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Prof. Shekar, who teaches at IIM-Bangalore, says a change in the Indian education system is needed if we are to help our children’s creativity to bloom to it’s full potential.
Professor Shekar handles a course ‘Creativity in Arts and Science’ that does not need the candidate to have any technical pre-requisites, at IIMB, and has been doing it for more than a decade. The course aims at exposing students to the creative patterns present in artefacts, cutting across domains such as music, literature, cinema and mathematics. It tries to identify and explore underlying commonalities in the creative patterns. This course also encourages students to showcase their creativity as manifestations in any domain of their choice.
“Good mathematicians have the capacity to be excellent musicians,” says Professor Shekar.
Prof. Shekar, adjunct faculty at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB) talks about the misconception of creativity among students, why the lack of dignity of labour affects students’ career choices, and the current status of the Indian education system.
There is a misconception that students in the technical field are not creative. To what extent do you think this statement is true?
There is a stereotype that creativity is often associated with arts. But creativity is intrinsically there in all human beings. It is not specialised knowledge nor is it endowed with a privileged few.
Not to mention, people generally fail to see that aesthetics present in arts is also present in science in all its shades and colours. Arts and science are not actually that different. They are two sides of the same coin. Those who are good at Science, have the potential to be equally good at music too. Take Einstein for example. He was a great physicist and a good violinist. This is because Mathematics and music have a common link. If you understand Mathematics, you can easily pick up music. Manifestations in music, painting or science which involve creativity are revelations of the different shades of creative intelligence present in all of us.
Do you think that students of the current generation are exploring their full creative potential?
Sadly no. The fault lies with the teacher who introduces the subject to the students especially for the first time. An ordinary teacher reads out from books – a common practise in India; in which case there is no difference between a teacher and a textbook. The way a teacher communicates the knowledge available in a textbook is a key aspect our education. A good teacher explains whatever is given in the book, and an excellent teacher demonstrates the same in some form or other. However, an outstanding teacher inspires the students. The teacher who introduces a student to a subject for the first time has the potential to make or break the student’s interest in that subject.
In actuality, teaching should inspire students to do great work in any subject and pursue it further. Even Albert Einstein had a mentor when he was young. Teaching should bring out a student’s dormant creativity. Our education system is replete with teachers who fail in this important exercise. Learning and teaching from textbooks does not help develop creativity. Irrespective of the subject, students who motivate themselves and persevere until the end are the only ones who bring out that spark. However, they belong to a microscopic minority.
The chances of students tapping into their creativity are abysmally low. This is due to the vicious cycle between classroom teaching and tutorial-coaching. Usually students go to tutoring centres because of poor teaching in schools. As the teachers know that students attend tutorial classes, they don’t put effort into their teaching, and this becomes a vicious cycle.
Creativity gets thrown into the wind due to another sad feature of the system. Tutorial centres and normal school teaching concentrate on the evaluation component of the education system. This encourages the students to focus only on evaluation and not on the richness, beauty and creativity present. Thus, the dormant creativity gets buried deeper and deeper. I know only a handful of schools that are not oriented in this direction.
What is your opinion of the current Indian education system?
It’s really bad. The Indian education system is a one-track system having tunnel-vision. The system is structured in such a way that everyone has to squeeze and go through the same track. Let me expand on this. I used to teach 10th standard Mathematics in a blind school. They were studying for the Karnataka State Syllabus. When I looked at the mathematics syllabus, I noticed ‘group structure’ as one of the topics. I didn’t understand the need for such a sophisticated topic at that stage. This topic will be of no use to those who do not pursue Mathematics beyond SSLC. Grasping this topic may even be hard for some students. This was a syllabus framed by the government. Many of the students may go for vocational training. Some others may take up jobs that may just require reading, writing and arithmetic. They certainly do not require abstract thinking that gets encouraged by topics like this.
A major problem with the Indian education system is its assembly – line orientation. Due to this, students struggle to cope with the system. There should be multiple tracks. We need to customise education. The German system of education could be a starting point for this. Germany has different schools, catering to manual skills, machine handling skills, abstract thinking leading to university-education, and so on. Students are assessed based on their intrinsic capability, placed in each school and given the right kind of training. There are special schools for the gifted as well. Education should cater to the needs of different students.
Another major problem is that teachers are overworked. Each teacher is asked to handle many classes and many subjects. Hence, they degenerate into being ordinary teachers. To give an analogy, the deterioration present in the quality of music today which was present in the yesteryear is because of having to do more in less time.
Why do you think that students do not develop their creativity and pursue careers in a creative field?
Due to peer, societal and parental pressure, students are coerced into performing well at school. All three have a negative role to play. All three have a bias in christening engineering, medicine and charted accountancy to name a few as superior professions. Any other profession is deemed grossly inferior. This belief is bred by the society. It’s unfortunate, but in our Indian society, there is no dignity of labour. This belief is deep rooted. To put it simply we do not respect individuals but only their degrees, designation and profession. The definition of class may change over time, but class derogation will continue.
As a result, we don’t treat individuals from all professions with the same respect. This is something that has to change. Nobody discerns the fact that an individual has dignity. I don’t see this change taking place anytime soon. I feel the change has to come from the grass-root level. That’s why it may take a long time.
Unless, the society has dignity of labour or class, it will leave an unhealthy influence on coming generations. More unfortunate than that – future generations will not even know the cause for the malady that may be disguised in various forms, behind the ill-happenings in that era.
Do you have any advice for students who want to pursue creative endeavours?
Doing something creative means addressing issues hitherto unaddressed, attempting unsolved problems, and so on. The common ingredient across all creative endeavours will invariably involve a re-look at the foundations. It may be in any field. It has to be done in an encouraging environment. Usually it starts at home. Generally, the society gives value to any profession on the basis of monetary returns. This could impair a student’s judgement.
Students should choose professions based on their innate love and inner calls. One should not choose a profession based only on monetary compensations. You may end up finding your profession trite and cumbersome. Note that monetary compensation is based on demand and supply at that point of time. If you base your decision on this, you will quickly reach an empty state. On the contrary, if you pursue a career based on an inner call, your deep involvement that is guaranteed to be present will encourage delving into the creative side of you. Your love will always help overcoming external hurdles also.
Image source: Sanjana
Header image source: Flickr, for representational purposes only.
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