff or pupil, may attend, and at which everyone has an equal vote. Members of the community are free to do as they please, so long as their actions do not cause any harm to others. One such other school is The Sudbury Valley School in New Hampshire, USA. This school operates more or less in the same philosophy as Summerhill. Daniel Greenberg, one of the founders, in his book Free at Last says that in their more than 60 years of running the school they have not encountered one single Dyslexic or Attention Deficient child, while the Dyslexia Research Institue
says that 10-15% of Americans are dyslexic.

My appeal to all the parents of this generation is to contemplate and open their minds to various possibilities and options. We are hundreds of years ahead of the Industrial Era, isn’t it time yet to look for the change in our education system which was founded then? The need today is to marry education and technology of the 21st century. Shantanu Sinha, COO, Khan Academy said in an interview that we need to give students the opportunity to take control of their own learning and
rediscover their natural curiosity and excitement. If we empower the people who matter, the teachers and students themselves then they may surprise us.

I wish that we open up a discussion and explore the opportunity to start a school like Sudbury Valley in Mumbai. Lets begin to argue and counter argue the possibilities of a likely alternative. I am passionate about this, will you join me!

References:
Websites and Articles:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schooling
http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080122165609AAhQTTW
http://sirkenrobinson.com/
http://www.summerhillschool.co.uk/
http://www.sudval.org/
http://anneknock.com/tag/industrial-era-schools/
http://www.uky.edu/~popkin/frenchworker/spry.htm
Books:
The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined by Salman Khan
Free at Last: The Sudbury Valley School by Daniel Greenberg
How Children Fail by John Holt
How Children Learn by John Holt

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