Making learning fun: And why it is important to teach students ethics of work

Yet, with new technologies of 3D printing, reasonably priced materials and the Internet, one can teach students in such a way so that learning becomes enjoyable

Anil K. Rajvanshi Aug 05, 2022
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Several years ago, I was invited to give a major lecture at my alma mater IIT Kanpur (IITK). My lecture was an inspirational one where I told the students how through their technological training they can help in nation building and, in the process, achieve happiness. After my lecture a group of students wanted to discuss with me some issues on agriculture (an area which I had stressed in my lecture).

So, over coffee at Cafe Coffee Day in the IITK campus, some of them said that I give too much stress on idealism and the country. They said that corruption is a part of life, and they can factor that in their enterprise as increased service cost! Their cynical and streetwise behavior shocked me and bothered me tremendously and I felt that they had no empathy or honesty and were justifying their materialistic behaviour. One of them went so far as to tell me that he was purposely failing in his B. Tech so that he can stay for a much longer time in IITK and use its facilities for running his business in Punjab!

I also felt dejected that what we as society have done to raise this type of young generation who have no ethics or moral values and everything is based on making money.

A broken education system

Since then, I have interacted with hundreds of students all over India. Anytime when I ask them to help in our NGO and do some work for social enterprise, their first reaction is how much package they will get. What work they

 must do is never in their vision field or is something that they want to discuss.                    

Yet it is not the students’ fault. I feel they are smart and want to do something meaningful in their lives. It is the fault of the broken education system, poor role models and society’s pressures to make money at any cost that make them behave like that.

Around 20-30 percent of India’s youth are neither employed nor going to school and this number could have increased during the pandemic. Thus, they are easy prey to social evils. Thus, rapes, riots, burglaries or just general hooliganism is carried out by most of these youths. They are almost like ticking bombs since they have bottled up frustration and anger.

The lot of the educated ones is no better than that of these unemployed youth. They have all learned to pass exams with very few skills and hands-on experience and thus are unfit to work. A generally quoted figure that only 7-12 percent engineering graduates are fit to be employed could also be applicable to most of the other educational streams.

They must be trained on the job for many years before they become practicing professionals. The amount of money and time wasted in training these fresh graduates is tremendous and is a drain on the country’s resources.

Ethics teaching

But more than simply learning some subjects and passing exams, what is not taught either in schools or in colleges is the ethics of work and how to become a good human being and a good citizen.

Once the qualities of a good human being and ethics of work are inculcated in youth, they can do work in any environment and learn new things. The education system theoretically should prepare a student for taking up challenges – an important part of ethics of work. But it does not do so and what the students learn is simply passing exams with questions given in the question papers which are as removed from reality as possible.

To be a good human being and have ethics of work (both are related to each other) should be taught right from school onwards. In every course there should be a short section on ethics of work and examples of how great people were ethical. This continuous focus on morality (not religion) will help the students to raise their quality of thinking.

During my school days we used to have a compulsory course in moral science in every grade. Though some of the material was Christian-oriented (it being a missionary school), one book I remember vividly had a great impact on my young mind.  It was the life of Nobel Laureate Albert Schweitzer entitled “All men are brothers; A Portrait of Albert Schweitzer”. Dr. Schweitzer’s life in African jungles and his missionary work in treating the poorest had a great impact on me.

Inspirational stories

I am sure such inspiring stories of both Indians and others will inspire the young minds. Thus, it is necessary to develop story books about the lives of great people in India and they should not be coloured by any ideology but should be based on historical facts.

Together with this should be the programme of teaching Indian classics in the schools. Such teachings will expose the children to noble ideas – something they are not exposed to either in electronic or print media.

It is also possible that what the students learn in school is unlearnt during their interaction with family members and surroundings. Yet, we must persist in our endeavour to teach them ethics and good behaviour. This is a long learning process and will take time to infiltrate into society since these youngsters are the future of our country.  

In many institutes and organizations (both government and private), I have seen many examples of scientists and engineers who are employed by them trying to 'screw' the system and quite a few also brag about how they hoodwinked their superiors and hardly did any work. Besides not doing work, the biggest tragedy is when they fudge or falsify experimental data. They seem to have no qualms in doing it because they have only been trained to pass exams by hook or crook.

When there is too much emphasis on rote learning and passing objective-type tests, then the elements of cheating, corruption and general thievery creep in. This mentality is then carried over in other aspects of life.

Innovative teaching

We need to make education very enjoyable. Today it is mostly rote learning and passing examinations.  If we engage the students thoroughly in the class with interesting hands-on work and experiments, they will have less time to think about criminal things. After all, an empty mind is a devil’s workshop. Open book exams, many more marks for project activities etc. will help in this process.

In some of the great schools all over the world, students make things through 3D printers and are engaged in other activities which not only occupy their time but also help them learn about physics, chemistry, mathematics and other subjects in an enjoyable way. This learning method is called Maker Movement in the US where students make various items of daily use; in doing so they learn a lot about their underlying principles and technologies. This hands-on experience is further extended when students enter undergraduate degree courses.

However, for this to happen we need great teachers who love to teach and inspire students.  Presently the whole teaching system in India is based upon the principle “Those who cannot – teach”!

Even with very good pay for teachers we rarely get great teachers. I feel one can never hire teachers – they are born that way. The trick is to identify them in every walk of life and maybe induce them to join the teaching profession.

Since most people involved in teaching are doing so only for a living, it becomes very easy for them to focus only on curriculum and nothing else. This creates a regime which only emphasizes passing examinations.

Using new technologies

Yet, with new technologies of 3D printing, reasonably priced materials and the Internet, one can teach students in such a way so that learning becomes enjoyable.  

My daughter Madhura Rajvanshi teaches English in Kamala Nimbkar Bal Bhavan in Phaltan, Maharashtra. She teaches 7th and 8th grade students English through movie making. She has taught them to make short videos which they upload on YouTube. They have become so interested in making them that they spend a lot of time on the Internet searching for themes and music. This creativity bug keeps them busy, and hopefully weans them away from chatting on social networks.

Teaching the young ethics of work and how to become good human beings will help reduce greed, give them a perspective in life and can ultimately help in making India a great and happy nation.

(The writer, an IIT and US-educated Indian engineer,  a 2022 Padma Shri award winner, is Director, Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute, Phaltan, Maharashtra. Views are personal. He can be reached at anilrajvanshi@gmail.com)

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