Dear Earth,


A letter written by Mule of Class X (2018-2019) from a future perspective, a time when humanity has established itself on extra-terrestrial lands.

In our insatiable hunger, we butchered you. In our characteristic recklessness, we disfigured you. In our egocentric greed, we exploited you dry to the bone. In our capitalistic sentiments, we justified it all. In our game of hope, we relentlessly went on, boosting our confidence with your silence.

We cared not for all that you had to provide us. We cared not for the beauty you presented us. We cared not for the home you made us. We cared not for the life-supporting systems you supplied us. We cared not for the peace and harmony you gifted us. We cared not for the existence you granted us. All we cared for, was the money we could make out of you.

In doing so, we pushed your frustration beyond the limits of patience. But that was not what convinced us to stop.

No, we did not run from your wrath. We are too arrogant of a species for that. We calmly extracted all you had to give, and moved on when we were done with you. Done wrenching, done sucking, done bleeding.

And we will exploit everything around us for our own selfish needs. Again.

We will not learn from our mistakes, because it was not a mistake from our perspective. We will do to your sisters what we did to you, we will do to your other children what we did to you. My kind does not feel empathy for any other.

Some of us will raise hue and cry, put forward arguments, devote entire lives to the cause. But it will probably do no good. I will try my best against such monstrosities, I promise you. I do not want to witness the vicious destruction of another world, another future. I have hope, immense hope, even though I do not have any expectations.

Perhaps one day we’ll look back, nostalgic for the caress of a breeze, nostalgic for the sight of some green, nostalgic for the soothe of rain, nostalgic for the peace of the humbling mountains, nostalgic for the joy of the great blue skies and seas, with regret in our eyes, regret that will be strong enough to shake us, awaken us, and teach us.

Perhaps, that regret will save others from the fate we unleashed upon you. But for what has been done, I apologise. And I thank you for bearing with us.

In atonement,
One beholden.

The Water On My Cheeks


A short story written by Mule Class VIII (2018) that was selected among the top 8 in the Short Story contest held by the school:

Water.jpeg

The skies were raining. The atmosphere was gloomy. The clouds were rumbling. And it is at such times that the soul is found yearning. Yearning to hold the pen. Yearning to talk to a piece of paper. Yearning to translate tears to ink. Yearning to capture the rare smile. No, not the smile. The smile is captured with a camera. But the true feeling can be captured by nothing but by words.

I convinced myself to get up. I put a classical music tape on the 50 year old gramophone, sat down on my desk, and grabbed my fountain pen and a sheet of paper.

The most trustworthy confidant, never to spill any beans,
Shut and sealed.
Never to whine,
But only to soothe the wounds of the crying.

On it I pour my soul over,
It knows me better than any lover.
The world is a dystopia,
But on this I can create utopia.

It’s company I crave,
Paper is its name!

I neatly folded the sheet of paper, and tucked it under the lamp on my desk. Grabbing the car keys, I took the car out of the garage and went to the editor’s office. It was 11.45 PM, but in 2025 night is day, and day is also day.

The moment I started driving, some stupid song… “oh ooh love”… started playing. Eyes on the windshield, hands on the dashboard, I searched for some kind of button that would hopefully stop the music player, but I found no such thing. Recalling that the car only had voice command, I asked Ellie to shut up. “Are you angry with me, sir?” the stupid bot asked me. Of course I was, but need I tell that to a machine? Keeping quiet, I drove on.

“How are things going?” I asked Philip as I sat down. He simply nodded his head. “You read the article I mailed you?” I asked. Phil was the chief editor in the e-newspaper company The Daily Digital.

“Yes I did. Unfortunately, we can’t publish it. It contains too much politics…”

I was aghast. “But I kept it subtle! Nobody would…”

“Well, why should we publish an article that nobody understands?” he shrugged. “Anyway, you know how much pressure I’m receiving. The paper wants to stay neutral in the current political scenario…” Of course it would, only to switch over to the winning side once it’s clear which side is winning “…and I must strictly publish nothing to do with politics.”

“Look Dan, I’m your friend. I would have loved to publish it; it actually was quite a good article. But you must understand me, right? The only reason you are not talking to a computer right now is that I keep myself listed in good books. The last thing I want to do is burn them. I cannot help you if you keep writing all these controversial articles. Weren’t you writing a novel on a post-apocalyptic society? The first few chapters were interesting. Why don’t you complete it? I am acquainted with an editor in a publishing firm who said he liked the plot. I showed him those chapters you gave me,” he said, clearly having read my face.

“Yes I’m working on it, I’ll need a few more months,” I told him.

“Get it done. Till then, write other kinds of articles. Things like ‘Ten qualities of your true love’”

“I’m not a relationship expert, you know?”

“You get the idea.”

As I drove back home, my thoughts turned to my financial position. I could barely manage to afford the apartment rent. The car was not mine but Casey’s; she was visiting her sick mom, and said I could use it for the time being. I had been surviving on low quality bread and cheese for as long as I could remember. The electric and water bill was overdue. My debts had been building up. The part-time job at Pizza Town was nowhere near enough. If I continued the way I did, I would probably have to discontinue college, unless I took another loan. Perhaps I should heed to Phil’s advice, and stop spending my time on things that would never see the light of the day. Perhaps I should swallow my ego and write things I don’t want to, just for the sake of the mone…

There was a crowd near the bridge, and I saw a couple of police cars and a helicopter overhead, along with an ambulance waiting, the siren shrieking. The bridge was sealed with police tape and barricades. When I stopped and asked a passerby about it, he told me, “A young chap jumped from the bridge. They are searching for his body. Another depressed youngster, I guess. These parents nowadays don’t give a damn…” I didn’t catch the rest of what he said, but it was easy to guess. They could have been searching for my body right now. My life had passed through such a point countless times.

I could have jumped when I was expelled from school for writing an article against the education ministry. I could have jumped when I was a child, and my mother had slapped me for not offering prayers before dinner. I could have jumped when my education loan wasn’t sanctioned because of my political views.

I knew what was happening to me. I was not made for this world. They expect me to shut up and lick their feet. They expect me to agree with everything they do. They expect me to be one of them, a common sheep. They expect me to be a commodity, to be bought with cheap appreciation and rewards. And they expect me to know the tide I face.

And I do know what is looming over my head. I’m too smart for my own good. I’m too talkative for my own good. I’m too opinionated for my own good. And perhaps I should mend my ways. I’m a nobody, after all. What can I expect to change by myself? Nothing. Nothing at all. The world was at its best already to squash me into oblivion. This peaceful world is not for rebels.

My hunger was nothing. My poverty was nothing. My anger was nothing. And soon, I would be nothing, literally. The world doesn’t care.

I knew that we were at war, me and the rest of the world. And I knew of what was coming, sooner or later. But I couldn’t stop. I am not that sort of a person — if I were, I would be flying in a personal jet to the Caymans.

But I didn’t expect the war to end so soon.

I was lying on my hard 7 year old sofa, reading 1984, and my smartphone started to buzz in my pocket. It was Phil.

“Hey Dan, we want an article on the dangers of AI — there’s a surge in demand for the topic after the disaster in Shanghai. I recall you wrote one such article once, but we rejected it because AI was a trustworthy thing at that time. You still have that one?”

“Yeah, I’ll make some changes and mail it to you.”

“Be quick, we’ll have to finalize tomorrow’s issue in another hour or so.”

“Roger that.”

With that, I sprang up and open my laptop. If the article gets published, that’s a week of a satisfied stomach. Finding it and editing it barely took any time − I was too excited. The prospect of money was too lucrative to waste any time.

And then fell the bombshell.

When I tried to sign in to my Gmail, I was told that I was ‘blocked’. I tried Twitter, and it was the same story. Uber was no different. Amazon told the same tale. I opened the Virtual Assistance program, expecting the same message, but my heart skipped a beat at what I met.

“You have been blocked from all cyber, private, and government services except for your Virtual Assistance, though only for limited usage, for a month. A black mark has been added to your file. You are guilty of spreading hate on Social Media. You may choose to pay a fine of $5000 and evade all blocks,” the cold voice told me.

“What the… when? What hate am I being accused of spreading?”

“On March 26th 2024 you retweeted: ‘Want freedom of speech? Freedom is what you’ll get. Not freedom of speech, but freedom from the world.’ Under new regulations, this message is classified as hate speech, and is punishable under section 3.64 of the International Web Constitution. You had been issued a warning to remove the message, but you failed to comply. If you think there has been a mistake, you may contact your nearest government welfare office.”

“Of course there has been a mistake, I received no such warning…”

“The warning was issued. However, you did not log in to your Virtual Assistance, and hence were not made aware of the warning.”

“Can you tell me what part of that tweet was hateful? And I just retweeted it, what is possibly wrong with that?”

“I am afraid I cannot help you on this. I suggest you contact your nearest government welfare office.”

“Oh come on, I just retweeted it…” I was almost pleading.

“I am afraid I cannot help you on this. I suggest you contact your nearest government welfare office,” the stupid thing repeated.

How was I supposed to survive for a month without Gmail? Where would I get my staples if I was blocked from Amazon? I would be on the streets, on the backseats of a police car, or under some bridge. A person who had a shining showcase full of trophies, a lifetime of straight A’s, the favorite of his class, was now on the streets. Who was to blame? The person whose tweet I retweeted? My parents? The government? Society? The forces of history? Myself? Everyone, everything, the whole of the universe? Or just a series of random events? It was at that moment that I realized that life is just blind chance, a roll of dice.

What was I supposed to do now? Give up and embrace my fate under the bridge? Or just embrace what comes my way? Fight the world? Go to my ‘nearest government welfare office’?

I slammed down the screen of my laptop, and called Casey.

“C-cay?”

“Yeah. You sound worried.”

“How can you know? I just u-uttered one w-word.”

“You are stammering pretty bad. Not normal.”

“Yeah, well, um, I got blocked everywhere online.”

After deliberating for 5 seconds on whether I was joking or not, she asked in a worried voice “Why?”

“A-an old retweet that seems to be have been, uh, classified a-as political hate under current laws.”

“An old tweet?”

“No, a retweet.”

“That’s ridiculous!”

“Welcome to the world of the living,” I said with a smirk. My voice wasn’t trembling as much as it was. Though we were talking about the disaster, the conversation was still a distraction.

“Not a time for jokes. What exactly happened?”

I tell her.

“A month! What will you do?”

“Can I use your account?”

“Sharing accounts is against rules and regulations. I suggest you go to the welfare office.”

“When are you coming back?”

“Mom’s really sick, I don’t know when she’ll be okay…”

“It’s fine. Thanks, bye.”

I can’t say I expected a lot from her, but I was still grateful for the temporary distraction.

I opened my laptop once again, and asked the Virtual Assistant where exactly the welfare office was.

“You are blocked from Google Maps because you…”

“Oh just damn it!” I shouted at my screen, banging my laptop shut.

And my phone rang, with ‘Phil’ written on the screen.

“Where’s that article you promised to send?”

“I got blocked from Gmail.”

“I knew this would happen! I have been telling you since as long as I could remember, that your arrogance is going to bring your trouble. Political hate, isn’t it?”

“That’s right.”

“Should have listened to my advice. Serves you right,” and with that, he hung up.

I was frustrated beyond words. Nobody would or could help me. I didn’t know where my “nearest government welfare office” was, and I couldn’t possibly find out without using Gmaps. What was I supposed to do?

I realized there were tears under my eyes. I looked out the window, and it was still raining. I decided to go out and think for some time.

It always feels better to be under the rain when in a sorrowful mood. We forget whether the water on our cheeks came from our eyes or the skies, and in doing so, forget our sorrows, for however a short period.

The rain water seemed to have a voice of it’s own. It always consoled me in the worst days of my life. Perhaps it just helped bring out the words from me, and then gave those words the face of the rain. But however it did it, it spoke to me, made me feel better.

I ran back into my room. Time was short. It’s not for long that a man can survive without food.

I grabbed my fountain pen and a sheet of paper. I could rant on endlessly to a human, but they would probably not understand me. I could shout at the birds, the air, and all I would hear is my own echo. But I could tell paper how I felt. It would sympathize with me. It would understand me. It is, after all, what I write in it. I shape it. It is a part of me. Of course it would know my tears.

Casey didn’t call again. I didn’t expect her to. So I didn’t recharge my smartphone when the battery ran out. But then, I couldn’t. There was no power. I hadn’t paid for it. I couldn’t have, without using one of my eWallets. And those were all blocked.

I have been writing a lot of other things these past few days. The ink is almost over; I write this with the last few drops that are still loyally sticking to end of my pen. As long as the ink lasts, I shall consider myself alive, for once it’s over, the only part of myself that I value will be deac

A Strange new Society


Here’s a short story written by Koka of Class X (2018) about how animals would view our world, if they could express themselves:

wolf.jpeg

The past two days have really opened my eyes. The life in the forest which I had taken for granted, is now very dear to me. Deforestation, the effect of which until now seemed to have only been travelling a few miles every day, now seems a lot more real.

Humans have always been a distant shadow for me. Yesterday was the first time I saw a real one.

Yesterday morning I was suddenly jolted out of my sleep due to a lot of commotion in my pack. When I asked what the commotion was all about, my pack members immediately led me to a place which was guarded by six or seven other wolves. When they moved away to give me a view, I saw a hairless and fat creature lying quite helpless on the ground.

“What animal are you?” I asked, not quite sure what this creature was.

“A human of course,” he replied, looking surprised that there was anything on Earth which did not know what is was.

“How did the members of my pack suddenly get their hands upon you?”

“I got lost in the forest and then these wolves caught me.”

“Well, you are very unfortunate, we are going to eat you now.”

“Please, you can ask me to do anything, don’t eat me.” The human pleaded.

“Well, what can you possibly do for us? “

“There is a city nearby, I could take one of you there for a day to enjoy yourselves.”

I had anyway been reluctant to have this poor creature because I prided myself on hunting my own prey. In addition, when I heard the word ‘city’, I became even more interested. The city was a place where the humans lived together. It was the city that had taken the place of the trees which were cut down. I had always wanted to know about the secret of success of the humans. Maybe, visiting the city I would come to know about some of them.

I agreed, thinking that this worthless creature might be a blessing in disguise. Time would tell how wrong I was.


Today morning I left with the human for the city. The city is not very far from the forest any longer. A ten-minute walk from the jungle brought us to its outskirts. The noise that it was emanating was like the buzz of a thousand bees.

I see a man in a white uniform standing and making strange gestures with his hands.

“Why is he wearing such strange clothes?” I ask my guide.

“These clothes show that he is a traffic police, this way everybody will obey his instructions and follow the traffic rules”, he replies.

“You mean just by wearing certain clothes you can have authority among humans? Is there no way to test how good he is at what he does?”

“Of course, he had to pass an exam to even become a traffic police.”

“Exam? What kind of exam?”

“Usually it’s a test where you are given a paper where you have to write answers to questions that will be asked.”

So, all that the humans must do is write something on a piece of paper and then they can shout commands? They don’t test the man’s shouting skills or how much other humans listen to them when he gives an instruction. Strange!

“I want to know more about these exams. Can you take me to a place where I can watch exams taking place?” I ask.

He leads me to a lofty building which was lined with windows.

“This,” He says, “is a school; this is where most of the exams take place. As I am the director of this school, I should be able to get you to watch an examination without much trouble.”

He leads me to one of the hundred rooms of the building. Through a window I could see what was going on inside.

Inside, around 30 students were scribbling on pieces of paper with a ferocity that matched that of the fiercest of tigers. I saw one of them steal a glance at his classmate’s paper and then again resume scribbling.

I ask my guide, “What do you call these people?”

“We call them students.” He replies.

“So, do the students only come to the school to give exams?”

“No, they usually come to school all through a year, during that time we prepare them for these exams.”

Most of the students, had prepared for this exam, they had known what to study to score well. Life is an exam where the syllabus is unknown and question papers are not set. It was the exam of life that they were not prepared for.

Misinterpreting my thoughtful silence for boredom, my guide asked me, “Do you now want to meet some animals now and ask them how their life is in the city?”

I agreed, and we left the school. Soon we were back on the road again.

Crossing the road is quite difficult in a city. Even with the traffic police, the vehicles still move quite fast and recklessly. Walking further I see some people wearing torn shirts and looking hungry, sitting on the side of the pavements. Nudging my guide, I asked him,

“What are these people waiting for?”

“Food” He replies laughing.

“They just wait until other people give them food? Are they cubs waiting for their parents to feed them?”

“No, they are all grown up, but they were not competent enough to get food.”

“So how do they get food?”

“Sometimes people take pity on them and give them food to eat.”

In the forest only the young and the very old could not get their own food. As a result, they were the ones who were preyed upon most frequently. These humans, according to my guide, were middle aged and still unable to get food. However, they still somehow remained alive.

Finally, we reach our destination. I find a shabby and large building in front of me. From within I can hear the snorting of what seems like a thousand pigs. Intrigued and excited that I might meet some animals whom I understand, I enter the building.

Inside, I see a few masked men sitting in front of a moving belt. Pigs were travelling by the belt and were being given various injections by the men behind the masks. I ask my guide, “What is going on in this place? What is it that is happening to these pigs?”

“They are being given injections. The injections,” he replies, “are antibiotics and hormones. The antibiotics keep the pigs safe from various diseases and the hormones make them grow quickly.”

“Why do you need them to grow up fast?”

“So, they can be slaughtered and sold to people who will eat them. There is another conveyor belt behind this one where the pigs are being slaughtered.”

“So, will these pigs be let go for the day after you have given them their injections?”

“Let go?” My guide says laughing, “They will be kept in those boxes.” He pointed at hundreds of small boxes that seemed to be in very shabby conditions.

“So, when will they interact with their parents and other pigs?”

“Interact with their parents? These pigs were separated from their parents days after they were born. They have never interacted with their parents in their whole life.”

“How do these pigs stay alive like this? Any other animal would surely have died.”

“Oh, these people will keep these pigs alive.” Says my guide confidently. “Until they grow fat enough. Then they will be slaughtered.”

Depressed by this brutality of the humans I asked my guide if there was anywhere else he wanted to take me to.

“Of course,” He replies, “I wanted to take you to my home.”

Trudging on for some time longer, my guide brings me to a large house. He takes me inside. As I enter I see a woman opening the door for us. Pointing to her, my guide said, “This is my wife, we have been married for 19 years.” Not understanding what ‘married’ means, I ask him.

“That means, she is the only partner I am supposed to have till we stay married.”

“You mean you did not have another partner for 19 years?” I ask him incredulously.

“I would like to of course,” He replied furtively, “But then everyone else will look down upon me.”

I cannot bear it any longer. I just run out of the house. The city was a place beyond my comprehension. A place where other animals lived lives which were daily punishments, a place where the unfit were just kept alive on the shoulder of others. It was this place from where I had hoped to learn from and improve the forest. With hindsight it seemed the city would be better off if it is modelled after the forest.

I increase my pace, the forest was the place that I understood, a place which did not need the artificial laws created by humans to keep order. The humans have to be stopped at any cost, they have to be stopped from turning this natural place into a wasteland governed by artificial laws.

The School of Tomorrow


This was a very popular article written by Sir published in The Hindu.

Forest photo.jpgIn the whole of your adult life, how many times did you use the Avogadro’s law? During your entire work life, did you find any use for the date of Battle of Panipat? How many times did you have to recall the formula for Barium Hydroxide?

If you are a school teacher or a professor specializing in those subjects, it is possible that you used those facts. But that cannot really be classified as a real ‘use’. If the final product itself is not useful, and if you are providing inputs to that useless product, that input clearly cannot be called useful either.

Yes, there is a small minority of specialists, may be less than 1% of the population, who are really using some of the subjects that we learn at school. Those specialists (physicists, mathematicians, biologists et al) use this knowledge as a foundation to learn even more specialized stuff.

Obviously, we cannot ignore their contribution. They expand the frontiers of knowledge with their experiments and new discoveries. Because of the scientific and technological progress gifted to us by that small minority, rest of us can enjoy a higher standard of living.

But for the remaining 99% of us, busy in our mundane jobs, struggling in our relationships – that specialized knowledge is utterly useless. We have no use for Ohm’s law. We do not use trigonometry in our daily life. The foundational courses of Physics, Chemistry, Math or Geography – taught relentlessly during our school days – are really a waste of time for most.

If we are to design a ‘School of Tomorrow’, we should throw out most of the existing subjects in our curriculum. Instead, we should focus on four subjects which all of us truly use in our adult life – work, relationships, society and technology.

In the subject of ‘Work’, we should teach skills that are needed in today’s workplaces. We should teach our children how to use computers to write, present, calculate and communicate. Instead of holding ‘mock’ parliaments or giving them copy-paste projects, we should give them real responsibilities inside the school.

In the school I run in rural Bengal, we get the students to manage the school canteen, maintain the school blog and Twitter handle, take care of the school’s IT infrastructure, mentor younger children, and fully take charge of the annual events. Through all these, we guide them about how to behave in a team, how to coordinate a meeting, and how to resolve conflicts.

In the ‘School of Tomorrow’, we should teach our children how to approach external organizations – maybe to raise a small sum of money for a school event. We should teach them how to write an effective resume and a persuasive email. Given the importance of social media in today’s world, we should train them on how to use it effectively for work – not just to post selfies, forward inane jokes and circulate fake news.

Other than work, our relationships with our friends, spouse, parents and children form a critical part of our life – one that determines how happy we are. Yet, how little we are taught about how to handle those! We are never told that marriage is going to be an all-important decision in our lives, and we should not jump into it in a youthful impulse.

We are not taught to listen with empathy. We are not taught that building friendships in schools and colleges is more important compared to hiding that notebook containing teachers’ notes. Yes – we may pay lip service to some of those values through subjects like ‘moral science’ – but that’s only theory, not practice.

You may question, how can you really give practical lessons on relationships? In a classroom setting, surely nothing more than theory can be taught? We need to be a little more imaginative here. Movies and literature, if chosen well, can be useful learning devices. Movies let us see issues from different people’s points of view, teaching us empathy.

A movie like ‘Revolutionary road’ may be shown in high school classes to dissect marital conflicts. ‘Twelve angry men’ can help us understand group dynamics. A movie like ‘Hotel Rwanda’, where the protagonist painstakingly cultivates relationships in anticipation of tougher times, can help us understand the value of building friendships and networks.

In addition to ‘Work’ and ‘Relationship’, the subject of ‘Society’ too, is becoming all important in today’s world. Earlier, in a disconnected world, we were subject to only local influences. Now, people can spread their prejudices, hate and bigotry through social media. Schools must teach our children stop believing and start thinking.

We need to teach our children how religion came from our fear and our inability to explain the world through our limited knowledge in an earlier era. We must teach them that whites are white because they are adapted to a colder climate, not because they are superior. We must teach our children not just to read newspaper, but also to spot fake news.

We should ask our children to take an active part in building our society. They don’t need to do anything too complicated here. Maybe they can start by asking their parents not to forward that hateful WhatsApp message. Maybe they can teach elders about how to use their smartphone to do more than pressing the like button in Facebook or to play games.

Movies and literature can be useful here as well. A movie like ‘The Pianist’ can show us, from a victim’s point of view, how it is like to live in a society when a minority group is persecuted. A book like ‘Animal Farm’ can tell us that often promises of a new world are only that, a promise.

Rohinton Mistry’s ‘A Fine Balance’ can teach us a lot of about the evils of caste-system and poverty. And Yuval Noah Harari’s ‘Sapiens’, which is a compulsory reading in my school in Class VIII-IX, can really give us an all-encompassing view of how our society came about.

The fourth subject, ‘Technology’ is inextricably linked with ‘Society’. In not-so-distant future, technology is going to reshape the society. Most of the current professions may not exist. Our current way of life may undergo such transformation that it may be unrecognizable.

Yet, our schools hardly deal with this all-important subject. They do not teach the students how to apply technology and how to code. They do not talk about how technology is going to impact society. They do not teach children about how to be safe in a connected world.

In the ‘School of Tomorrow’, these subjects cannot have fixed boundaries. Our relationships are shaped by societal myths and rules. How hard we work, which jobs are glamourous – such questions are also determined by the prevalent culture in the society. Technology is impacting relationships too. It fast-forwards our romances, making them stale within months. Technology is changing our workplaces and the society itself.

Not only these subjects cannot have fixed boundaries, they cannot have any fixed syllabus as well. The ‘School of Tomorrow’ will be characterized by its quick response to the changing world. To be so agile, it must be very decentralized – which means the teachers in the School of Tomorrow will be empowered to design the curriculum and constantly revise it.

Which brings me to the final point – what kind of teachers do we need in such a school? We need teachers who can blur the boundaries of subjects and the real-world. We need teachers who are not limited by specialist subject knowledge. We need teachers who are insightful, wise and experienced in the ways of the world. We need teachers who are not just dispensers of instruction, but a source of inspiration. In short, we need teachers who are the most talented, wise and experienced members of society.

If you think that’s a utopia – you are mistaken. In the past, the teachers were indeed creative, talented and wise. Legend has it that Vishnu Sharma, the creator of Panchatantra, created the whole set of fables to teach three princes about life and society. The great Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, founded their own schools, where they taught the kings, among others. Closer home, Tagore founded his own school in West Bengal.

Ironical though it is, to build the School of Tomorrow, we really need to take inspiration from the schools of the past.

Why India’s obsession over engineering as a career must end


This is an article written by Sir which was published in the Hindustan Times.

Sample the following news:

  • 800 engineering colleges have recently been closed down for lack of admissions and poor quality
  • A McKinsey study estimated that only about 25% of Indian engineers are employable
  • Studies indicated that less than 6% of the mechanical engineers end up doing anything with mechanical engineering

There is something deeply wrong with our society’s curious obsession with the engineering profession. Each year, we see full-page ads by numerous coaching agencies, proclaiming most engineering toppers as their own. The coaching for engineering entrance exams sometimes begin as early as class VI, with relentless teaching of physics, chemistry and mathematics at the expense of social science and language subjects. Given that many engineering colleges are unable to place their students and hence unable to garner enough admissions — why is our society still so obsessed with this career?

To get the answer, we have to go back a few decades, to the days of license-quota raj. In the 1970s, when the economy stagnated, there were only a few jobs. With India’s socialist focus on building state-owned factories, engineering was one profession which guaranteed a job. Those days there were scant opportunities for languages or humanities graduates.

After studying in an engineering college, very few students actually work in the field of engineering

 

However, after economic liberalization, the situation changed radically. Many new companies, particularly in the service industry, set shop. Private companies offered unprecedented opportunities for jobs and career growth. Suddenly, you one could become a journalist in one of the numerous media outfits, a banker in one of the new banks, a telecom professional in the sunrise industry of mobile telephony or a software professional in the booming IT industry.

None of these career options require you to study engineering. Contrary to popular belief, IT companies do not only hire from engineering campuses. Even when they do go to engineering colleges, they test for aptitude, logical reasoning skills and articulation. Most of the other professions (banker, journalist, sales etc.) which flourished due to liberalization, are of course open to liberal-arts graduates, provided they can speak well and have a logical mind.

But the minds of the parents, who double up as career counsellors for our children, have remained stuck in the 1970s. There is still the mistaken belief that engineering is the only profession that guarantees a job. That statement is wrong on two counts: one, engineering does not guarantee a job — as the placement records of many engineering colleges will tell you. Two, there are many, many more job outside the engineering profession which are open to normal graduates and post-graduates.

Because of this obsession, many students are pushed towards careers they do not want to pursue. Some bright minds in those campuses are lost due to suicides. Some bright minds are lost to drug-abuse. After all this sacrifice, very few really work in the actual field of engineering. Some become MBAs. Most become software professionals. None of these fields require an engineering education.

Even the few who do work in a mechanical engineering or electrical engineering firm generally do not use much of their engineering knowhow. They operate, repair and maintain things. Some work in the sales function, some move on to managerial positions. The reason very few engineers actually stick to engineering shows that their original career choice was not made out of strong love for the subject, but out of peer pressure.

At school level, most students’ supposed love for ‘science’ subjects comes from a desire to please their parents and sit for these entrance exams. I wonder, how many of those parents who profess love for science subjects care for truth, evidence and objectivity. Their love for science comes from herd mentality, which is which is the antithesis of science.

All parents want the best for their children, but they may not always know the correct path. Sometimes the correct path is obscured by their mind which is rooted in the past. Sometimes, the path is obscured by their own unfulfilled ambition, which they want to fulfil through their children.

But a parent who wants to fulfil her unfulfilled ambition through her child, fails twice over.

Trivia is indeed trivial


Sir explains how the respect for memorizing trivia is connected with India’s obsession with rote-learning. 

Quiz shows like this glorify the rote-learning culture

Which is the largest living species of tortoise in the world?

Damascus is the capital of which country?

…and so it goes on, questions from a celebrity anchor to the contestant on the hot-seat, aided by four options. Parents of eager schoolchildren allow them a break from their evening study routine to watch the programme. Quiz shows, after all, are educational. Doesn’t the school also have a subject called GK?

Quiz shows are everywhere. From the highly popular KBC to the highly rarefied Mastermind — they have invaded and conquered our living rooms and schools. With high-stakes prize money and prime-time visibility, the masters of trivia are now celebrated like never before. And so it should be, as the argument goes, because we are living in the information age. Knowledge is supreme. The bearers of knowledge must be feted.

But isn’t there something fallacious with this argument?

In this information age, chances are that Google will know more than the champion of a quiz show. And with the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, the power of internet is always with you. If you want to know the weight of the earth in kilograms, you don’t need to memorize it. If you want the capital of Angola, you can have it at your fingertips. Though you might ask yourself, why would you want such information in the first place?

In schools, in popular media, and in the minds of the parents of our schoolgoing children — there seems to be a strange respect for trivia. Schools want the kids to memorize capitals of all countries. Parents gift their child ‘The best of Bournvita Quiz Contest’ on their birthday. On the web, a website containing a collection of various quiz show questions is called IQ Garage. Aren’t we more than a little misguided here, equating intelligence with the ability to collect random facts?

Facts themselves are less useful compared to what we do with them. Making sense of the facts is more important. Instead of memorizing capitals of countries, we can try to discuss with our children why a capital city is needed, and why capital cities sometimes change. Instead of talking about dates of battles, we can explain why battles happen between countries. Instead of asking kids the weight of the fattest tortoise, we can teach them why some animal species grow very big, and some are very small. Instead of asking them to memorize the minimum age requirement of an MP (Member of Parliament), why don’t we discuss with them why some countries of the world have democracy, and why some others veer towards military dictatorship?

The respect for memorizing trivia is connected with India’s obsession with rote-learning. No wonder some of our top quiz-masters are also revered educationists! We score towards the bottom in international tests which evaluates reading skills or problem solving. We do not teach our kids the ability to communicate well. We do not instil in them the curiosity to explain the world around. We do not want them to analyse current affairs and have opinions. However, we celebrate acquisition of useless facts and unconnected trivia.

Coming back to the weight of the earth, I once met a child who knew the exact figure. I asked him, ‘So, the weight that you are talking about, is it with all the people on the earth, or without them?’ He was a little confused, but he replied that it must be with all the people in it. Then I asked him ‘When a person is born, does the weight increase, then?’ He was thoroughly annoyed with me by then.

But those were not really funny questions, and my objective was not to irritate the child. I only wanted to check if he blindly memorizes facts, or he applies his mind as well. Obviously, the weight of the earth has to be with all the animals and trees in it, because they grew out of the absorbing food materials from earth itself. They did not fall from the sky. And by the same logic, the weight cannot increase when somebody is born — because a baby grows by absorbing food materials which come from earth anyway.

In the information age, trivia is indeed trivial. In the information age, there is no point competing with Google. We must do what we can do better than Google — making sense of the information.

This Children’s Day, let’s pledge to eliminate rote learning


Rote-learning goes deeper than what most people understand. It is not just about memorizing dates of battles and formulas of science. Sir’s article in the Hindustan Times.

If your child knows the names of the capitals of countries, but do not know why countries need capitals, then it is rote-learning.If your child knows the names of the capitals of countries, but do not know why countries need capitals, then it is rote-learning. 

 

Every year on Children’s Day, we talk about how special our children are – how innocent, how curious, how creative, how full of possibilities.

Then, during the rest of the year, our school system works relentlessly towards destroying the same curiosity, creativity and immense potential. This happens due to our system’s emphasis on memory-driven learning – called ‘rote-learning.’

You may think that memorizing was something that was done in the past era. In our generation, we eliminated it. We have repeatedly said that learning must be joyful. Our educationists have routinely theorized that children must think for themselves.

Why is it then our education system is still not teaching our children to think? Why do we rank at the bottom of international tests like PISA or TIMMS? Why do most of our young population remain unemployable?

It is because rote-learning is a widely condemned, but poorly understood evil. We may pay lip service about eliminating it, but it is still very much present in every classroom, textbook, and exam paper.

Rote-learning goes deeper than what most people understand. It is not just about memorizing dates of battles and formulas of science. Whenever we switch off our brains and perform an activity without thinking, it is rote-learning. When we recite facts but do not question them, it is rote-learning. When we can only solve specific problems that we encountered before, but cannot draw a general lesson from them, it is rote-learning as well.

Right at the KG level, if you teach your child to copy numbers neatly in good handwriting – it is rote-learning. We see a lot of children of age 4-5 who can spell ‘forty-nine,’ but cannot tell if 61 is bigger than 49. In most schools, numbers are not taught as quantity – but as pictures or words.

At the primary level, the same problem continues. Multiplication tables are memorized as rhymes. Memorizing three times four is twelve is same as memorizing Baa Baa Black Sheep. In English too, students can read the stories that came in their textbooks, but cannot read unseen passages of similar difficulty level.

If your child knows the names of the capitals of countries, but do not know why countries need capitals, then it is rote-learning. If your child can read ‘Elephant’ because that word came in her alphabet book, but cannot read a simpler phonetic word like ‘Just,’ that too is a sign of rote-learning.

When you are celebrating the winner of a quiz show, you are in effect celebrating rote-learning and glorifying the tradition of memorizing trivia. When a parent asks his four-year-old to recite a poem to impress the relatives who came for a visit, we are subtly furthering the rote-learning culture.

Rote-learning goes beyond memorizing facts and figures. We see a lot of parents obsess over their children’s handwriting. Handwriting is a repetition-driven activity that does not require thinking – so that is rote learning as well.

More importantly, in future we may not have much use of that skill, so why obsess over it?

Just as rote-learning has many facets, it has many types of ill-effects. Killing the joy of learning is the most obvious one. But more importantly, unthinking, memory-driven learning rusts our brain – and the society pays the cost.

When we grow up and become part of society, we unthinkingly believe in prejudices. When we join the workforce, we do not think and innovate. When we become parents, we subject our children to the same unthinking quest for marks and degrees – because we never learnt to question established practices.

We get easily brainwashed by media, advertising and government propaganda – because we have been told in our childhood that printed words are sacred, not to be questioned, but to be committed to memory. As a result, we live in an era of fake news and WhatsApp forwards. We cannot become meaningful participants in a democracy, because we have learnt to follow, not to question.

Often our young are unable to join the workforce because their formative years have been wasted in unthinking memorization and not in gaining useful skills. Poverty and large-scale unemployment are often causes of social unrest and petty crimes.

To counter those, we must promote thinking and skill building in our curriculum. The first skill we must prioritize, at our homes and in schools, is reading. As teachers and parents, we must encourage our children to read widely.

Instead of reading a 50-page textbook many times over the year, let them read 50 different story-books throughout the year. We have all learnt to read by reading newspapers, magazines, novels – why not replicate that process in schools and at home?

In math and science, we must stop pushing laws and formulas down the throat of children. We should rather teach them to think. Why not get them to solve Japanese puzzles like Shikaku and Nonogram which can stimulate their brain? The focus should be on solving new problems every day, rather than practising routine problems for exams.

Whatever be the subject, we must teach our students to question, rather than memorize facts. Instead of talking about dates of battles, we can explain why battles happen between countries. Instead of asking them to memorize the name of Russian currency, why not tell them how currencies evolved, from gold coins to bitcoin?

As adults, we learn a lot from good literature and great movies. We learn from other people. We learn by travelling to distant places. Why not replicate some of those processes? Instead of using boring textbooks, why not use movies as a learning tool?

Textbooks are the enemy of true learning. While teaching Indian history, why not show our students ‘Bharat Ek Khoj,’ the celebrated series made by Shyam Benegal? While teaching about Russian Revolution, why not use George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’?

If schools refuse to be creative, parents should take the lead. Instead of taking your child to another private tuition, talk to her about today’s news, watch a movie with her, or read a book together.

This Children’s Day, let’s pledge to be more aware of this evil. Let’s work towards eliminating it. If schools are not doing their job, we as parents must do it ourselves. We owe it to our society. We owe it to our children.