Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, September 10, 2009

More 'Mentos', anyone?

By Sabhanaz Rashid Diya
Photo: Sabhanaz Rashid Diya

"The cow is a domestic animal. It has four legs, two eyes, one tail and eats grass…”

Over the past many years, our schools have taught our children these lines. The attributes of the great, great cow that is evidently a useful animal since it bestows man with milk, poop and meat are known by heart. You can't miss it and unfortunately, you can never quite get over it. That's when you know you've turned into the cow you've read about all those years.

However, this article goes beyond 'the cow'. The big picture highlights on our education system that not only encourages, but almost imposes the act of memorizing in our students. The very course of 'Creative Writing' undergoes an unbeatable process of memorizing a series of texts from the revered book of knowledge and puking it on exam sheets. It's a certified formula to great grades, and if it requires such limited performance of the human mind, why should we complain?

When the Ladder to Success Breaks
Of course, the complaint comes much later. As the horde of fresh BBA graduates begins to infiltrate the multinational job market, the quality of written work is a breathing evident of a life of trained con (not the cool one). Students are not only unable to produce a certain standard of creative, written piece but are substantially left behind during brain storming sessions. The effort behind producing a unique idea seems to be a sacrilege of human rights, an insurmountable task to many. At a global stance, this very A-plus crowd who bought roshogolla for their teachers on result day seem incompatible with the tremendous pressure of the rapidly growing market, and 'bang!' comes the non-Bangladeshi 'team leader' or boss.

When School Is Actually Cool
Fact is the solution is unbelievably simple. Nurturing of the creative mind begins from an early age with activities as simple as playing with Lego blocks. The process of making and breaking, creating and destroying with the imaginative mind offsets the thinking process in a child. When he/she enters school, the child's creative growth heightens with play time, art classes and drama rehearsals. He/she learns to improvise, think outside the box and develops a unique style. The kid gets promoted, writes tons of silly stories, reads them out in class and gets laughed at, and so on the process continues. It's fun, free-spirited and provides the perfect environment to develop the child's imaginations.
Well, technically... that should have been the scenario. Unfortunately, in our local context, the idea of non-academic activities as part of the learning infrastructure is yet to be implemented. Most schools focus so intently on “making the student ready for the real world” that they forget the true purpose of schooling. The excess baggage of books, incredible lengths of homework, learning multiplication at the age of five and the unrealistic pressure of weekly class tests can never enhance the young mind, but only blunt its thinking capacities. The child is so involved in this 'military' academic process where play time is awfully limited that thinking outside the cube does begin to seem like an additional burden.
The blame is equally shared by parents. How many of the dads and moms truly encourage kids to run around the fields in the evening or learn to ride a bicycle? With the advent of technology and Play stations, who needs a bit of greenery anyway? Yours truly is not against Play stations, but it's depressing to see kids a quarter of her size with round, plastic glasses. There are no story books, no football in the mud and no flying kites in autumn. If for once, these same parents and teachers stop imposing and try to remember how their own childhoods used to be, the difference is a striker.

Is Google Making Us Stupid?
The problem not only lies with the core of primary education and the nurturing of children, but also in our daily lifestyle. Thanks to “I'm Feeling Lucky!” the world is a smaller, simpler place accessible with the click of a fingertip. The seemingly unlimited amount of resources and rapid development of 'open source' by WWW, information has become fascinatingly concise that the process of reading turns irrelevant. You no longer have to spend library hours or read reference books, you can have it all and Google is awesome. Heck, you don't even need to know William Faulkner or Edgar Allen Poe if you're taking a Literature course. Google will find you a range of literary analysis papers and a bit of copy-pasting will provide you with your 'reading response' for the term.
Yes, our capacities to read and process information decreases by the minute. We longer require thinking for ourselves since someone else has been nice enough to do it for us. We no longer have the time to read, to analyse, to think, to create. How can a bright idea spark if your brain has become so intently accustomed to getting things with a search engine? How can we write when we have forgotten how to read?

The 'Mentos' Idea
Quite simply put, we still need the ingenious ideas. If Bangladesh is willing to see the light of innovative progress, our generation and the ones after us need to learn to think out loud. The cow should, by now stop infiltrating our education system, and yes, it's about time we give the 'creative processes' of learning a serious thought. Emulating, mimicking and memorizing can suffice only for a while, and if we don't want to choke under a pile load of Indian Mentos in hopes of an 'I.D.E.A', it's best that we let the cow rest in peace.



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