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The teaching shops of Kota

Distressing to see the city emerge as the new ‘temple’ of learning

The teaching shops of Kota

IN THE BACKDROP: It is unfortunate that coaching centre gurus have replaced great teachers and educationists in our country. Tribune photo



Avijit Pathak

Sociologist

THE recurrence of the pathetic tales emanating from Kota —the notorious town in Rajasthan known for the gigantic coaching factories — seems to indicate that we are ready to normalise the phenomenon of suicides and mental disorder among young students as just an ‘aberration’. Despite this psychic pain and trauma that young students experience, we will continue to send our children to Kota, force them to accept that there is no meaning in life unless they crack all sorts of standardised tests, become doctors or computer engineers, and achieve ‘success’. Or, for that matter, some of us will just plead for more counselling — more and more motivational speakers and self-help books — to reduce the stress of our children so that they can remain focused in this game of social Darwinism, retain their stamina, and eventually win the race. However, it is unlikely that as parents and teachers, we will be able to acquire the courage to say that the system itself is pathological, and everyone in this game is essentially a loser as even the successful ones with placements and salary packages are likely to remain wounded, broken and empty.

As the market-driven ideology of success, productivity and performance becomes hegemonic, most of us find ourselves incapable of interrogating this one-dimensional existence.

There are parents who have seen their children suffering and failing to bear this pressure; yet, they will continue to argue that there is no alternative. And as coaching centre gurus have already replaced great teachers and educationists, it will be further asserted that education is nothing but the acquisition of the skill and speed for solving the riddles of physics and mathematics that highly problematic standardised tests normalise. Furthermore, as the market-driven ideology of success, productivity and performance becomes hegemonic, most of us find ourselves incapable of interrogating this one-dimensional existence: seeing our children as just well-fed/well-clothed/English-speaking resources to be used, manipulated and exploited by the techno-corporate world. And, as it is believed, nothing exists beyond this notion of success; it is simply failure!

As a teacher and keen observer of the prevalent societal neurosis, I must say that genuine alternatives are not products to be bought in the market and consumed instantly. Instead, for life-affirming alternatives — or a new practice of education and socio-cultural existence — we have to fight, assert and initiate a social/pedagogic movement for giving a better vision of life to our children. To begin with, as teachers, we ought to engage in rigorous self-reflection, restore our faith in the art of a creatively nuanced critical pedagogy, and trust our roles as friends, co-learners, healers and wanderers. A coaching centre strategist, we must acquire the courage to assert, is not really a teacher — I mean the kind of teacher that the likes of Paulo Freire, John Dewey, Rabindranath Tagore and Jiddu Krishnamurti would have imagined. We have to articulate our voice, engage with parents and the larger society, and argue convincingly and confidently that the empires of the coaching factories are essentially engaging in an anti-education activity. The reason is that education is not just a skill for cracking entrance tests for medical/engineering colleges. Instead, education is essentially about the cultivation and manifestation of multiple latent faculties our children are endowed with, say, the intellectual ability to think and argue, the artistic imagination for going deeper into the interiority of human existence, and the art of love, ethics of care and relatedness.

It is sad that what is essential and fundamental about education has been replaced by the mere technical/instrumental orientation of life. It is pathetic to see Kota as the new ‘temple’ of Indian education. As teachers who have not yet lost their conviction, we must acquire the courage to say no to this conspiracy against liberating education. Possibly, our practices in the classroom, our engagement with children and parents, and our concerned roles as pedagogues and messengers of emancipatory education have to play a key role in saving education from this unholy nexus of mechanised standardised tests, profit-making coaching centres exploiting the insecurity of the anxiety-ridden parents, and the techno-corporate empire that demands nothing more than docile employees in tune with their logic of performance and productivity.

Moreover, as parents, we need a fair degree of introspection. Yes, parenting should not be seen as just a biological accident. To be a parent is to be a life-long learner. It is not about spending money on our children, or sending them to private tutors and coaching centres, and imposing our own fear, anxiety and hidden ambitions on them. Instead, parenting is about the profound art of listening that demands empathy, compassion, dialogue and reciprocity. Only then is it possible to know our children —their unique traits and aptitudes, their possibilities, and their questions and apprehensions. It is sad that quite often as parents, we confuse love with interference, or education with just the quantification of performance in board exams or entrance tests. Do we realise that as parents, we too are responsible for transforming our children from unique and autonomous personalities to standardised/measurable commodities, say, toppers with 99% in board exams?

Possibly, it is high time we began to realise that the success we are striving for our children cannot change this world tormented by the violence of rat race, the trauma of collective neurosis, the pain of being alienated from work, and the breakdown of truly meaningful communication. When do we realise that nothing is more important in life than the oceanic flow of inner abundance, or the joy in doing what one is truly inclined to?


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