Nyla Ali Khan
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. This shocking news attracted worldwide attention, including posts on The City Sentinel’s Facebook page.
The education board of Telangana impersonalized education by outsourcing to Globarena Technology control of the “school-leaving exam,” processing tscores, and announcing them for more than 970,000 students across the state. Overwhelming pressure on students across the board in India – and on children of elite families in the United States – to get into “prestigious” schools results too often in degradation of education and a devaluing of human life.
That devaluing was 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 citizenship.
In order to accomplish these worthy goals, we require less state control in education.
Reducing education to rote memorization, standard answers, and ability to regurgitate leads to a “corporatization” of education. It relegates higher cognitive skills – analysis, evaluation, synthesis, and creativity — to the background.
A student unable to score well in a competitive exam in India can sink into the abyss of despair, unable to see a future for her/himself. Education should empower students to employ critical intelligence. Education should give students credibility/confidence to employ articulate expressions. Education has, historically, given young people intelligence to create a national identity.
Well-educated students can give the clarion call for a new basis for social consciousness. Students can help craft society and polity, recognizing the need to revitalize stagnant political and bureaucratic institutions. Their clarion call for a democracy would enable them to participate in institutions and a rule of law that specifies limits on jurisdiction and fashion decentralized power. We, educators and students, can avail ourselves of the myriad political, sociocultural, and economic forums that a good education can create for us.
A quality education should yield skills to answer certain questions:
How can we, as a people, develop the ability to organize and mobilize for constructive social change, creating an awareness not just at the individual level but also at the collective level? How can we develop self-esteem for which financial autonomy is a basis? How can we guide or assist strategic life choices critical for people to lead the sort of lives to which they aspire?
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. Isn’t it the same in Oklahoma, in America?
We educators are in a position to mold students not just intellectually, but as functional members of families and communities as well. Pedagogical tools – catalysts for verbalizing sociocultural trauma when it exists — can give students a meaningful voice and contribute to family and community healing.
Education that aids in articulating experiences, understanding and integrating such experiences for young people who have intimate knowledge of familial trauma, can enable students to facilitate education for other students in order to positively impact “all students’ empathy, understanding, and resulting ability to understand individuals, families, and communities who have experienced trauma.” (Source; Lin et al. 196)
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 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. Educators can facilitate the process of healing by encouraging a comprehensive study of current events in which students are clear stakeholders.
I have been highlighting the important challenge to create new openings for people, including the young, to discuss public issues and become engaged participants. We – in Oklahoma and in India – need to revive and reinvigorate educational institutions that would encourage students to find purpose and become productive citizens.
Note: Nyla Ali Khan is the author of “Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir: Between India and Pakistan” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), “Parchment of Kashmir: History, Society, and Polity” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), and “The Life of a Kashmiri Woman” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). She serves on the Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women. She is also an Oklahoma Humanities Scholar and a member of the International Team of the Governor of Oklahoma.This commentary is featured in the August 2019 print edition of The City Sentinel newspaper.