It’s out: Some Oxford University students cannot spell ‘erupt’, ‘across’, ‘illuminate’, ‘blur’, ‘buries’ or ‘possess’ correctly, said a news agency report recently. It was quoting the examiners’ reports who termed it a “worrying degree of inaccuracy”.
Sounds bizarre, doesn’t it? Well, they can’t even get ‘bizarre’ right!
Should we be surprised by this “distressing” trend back home in India that loyally imports education techniques and calls it “innovative” teaching methods? You must have read the recent news reports on how Indian students cut a sorry figure in the Programme for International Student Assessment conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Secretariat to evaluate education systems the world over.
Basing the argument solely on this test is indeed myopic, but it nevertheless reveals how our education methods often fail to complement all the brouhaha and chest-beating and self-congratulatory mood we witness over India becoming the superpower. One or two victories at Spelling Bee contests, we attribute the success to the entire nation.
While the world is ruing the loss of writing skills, our competitive exams still stick to the same box-ticking techniques, refusing to put more focus on the children’s ability to analyse, write, argue and discuss issues.
How, when the education system fails to differentiate between learning and passing exams, it can reduce our children to a bunch of box-tickers! And how, while all this dumbing-down goes on, we actually think we are far more involved in our children’s education than our parents ever did!
“Just 10 years ago, the vocabulary among school students in Great Britain was 40,000. Now it is 2,000 words,” rues Prof. Basavaraj Urs, 70, a scholar of his own class. He has literature from all over the world stacked in every corner of his house.
Recently, during one of our endless chats over coffee, he was talking about a certain quintessential American trait that runs like a thread through every sphere of life: the urge to simplify everything in life, about life…
In other words, dumbing down. All the literature is becoming so simplified that it has now almost incapacitated the younger generation from digesting the Classics. “I think reading the Classics ended with my generation,” says Prof. Urs.
Dipping attention span
Why? Because in our hurry to simplify everything, we eliminated many words that carried more than three syllables. We began to keep sentences so short that anything that carried more than 7-8 words sounded rather complicated, or even convoluted. We began to keep the paragraphs so short that each of them carried a couple of sentences.
As we did all this spiritedly, we shortened the attention span of our children, too. I come across several mothers frightened by the rapid dip in children’s attention span. You might have observed that kids struggle to keep it going beyond eight minutes these days: that’s all the time they get to focus in between ads on the television.
So, as we struggle to make everything simple, we are jettisoning one of the most gifted talents humans are blessed with: “the ability to see beauty in complexity”.
As Prof. Urs rues over this tragedy, he flips through the café’s coffee-table booklet and says: “What’s the difference between this writing and many of those on the best-seller list?”