I read the following in Amartya Sen’s autobiography at this website: “…much of my childhood was, in fact, spent in
Dhaka, and I began my formal education there, at St. Gregory's School. However, I soon moved to Santiniketan, and it was mainly in Tagore's school that my educational attitudes were formed. This was a co-educational school, with many progressive features. The emphasis was on fostering curiosity rather than competitive excellence, and any kind of interest in examination performance and grades was severely discouraged. ("She is quite a serious thinker," I remember one of my teachers telling me about a fellow student, "even though her grades are very good.") Since I was, I have to confess, a reasonably good student, I had to do my best to efface that stigma.”
As the recollection notes, there used to be a time when students who did well in examinations but were basically intellectual duds and mere bookworms were thoroughly despised by teachers (morons could not, obviously, become teachers in those days). To be considered talented, one had not only to have a questioning mind and sharp intelligence, but wide knowledge of lots of things ‘outside the syllabus’.
Sen was in school more than sixty years ago, and I, more than thirty. Sadly, I can identify much more closely with this ‘dinosaur’ than with my own contemporaries, leave alone those who are in school now – barring rare exceptions, the ‘best’ ones among the latter can only be called pathetic: their ignorance, their dullness as well as their complete lack of interest in things cerebral takes my breath away. Forget what they don’t have in the syllabi: most cannot even recall what they ‘learnt’ two years ago, be it history or literature, geography or biology, as I have checked in my own classes a thousand times over (their parents and teachers – and, strangely, future employers – are happy enough with that, as long as they ‘did well’ in their exams by cramming the night before and throwing up on the answerscripts!). I have a friend my father’s age, a civil engineer, who can still quote from both Tagore and Shakespeare – most of today’s newly-minted engineers will think that’s a fairy tale (and most of them can’t even do arithmetic quickly inside their heads, leave alone write sensible essays on any subject under the sun without copy-pasting things downloaded from the net). Yet
never before in ’s history have parents and teachers gushed more about how ‘brilliant’ their wards are… Aryabhatta was brilliant, and Satyen Bose was brilliant, and every cretin who gets into Infosys or TCS deserves the same badge too. India
What can you do in an age when gizmos and juvenile thrills and eating and dressing up are valued more than knowledge, and marketing is everything?