My primary education was very much non-traditional. It got divided between my village school and Birlapur, a small factory town near Kolkata. Fortunately, I didn’t undergo the rigour of rote learning; particularly of tables that were the way the teachers in the rural India wished the best of his pupils to do. Many in rural schools could repeat the table up to 30 or more. Some memorized even multiplication table of fractions such as ¼, 1/3, 1/5, and 3/4. Beside the table, they could very easily, almost mentally, solve some arithmetical problems of day- to-day use such as one used to calculate the price of grain sold to the rural traders at some odd rates. However, I had to use my slow systematic way. My mother used to get surprised why I couldn’t do that as the traders could do.
While in rural school, I got interested in Hindi poems. I was very good in Antachhari. I went for regular schooling at Birlapur. I had to resort to some rote learning to answer the questions asked in those days. For many subjects, it was essential. I remember some of the friends used to memorize even essays that were expected to be asked in examinations. However, I tried to write the answers on my own. I can say it varied from individual to individual. At least in those days for subjective questions, it was not possible to memorize all.
Today I hardly remember anything that I studied in my school and colleges. But I get amazed when my friend Mr. Singh who is advocate by profession recites poems of many poets.
F. Max Muller in his a ‘must-read’ wonderful book ‘India: what can it teach us?’ refers to India’s education system as documented by the Chinese visitor I-tsing. ‘Vedas, containing 100,000 verses…are handed down from mouth to mouth, not written on paper. There are in every generation some intelligent Brahmans who can recite those 100,000 verses… I myself saw such men.’ For mastery of Sanskrit, the education system emphasized on rote learning. Was it deficient in any way? Perhaps, Indians still take pleasure in that system.
Chidanand Rajghatta in his Sunday column writes on the subject in ‘Banking on memory’:
Indian education typically involves teaching by repetition. Learning by heart, cramming, mugging is some of the terms we use for memorization. To this day I can recite reams of Shakespeare, sundry shlokas and mantras, several laws of physics, and multiplication tables deep into double digits
In contrast, American kids are less into learning by rote or trivia, although one does come across the oddball who can reel off the 1969 Mets V Orioles World Series scores. My friend Adam cares diddly squat about Boyle’s Law or the Bible, but he gutted his entire bathroom down to pot and plumbing, tub and tiling, and rebuilt it himself for less than $5,000 (half of what a contractor would have charged). Meantime, I blew a gasket paying $80 to get my lawnmower fixed ($56 labour, $24 parts), thanks to an education system that didn’t allow me to get my hands dirty.
But, it turns out that there is something to be said for our desi system of bending our brains rather than our backs, beyond paraphrasing a successful Indian who insisted he wouldn’t bother about paying $56 an hour if he could bill $500 an hour.
Recent reports say there is now a growing craze in Japan for Indian style education. The few Indian schools in Japan are reporting a surge of application from locals. Bookstores are filled with titles like Extreme Indian Arithmetic Drills and The Unknown Secrets of the Indians. And newspaper reports speak with awe about how Indian children memorise multiplication tables far beyond nine times nine, the standard for young elementary students in Japan.
I don’t know if the Japanese are doing the right.
Indians did develop some wonderful knowledge. Last Monday, Mrs. Bharatiya announcement after our kirtan session at Nagpals’ residence surprised me. A teacher was going to take a short course on Vedic Mathematics for four days 2 hours a day in evening for Rs 1000 as course fee. I had a chance of learning a little of it. It is a unique short cut method to do many big numerical without the help of a calculator (Try by going to the link).
I sometimes wonder why should any system be considered better. Perhaps each system has some merit. The education must serve the purpose- such as improving employability. It must inculcate the interest in keeping on furthering the knowledge, and in innovating in every sphere where we work. If it is successful in doing that, it is the right system. In short, the education system must make a student interested in at least o