If you’re saying that you’re gonna participate in a competition, it’s always expected that you’ll top, you’ll secure first position. It’s a common psychology of almost everyone. Competition means topping & nothing more nothing less. Competitive exams like IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) Mains & Advanced, Pre-Medical Test (PMT), Indian Administrative Service (IAS) are coming or are going on (if you’re staying in India). These are some of the country’s toughest exams which try to search toppers among thousands or even half a million of candidates. Institutes like IIT give admissions to only about 2% of candidates. Uffff…frightening!! It’s commonly assumed that tougher the exam, better the quality. It’s like reputation of the institute. They proudly say – ‘out of thousands or lakhs of those who worked day night to achieve their dreams, we’ve selected only best thousand…’ But they don’t add – ‘…and by doing so we’ve destroyed thousands of dreams.’ I don’t know if you think only few selected out of 7 billion can achieve excellence, are gifted enough to be best. But I DON’T do so. I DO believe that excellence can be achieved among 99% of our population & due to some reason or other remaining 1% may not be able to do so, but there’s no guarantee in that too, may be they can also achieve outstanding excellence. So, to be honest, if right condition can be created, 100% can achieve excellence, & if few hundreds can’t for some extreme situation, then too, there’s not that much problem.

The question that – Instead of searching for toppers among billion, why we don’t try to make everyone topper – came few days ago for 2 incidents. First was, while searching, I got to know that only 2% of the luckiest students can go for quality education to IIT & second was while I was watching a TED video of leading educationist & founder of SOLE (Self-organizing learning environment) – Dr. Sugata Mitra. Those 2 incidents prompted me to ask myself this question. And I want to share the same feeling & curiosity with you all.

What really hurt me the most was the fact that only 2% can have access to quality engineering education in India. It gave me a hard blow. I was wondering what would happen to 98% of the students. Definitely, they’d apply for other reputed institutions in the country, but to me, it’s still awkward that only 2% are meant to be best engineers in our country. And the incident that sparked a hope that 100% excellence is possible came to me after watching that extremely motivational & mind blowing video of Sugata Mitra at TED Conference 2013. (Here’s the video from TED.com – http://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_build_a_school_in_the_cloud.html). Let me share what he’s doing.

While teaching computer programming in Delhi 14 years ago, it came to his mind whether extremely poor slum children would be able to learn to program or whether they should learn to do these kinds of things. He thought of doing something special. He dug a hole in the wall of his office & fitted a computer there. All those kids rushed to see what that ‘thing’ was. They asked him, but he answered he don’t know & went to work. Then, when he came out to see what’s going on 8 hours later, he was shocked to see that those children who had never seen a computer in their life & didn’t know what a computer is, started to teach each other how to browse! It gave him a hard blow. He was shocked. His colleagues told him that may be someone passing by showed them how to browse & now they’re doing it themselves. So he tried the same thing 300 miles away from Delhi in a distant village where there’s no or little chance of any computer literate passing by. And the same thing happened there too. In another village in South India, he left a computer with biotechnology lessons in it & told the children that these things are important & in English. While he returned after few months, he was amazed to see that a small girl was talking of how neurons communicate. When asked, they told that they understood almost everything. Since then, he has been doing these things around the globe getting the same results again & again. CHILDREN WERE LEARNING BY THEMSELVES.  It was a shock to Dr. Mitra & others who learnt about his experiment & so am I. But at the end of the day, it can be concluded firmly that if we completely change the present system of education, there’re lots of hopes of achieving 100% excellence among 100% population. It seems like a big effort, but honestly speaking, it’s much easier than what we’re doing right now. What Dr. Mitra did? He just put a computer left alone with children & went away. Nothing more. And things happened automatically. Students started teaching themselves. In present system of education, you need to admit your children in big costly schools where teachers have to lecture for hours & still, students don’t pay attention, & it’s a matter of worry for you too. And basically students don’t have natural tendency of learning & you just need to put them in that death hole! But what was the magic behind those children? Were they gifted? Did they give attention because they hadn’t seen such things even in their life? No, not at all. The only magic was in that type of self-organizing education. Dr. Mitra calls it Self-Organizing Learning Environment (SOLE). What happened with those students was that they were learning themselves in their own way, at their own pace. There was no one to scold them for mistakes; there was no one to keep eye on them. They did in their own way. They didn’t need to keep quite. It was just students doing everything by themselves in their own way. So such system has much more potential than we might have thought of. I better recommend you to watch that TED talk by Dr. Mitra to know about his efforts in his own words.

Ok, so why I mentioned about it here? Because in darkness, there’re still sparks of hope & the complete revolution in education can lead to 100% toppers. In the present system of education or more simply, in the present system, we’re only searching for toppers. We’re searching for those lucky guys who passed the death race! But in doing so, we’ve forgotten about remaining 98 or 99 percent. Is it possible, in a world of 7 billion people (and still growing…!), there’re only few hundreds, who are excellent? Are the remaining waste? Could it be possible? And what the hell would that hundreds could do to the remaining billions? We never think of that. We just need first prize winners. Everyone appreciates those who come first. But have we ever asked ourselves – what’s about the other competitors? What’s about their talents? In a competition or a game, it’s possible that out of 100, there comes one winner. But that doesn’t come solely by talents or skills, rather, that comes by chance, by luck. The worst thing that we people do is we only think about that one topper who was lucky enough to survive & ignore or forget remaining 99. But if these things go on, can we think of facing the challenges of 21st century, of ever growing population? Definitely no. The present system is similar to monarchy. Why? I’m not talking about politics. But I’m talking about people’s participation. In monarchy, only the king or queen & members of the council have the sole authority to take decisions & remaining millions of citizens don’t have any right to participate. The same is going on today. Only selected few out of millions or billions are assumed to be capable of top level of works. Though everyone has fundamental rights in a nation, it’s indirectly assumed that only that less than 1 or 2 % are capable of top level of works & remaining others are nothing. Is it democratic? Ok, I’m definitely not saying that an organization or institute can select everyone who comes to apply or everyone is perfect for every type of work. This is not practical. But what I’m saying is that we need a system which encourages entrepreneurship, which gives chances to almost everyone. And this is now possible by internet technology. We need to give share to everyone by some way or other or encourage them to start their own companies. Moreover, in terms of education, every institute should give equal, quality education to everyone. There shouldn’t be anything like – this is the best institute & only top lucky students can go there. Talents are multi-dimensional. They can’t just be compared by exams or something like that. So chances must be given to everyone some way or other because then we’ll be able to utilize the talents of all mankind. In that process, there could be someone more successful or more talented than others for some reason or other but that’s not important. Only talents don’t add to anyone’s success. There’re many factors behind it. So that’s not something to worry about. We just need almost full utilization. Also there can’t be like 100% population would be doing something great. It’s not natural because nothing can be perfect. But at least we can hope of most of the people achieving excellence.

In this competitive world, we’re in a race to find the best of best. But we always forget that still there’re billions who are uneducated or have very less education. There’re many who are undernourished, starving of hunger. And as community of rich & educated is rising up, a community of poor & uneducated is rising, & to the amazement, they’re living together. In one side, there’re skyscrapers full of highly educated & skilled people & in other side, there’re slums full of highly poor & uneducated people. So whatever we say, the net result is always zero or is in negative. In one way, we’re saying that we’re selecting top students, producing highly skilled professionals. In other way, we’re forgetting that still there’re much more uneducated than top professionals. So in the race of finding best of best, we’ve completely forgotten uneducated people who will definitely cause much greater problems in the development of the world. The only solution is to educate 7 billion people & stop searching for best. Everyone has unthinkable skills & talents as they’re born as humans.

If we’ll always be searching for top guys, we’ll never get any positive results. This is because it causes great discouragements for those who are not selected as top. This leads them to doubt their own talents & as a result of which they can’t utilize their full potentials. In my last post too, I had described why competition doesn’t bear good results. Naturally, some people will be more influential than others due to various factors. But there shouldn’t be anything like we’re selecting the best & assuming others as average.

So, without taking this much further (I’ve already written 1860 words!), I just want to say that humankind will be getting much more challenges in the coming time. So we need full utilization of our population. There was a time when we were selecting top people, where scoring 100% was everything & 99% is nothing, but that time has gone. 21st century is the beginning of a completely new era, when there’ll not be any toppers because everyone would be topper. Right now our only goal should be to educate 7 billion people & to make everyone a topper.

Ask yourself – Instead of searching for toppers among billions, why don’t we try to make everyone a topper?

Copyright©2011-13 Sandeep Deva Misra