I just came across this interesting news article on MSNBC that blames textbooks for America’s downtrend in technological and scientific leadership at the global level. The article goes on to say that textbooks in American schools are too thick, archaic, and politically motivated. All sounds good until the article mentions that one of the reasons why India is doing so great in the knowledge and service economy is because of the good textbooks and school systems.
I have studied at Government schools for the most crucial years of my pre-college life. They are nowhere world class, or even good. The textbooks are more often than not, a complete waste of money, and are much more politically influenced than anywhere else. How can you forget the controversies surrounding them that crop up every year or so? In fact, I remember being taught the English language in Hindi!
Indian textbooks, atleast the official Government published ones, are designed basically to provide low cost education. They are really inexpensive. Most students know better and often purchase supplemental books to help them score higher in exams. If I spent Rs. 30 on a government textbook, I would be spending Rs. 300 or more on the supplemental book/guide written by more renowned authors.
I guess a very major difference between “here and there” is that in India, no one expects to be spoon-fed. There is so much competition that everyone is on their toes, perpetually, to figure out ways to outdo the other smart kid in school. At least I didn’t expect to get world class spoon-feeding at my Rs. 45 a month Government school. This is especially true in fields like science and math. Indians, by nature, stress a lot on both these subjects. It is acceptable to score in the 70s on your Hindi exam but anything less than a 90 on the science course calls for disciplinary action.
Then there’s this thing about choice. A lot of Americans are given the choice of what area/interests to pursue very early on during their schooling, whereas the earliest Indian students get a chance to make any type of choice is around the age of 16 when they decide if they want to be future engineers, doctors, artists, or writers.
Schooling doesn’t stop at the school. Almost everyone, especially the science and math majors, enrolls in post-school hours academic coaching which is often very rigorous. Coming back home at around 10PM after studying all day isn’t a rarity in India. You have to be a notch up than your neighbour if you want to succeed. There’s competition to even get into colleges, much less graduate from it.
In the end, I think it’s your personal motivation that matters more than textbooks or anything else. Sure, good schooling makes all the difference in life, but a good school system/books and poor students isn’t going to make anything happen. It’s all about imagining yourself at some position and then working your way to that position.