This is what I said.
I'm no educationist, I'm just a father, and I think a lot about my kids' education. As a father, I dread the years when they will come close to graduating from school, because I wonder about their school-leaving exams. I wonder about college entrance exams. I wonder about coaching classes.
And all that wondering makes me worry.
Doing outstandingly well in school-leaving exams has become such a coveted goal that there's a huge amount of pressure on kids. The marks they aspire to reflect that: to get into a good college means you need to bring home 97 percent or more -- and I'd like to know the difference between a 97 percenter who gets in and a 96-er who does not.
But you have to aim for those marks, and more and more it seems you can get them only if you attend coaching classes. That disturbs me.
What's wrong with coaching classes, you might ask. If they help you get the exam marks you need for college admissions, what's wrong? And in fact, there are proposals to recognize coaching classes as equivalent to school or college programmes.
Yet what's wrong is right there: that coaching classes are directed at one or another exam. Everything I believe about education, everything I want for my children, shouts out that there's something twisted there. An education is not a preparation for the 10th standard board exam, nor for the IIT entrance exam. It is instead an investment in turning children into thinking, questioning, participating adults and members of society. It is the most important investment I'll make in my life, the most important one my country can make.
Yet look at where we are now. From the 8th standard or before, kids take coaching for their 10th exams, then the 12th, then various college entrance tests. It's the rare child who resists all this. Too many schools are poorly equipped to fight coaching, because that's where the money is, for teachers. Too many schools become poorly staffed places that even kids know there's no point attending.
Yet in this whole enterprise, are we turning out a generation of children whose greatest skill lies in taking tests? I don't want that for my child, and I wonder how many other parents truly want it for theirs.
So what's the answer? The genie is out of the box -- there's no way to ban or stop coaching classes, not that I want to. The answer then is to remove what makes them necessary: exams. Not all of them, I realize, for you need ways to test a child's abilities. But certainly some of them.
For example, the 10th standard exam. It has never made much sense to me: you do it and you immediately go to work towards the 12th standard exam. What purpose does it serve?
Finally, I'd like to see an attitude shift towards school education, to underline the idea of it being a country's investment in its future. Education is no less national service than joining the Army. Kids who get an education serve India every bit as surely as soldiers do. Make it a rigorous, thorough, broad-based education, sure; but recognize our schoolkids as young patriots. For that's what they are.
Think of them like that, and we'll know what to do about coaching classes and exams.