How Failure to Address Elephant in Room Invokes Finnish Model in Kashmir

KO File Photo By Abid Bhat

Our education system, right from the beginning fosters in children the spirit of competition and pits them against each other as academic rivals. This concept, which underlies the foundation of our entire education system, is fallible and deleterious on many accounts.

Two years after coronavirus made online education a new global order, Kashmir is getting vocal about the way they educate kids. In the long run, a realization has lately hit home that a blind pursuit of curriculum is only producing a delusional “book bugs” devoid of real-life creativity. For churning this campus crowd, the failure of education has resurfaced and found a raging mention in the private and public discourses in the valley. The anguish-driven introspection is now making many to invoke a foreign model tested for its efficacy of producing human capital desired for its value and relevance.

The case study of Samreen makes this demand only inevitable in Kashmir today.

Born and brought up in capital Srinagar, the 26-year-old was groomed to become “best” in academics. By class 12, she was already clear about her career choice. The aim, as she explains, was to score high grades and land in a government job. But since the education system of Kashmir couldn’t come out of the clutches of the frequent political disturbances, she had to live with the uncertainty. She mostly found herself home captive due to lockdown scenario and couldn’t think of pursuing anything else. Once done with Masters, her “tunnel-vision” created by the certain educational pursuit neither fetched her childhood dream job nor made her good for anything else.

Today, Samreen is sitting home due to paucity of job opportunities in Kashmir. And thanks to the prevailing education system, her tribe is only growing. For creating this trend of sorts, education system is being called out for its failure to address the elephant in the room.

“The failure of the education system” has now been an age-old dictum. From educationists to industrialists, the cry has been raised time and again that our educational curriculum is not catering to the real life demands and most of our students, even from well ranked institutions, aren’t trained well enough to meet demands of the employers’ market.

This concern isn’t specific to technical education alone. Even in the social sciences, we don’t fare well. All our modules of understanding and approaches of analysis in social sciences are either borrowed from Western academicians or somehow influenced by their verdict. It has been ages now that South East Asian Countries have been consumers, not only of Western technology, but their ideas and ideology too, having discovered itself in the slough of ideological stagnation.

Talking of educational scenarios in SAARC will possibly throw us off the track and we will therefore concern ourselves here only with the educational scenario in India with special reference to Kashmir.

Let’s begin from the beginning.

What do mean when we say that our educational system has failed and what are the contours of this failure? Does it mean as some contest that education has failed to instill in us and inspire our highest moral and ethical ideals or does it peg around the failure of education to produce individuals of industrial, administrative, academic and social girt and merit.

The first premise that’s the failure of education to inspire ethics and morality of high order is both historical and contested and therefore doesn’t interest us and the context we are talking about. What bothers us and therefore our society is that education doesn’t seem to bring with it the freedom and independence it stands for and it guarantees by its intrinsic nature.

But what is the nature of this freedom and independence? The independence referred to, encompasses in its fold the ideological and economic primarily, and also an ability to counter and mitigate the challenges that life is open to with emancipated and thoroughly trained mind. But what do we discover instead that now a large band of our educated youth fail to secure the basic livelihood, they fail to attend even their minimal needs and this, most of the time lends them to psychological misadventures of all sorts, turning their life into living hell.

What is emphasised here isn’t the failure of youth in securing their economic independence (Though that is important too) but their utter failure to handle the resulting crisis and to yield to situations as if wet clay in the hands of porter. What should surprise us is that if our education system doesn’t prepare and train us to handle these slight ups and downs in our lives, how shall it be expected to produce men of versatility who can steer nation and civilization to newer ideological and material heights.

What is more ironical is that sometimes students commit suicide out of their academic pressure, which they find beyond their tolerance band. What an irony does it constitute that education that has often been equated to life and light shall sharpen the depressive and suicidal tendencies in students.

It is in an attempt to understand this irony that we shall explore the premises which underlie our educational superstructure through a comparison of it with the educational system of Finland.

“Why Finland?”, one might ask.

Finland is dominantly considered a benchmark for education and this claim is also augmented by its promising high PISA (The Program for International Student Assessment) rankings.

However, in this comparative endeavour, we need to be very clear about one thing. Firstly, the comparison doesn’t imply that what works for Finland will work for us too, nor does it mean that we ignore the economic/ logistic disparities between Finland and ours and expect, in  vague, to pursue their standardization.

To begin with, Finland has no standardized testing. Does it mean that there has to be no system of evaluation and students are to be let free while promoting them from one class to another at the same time? No, that is not the answer at all.

What is desirable is to develop customized and student specific test strategies and methodologies. This is possible only with the deep involvement of the teacher with the class, who can then go for student specific evaluation strategies. These aren’t utopian goals but are realisable. It will not only bring the best out of students but will also augment their interest, channelize their abilities and turn them into individuals with sufficient academic resources at their disposal to improve not only their own lives, but the structure of society at large.

Our education system, right from the beginning fosters in children the spirit of competition and pits them against each other as academic rivals. This concept, which underlies the foundation of our entire education system, is fallible and deleterious on many accounts.

It is no hidden fact that individuals are gifted differently and vary in their capabilities. This diversity is a blessing for humanity. However, when we have a set standard of academic excellence, students tend to lose their individual talents, specific potentials and instead end up being robotic copies of non-workable prototypes.

It is also a common observation from our lives that we don’t survive by competing with each other, instead our survival is guaranteed by how perfectly and amicably we compliment and cooperate with each other in accomplishing any task. This is the precise reason why when most Americans and other countries see the educational system as one big Darwinian competition, the Finns see it differently. Ironically, this attitude has put them at the top of the international pack.

In line with their spirit for a Non-Darwinian type cooperative educational vision, the Finns place high emphasis on making basics the priority of their education system. It includes, but is not limited to, using education as means of removing social inequality, providing free meals to all school-going students, ease of access to healthcare, psychological counselling and most importantly individualised guidance.

Now, when one retrospectively puts to analysis the educational system in place in our own countries and states, it is observed that not only are these basic priorities  missing, but those trivial aspects are emphasised which lead students further away from these basic privileges.

Yet another feature of this educational system which stands diametrically opposite to ours is the age at which students are admitted into a school.

Here, in a society like ours, parents and school owners are equally driven hysterical to admit children to schools at the earliest possible age, so much so, that even a year old toddler is subjected to rigid disciplinarianism of kindergartens, till it squeezes childhood off the child and prepares them for the robotic role of material production – so dearer to modern industrialist capitalist society.

Here, the Finns again start by changing very minute details. Students start school when they are seven years old. They’re given free reign in the developing childhood years to not be chained to compulsory education. It’s simply just a way to let a kid be a kid.

There are only eleven years of comprehensive school education that Finnish children are required to attend. Everything past the ninth grade or at the age of 16 is optional. Just from a psychological standpoint, this is a freeing ideal. Although it may be anecdotal, many students really feel like they’re stuck in a prison. Finland alleviates this forced ideal and instead opts to prepare its children for the real world.

Although the details referred to in aforesaid lines can be expanded and extended upon, a revaluation of our education system even in the light of these minimal principles can take us a long way and be a guiding torch for us. What remains to be seen is that having seen the technological boom and nightmares thereof, do we still aspire to prepare students, who like robots, can fit like parts in a machine? Or do we, in the spirit of egalitarianism, eclecticism and humanitarianism, aspire to create individuals to lead themselves and the world at large out of the thraldoms that confront humanity – everywhere, every time.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

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Amir Suhail Wani

The author is a writer and columnist

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