“We keep complaining about the dearth of entrepreneurial talent and lack of creativity that is pulling our nation down and pretend to ignore the elephant in our own living rooms. By cutting off the ability to come up with unique answers from their own observations and denying the right to question an apparent wrong, we are depriving our children of the freedom to think.“
I remember the incident which happened at the beginning of the year. As I walked past the office of my colleague, Prof. Kumar, I noticed that he was in an animated conversation with someone over the phone. I heard the word ‘Elephant’ a few times and it was obvious from the expression on his face that Prof. Kumar was dealing with something more than a truant student. I dropped into his office a short while later and asked him what was that all about.
Professor Kumar, gave a wry smile and told me: “You wouldn’t believe this – my son who is in Standard 2 had his class test and there was a question: “What does the elephant eat?” And he promptly wrote the answer as Bananas. Now, his teacher had taught them that ‘Elephant eats sugar cane’ and he had struck Varun’s answer and had given him zero marks. When the answer sheets were distributed, Varun told the teacher that he had seen the elephant at our local temple eat bananas and wanted to know why he was given zero marks. The teacher didn’t like it and wrote a comment in the school diary asking the parents to call him. I was doing that and gave him a piece of my mind. Now he wants both the parents to meet the School Principal!!! I guess my wife is not going to be happy about this latest development as she was asking me to call the teacher and apologize for the ‘misdemeanor’. I don’t care a hoot and I don’t want my son to grow up parroting whatever has been dictated to him” I told Kumar that he was doing the right thing by standing up for his son and wished him the best of luck with the meeting.
As I walked back to my office, I was having images of my own children flashing in my mind and the number of occasions that I had seen them holding their notebooks and ‘learning by rote’ whatever was taught by their teacher. Of course, they had managed to successfully reproduce what was in those notes and ‘managed’ to get maximum marks in their exams and there were no instances of ‘insubordination’. But then, had I done the right thing by encouraging this behavior? Every time they ‘learnt’ by rote, it had choked the lifeline of creativity and independent thought and made them shut themselves off from the alternate realities.
Sadly, this practice continues in most of the schools and many parents opt for the safe routine of turning a blind eye. We keep complaining about the dearth of entrepreneurial talent and lack of creativity that is pulling our nation down and pretend to ignore the elephant in our own living rooms. By cutting off the ability to come up with unique answers from their own observations and denying the right to question an apparent wrong, we are depriving our children of the freedom to think. Instead of encouraging them to explore the wide open universe, we are guiding them like horses with the blinkers on. If one were to make a spoof of the famous Chinese proverb: ‘If you feed the child with notes you might make him / her ready for a job; if you teach the child to THINK, you make him / her ready for the life ahead’.
To get back to the travails of Prof. Kumar before I sign off – he was all smiles the next day when I met him. It turned out that the Principal of the school was a firm believer in independent thought – he did have a hearty laugh first and thanked my colleague for pointing out a ‘serious issue that need to be addressed immediately’. And much to the discomfort of the teacher, he added that he would be sharing the story with the whole school during the next day’s assembly session so that the students got their priorities right.
Moral of the Story: Never go bananas over what elephants eat – you will end up with more than what you can(e) digest! 🙂
Madhava C Kurup is Professor of Strategy & Operations at Asian School of Business, Trivandrum. Prior to joining academia, he had worked in the IT Industry for about 30 years and is passionate about learning, nature and environment.
He can be reached at [email protected]