Nepal | September 28, 2020

Failing education system: A Marxian paradigm

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Our education system, instead of preparing students for the growing complexities of the world, prepares them for a 2-3-hour edgy test, where mugged-up facts are the basis for the paper’s validity rather than the understanding of the students

Today while we dream of prosperity of the country and citizens, it is important to see whether the pillars needed to realise this dream are well built. Education is one such pillar. My sociology professor once said, “If you want to improve society, check its legal system, which governs human conduct, and the education system, which governs the human mind.” But growing unemployment and swift departure of youths for foreign lands for work have, inter-alia, shown there is need for intense discourse on the failing education system and improve it.

Karl Marx has worked on a plethora of areas other than communist ideology whilst dealing with his ideas on class struggle. Among these many topics, I shall take two topics: Labor and human potential, followed by his criticism of capitalism as a point of reference while unveiling a different paradigm to shed light on the prevailing failing education system. I tend to call this paradigm the Marxian paradigm.

Claiming human potential to be intertwined with our specific social relations and our institutional context, Marx asserted that despite human potential being “modified in each historical epoch”, there is a human potential in general. According to Marx, this general human potential is the unique ability of humans to objectify one’s imagination and ideas into reality, and this ability resides only in humans. For instance, a man thinks of cultivating some barren land and brings his thoughts into action, hence objectifying his imagination.

While objectifying our ideas, we perform certain actions, which Marx terms labour. Labour, according to Marx, not only objectifies our imagination but also brings change in the material world and augments our human potential at the end of the task by enhancing our creativity and encouraging more productive actions.

In this way, Marx showed how labour and human potential are intertwined and how labour defines, transforms and helps realise our human potential. Marx said that capitalism comes in between this relationship of labour and human potential.

Describing his societal context of the suppressed proletariat and the suppressing bourgeoisie, Marx claimed that capitalism alienates workers from productive activity of objectification of their own ideas by making them spend their labour producing goods that are not of their own imagination but those of the capitalists’.

Quoting Albert Einstein, Mathew Kelly in his selfhelp book “The Rhythm of Life: Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose” wrote: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Keeping in mind this statement, let’s think about the current education system. Does it, in any way, acknowledge the unique talent that’s hidden in every student? Or does it provide students with skills and knowledge that would guide them toward achieving the utmost of what they desire? The simple answer is No. Because, had we held any doubts about the inefficiency of our education system, then we would not be seeing towering unemployment and voluminous departure to foreign lands.

The pervading education system, instead of preparing students for the growing complexities of the world, prepares them for a 2-3 hour edgy test, where mugged up facts based on outdated curricula and conventional pedagogies are the basis for validity of the paper rather than the understanding of the students. Prof Dr Yubaraj Sangroula in his book Right to Have Rights, has rightly said, “The curricula and pedagogies used by the schools are typically conventional, doggedly theoretical and abstract, and are not designed to build vocational skills or intellect of students.”

Marx said labour realises human potential. Education per se is expected to enhance people’s creativity and intellect. But from the above mentioned facts, it shall be a grave error to call the education imparted even by the big institutions of the capital as education in its true form.

Projection of personal ideas and opinions is not given space as one is expected to mug up and write down the quantity of rainfall that occurs in the Brazilian rainforest, not how rain water could be effectively used for the kitchen garden. Students are being led into using their labour to objectify someone’s ideas rather than one’s own, which has deprived them from realising their human potential.

Marx had further added that the role played by capitalism in dismantling the relation between labour and human potential will leave the workers in self disappointment and self disgust. At the end of their schooling, the students do not find their creativity enhanced, rather they will be labelled as “outstanding” or “average” or “weak” based on the grades on their certificate.

Thus the students labour not for realising their purpose or human potential but for projecting on the exam sheet some theories propounded by some Western scholars decades or centuries ago and fulfilling the interests of the authority, i.e., the teacher, and this has been the meaning of education in its much failed form. It leaves students without skills and without enhanced creativity. This leads us to question: Are students being exploited by an exploiting education system that shares its nature with the exploiting political economic system that existed in the 19th century?

A version of this article appears in print on November 18, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.

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