This post is inspired by Rahul’s post here. This is not a response, really. More of an aside. What it got me thinking on was where do we get our knowledge from, as a country?
As Indian children, we start getting our knowledge in schools. And what does school education comprise of? It comprises of reading a lot of books and assimilating them (often even verbatim). As children, we are never really taught to do anything on our own. Even in the case of science education where so much emphasis is laid on doing things, most students end up merely learning the three laws on Newton by rote and parroting them blindly in the exams.
As children we are never really taught to question. Things stated in books are stated as ‘facts’. There is no mention of evidence, proof, argument or ongoing debate. Books thus become authorities. Books become things that are to be respected and not questioned at all. And all knowledge is something that has already been created and codified and not much modification is possible with it.
Then we grow a little older and we are introduced to laboratories – the places where knowledge is supposed to be generated. But do we get to generate knowledge here? No, not at all. First of all, the syllabus is prescribed so that there really is no scope for children to ‘play’ with the instruments. An ‘experiment’ needs to be learnt and reproduced in the exam, the same way that books are learn and reproduced in elementary classes. Second, since the results of an experiment are ‘deterministic’ they have to turn out the way the books tell you. We do not care about the fact that there is always experimental error involved or that your equipment may be faulty leading to results that are not quite expected. Neither do we care about the fact that learning about such details are as much part of the experimental process as the experiment itself. So as students we learn to fudge our experimental readings to fit to the known ‘laws’. We also learn that it is more important to get the ‘right’ results than report what happened. There goes academic honestly out the window.
Then we start preparing for JEE. When we go out to the market to buy books, we find that all Indian books are merely copies of each other and two books don’t really offer anything different from each other. Moreover, to our utter horror, they tell us things like ‘body in circular motion is not accelerating’ which are refuted by our teachers using simple logic. Therefore our teachers tell us to turn to books that are foreign and mostly American. Not only do these books tell you how to look at things in a variety of ways, they are also a lot of fun to read. But the knowledge, unfortunately, remains utterly American.
But somehow we manage to learn a few things and get into IITs. And then we are introduced to this whole new system of doing ‘research’ and publishing papers and working in labs. But are we ever taught what these things mean and involve? Hardly. We just carry over what we learnt in school and modify and adapt it to our changing needs. And once again, we must look to the west for getting our papers published, and for recognition for our work. Most of our own work is built up on the shoulders of western giants. While the American scientists busy themselves with American Society of this and that, we sit in our labs and twiddle our thumbs.
And we twiddle our thumbs a little more.