A recent newspaper article mentioned the screening of Paan Singh Tomar at IFFI, Goa attended by Sutapa Sikdar and Babil, the beloved wife and elder son of Irrfan Khan. She quoted a dialogue from the movie, ‘Ek race ko poora karna padta hai. Chahe haar ho, chahe jeet ho, ek finish line hai, usko chhoona padta hai’ and added ‘Irrfan’s finish line came too soon, but he played well.’ If we look around, are we preparing our children for this race or are we teaching them merely to race against each other? Because eventually, the finish line is going to come one day, right in front.
Does racing come naturally to us or are we conditioned to race? Speed, by far, is one of the most significant criteria in deciding who is better than the other. However, the question is if it is the right criteria; efficiency versus effectiveness is the debate. Even after intentionally making an effort not to use the phrase ‘let us see who comes first’ while feeding my daughter, eventually when she started playing in the park, she learnt it. When I look around, the societal structure, institutional mechanisms, jobs market and education system, all are majorly based on rewarding individuals or teams that reach the finish line first. In an environment where time is money and the winner completes the task before others, can Being Slow make any difference to the potential outcomes?
I teach in a management program. There is always a certain sense of skepticism that I have come across, especially from peers in other disciplines, about the relevance of management education. Most of the MBA programs in our country, modeled primarily on the American business schools, are designed according to a semester or a trimester system. The top institutions mostly follow the trimester system where in a span of three months, a minimum of six to seven courses are taught to the students as opposed to the traditional yearly system in the Universities where sometimes six courses were taught in one full year.
A student once wrote in a feedback form – ‘We are bombarded with courses, and by the time we start understanding the course, trimester ends.’ This student may or may not be reflecting the sentiment of the majority, but definitely has a point. Further, the delivery is more or less one-way where the instructor delivers and students are on the receiving end. With back to back lectures, followed by assignments and other activities, when do our students get the time to think? Although many reforms have been implemented as far as pedagogy is concerned, mostly these are limited to few top institutions. Our country has a wide spectrum of institutions – ranging from the top-notch autonomous ones to small, private ones in remote districts. Ironically, whenever I have attended a training workshop on ‘pedagogy reforms’, the instructor has used ‘lecture method’ to explain that the least effective pedagogy for teaching students is none other than the lecture method. As far as I remember, there were very few classes throughout my school and college life, where I did not fall asleep. Always being on the receiving end was the biggest challenge, even though I had a very genuine intention to learn. Probably this is the reason that students celebrate when teachers are on leave; we did that too.
Business organizations are competing in an extremely competitive environment. They want out of the box thinking; creativity that can help them predict and meet the disruptive challenges heads on before their competitors. Can education based on dissemination of knowledge and a system that rewards speed and memorization power produce the desired creative individuals? The entrance examinations of most of the management programs are based on testing intelligence and not creativity because they test the ability to identify patterns and make calculations within a limited period of time. Personally, I was very good at finding solutions but time was a challenge for me. This surprised my teachers who thought I was very intelligent but never did well in these time-bound examinations.
Daniel Kahneman describes it as System 2 thinking in his path-breaking book – ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’. So, am I a System 2 Thinker? But more important is if there is a space for such individuals in our education system? Not sure as students, but definitely there is some scope for us to be teachers. Emphatically speaking, going slow does not only mean reducing workload, instead it means creating a space for integration and interdisciplinary thought for the students to look at the bigger picture. It is not about making them slow learners but about enabling them to extrapolate the results of their qualifications so that they understand that sometimes, being ahead in terms of numbers doesn’t necessarily mean that you are flying; at least, they should be able to decide the parameters of their own success and happiness.
My niece was given ‘0’ in a class test where she was supposed to write a story based on a picture. To our utter dismay, all the students were supposed to write the story taught by the teacher. This, in my eyes, is criminal. If all the students will write the same story, how will we develop imagination? My daughter asks me – ‘Mom, when I can write A; why do you make me write it on the full page. Why isn’t this fun? Why don’t I feel like doing it?’ Is this because it is an obligation? Is this because the student will be judged publicly based on what she does and her real learning has nothing much to do with it? Or is she being put in a situation where the power equation plays a role and she feels dominated? Or she is unable to compete because she thinks slowly? Deliberate slow thinking could be extremely helpful in many professional and personal situations. The ability to stop being immediately reactive and taking time to think and respond could be an extraordinary and significant determinant of happiness. Happiness is what matters at the end of the day, isn’t it? Our next generation will hardly relate with the ghazal – ‘Woh kagaz ki kashti, woh barish ka pani’ because predominantly their childhood is spent in watching television, playing video games, going to school and completing homework. As a matter of fact, the number of children who would have never seen a frog jump or a peacock dance or an eagle fly is increasing every day.
Optimistically, education systems across the world are evolving and taking into consideration the diverse capacities of individuals. Being Slow could definitely be the new wave in the education system- be it a foundational level like primary or a competitive, deciding level like higher education. The global challenges are becoming complicated and daunting; to meet these challenges we need individuals who can think differently and who know how to work not only on the principles of competition but also collaboration. The pandemic year 2020 has been an eye opener for many of us and now is a good time to prepare ourselves for the next decade. Probably, our kids, who have the wonderful gift of being natural and transparent, don’t need us too much; they need to be left on their own. Maybe, they would be better off without our predispositions, prejudices, templates and ideas. Probably, they will learn more by observing bee-hives than through coding classes. Maybe, they will grow to be emotionally independent rather than insecure and fearful if they have the time to explore themselves. Probably, our speed will ruin them and they could lead much more fulfilling lives if they are SLOW.
Sketch by Nidhi Prasad, MBA (1st Year), MNIT Jaipur; Photos: turtle by Anil R Wadhwaani; others from Unsplash
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