The system of Education in Bangladesh is largely made to sharpen the capacity of memory and for smooth ride of those with this unusual skill at the expense of all other mental attributes. This reminds one of its similarity with educating the pet bird and killing it in the end in Rabindranath Tagore's story The Parrot. Tagore wrote this famous short story as a critique of the Indian education system introduced by the British colonial masters?
Education Policy 2010 gave emphasis on creative method instead of learning by rote. But this highly publicized effort of starting a creative method has not only steered away from its proclaimed path, rather has made learners more dependent on note/guidebooks, private tuition and coaching centers. Policymakers fail to understand that only change in exam questions will not get rid of the curse of rote learning and the accompanied consequences.
By keeping our system unchanged, we are pushing our children to the race for grabbing some jobs by sitting on the employment bazaar with certificates of high numbers or grades flying in their hands. They are struggling to get the certificates at any cost, especially by throwing away the baby of knowledge and the water of morality and humanism. They boastfully hold up the empty bowl of certificates by getting rid of both the baby and the bathwater. It is because these empty bowls of certificates are most in demand to our employers.
The key ingenuity of our students, which is measured in exams, is to keep things of knowledge into their memory stores and pour these down on exam papers. Our society and state do not give value to children's analytical capacity, creativity of mind, their integrity, dedication to humanity, etc. Now what is the difference between rote learning and copying in exams? It is Rabindranath himself who identified the two as the same and equally denounced both. In his essay Shikkhar Bahon (Medium of education), he wrote, "Passing exams through rote learning is the actual thievery. The boy who secretly takes books in exam halls is thrown out, but did the one who carries books inside his head in a more secret way do less cheating? As per the rule of civilization, the domain of human memory has been taken over by the printing press. So those who committed knowledge from books into memory, cheated in a more uncivilized way than those who hid it under their garments but are welcomed!"
Why learning by rote is so valued in our country? The British needed computers in the offices for their administrative purpose in the colonial India. Not computer of today's type-computers in human forms or human computers, i.e., clerks with skills of performing activities that are better accomplished by computers today. Like today's computers those British servants were expected to remain most obedient without any tendency of protest or revolt. They were valued or priced, as today's computers are, for their efficiency in following the order of their masters/operators.
But nowadays real computers have been replacing their human counterparts in many places of the modern world as the engine with horse power once replaced real horses in the previous industrial revolution. It does not mean at all that human's memory capacity has no value. This is a great attribute of humans which enabled them to transfer knowledge and information from generation to generation before the invention of writing. But nowadays memory capacity is more valuable as a display of individual charisma in national and international memory competitions. Joshua Foer's book 'Moonwalking with Einstein' is a good read on the age-old tricks of keeping books after books in memory and having fun with this capacity. Yet this power should not be valued too much in the field of knowledge and learning. This is undoubtedly true that some texts should be kept etched in memory for their real effects and genuine internalization, as in the case of poetry.
But mere memorization can deceive people by presenting the memorized materials as knowledge. Things in memory without breaking the border of belief are no more than data on memory chips in the computer. A teacher who teaches evolutionary theory in a college or university but does not believe a single word of Darwin can have a smooth sailing in life by very comfortably sitting on two stools. Such a person has education, if you call it so at all, no more and no less than the same theory put into a memory stick or pen drive.
Real education is completely different. We would do better if we could give our children the pain and pleasure of climbing the mountain of knowledge on their own feet without carrying them in the comfort of parental arms feeding them with baby food of knowledge bottled as rote learning.
It is curiosity which pushes humanity to earn new knowledge. On the other hand, our education system is very good at putting out that risky flame of curiosity. Let us see for once what great American astrophysicist Carl Sagan wrote in Pale Blue Dot about curiosity: "As we began to indulge our curiosity, though, to explore, to learn how the Universe really is, we expelled ourselves from Eden."
Begum Rokeya, a pioneer of women's liberation, also defined real education in broad terms. She wrote in her famous essay Strijatir Obonoti (Fall of women), "God has given us hands, feet, eyes, ears and power of thinking. If we strengthen our hands and feet through exercise and do good things with our hands, observe attentively with our eyes, listen carefully with ears and learn to think more deeply and analytically with the power of thinking-that is real education. We shall never regard the certificates earned through exams as education."
We need to have education, which is real, which is not as flimsy and fake as data on the memory chips in our brain drive.
The writer is editor, Biggan O Sangskriti
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