India's education system needs an overhaul; could films as an aid be the answer?

Education in India has been taking an undirected path, leading to a host of detrimental effects — ranging from criminal conduct from the young to suicides among schoolchildren. A national relook at it is essential not only to make Indians excel in more fields but also to channelise all types of education toward socially desirable goals in the long term. Some decades ago, there was only one way in which knowledge — outside that gained through experience — could be had, and that was through books. Reading was also the primary source of entertainment and excitement for the educated classes and it was perhaps because both education and entertainment could come from the same sources that there was little resistance to reading books among students — even those of only educational value.

All this has vastly changed since the image has replaced the word as the primary means of communicating to a large public. Reading books has become such a chore to students that there is a demand even from publishers of textbooks for books that are ‘reader-friendly’. It is in this context that one wonders if the time is not ripe for the systematic use of film as an educational aid at least in some areas — if not as an immediate builder of skills, at least to enable students to acquire a social/moral perspective on the world. It is evident that some hard skills — like understanding mathematics — cannot be learned except through reading/writing but the purpose of education is not only to impart hard skills; education is also necessary to help produce generations of good citizens. Even if careers are more important at the individual level, the nation cannot forget that it needs people who are useful, socially. Students also need introduction to a variety of learning that is more fun and less drudgery. The internet provides access to visual material but most often it is the wrong kind and students may also need weaning away.

Films could prove to be an essential aid in education. Image for representation only. REUTERS

Films could prove to be an essential aid in education. Image for representation only. REUTERS

With private education increasingly moving away from social engineering (the creation of citizens attuned to values helpful to society) and into promising personal advancement and/or excellence, an issue is whether there should be an initiative from the state to intervene in order to promote a better society and a more desirable nation. A factor constantly criticised in the media is the burden placed on students to compete, making education agonising rather than enjoyable. It is evident that the drive to ‘excel’ should also be tempered at the student level with a (parallel) softer educational curriculum that gives students a wiser perspective on learning and the world at large and hence relieves them of some of their distress.

‘Creating excellence’ does not simply end with students getting high scores in school/college but doing well in the long term, being useful, creative and happy, and most educational institutions claiming to produce ‘excellence’ are subsisting on the knowledge that society has not found a way to measure (institution-wise) the long term effects of the education imparted. Though film can also be used as an aid to inculcate the hard skills, it is as a palliative helping students get a perspective for the long term that its immediate introduction would be most useful. Education is now a business activity devoted to immediate profits instead of long term benefits to society and rather than leave it to institutions as a mere suggestion (which would probably not be taken) the state could stipulate at least 100 hours of compulsory film viewing per annum for each school/college up to a certain level while also providing a large selection of films to pick from. The nation needs to have an educational programme of its own to create useful citizens, and cannot leave this to private initiatives. But since there will be an enormous divide in what films people will find ‘instructive’ a standardisation of some sort of viewing material among institutions at the national level may be necessary.

In order to compile a list of the films suitable for educational purposes among institutions across the nation it is necessary to first identify the values to be inculcated in students. There will be variance in the way different ideological segments identify these values and it is necessary to assert that there should be no controversyon the ultimate aims of the visual education proposed. The avoidance of controversy will ensure that the programme will not generate divisions.

Keeping this in view, the following are broadly the values which need to be nurtured:

1) Arousing curiosity in students about the issues in different educational disciplines, and make them keen to acquire knowledge for its own sake
2) Creating a spirit of questioning/speculation and inculcating the need to pursue selfless goals
3) Valuing the best aspects of Indian tradition like its arts and cultural achievements
4) Understanding Indian history in relation to the world
5) Promoting a broadly humanistic worldview with egalitarianism and justice as principal components
6) Knowing something about India’s persisting problems
7) Understanding India as a composite culture with different regions/ religions contributing to its totality despite some underlying conflicts
8) Getting a broad sense of world history based on evidence to inculcate a sense of the past 9) Hearing about the lives of great people from around the world to get a sense of standards to be attained
10) Highlighting cultural variety/differences in the world through travel/ ethnographic material.

It will be simplistic to assume that all inputs will be absorbed without resistance by all sections of students but these are educational inputs which are unlikely to be resisted; the films should be so selected that they will go down well with the student community at every social level. This programme envisages that films from the same centrally determined selection will be seen by students in all institutions and this has several purposes. The primary one is to ensure that there is a common socio-cultural agenda which includes both those enjoying the most expensive/exclusive kind of private education and those studying in state-run/free tuition institutions. The fact that students from different social backgrounds watch the same kind of audio-visual material (with some choice permitted), it can be argued, will sensitise the more advantaged to the same issues as the others. Secondly, the suggested programme is partly intended as a palliative to the ruthless exploitation of education at the expense of a suffering student community burdened with too much superfluous information/learning; this implies that it cannot be used as a means of advancement/ achievement.

While it could be a kind of compulsory relief from work, competition and mindless consumption to those from whom too much is being demanded it could also become a way of informing those receiving the poorest kind of education in which nothing or little is asked for. Generally speaking, it could hence help narrow the knowledge gap between the haves and have-nots. It could also become an initiative to bring the poorer sections to education.

The programme envisages a common selection of films nation-wide from which individual institutions could pick out based on their own deemed requirements, and while some freedom to the institutions is essential, giving them too much freedom will defeat the purpose of the programme. But if 100 hours of screening time is prescribed, around 200-300 hours of films could be centrally selected for individual institutions to pick from based on their needs. There could also be two or three separate groupings based on the age of the students.

The following could be some categories of films from which a centralised selection could be made: scientific documentaries translated if necessary into local languages or Hindi (films about environment, inventions, discoveries), popular classics of Hindi and regional cinema with social values at the forefront (films on agrarian issues, social reform), films showcasing classical culture in a popular way, humanist cinema from around the world and fiction films dealing with world matters like history and science, Indian films dealing with the lives of different sections of society (minorities, films about tribal life and people from different class segments), films dealing with social issues in India, films speculating about the future, films dealing with Indian tradition/values (some mythological films). Both Indian and foreign films should be included and if foreign films are usually more directed in the information they impart, Indian films are made in a more accessible film language and their messages are more easily absorbed in India.

There could be a glitch in the envisaged programme owing to copyright issues although there is a classroom exemption allowed — since it stipulates that in the classroom where a screening is held there should be a person/teacher engaged in face-to-face teaching and that the educational institution should also be not for profit. But one imagines that if the programme is felt socially useful there will be a legally permissible way to implement it nation-wide.

MK Raghavendra is a Swarna Kamal winning film scholar and author of seven books including The Oxford India Short Introduction to Bollywood (2016). He is deeply interested in social, political and cultural issues in India.

Published Date: Aug 26, 2017 12:02 pm | Updated Date: Aug 26, 2017 01:05 pm

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