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Posts Tagged ‘3 idiots’

Here is a story you shouldn’t miss. Rough Book is a movie built somewhat parallel to the theme of the movie 3 Idiots and has some common reflections on commercialization with the Nana Patekar movie, Paathshaala.

Rough Book is a muted drama focused on the teacher and her friends in a K12 setting – preparation for the board exams and the foremost engineering entrance exam, the IIT Entrance exam, in India. It details the trials of a teacher unwilling to go with the rest, to put learning in front of rote, life in front of learning. It tells the stories of students willing to accept the risks of being non-traditional, to allow themselves to be inspired by great educators.

While 3 Idiots was focused on a student’s life in an engineering school, and Paathshaala was focused on telling the story from the eyes of a school principal, beleaguered by  owners greed, Rough Book tells the story from the perspective of the teacher.

The common theme is that the love and joy for learning and teaching can create triumphs in even the existing system. That it can happen at our scale is the holy grail many of us aspire towards.

But the anomaly in all these narratives is the veneration of the existing system. The currency of the current system becomes the benchmark for performance on which the students and teachers in the system still stay judged. In fact, Rough Book ends with a respectful statement about the IITs, perhaps rightly so.

It is quite alright to suggest that if the ideology changes, the means and ends must also change. It may also not be incorrect to state that when ideology changes, existing systems no longer remain relevant or appropriate. But to state that ideological changes can be brought about from within a system, is to stretch it a bit. A system is only as good as the ideology that underpins it.

This has powerful implications on how we look at our systems. A shift from rote to participative learning, from tests to a thousand learning plateaus, from degrees to competencies and from the restricted spaces of the traditional curriculum to open and experiential learning and teaching spaces, marks a shift in ideology. Schools aren’t really built to navigate this shift, which is why people all around the world have engineered different environments to reflect this shift.

This leads us to the question of transformation of the education system, or more appropriately its disruption to make way for new structures of teaching, learning and evaluation, for new currencies in education and new goal posts for the future. The narrative isn’t that the education system is broken (no system can be represented in black and white), it is rather that a new system is needed to supplant it.

What does this imply for policy? It implies that policy makers have to start diverting funds, energy and focus into building new systems – even building migration paths for appropriate existing components, rather than continuously trying to reinvent from within. Practically, this means that new Central and State (and even district level) Boards of education, with new mandates, technology, curricula and training, must start being set up, with the existing ones notified of their end of life term.

Since this preparation will take time, it is likely going to be a generational change. But if envisaged now, at the brink of a new education policy, it will provide a lasting change model for our system.

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In case you didn’t know, 3 Idiots is now a record-breaking Hindi movie, that explores and exposes the educational system. As of the time of this post, it has been released worldwide and is the highest grosser in Indian cinema history (about US$68mn in 19 days and also made 43 million pounds worldwide to date).

The movie is based in a “traditional” academic setting in an engineering college, reputed for its excellence and for its no-holds-barred-excellence-is-the-most-important thing principal. The story revolves around 3 students who get to live together in the college hostel and become lasting friends. The story tries to bring to the front the problems created by a severe focus on grades and book knowledge and essentially laments the restriction of freedom of thought and reflection that has become a hallmark of the educational system. The term “idiot” is used to refer to not someone stupid but to an irrepressible free thinker who follows his heart.

It has caught the imagination of an entire nation of learners. And that fact bears important testimony to the popular perception that the academic system discourages free thinking, diversity of opinion, creativity and innovation because of it’s over emphasis on grades, bookish knowledge, competitive spirit and teacher-centricity.

The main “idiot”, played by Aamir Khan, is, in my opinion, the only idiot in the film. Born to the assistant of a rich man, he proxies all the way through engineering college for the rich man’s son. As a result, he gets to go where his interests take him, to whichever subject and teacher that excite his imagination. He is naturally inclined to be curious, his questioning ways earning him the ire of his teachers and the ridicule of his peers. But he is brilliant and ultimately emerges as a scientist with a large number of important patents to his name.

Aamir believes in free thinking, of questioning the dominant paradigm. Ultimately he converts the principal of the engineering college, who is fanatically entrenched in the “traditional” mindset, to seeing things in a different light. The movie ends with shots of Aamir in a “school” in Ladakh doing what he believes – teaching kids to let their imagination, innovation and creativity take over.

But there is a bit of demagoguery here, with no clear indication that the ideas are as revolutionary as they seem. For example, a point of discussion should be what is exactly being proposed. The movie is not clear on what or how this pedagogy and system really to be made possible. If it is argued that ultimately it is a movie and not a research project, I would argue that it is not a trifling matter given the reach and success of the movie and its ability to shape popular perception.

The applicability of these ideas and their sudden, almost inexplicable shift from a higher education setting to a school, is a little puzzling too. There is no evidence of Aamir’s school principal having the same endgame delirium as was the case with Boman Irani, who played the engineering college principal. The dynamics are very different between the two scenarios. 

Also, there is little evidence that creativity, innovation and imagination does not at all exist in the traditional system -sometimes teacher-heroes led and sometimes with an organizational focus. It then begs the question – are we talking of a change from inside the box or are we talking about something revolutionary that is at odds with tradition. I don’t see that debate happening around me. Most of the debate seems to be around how the movie has borrowed more from Chetan Bhagat’s Five Point Someone than anything else.

Conflicting verdict at the end for me, though. It leaves me wanting for more because it was hugely entertaining. And a trifle irritable because perhaps the matter should not be trifled with.

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