FROM THE BOOKSHELF
In this brief review essay, Professor Avijit Pathak has reflected on Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi’s new book Exam Warriors (Penguin Books), and with absolute humility advised him to rethink what he has written in this well packaged product.
Prof. Avijit Pathak teaches at the Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
I am a teacher. No wonder, books on education fascinate me. The other day in a bookshop, I saw a slim book Exam Warriors written by our Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi. I chose to buy it. I was excited. I live in a country that has seen political activists/leaders like M.K.Gandhi, Maulana Azad, Zakir Husain and Jawaharlal Nehru reflecting profoundly on education, pedagogy and culture. No wonder, for me, it was a moment of happiness when I saw Mr. Modi’s interest in young children, their education and examination anxiety. I felt I would find something illuminating in the book. I began to read it…
It is good that Mr. Modi felt it necessary to engage with young learners, and suggest them twenty five ‘mantras’ for coping with the pressure of board examination and do well in life. To begin with, let me state a set of advises that I have liked. True, Mr. Modi is right in saying that ‘one particular test or exam cannot define a person because life is so much more than that’. It is good that he advises them to be ‘proactive in serving others’ because that is an ‘excellent way’ to realize one’s ‘hidden strengths’. Moreover, none can deny the beauty of a statement like this: ‘Let human creativity always prevail over cheating and plagiarism’. Likewise, he asks them to ‘take the road less travelled’. I have loved to hear yet another advice to this generation of young learners: Think also of those countless people whom you’ve never met but who play a vital role in your life-the farmer who produces the food you enjoy and the labourer who built your school brick by brick to give you a place to study. These unsung heroes are the makers of India and we must be grateful to them.
Good words. Noble advice. But then, Mr Modi fails-and fails miserably-to go deeper, and understand the pathology of the education system that causes this sort of exam anxiety. Instead, he seems to be taking it for granted, and asking students to be ‘warriors’ (not ‘worriers’), and evolve appropriate strategies to fight this battle. Don’t question the system; instead, cope with it. In a way, it is like a typical ‘self-help’ book that, instead of attacking the roots of the disease, asks us to become ‘positive’, and take appropriate ‘medicines’ to cope with it. So he asks them to ‘laugh and relax’, to follow an ‘organized schedule’, to take a few ‘deep breaths’ if they feel agitated. He reminds them that ‘a good night’s sleep is the key to doing well in exams.’ ‘Writing down the key points is a good way to revise’, he does not forget to add. Not solely that. Like a typical school Principal, he advises them: Don’t be in a hurry to start writing the answers. Take a minute or two to read the instructions and question paper properly.Prime Minister is fond of expressing his love for 'Indian culture'. But has he ever bothered to acknowledge what some of the finest minds of our culture-Tagore and Gandhi, Aurobindo and Krishnamurti-spoke of education? Click To Tweet
However, Mr. Modi does not utter a single word about the discontents of education-the culture of rote learning, the widespread prevalence of non-reflexive/non-dialogic pedagogy, the process of reckless standardization that denies the uniqueness and autonomy of learners, and the neurotic obsession with measurement-Mathematics:100, History:97, Physics:99, and the mythology of being a ‘topper’. Mr Modi fails to realize that the very nature of exams promotes fear, anxiety and envy; it valorizes ‘success’ and stigmatizes ‘failure’; it causes wound, it is a disease. I know that our Prime Minister is fond of expressing his love for ‘Indian culture’. But has he ever bothered to acknowledge what some of the finest minds of our culture-Tagore and Gandhi, Aurobindo and Krishnamurti-spoke of education? All of them repeatedly reminded us of the ugliness of the prevalent pattern of education and its modes of evaluation and examinations-the way it dissociates the child from nature, makes her compete with others and forget her own quest, and generates a violent/hierarchical mind.
See yourself as your own competitor instead of competing with others.
This is Mr. Modi’s sixth mantra. How is it possible Mr Modi so long as you ask them to become ‘exam warriors’? As ‘warriors’, they will cherish social Darwinism, the logic of the ‘survival of the fittest, compete with others and derive narcissistic pleasure in defeating others-the way your ‘patriotic’ army officers celebrate their ‘victory’ after giving a couple of lessons to Pakistan. This is an ugly world. And these children are growing up with violence-yes, ‘legitimate’ violence in the name of protecting the nation from what the likes of Golwalkar and Savarkar regarded as ‘alien invaders’, violence in the name of honouring ‘Bharat Mata’. The board results will be declared in the month of May. Your successful ‘warriors’ will join the IITs and eventually migrate to the United States; and some of those who would fail in the war would commit suicide, pass through acute depression, and somehow survive with a sense of wounded consciousness. ‘Yoga Asanas’, believe me, would not help them. Moreover, if you are truly striving for yoga as a union of the body and cosmic consciousness, how can you talk about ‘warriors’? Warriors do not unite, they divide.
Mr Modi, you are powerful. As the publisher (truly an international brand) suggests, you love reading and writing, and you are among the most followed leaders on social media. Who am I? Nothing, Mr. Modi. I am a simple/unknown teacher; and yet with absolute humility I differ from you because I believe that children ought to be seen as flowers to bloom, not warriors to evolve ‘strategies’. The moment this ugly exam system reduces them into ‘warriors’ they are finished. Your ‘mantras’ will remain ineffective. Some of them might become the employees of your foreign investors or friends like Ambani and Adani; but the inspiration of a compassionate/egalitarian society is unlikely to emerge from them. Is it possible for you to read more, go deeper, rethink what you have written in this ‘well packaged’ book, converse with great educationists in the world, and write a new book (I am sure your publisher appreciates good books, not merely ‘best sellers’ by celebrities for instant consumption) that will inspire children to become truly educated and create a culture that the likes of Kabir and Ramakrishna, Gandhi and Tagore strove for?
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