Representational Picture

Today’s world order is capitalistic and believing that it is only an ‘economic system’ is recognising the existence of just the tip of the iceberg. We tend to forget that by being probably the only economic system in the world today it determines our choices in almost every walk of life and that it is inextricably woven into the history and development of all the major world states.

Though capitalism has always had a national basis, its sturdy and complicated structures have overflowed the national boundaries. At the same time, however, it has deliberately restricted people from becoming the citizens of the world.

From merchant and manufacturing capitalism to industrial and post-industrial capitalism, it has evolved throughout history. It has progressed by stratification, where each layer matures, in some measure, by quashing the previous layer and by changing itself in an endless process. With this complex social logic, as it is able to transform itself, capitalism has transformed the world around it.

One should not ignore the deterministic power that capitalism has on modern life in general and on education in particular. In the current societies, even the meanings of terms like ‘success’ and ‘failure’ are formulated by the capitalist structures. Considering the system of education in its current form as a solution for social problems would be naive as the values behind it are in sync with capitalism.

The idea of public education is a farce since it remains in the hands of the ruling institutions whose function and policy is dictated by the requirements of the multinational corporations. The syllabi are designed in accordance with these requirements, and the students are compelled to adhere to them in the strictest manner conceivable. They are schooled to think in a particular pattern. Though they live with it every day, they might not recognise how it works.

The education system, in most of the countries, hasn’t been changed in the last 200 years. The need for formal education (that is, being literate enough to be of use as an employee in the industries) emerged during the industrial revolution to serve the needs of the capitalist class. The momentum grew drastically after the Second World War when education became a sure road to employment –which became a significant factor for universal reading and writing standards. Consequently, because it increased the likelihood of getting employed and being able to earn a livelihood, formal education secured a religious reverence among the masses.

How does it work?

The task begins with the new generations being taught the devotion and respect for the capitalist state and for formal education. The what, the how and the when of formal education is determined by the international financial institutions, corporate super-managers, and associated government bureaucrats.

Every state and every system needs obedient subjects. This demand is met in schools where students are often lectured on obedience: on falling in line at the morning assemblies, on keeping silent in the classrooms, on wearing formal uniforms, on timely completion of homework and, more importantly, on strictly following the orders of the school authorities. Since obedience and docility are the most sought after virtues in this system and get rewarded frequently, complying with rules and regulations becomes second nature of the adults who pass down this assembly line. Such education creates people smart enough to repeat what they were told by others. Most of the labour class is comprised of drop-outs and those who choose vocational courses after such schooling.

Representational Picture

With no scope for social interaction and learning of life skills, critical thinking becomes the first casualty of the war that this system unleashes on the weakest section of the society, that is, children. Conformity becomes vogue as memorisation becomes the norm. Propaganda seeps in through different rituals of extra-curricular activities. Such a system creates a feeling that ‘teachers (read authorities) know everything while students know nothing’.

With the economic boom of the second half of the 20th century, the capitalists needed managers and administrators more than ever before. They are the ones that constitute the upper middle class –people who always aspire to become like their masters. They get taught in elite private schools. From a very young age, they think of themselves as leaders. Their privilege makes them believe they deserve success more than anyone else.

In this way, such people turn to the law and business studies in the world’s most prestigious institutions.  They end up doing well for themselves: they become CEO’s, politicians and high officials in the governments and erroneously think that the system works equally well for everybody.

The scientists and researchers help capitalists develop innovative and advanced products, thus helping them get the better of their competitors by reducing their overall costs and giving them a monopoly for a certain period over some niche in the market.

With the result, four classes emerge: the masses, who go to public schools and vocational colleges to be moulded into workers; the elite, who go to the prestigious institutions where they are raised to be leaders; sandwiched in the middle are researchers and scientists, who can hardly afford to give their brains an hour of leisure due to the ever-increasing demands of the investors; and last but not the least, capitalists themselves who control everything and reap most of the benefits.

Dividing the Society

From a very young age, we are classified by what the teachers think we are capable of. Marks sheets define our intelligence while roll numbers determine our places in the classroom. How can we give all the students a single standardised test? Every person comes with a different life story, a different cultural capital, a different family background and diverse interests and potentials. How can any test account for that?

Equally, compliance with the established norms is seen as a positive trait in a student’s life and thinking out of the box, making observations independent of any instruction, and reading history with an interpretation slightly different to the established one is termed as impudent. Consequently, the children become less imaginative, less passionate, less creative, less perceptive, less unconventional and less likely to see things differently.

Students are trained to accept that official figures are facts and corporate-media agencies are the most trusted sources of information. The consequences are before us: the news reports everything but the reality on the ground. Impartial dissemination of information has become history. People are not allowed to think outside the official narratives. Talking about civil liberties and freedom can land you in prison in less time than you take in saying the word ‘freedom’.

Even teachers have been reduced to being mere workers in the education industry. Their salaries are lesser than the average wages in most of the countries and in the private schools of Kashmir, even less so. Most of the schools do not provide health insurance coverage and other employment benefits to their teachers.

Learning has turned into nothing but cramming for exams and education is just another lucrative business. Millions of people appear in exams every year, and the examination-fees generate as much revenue as that generated by the tourism industry in Kashmir. To make ‘success’ worth something, it is a requirement in a capitalist-education-system that the majority of people should fail. It ends up generating more revenue for the state, because it means that the majority of the students have to apply again and, what goes without saying, deposit more fees.

Also, the students have to take so many courses that they remain occupied for the most part of the day. Anything else they want to do with love and passion, like following their hobbies, is seen as silly.

Even teachers have been reduced to being mere workers in the education industry. Their salaries are lesser than the average wages in most of the countries and in the private schools of Kashmir, even less so. Most of the schools do not provide health insurance coverage and other employment benefits to their teachers.

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Such commercialised education supplies customers for everyone involved: from the uniform industry and the shoe industry to the textbook industry and stationery industry, everyone gets profited. The wealth is hard to track, but this has globally given rise to a new chunk of capitalists, school owners –who enjoy commission from every type of industry involved.

Guardians are seen as customers who are desperate for their ward’s education. The more desperate they are, the more profit they accrue to the school owners. The flow of information between the school and the parents is often asymmetric. This way, education has become a privilege for students from the poorer backgrounds who have a lesser chance of finding a place in such a system. Once, education used to bridge the gap between family and society, training the students for their adult lives. Now it has assumed a new role: the divider of society.

 Other ill effects

Our behaviours are being shaped so that we support the very system that enslaves us. We are taught to chase after items of luxury at the expense of denying others the essentials of life. For us, economic relations have become the basis of all social life. Our jobs define our lives. Career development, and not personality development, has become our priority.

Thus, we are becoming individualistic and selfish in our approach. Competition and not cooperation has become the order of the day, and we are following this custom with religious devotion.  Compassion, love, morality and respect seem something related to mediocrity. Without material incentives, everything seems irrational to pursue.

Capitalism defines ‘a dignified life’ for us, which is everything but dignified. Coming to our own region, the following course of life is considered ideal: identification of an aim in life; pursuit of that aim (which would indeed have been ideal had it not been invariably so utterly parochial as a lucrative government job); then marriage followed by a couple of children; education of the children and a new house for the family; then helping the children in getting secure government jobs; marrying the sons and daughters off and performing a religious pilgrimage; and last of all, mercifully, a peaceful death with all the family and the neighbours  to see you off. And in case you have some extra time on hand, you enjoy being a source of contention and discord in the affairs of the local mosque or temple or the panchayat of your village.

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That might sound sarcastic, but it is how this society works.  Intelligence is measured by the lucrativeness and prestige of the job you are able to get. The life before a job is spent in chasing it and after getting it, attending to it and the management of the household affairs takes up most of your waking time. Tell me, in this drab jam-packed routine, where is the scope for critical thinking, for contributing anything to the society, for making the world a less unjust place to live? Above all, where is dignity in such a life? By the way, who measures that dignity?

In this system of chasing and getting chased, it hardly occurs to anyone to question one’s being, to examine the things that surround them. Equally, the methods, the meanings attached to every cultural event, every festivity, every extravagance that one longs for, every luxury that is being offered as a necessity and everything that has been told is better for one’s life are unquestionably accepted as the very fabric of truth.

What is education?

Like most of the other systems at work in the world, the contemporary education system has its roots in the Renaissance and the western philosophical debates. All the imported ideas, however, might not work well with every society of the current epoch. On the contrary, the nations with a considerable part of their educational system comprised of indigenous knowledge tailor-made for the local populace along with some universal themes necessary for the exposure of an individual to the global trends, have progressed a great deal. Japan, Finland and Denmark are the best examples.

Intelligence is measured by the lucrativeness and prestige of the job you are able to get.

Now that we have accepted and have to live in the economic set-up the world offers us, how we restrict its baleful influence on education is a challenge that requires much thought. Before borrowing an idea from other systems, there should be an application as well as a scope for alteration in that idea to make it fit for the domestic structure. It should not be an imitation game, where one party emulates the concepts, structures and paradigms of the other.

Collins World Encyclopaedia defines education as “The process, beginning at birth, of developing intellectual capacity, skills and social awareness especially by the instruction”. The current system of education doesn’t even come close. However, when it goes on to discuss formal education, it reveals, “The term (education) refers to imparting literacy, numeracy and a generally accepted body of knowledge.”

The development of intellectual capacity, skills, social awareness and out of box thinking among other things that prepare a person for adult life are put aside in favour of such things as literacy, numeracy and some necessary information about a few different things that qualify a person for earning an income. This is the world of education for you.

What should be there?

As mentioned above, some universal themes or concepts need to find a place in our curriculums apart from the income earning knowledge that it offers. Social, political and personal developments complement each other and should not to be ignored. Since the capitalist system that we live in offers little except what benefits it, many aspects of life need to be considered while devising syllabi for students, such as:

Creative Play in Primary Schools: Children up to the age of seven should not be given any formal instruction. They should enjoy the joy of learning while playing games. The games should be teacher directed, but also mixed with free play. Teachers should work more on children; they can take written notes while observing the games and later discuss their observations with the other staff and the parents. Learning-while-playing will develop concentration, perseverance and problem-solving skills in the children from a very early age.

The stress should not be placed on grammar and other abstract things but on physical activities, helping them to make friends, teaching them to respect others, how to dress, how to communicate with others (which will enrich their linguistic skills) and the like. This type of stress-free learning will make them happy and responsible individuals.

More importantly, a quality-not-quantity approach should be applied where there are fewer school hours and lighter homework for the children. The exams shouldn’t be a part of this whole process until the student reaches middle school. The assessment of parents and teachers should do the job. Moreover, the teacher-student ratio should not exceed 1:5 for this age group.

The middle schools: They should not think that they are in a race. On the contrary, the goal should be that all the students in the class progress together. Peer learning, developing projects that need collaborative efforts, personal development dialogues, environment cleanliness participation and the like should be the order of the day.

Above all, students should have the freedom to choose the topic for the classroom discussions. This boosts the educational development in children who have a disadvantaged family background and who do not possess cultural capital.

Language teaching should also start at this stage with two languages—one indigenous and one foreign—to begin with. Also, home economics, arts, healthcare, use of natural resources, religion and ethics need to be taught in middle schools.

Secondary Schools: At this stage, the focus should be on whatever the students want to pursue. Those categories should be there and if they aren’t, let the students invent their own courses. There should be some compulsory subjects as well as an additional foreign language to learn, but the focus should be on helping students understand their capacities in any field they want to pursue. For that purpose, teachers and parents do not need marks cards. By then, they will already have learned where the students’ propensities lie and what potentials do they possess. All they need to do is to clear the smokescreen.

The wide range of subsidiary courses should be available for the teenage students. For example, forestry, literature, woodwork, music, design, crafts, religion, metaphysics, media and journalism, chemical processing trades, physical education, foreign languages, electrical trades etc.

Representational Picture

Apart from these, some things need the attention of the people who devise the syllabi for teenagers:

Marriage: As in our culture, most of the people marry only once in their lives and into this one-time-affair, which determines the quality of their lives from that moment onwards, people go unprepared. All the preparation with which people enter their married lives is comprised of what they learn through cultural transmission. They receive no prior counselling on the challenges of pregnancy, child care, parenting and the like.  This counselling should be imparted to them during their schooling in a culturally appropriate manner.

Death of someone: this is of two types: natural and unnatural. It goes without saying that unnatural deaths are more prominent in our conflict-torn region. Children lose their guardians at an early age, friends get parted in their teenage, mothers lose their children right when they have reached the threshold of adulthood, sisters lose their brothers without getting a chance of being each other’s secret bearers, and wives lose their husbands right at the start of their married lives.

Moreover, the day to day waking up to mourning has disturbed the entire population mentally. The idea of death and the fact that it is inevitably associated with life should be inculcated in the students so that they begin to develop the patience and tolerance required to process it in a healthy manner and live their lives fruitfully and to the full.

Events: Scientific, historical, political, economic, social, cultural, civilizational, disastrous, geographical among other types of events should be in the curriculum for the young students. For example, if we are to teach them about floods, we will take a case study of 2014 floods and with it the hydrological cycles of Indus, Jhelum, Chenab and Tawi.

Likewise, if we are to teach them agrarian reforms, let us start with the capitalism-socialism debate on peasant exploitation. While teaching them about tourism management, we should do a case study on the change in the movements of glaciers in the past two decades and other sustainability projects.

Historical and political events like partition, UN resolutions, LoC formation, 1987, 2008, 2010 and 2016 can be an excellent way to teach modern history to the students. We can’t just ignore it and expect them to be the scholars of it in the future.

Archaeological events, like that of Burzohom and the mammoth discovery at Pampore,  besides being great starters to the teaching of the ancient history of housing and its connection to the present economic thrust on real estate also inform us about the ancient civilisation that thrived here.

The Sandoz scam, done by Calcium Sandoz makers in the valley, should be used to teach resource mapping and inform the students of government corruption.

Our picnics should be crafted so that they inform a student about the topography of the region, earthquakes and the forest fires.

I don’t think there is a better way to teach students the value of collaborative effort and cooperative measures than through the way human beings deal with the aftermath of natural calamities. A case study would be the earthquake of 2008 and how we rose again.

We can add international events as well, say great depression of 1929, world wars, chemical plants and leakages that snuffed out thousands of lives, great philosophical debates, postmodern debates, the Middle Eastern conflict, oil economics and oil spills in seas, technological breakthroughs, or other events that had or have a universal effect. And if it is too much to ask for, then only God can help us from what is coming in the form of having a literate but an uneducated population.

These are examples of just a few events. We can add more or subtract a few of these. However, the message I want to convey is that there is a whole treasure of content available on every subject that would not only help us develop a better understanding of a subject but of the entire world as well.

To sum up: students perform better in a world they understand. Such a curriculum could be a good beginning and prepare the students for colleges and universities. If the authorities formulate policies that ensure such a system in the coming decades, only then shall we be able to keep up with the ever-growing digitised world of education.