Monday, February 17, 2014

Stimulate Learning

From a time when it as a one-college state, Sikkim sure has come a long way. Once North Sikkim gets its college, all four districts of the State will a degree college each apart from the State having an interestingly high number of colleges offering professional courses and a slew of institutes preparing children not only for board exams but also for competitive examinations. And then there is the state sponsored enrolment at coaching institutes in Delhi for Sikkim students wishing to compete in UPSC and other national level exams. Safe to say then that students now have more options, more opportunities and bigger challenges to aspire for. Of course, none of this necessarily guarantees quality; but before one starts tearing apart the quality of institutions of higher education [or vocational courses], Sikkim needs to collectively look into how it educates its young in school, and even earlier, in pre-primary and primary levels. Inspire learning in the children and they will extract phenomenal results even from mediocre institutions. That has to be the priority, and good place to begin would be with a clearly spelled out educational policy.
Like any place else, Sikkim needs affordable and quality education. This is not always possible elsewhere in the country, but in Sikkim, a combination of state and public investment could subsidize education substantially and should be attempted. The State is already doing a lot with its visionary scholarship programmes, but even more can be attempted with some corporate backing. The private sector will get interested if they were invited into campuses some years ahead of the head-hunting season [the campus job-placement events] when they can meet students when they are still fresh and then offer scholarships and accompanying internship opportunities. The less business and more academically inclined students can be supported with grants to attend seminars and conferences [not study tours, please] outside the State. Initiatives such as these will infuse some excitement among the students, put some perspective into how they approach studies and also introduce them to the world that awaits them after college.

As for education, it needs to be fashioned to deliver students with sound logic and reasoning skills, not necessarily high marks and definitely not learning by rote. Do this, and the young will grow with stronger survival skills, more adaptive traits and as prepared as anyone from anywhere for the job market. The present format of education fails us because instead of opening the minds of the students it ties them down to the curriculum. While a syllabus is required for the discipline that is a part of education, it has unfortunately been allowed to become supreme. A syllabus is designed to present a clear outline, and should not be seen as a fixed boundary wall within which education should be limited. Students nowadays have little time to pursue interests beyond the learning of their books. Sikkim needs institutions of learning that open the mind, not bolt it in; schools that let the young minds breathe. This approach becomes more important now than ever before because now such schools, colleges and institutes are coming up in Sikkim itself; earlier, the young had to go out of the State to receive such education/ training, and if nothing else, gained at least from the experience of living outside their comfort zone. At least in the cities, they are exposed to more stimuli even if the college they go to is the same as the one back home. And that brings us back to basics of starting them on the learning curve early, inspiring them towards learning, stimulating a learning environment from kindergarten itself and abandoning spoon-fed, hand-held classroom lessons. The young will grow better lettered in the real sense and will make even mediocre institutes deliver quality products. Won’t that be nice…

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