Schools: Not The Best Place For Learning

The schooling has become far from what we believed it to be; the place for learning. It is mostly a place for testing your child's memory. The teachers don't facilitate learning, they only teach what needs to be taught! No wonder we are failing our creative geniuses every day!

Most of us would either feel offended or outrageous! How can it be? This statement is so out of line! How can schools not be the best place for learning? I’ve spent months and months to study which school was the best and now that my child is going there and I am spending this monstrous amount of money every month, he is going to come out the best there can be. I don’t believe in this atrocious statement at all!

If you too are one of the million people who echo this emotion, Good for you! And I can totally understand the feeling, however, I’d like to first clarify one thing. I am talking about ‘schooling’ as a concept here and not the schools per se! Now let me ask one question before we go any further. When was the last time your children were euphoric for going to school? You know like delighted, thrilled or even elated? How long ago was that? How many days in a month you don’t pity your kids! When you don’t wish for a better system than what we have, and when you don’t feel that their childhood is at stake on the altar of schooling and homework! Please pay attention that I didn’t say ‘Learning’ because that is independent of schooling. Learning never had or has much to do with schooling. We only like to believe so. But you may ask, how can it be? We were told our children are learning?  You meant ‘cramming’ dear, not learning! because that too is independent of ‘learning!” The learning is happening not with the support of school but in spite of the school! If you doubt it, ask your children a few questions from last year’s syllabus. You’ll be surprised! We do have some science to prove it.

In school, mere exposure to content information (lecture, text, etc.) is no guarantee that it will reach the personal/emotional threshold of “personal importance” to the learner, where encoding the information for permanent memory storage is deemed warranted. What students encode depends on what they are paying attention to at the time. Although we often wonder why our students forget important lesson content, the bigger problem is, Was it ever encoded for memory”



Teaching Children For The Friday Test

The problem is we are not teaching our children for the joy of learning but for the Friday test! No wonder the children are increasingly disinterested in studies and do not enjoy going to school. But we are not bothered. We never notice why schools are creating million of barely literate zombies, when we are giving them little children who are full of life, wonder and curiosity. What is happening to them? Why a 5 year old has to sit through a 40 minute class and do so one period after another and is not allowed to talk or be fidgety? The age in which a child has an abundance of energy is supposed to ‘sit for hours’ ‘behave,’ be ‘disciplined’ ‘learn’  as doing this will lead to a good life later. ( for which none of us are sure).

Education Is Not Linear, It Is Organic

We have been made to believe in the linearity of education and that it is a process which grows in linear motion. The irony is that even after last 40-50 years of data, we still believe in this? We still believe that a child who is in 8th standard can only learn if he has learned everything till 7th standard! We believe that by making children sit through uninteresting lessons year after year, we are giving them some secret formula for a good life! The truth can’t be away from it. Just like a manufacturing plant we are producing so called learned people who are segregated only by the year of their manufacturing!

The Children Who Become Thinkers And Doers, Become So Despite Schooling

The children who are thinkers and doers, remain so despite schooling. The parents and their understanding of the education plays a pivotal role in making one child a leader and the other a follower. If you start to understand the education as a dynamic and organic process, you’d start looking at schooling differently and it will go a long way in helping your child. Those who believe that by only doing what school teaches is enough to make you stand out are the biggest fools! I apologise. I don’t have a better word! Let me ask you something here…

Can you define an atom?  How about the critical analysis of Macbeth?  How much complex vectors and geometry do you remember? Even though we did these subjects at school, most of this information has been lost but we are still considered to be educated people. We only retain core information and concepts.  For example, we could probably define an atom and electron.  We do remember that Shakespeare wrote Macbeth.  We can do basic mathematics necessary for ordinary life. but we’ve lost thousands and thousands of other concepts. This means that we need to teach core information and concepts to all students, but we should not be concerned if not all information discussed is retained by all students. We only know the more detailed information if we continue to use it but if we don’t, our brain too gets rid of it!

The Happily Ever After Illusion

Now, if that is the case, the way a school teaches today, looks quite delusional! Chapter after chapter of information to young tired brains and restless bodies, who are so bored in the whole of things that in spite of us making it interesting, they don’t really connect with the concept as it doesn’t resonate with their lives. They only cram for good marks.  Because that is what we’ve told them explicitly or implicitly!Those who get good grades every year, go to good college, become engineers/doctors/professionals/ get good jobs/have good salaries and remain happily ever after! Being parents I’d urge you to look around and count on your fingertips the happily ever after people in your circle! you’d be shocked at the paucity of happiness in most cases. I am not being philosophical here and not discarding the importance of education; What I am discarding is what we’ve come to identify education and learning with! The schooling, which it is clearly not.

Do you know,  According to Upanishads, our ancient scriptures from around 500 BC. An exploratory learning process was encouraged, where teachers and students were co-travellers in a search for truth. The teaching methods used reasoning and questioning. Nothing was labeled as the final answer.

As parents you must’ve read about Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory. ( I’d request you to read if you haven’t already) “This theory emerged from recent cognitive research and “documents the extent to which students possess different kinds of minds and therefore learn, remember, perform, and understand in different ways,”

Gardner says that these differences “challenge an educational system that assumes that everyone can learn the same materials in the same way and that a uniform, universal measure suffices to test student learning. Indeed, as currently constituted, our educational system is heavily biased toward linguistic modes of instruction and assessment and, to a somewhat lesser degree, toward logical-quantitative modes as well.” Gardner argues that “a contrasting set of assumptions is more likely to be educationally effective. Students learn in ways that are identifiably distinctive. The broad spectrum of students – and perhaps the society as a whole – would be better served if disciplines could be presented in a numbers of ways and learning could be assessed through a variety of means.”

I know a lot of it may sound overwhelming but as parents and educators, we owe it to our children to understand why we shouldn’t go crazy for marks and why a good grade is not an effective indicator of your child’s intelligence!

Divergent Thinking Is Crucial, So Is Creativity!

There are skills we all know are important for our children to lead a good life. Beyond grades these skills are self-sufficiency, effective communication, confidence, creativity, free and divergent thinking,  logical, critical and analytical decision-making etc. Now I’d like to ask you how many of these skills your child possess and why he is never graded on these crucial life skills? The reason is we never question! We think the school knows everything because everyone is going there and if everyone is going there, it must be right! You would think that school should be taking care of it since you are paying a hell lot of money every month! well, here are the results of an experiment, “Breakpoint and Beyond, George Land and Beth Jarman, describe a longitudinal study which they conducted on 1,600 kindergarten children aged three to five. They gave them eight tests on divergent thinking. 

(Divergent thinking tests measure an individual’s ability to generate multiple approaches to solving a problem. The tests typically use simple questions such as: what are the uses for a flower pot? An average person would have 10 to 15 answers to this question. A genius of divergent thinkingwould come up with a hundred possible answers, and they do this by changing the concepts of already existing thinking – can the flower pot be 10 metres wide, or can it be made of rubber, and so forth.)

The kindergarten children scored an astonishing 98 per cent. They scored within the creative genius category!

Five years later, they re-tested the same children, now aged eight to 10 and only 32 per cent scored in the creative genius category. Five years later only 10 per cent of the children scored in this category. In tests of over 200,000 adults over 25, only two per cent scored enough to be classified as creative geniuses. The question is ‘What are we doing to the most precious traits of human intelligence and mind when we teach our children about the ‘only one right answer’ approach. We are making them creatively handicapped every passing day and we somehow feel proud in being called educated.”

There is no denying that a few schools (the experiential schools mostly) do try to work out within the realm of standardised education policies but if we talk about the majority of the schools in this country, especially the more academically inclined, the ones in urban slums, in remote areas, we still have a long long way to go.

But what is the alternative with you? What can you as a parent do? You can’t stop sending the children to school. More than the learning we want the peer exposure, social structure and routine but are we compromising too much to get only this? What can we really do? For starters, you can surely do more than what you are doing now. For once stop going crazy about cramming and try analysing your child’s personality. Communicate with him to know what are his inherent interests and what gives him happiness. How does he learn the best and how can you give him the skills irrespective of the school’s curriculum.

In the next post, We will learn more about some amazing alternatives available and the ways in which we can build up such skills through dialogue and communication with our children.






  1. Its amazing as your other articles : D, appreciate it for putting up.

  2. Avatar Grenville Green

    Hello again from England Deepa.

    Stephen is now 51 years of age and has managed to learn to read music, play the piano, keyboard and organ. Stephen is also a good pool player, plays board games and dominoes.

    Over a ten year period, a family friend has taught Stephen to play the piano.

    If you have time to research Stephen Green Down syndrome piano. Proof of his ability and his progress are there to see. Reason I mention some of his ability now is because of your excellent article and understanding, where a good rounded education is concerned.

    Stephen has been lucky enough to be taught the way he learns. Education is not a one size fits all, and good teachers, in my experience are a little thin on the ground.

    Best Wishes Grenville and Stephen Green.

    • You’ve done a great job Grenville. I hope to see my girl do all that Stephen is doing. He is a role model for all our kids. Thanks for writing 🙂

      • Avatar Grenville Green

        Stephen lost his wonderful mother to cancer when he was 28, He speaks about the terrible loss of his mother towards the end of the BBC OUCH video on your blog I re-married 8 years ago, and with no formal qualifications (we had not met then) my wife successfully taught English in Sweden. How did she do it?. By making learning fun. No written work, that came later. After all children learn to speak and behave in an appropriate way, long before they enter the regimental tick box school system.

        • Absolutely right Gren, the school systems is creating machine like followers who think the same, work the same and live the same. We need more entrepreneurs, more visionaries and risk takers. ‘Teaching to learn’ is the best thing you can teach a child. Glad to hear about you wife’s english teaching in Sweden.

  3. Thanks Deepa. Just yesterday, me and hubby were discussing if the school has an overall negative or positive impact on Vihaan. As you know, we need to be even more careful in case of special children. And today, I read this post. You have helped me clarify my doubts (yet again).

    • Thanks Ritu! It is always good to know when your writing helps in some way 🙂 thanks for your words

  4. very true. like in movie 3 idiots we are just running for the marks not before excellence. Our school are just a business house. with no guarantee and no responsibility.

    • Absolutely! Most of the schools are being run like commercial enterprises! Sad but true

  5. very nice thought deepa, i also agree with you,,,,,i appreciate your thought and liked ur example of climbing the tree. genuinely our school structure is the same……….all the best to my lovely friend keep going to right path……….

  6. Well Written Deepa. Gives an insight to the whole gimmick of and learning.


  7. Deepa totally agree with you !