There was an excellent article in the Times of India today, on how children are actively discouraged from asking questions by educational institutions. First, check it out here. We pride ourselves on our intelligence; we wax eloquent about how good we are in the sciences, how we excel in everything we do, and on how India is the destination for tomorrow’s world. But, we cannot answer one single unexpected question. Most Indians cannot think outside the box. What else can explain the appalling lack of innovation in Indian industry?
Take for example the question of patents. Statistics show that India is approximately ten years behind India as far as patent-filing and innovation go. The WIPO Patent Statistics Report 2008 (PDF) presents an even more depressing picture. Consider this, The United States is the world’s largest seeker of international patents. India does not even figure prominently. It is relegated to the dungeons of statistical tools under the catch-all phrase "other". Given below is the graph illustrating this statistic.
What this statistic illustrates is more important than the statistic itself. India is the world’s second most-populous country. We have a population that equals one-sixth of humanity. We have the world’s largest number of English-speaking people. We pat ourselves on the back for being a fully-functional and vibrant democracy. But, we cannot manage to obtain even a minuscule fraction of the world’s intellectual property. To me, this is a damning evidence of the gross failure of the country’s educational system. I have written about this before. But, nothing seems to change. In the mad race for marks and grades, we seem to be losing focus of the very objective of education: to educate. We are so obsessed with being the best that we forget that all this to actually learn something.
A student in India’s schools and universities are banned from asking questions. We fear that questioning will lead to indiscipline. We look upon contradiction as a lack of respect. Personally, I have never felt any respect or sympathy towards teachers who stop students from asking questions. Only a teacher who lacks confidence and self-esteem will fear a student’s questions. As the TOI article so aptly points out, it is Indian tradition to question, critique and argue. Why then, are we suppressing this basic instinct in the name of discipline and respect?
I am a debater. I do not participate in debates any more, but I deliberately use the present tense because I still debate in everyday life. I debate the crashing economy with my father, the reasons behind the fall of the stock market with Anand, the necessity to translate every word from French to English with my students, the price of a kilo of tomatoes with the local vendor. It is in my nature. Why then should I, or anyone else for that matter, not be allowed to question a rule, demand an explanation, argue a point or even prove a teacher wrong in our schools and colleges? I fail to see the logic. Dissent is healthy. In fact, it is life. Tell me if I am wrong.