Covid only accelerated matters but the screenplay was well-sketched out, with plenty of flesh to the bones, but the pandemic seems to be the tried and convicted culprit. Here I am alluding to our school children, who, for the most, seemed little interested in any subject, unless of course one has an inborn aptitude for the sciences or languages or whatever! But back to how Covid hastened, put on fast-track this, “apathetic to learning scenario”. Supposed classes of even tiny-tots were conducted on WhatsApp video, reams of homework clicked from WhatsApp camera, fancy dress and dance competitions were video-graphed and the poor, tired teacher having to view, heavy-lidded, quite asleep on one’s feet, 40-odd taped clips one-by-one, before proclaiming the verdict.
However, with time these ready to drop, dead-on-one’s-feet teachers, learnt to, how would you put it, beat the system. So, a cursory glance at the homework, with tick marks at the given slots, and for competitions of different kinds no need to get jet-lagged, viewing them; just dole out golden and silver stars so everyone stands smug in the knowledge that s/he’s a star performer, with parents puffed up with their Wonder Child. The kids, not lagging far behind—remember, necessity is the mother of invention—every morn, would semi-don their shirt and tie, no skirts or pants (track pants, comfy) since not captured on film. Then Siamese, joint-from-the-hip classwork cum homework is done, taxi-ing away with flourishing rapidity, assignments clicked by parents if the kids are a wee too young, or fingers too small to cinematize and send to their Educator.
And that is the way, “at-home” schooling went for nearly two years. Phones standing at high-alert attention, with kids cooped up, using their mobiles for everything under the sky but for arithmetic, geography and a 100 other etcs. (By the way, the economically not-so-buoyant parivars, if they had to keep their bacha log afloat, had to buy smart phones even if it was the basic-of-the-basic…how could one be promoted to the next class with a ground-hugging mobile?! And then let’s make our way to college—at this point Delhi University, thought to be one of the premier institutions of the country—where during Covid, I came across a handful of girls, closest friends all of them, who had decided, to join the same course, since they’d at least be able to stick together till marriage bells beckoned them. All five, or was it six, had enrolled themselves in B.Com. And the most unspeakable appalling part was that these students had not a clue that B.Com stood for Bachelor of Commerce! And a few months into this course the computer erred.
Surabhi was sent her online examination paper to be written in English. And here she was a Hindi-medium pupil! When I told her that it was a computer glitch that needed to be rectified asap, she nonchalantly states she’d manage to write her paper in Angrezi without any hitch. Seriously?! Last heard she had finished her B.Com! Post-Covid, the number of students with high school, college degrees had reached an all-time high. Instructors, lecturers just wanted to get over it, as I said. They were, after all, educators not computer operators, so when teaching and studying had become an impossibility then fine, fly your fingers over the keyboard and show a 100 % pass percentage. India Shining! Now to consign to oblivion the Covid literacy phenomenon or rather spectacle, the more fitting word, and move backwards, to the pre-Covid era. Maybe, it was quite well over a decade and half ago, but did we not, and rightly so, pride ourselves over our school academic curriculum?!
There would be elocution classes where one would learn by rote a poem, the spellings of words automatically etching their way in the mind, pronunciations corrected, and the ability to commit to memory long or short passages, being able to quote verbatim long after one finished school. And there was a devised, well-thought-through plan of learning by rote, repetition. Not speaking solely of poetry but history, geography, biology et cetera, one would do so, over and over again, mechanically, even mindlessly, reading, reciting the same passage and then eureka, the day wouldn’t be too far, when one, finally comprehended say, Newton’s, law of motion such as, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”. Archimedes, Eureka actually coming to life! And what about handwriting—emphasis on writing neatly, coherently?! Well, understandably long-hand writing still is prevalent in most schools despite the fact that the chipmunks in question, carry their Tablets or laptops as well. Answers to most projects a “copy and paste” exercise which would be later jotted down by hand. Theoretically, phones were off-limits so one could certifiably, matter-of -factly, use the above stated gadgets without a care—no knuckles going to be rapped.
In India, at the college level, we still for at least a while more, write our exam papers in long hand, but in America, England, France and presumably the rest of Europe one’s work is typed and emailed to the stated site or scanned and dispatched to the same destination. It’s quite forseeable, inescapably on the cards, that in the next couple of years, pens will be antique pieces to treat either as priceless memorabilia or revoltingly bin in the trash can. The point is, more and more students, even from the most backward backgrounds, are enrolling in schools…but are they re-eally learning or interested in the written word?! A survey conducted last week shows how our levels of elementary mathematics has taken a hike, how reading is quite out of the question, and for spellings, gone down the drain, no worries, there’s always auto-spell. Yes, when we lose our sense of curiousity, spirit of inquiry, then where are we headed?! Banging away on our phones instead of looking out of the window, taking in the swaying trees—a loss of our sensory intake.
And was it not Max Mueller who said, “If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed somewhat of its choicest gifts, have most deeply pondered on the greatest problems in life, and has found solutions, I should point to India”. Where is that India?
Dr Renée Ranchan writes on socio-psychological issues, quasi-political matters and concerns that touch us all.