In the southern Indian state of Telangana at least 23 teenagers have killed themselves since the scores of their school-leaving exam results, processed by a private software firm, Globarena Technology, were announced in April. The state education board of Telangana has impersonalized education by outsourcing the job of conducting the school-leaving exam, processing the scores, and announcing them for more than 970,000 students across the state to Globarena Technology. The overwhelming pressure on students across the board in India and children of elite families in the United States to get into “prestigious” schools has resulted in the degradation of education and devaluing of human life.
The devaluing of human life is reflected in the tragic suicides in Telangana. While most people aspire to have good lifestyles and profitable jobs, the real purpose of education is to create space for critical thinking, creativity, and good citizens. In order to accomplish these worthy goals, we require less state control in education.
I would argue that reducing education to rote memorization, standard answers, and the ability to regurgitate those answers/ responses leads to the corporatization of education. It also relegates higher cognitive skills, like analysis, evaluation, synthesis, and creativity, to the background.
A student unable to score well in a competitive exam in India sinks into the abyss of despair and is unable to see a future for her/ himself. I underline that education should give students the empowerment to employ critical intelligence. Education should give students the credibility to employ articulate expressions. Education has, historically, given young people the intelligence to create a national identity.
Well-educated students can give the clarion call for a much needed social consciousness. They can give the clarion call for a society and polity that recognizes the need to revitalize stagnant political and bureaucratic institutions.
They can give the clarion call for a democracy that would enable them to fully participate in institutions and rule of law that specifies the limits of jurisdiction and call for decentralization of power.
We, educators and students, must recognize and avail ourselves of the myriad political, sociocultural, and economic forums that a good education can create for us.
A quality education should employ us with the skills to answer the following questions: How can we, as a people, develop the ability to organize and mobilize for social change, which requires the creation of awareness not just at the individual level but at the collective level as well? How can we develop self-esteem for which some form of financial autonomy is a basis? How can we make strategic life choices that are critical for people to lead the sort of lives they want to lead?
Now more than ever, India requires a civil society that bridges regional and communal divides is a prerequisite for the effective and legitimate functioning of educational institutions.
As educators, we are in a position to mold students not just intellectually, but as functional members of families and communities as well. Deploying pedagogical tools as catalysts for verbalizing sociocultural trauma gives students a meaningful voice in addition to contributing to family and community healing.
Education that aids in articulating traumatic experiences, understanding, and integrating such experiences for young people who have intimate knowledge of familial trauma can enable students to facilitate the education of other students in order to positively impact “all students’ empathy, understanding, and resulting ability to understand individuals, families, and communities who have experienced trauma.”
Educators can play an indispensable role in creating opportunities for meaningful communication between students and their families.
It is therapeutic for the younger generation to engage with the past and to learn about historical, political, and sociocultural legacies through a larger context that enables them to connect with sociocultural identity, family/ tribe/ clan, and society. Personal memories must not be bogged down by the reduction of education to an industry and social silence about traumatic events and political terrors. On the contrary, educators can facilitate the process of healing for young people by encouraging a comprehensive study of contemporary history in which students are stakeholders.
I have been highlighting, for a while, the important challenge of creating new openings for people, including the young, to discuss public issues and become active participants. To that end, we need to revive and reinvigorate educational institutions that would encourage students to find purpose and become productive citizens.