The other day I was on a train (where else would I be?). Opposite me were seated a little family: dad, mom and a boy of around six-seven I guess. It was a hot and clammy evening at the start of November, a rarity after a seemingly endless season of rain since June. The kid was on a questioning spree, as children of that age are, on everything from human anatomy and railway operations to greater philosophical queries on life, the universe and everything. The parents were trying their best to answer as many as they could, alternatively looking irritated, amused and embarrassed. I was trying to work through Monisha Rajesh’s adventures of travelling around the world in 80 trains and wasn’t making much progress, mostly because I was getting distracted by NTES rather than by the kid. And then this happened.
“Appa, what season is this?”
“But this is November no, isn’t it supposed to be autumn season? Why is it so hot in autumn? Why is it also raining? Why aren’t the leaves of all trees still there and green? Why…”
“Who told you it is autumn season now?”
“Our miss (teacher) said so. It is there in our book. The seasons are spring, summer, autumn, winter. She said autumn is cold and windy and there will be snow in December. Why doesn’t it snow here?”
The dad then explained that the way they are taught is how seasons occur in Europe and America. He informed the child that the four seasons taught to him in school do not exist here in Kerala or in India in that manner, and that we have only rainy seasons and summer in Kerala, with a mildly colder climate during end November through December.
“But then, Appa, why are we studying things that do not exist?”
I looked up from my mobile/book as did the guy next to me, just to see the Appa and Amma exchange looks. We all exchanged knowing glances and smiles, and silently went back to our respective tasks. The kid didn’t receive the answer to his question, but it was a point worth pondering about, and on two counts at that.
Indian Seasons are different from western ones
In vast areas of India it is mostly either hot or rainy for most of the year. Spring and autumn do not even exist in most places. Even winter is not exactly “winter” south of the Narmada. And then, why for Zeus’ sake are children being taught in school that spring, summer, autumn and winter are the seasons they should be looking out for, as if this is something uniform throughout the world? Why teach them things that they cannot relate to, or cannot understand? Why are they taught that leaves grow yellow, orange and gold in October and fall in November to leave trees leafless in December and reappear in March, when the tropics they live in are solely populated by evergreen plants that never shed their leaves in this manner? Why do they wonder when it rains non-stop from June to August, and then again in October, when it should’ve been summer and autumn, respectively?
How many of you know all the months or what day it is in your local calendar, how many do you know the seasons of the place you live (Mumbaikars have it easy, there is only one), how many of you even can read/write in your mother tongue or any language other than English is another question. Ask the children of Kerala (or even adults) if they know the names of the two monsoon seasons in the state and what their features are. There were times when people exactly knew the pattern of what would happen on every single day of the Monsoons, for which there were also names. Today, Edavapathi and Thulavarsham are the names of B-grade movies while children search for falling leaves in October. But the larger question is, why are they being taught all this unnecessary information?
This thing about the seasons is not just about environmental awareness. It goes much deeper than that. It is an announcement about how deeply flawed and dysfunctional our country’s primary education system is. Why are our children being taught all this stuff that has not just no utility value but even makes no sense in their surroundings, reality and life? Why are they being taught explicitly about how things regularly happen in foreign lands while remaining completely ignorant about how their own land? The entire system is ridiculously outdated, unbelievably senseless and utterly useless in helping children gain any kind of real skills or self and society building attitudes in their lives. They might as well as learn about seasons on Enceladus. Why are we force-feeding children textual diarrhea, literally pumping their brains with useless data with the only purpose to later be disgorged onto answer sheets, data that is static and does not matter if is true or factual or has any connection with reality?
We hear and talk all the time about the hundreds of wasted hours learning Trigonometry and Calculus in high school (“I am still waiting for the instance where I will use sinθ cosθ in real life”, as the joke goes). Apparently, it turns out the is the same case with Indian primary schools as well. In times long ago, India’s colonial masters devised a system of education to kill any sense of reasoning, rationality and questioning ability in the minds of the natives while making them mindless pen-pushing machines. Seventy years after independence we have still been blindly following that. Why haven’t we changed this? The bonus is self-important, absolutely uncaring, unempathetic and unemotional teachers who consider themselves only as employees of schools with no stake the overall development of children, rather than the saintly mentor-figures we have always thought of teachers to be. The result is that we get children who grow up absolutely no rational, logical or critical thinking abilities, minds crammed with useless general knowledge and politically motivated historical detail, most of which might not be even true.
“Miss, but it is October and trees are still green!”
“Shut up and learn what’s in the book!”
You might ask what is the point in learning these things that don’t seem to be really relevant in today’s “modern” ways of life where people live disconnected from the land, especially so when they actually want and expect that their children be bought up in the ways and manners of the west with an ultimate aim of migrating to the west. Well, like I said, this is just an example of how our children’s formative minds are stuffed with inconsequential information. If children were taught more about the lands they live in, like the seasons, features and geography, maybe they would get to know it better and feel more attached to the it and try to protect it to make it a better place to live, than feel more attached to places where the leaves turn orange in October.
COCCYX: The child seem to be inquisitive, logical and rational in thought. However, a few more years in our education system and he will also sadly turn into just another zombie.