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SUPERHEROES and KNOWLEDGE: A Child’s Weapons of World Change

Updated: Jul 20, 2020

By Umesh Patil


An essay on the Indian Education System Ever since I was in school, I absolutely loved Superhero stories. I did not read Marvel or DC, as they were not hugely popular among us back then, but I had memorized all editions of the massively underrated original Indian Comics, which are equally awesome but stay equally unpopular to this day. While modern pseudo feminists would tell you that this was about me just being a boy who would like to beat up bad guys to show Male domination, I beg to differ. This was much more than a childhood hobby for me. Beyond the storylines, the CONCEPT, that one man/woman could fight all the evil and save the world, was fascinating and had unknowingly made its home inside me. The fact is, years later I am still not able to let go of this notion and its realization in the ‘real’ world, and as an adult, I still think about this more seriously than many comic readers would not be proud to admit.


That being said, I recently realized that as exciting as it may sound (to my naive mind), this approach, not to mention unrealistic, would be equally ineffective. The only way to save the world, or to change it for the better, is if EVERYONE does what is needed to be done. Any change, otherwise, would be temporary. Neither a super villain the size of a mountain, nor an Alien invasion, but a virus thousands of times smaller than the tip of your hair, is all it took to stop the world. Of all the ways to tackle the pandemic, the most effective way, was for everyone to stay home and follow social distancing. The only effective way we could all survive the virus, was that we ALL did our part. There is a lesson to be learnt here, and it is one for the ages.

I am sure, we all have been there. You saw the poor and the needy on the side of the road and felt sad. You came across the news of a crime and wondered why there is so much hate in the world. We all have thought about how we can make the world a better place. The best of us, have dedicated their lives for this change, whereas most of us felt helpless and moved on. This feeling, although temporary for a lot of us, represents the spirit of kindness that was instilled in you since your childhood. I want to instill the same spirit in each child, and I feel there is no better place to do it than the SCHOOLS. I truly believe that it is the lack of social responsibility in each one of us, is the cause of all the Evils in our society. Imagine if everyone decided not to throw the garbage outside, what a clean world it would be! We would not need to spend billions on running one of the Largest Cleaning campaigns on the planet. A simple habit, followed by every individual, can lead to a drastic change in the society, provided everyone follows it. Why can’t we ensure that this habit is en grained in every individual. Why does it have to take a Life / Death situation, for us to realize our social responsibility?

THE DARK REALITY:

Prone to the danger of sounding too preachy, I would like to give you a taste of the grim reality. If all the things I said above sound feel-good fantasy talk to you, it’s because THEY ARE. I will not talk about everything that is wrong with the world but would like to go directly to the root of it all – Our Broken Education system (In the Indian context). Of all the children who are lucky enough to get enrolled to primary schools, a large number don’t get teachers. This directly reflects in the fact that more than half of the children enrolled in Primary schools, drop out before the 9th Grade. Those who continue, are conditioned by a system which promotes rote learning and the only objective is to score high in the exams designed to test your ability to memorize, rather than understand, evaluate, assimilate and apply the knowledge. The test score is extremely important, as it will help the student get into a good college. A “good college” however, is also measured in general perception, by the “Crowd” there. Did I forget to mention, that the books children are taught in schools are outdated and have not been revised in years. Also, a lot of teachers are not qualified and fit for teaching, due to factors like corruption and flaws in the selection process. Those who genuinely want to impart knowledge to the next generation, are burdened with so many students that it is almost impossible to pay individual attention. Their hands are tied as they are rarely provided with meaningful resources to make learning interesting.

You can see this dark picture come to reality in the fact, that as per a 2009 report, the average 15-year old student in India, is the 2nd worst in the world. Surely, things have changed since then, but how much? Pardon me for not being too optimistic on this one.

Parents who are capable, pay donations in Lakhs, to schools with infrastructure and facilities. Those are more capable, also spend money in tuitions/ coaching classes outside of school time, which are an ecosystem on their own. This not only leads to extreme commercialization of the Education system, but also burdens the students with “getting a high paying job” to get “returns” of the “investment” made. As a result, fields which don’t necessarily lead to high paying jobs, like “Arts” are looked at as if they are inferior and a mention of these streams makes one think that the person was not good enough for anything else. I am yet to mention creativity and innovation because these words don’t have a place in the system. The creative potential of a child, especially for a non-STEM field, is crushed in the “Race” to be the best.

There are of course exceptions, quite literally one in a million, who rise against all odds, swim against the tide and become the best in the world, only to be picked up by the Institutions outside the country. What’s worse? We take pride in the fact that the best of us, look for opportunities outside the country and leave at the first chance they get. Their talent flourishes abroad and end up leading the biggest companies in the world, who in turn, sell their advanced technology (developed by our Human resources) back to us, all while telling us what a favor it is they are doing, providing employment in the country. A job at MNCs like Google, is the ultimate achievement for most.

I can go on and on, but we are diverging from the question we started this article on. We might be building talented individuals, but are we building responsible citizens of tomorrow? We are too focused on individual growth but is it not important that we inculcate the social responsibility that the child must keep for the rest of his/her adult life? Nowadays, words like ‘development’, ‘employment’ are thrown around like candy, mostly to attack the political inclination in heated debates on social media. But truth is, in the field of education, not only are we far from any ‘real change’, we are even further away from a real conversation about one.

THE SOLUTION - and some crazy ideas:

The dystopian picture I painted above is a harsh reality that we must accept, in order to start the process to change it. I would like to think of it as a planet, taken over by the forces of Evil. What we need, is a team of Superheroes who would swoop in and fight to save the day. If you like the sound of that, I have a better Idea: Why not BE a Superhero. If you are reading this article and have made it this far, you are the few chosen ones who possess the power of ‘knowledge’ and also the ‘spirit’ which very few people in the world have. Seriously though, we must have faith in what we are promoting. We must have faith in the wonderful concept of ‘learning’ that has made us different from the rest of the species.

In this article I don’t want to talk about the policies and the policymakers. I am not one to depend on the government, or hope that the authorities wake up from their sleep and start acting. I would like to keep that battle plan for another day. I feel it is important that we realize our own responsibilities as part of the society that we wish to change and as also adopt the role of educators. Below are a few of the thought processes which if implemented and promoted by us, can lead to drastic change. Also, are included some crazy ideas (which I secretly hope to pass off as game-changing inventions of the century).



Redefining Education: We must change our definition of Education. We can no longer consider school education or a college degree as measurement of capability or intelligence. Don’t we all learn something new every day? Does that not mean we are getting educated daily? Education is a learning process which cannot be limited to the institutions and should go on throughout life. As individuals, or entrepreneurs we must stop judging people, colleagues, or employees on the basis of their educational background, but instead their potential and zest to learn and grow. We must also promote the idea in our families and friends, that being educated is not a means to Earn money, but quite the opposite. Earning a good livelihood is just one of the many perks of being educated and gaining knowledge. We must also self-reflect on the education credentials we hold. Have we applied the concepts in our life? Have we used the knowledge gained to live a happy life? Are we, as the ‘educated’ lot of the society, performing our duty of being responsible, mature and caring member of our family as well as the society?

One of the ideas I feel would bring this change in perception is if we would MAKE EXAMINATIONS VOLUNTARY. If you don’t want to give examinations, that would be okay. This will take away the pressure from students and would actually make them think the purpose of their learning. One of the many purposes is just below.

Generating Curiosity:

I am fascinated by this world every day. The mere functioning of it astonishes me. Is earth actually flat? Why do we feel scared in the dark? Why are bad words, “bad”? It is questions like these which make me want to learn everything there is to learn. You can find the answers of many such interesting questions here. And trust me when I say, the answers are MORE interesting than the questions. We need to generate and nurture this curiosity in each child. We can do this as parents, teachers, or as friends. Why can’t we flap our hands and fly like birds? (Pro Tip: Don’t try this. Did not work for me. We’ll reserve practicals for more meaningful topics as mentioned below)


Getting Creative: In the last few centuries, we have slowly gotten used to this idea that Studying and having Fun are like the 2 distinct poles of a magnet and which have no relation to each other. What we fail to realize is that with so many resources at our disposal, learning can be made more fun than you can imagine. Use of innovative study tools needs to be implemented and popularized. If we let our imagination run wild, we can think of ways in which education can go hand in hand with enjoyment. Why can’t we use toys and board games based on scientific concepts. Why can’t we create comics, or animation films, specifically explaining the historical stories. These things are not only easy to create with the technology today, but can be shared widely through social media, to everyone who doesn’t have access to institutional education.

Practicals outside the Laboratory: The classroom model of education has to go. The walls must come down. Children must be given a firsthand experience of the practical world. Experiments can no longer be limited to the laboratory. Since in India, we don’t have the learn and earn culture, children are dependent on their parents, until they pass school and it most cases, until they are college pass outs. Due to this, even though the child has read about the world in books but has never experienced or interacted with the real-world scenarios. Students face trouble coping with the challenges of the professional world and many a times end up making the wrong career choices, sometimes due to no guidance, and sometimes for survival in the cutthroat corporate world. It is time we make education an exciting journey, an adventure, rather than years of looking at maps in the books.

National Pride: Seeing the current education system of India, it is difficult to imagine that we were the home to one of the earliest known educational institutions in human history. We have forgotten our contributions to the world and have lost our self-worth. This notion, that the ‘developed’ countries are the rich ones, who have high standards of living, puts this dangerous idea in children’s minds, that materialistic things are the most desirable and that everything else is secondary. We undermine the great treasure of spirituality we have stored. This is a treasure which is infinite, which is why even though the invaders and colonizers took our land, wealth and ruled us for hundreds of years, they could never take away the incredible Spiritual Wealth the people of this country held. Even though the colonialists and communists whitewash and even take pride in their history, which in past lead to genocide of millions, we are ashamed to even accept that we were and are the beacon of acceptance, peace and coexistence. It is time, we instill the true value of our cultural and national legacy in the students. They must be taught history which is not lost in translations of foreign authors who couldn’t comprehend the great wealth of knowledge they found in this country, but woven using the words of the sons of this soil, who describe the past in all its true glory.

When we realize the generations of greatness that preceded us for millennia in its true sense, only then will we have a generation of Indians working up to their full potential not to leave the country, but instead to make it worth living.


Moral Values and the role of ‘Role Models’:

The best way to cultivate Moral Values in children, is ensure they have the right role models. Fortunately, we have them in abundance. But we have tried our best that our children are never exposed to them. Due to this lack of Role Models for children to look up to, they are influenced by fake personalities, and their understanding of being an achiever is limited to social media fame and online validation. For instance, are we telling stories of successful farmers? Are we showing children how important is the work of a journalist? Do they know the role of psychologists and importance of mental health? India has innumerable examples of common people, who have achieved tremendous feats in their respective fields. But such personalities are never given the importance they deserve. We must rigorously promote and introduce such indigenous Role Models to children, through books, documentaries and movies. As someone who has grown up with stories of Indian superheroes which inspired the reader to always do the right thing no matter what, I know the impact of such positive characters has on a child’s mind and how it shapes them into the ideal citizens of the country.

The world as we know it has changed drastically in the last 20 years, and even drastically in last few months. While most of us have been in isolation, we have had plenty of time to reflect on our personal life as well as the world we live in. We witnessed firsthand, how the most vulnerable among us are prone to suffer the most in any bad situation. While for some, this was an inconvenience, for others, it was about life and death. We have realized life is short, and how travelling is an essential thing, rather than a hobby. We were terrified, that the new ‘normal’ can be so much different that we could ever imagine. However, we as a species are too resilient and too stubborn to be stopped for long. I am sure that we will overcome this very soon and take back control. But when everything is over and (hopefully) we go back to our normal lives, will we feel the same? Should we continue to live the same way we have been living till today? We all are planning to go out as changed people. Some of us have resolves to be fitter, while others want to finish the work they had pending for years. Just like we want to become a better version of ourselves, let this be a reminder that we also need to create a better version of our world, each of us in our own way. And for that, we all must come together, just like we all stayed home during the pandemic. Education is the only way we can shape the future. While it is important to overcome problems of today, to grow despite them also means we must prepare for the challenges of tomorrow.

Education is not a step towards a life full of satisfaction, but it is the pursuit of truth, which is the essence of life itself.


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Jun 03, 2021

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Jun 03, 2021

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