The movie 3 Idiots is one of those rare movies which is both entertaining and socially relevant at the same time. The message it delivers can be summarized as ”Education is more about gaining knowledge than earning degrees. And most importantly one must do what one loves to do”. However the movie’s central character Rancho (played by Aamir Khan) who delivers this message is shown to be disliked by the educational institue’s principal. The principal Viru Sahastrabuddhe (fondly called ViruS played by Boman Irani) here serves as a symbolism for the general attitude that prevails in the society which favors the exact opposite of the message. That is, degrees define you!
The movie has delivered this message very strongly and naturally it lead to a debate. People like Virus, the principal, were up in arms after the movie was released. Their argument was that the movies like 3 Idiots (and hence people, books or anything for that matter) which asks and encourages anyone to ”do what you love to do” are encouraging students to disrespect the educational system. On the other hand, all the Ranchos claimed that they are not against the education system per se, but the method of instruction and that finally what matters is that one must enjoy what one does!
Thus we have Ranchos at one end and Viruses at the other end divided by a deep chasm, but the hiddent fact is that both are aiming for the same destination: a happy living post education.
Having watched the movie carefully, I think the argument of the viruses was very myopic and no wonder the education system sucks, which is the point that the movie makes. It nowhere asks you to disrespect the system or the teachers. They also forget that respect is to be earned and is not a commodity that is a natural result of one being in position X. However if the viruses make a weak argument, it does not imply that the Ranchos are completely correct.
I think it is more useful to find out the questions that such thoughts (movies, people, books) raise than to argue for or against it.
Let us go back to the central idea of the movie ”You must do what you love doing”. However I would ask
Let us now go back and ask what is the purpose of education system or schools? The answer is the purpose of schools is to keep the students gainfully occupied. However the fact is that they do not keep them gainfully occupied because they suck. The best way to verify this is by asking the students themselves as also the adults. Most adults will vouch (I assume the adults to be not under a false perception or that they are not brain washed) that they were meant to do something else; however they realized it too late simply because of the liabilities that they have built up.
Now common sense says that if something does not make sense, it makes sense to stay away from it. But in this case can we just let students be at home and do nothing? So what could be the way out? Is there even a way out?
If you have read carefully, the first line of the above paragraph points to a solution. The word gainfully. What would it mean to keep students gainfully occupied? It would mean to help them explore. Yes without giving anyone an opporunity to explore, how do you expect them to ’discover’ what the enjoy doing.
Exploration we know is hard. Now helping a bunch of students to explore makes it n times harder. Here we are talking about an education system without a solid structure. We have to transform education systems into a fluid structure. It is easy to conclude here that building such a system will be very hard, but it might turn out to be self sustaining!
So what I propose is that we need both ”education systems and to find out what we enjoy doing”. This should also be true since the overall aim of both ranchos and viruses is the same; though right now they may not agree (more so the viruses). Education systems purpose then should be to help one discover what they enjoy doing, point them in the right direction, groom them with the requisite skills. Thus the chasm between the ranchos and viruses is now filled; you start with the system at the left (run by viruses) and arrive with a toolkit that helps you do what you enjoy at the right (happy ranchos).
I will describe here my visualization of such an education system. Note that I want to describe it not because I want to come up with a blueprint (it is more time consuming) but to find out how difficult it would be to implement such a system. So to start with; the main idea that would form the foundation of such a system would be the emphasis is not on teaching but on learning through exploration which is inherently fun.
I would prefer certain things to be imparted for a certain age group. For the age groups of 6-10, the system must help them learn the basic skills of reading, writing and counting.
Reading and writing are fun but schools make them so boring! In addition, kids be exposed to different activities (painting, sports,dramatics, history etc) and they should be given the freedom to choose the activities. If someone does not enjoy sports but loves painting, let him be. Thus reading, writing and counting with exposure to multiple activities is what forms the core. Kids are very curious and the system must enhance this curiosity as opposed to killing it that it does now.
I think from the ages of 11, we can expose the kids to more activities and more subjects and most importantly life skills (such as facing difficult situations, the arts of argument and negotiation, teamwork, how to ask for and give help etc) but the emphasis still should be not on imparting knowledge but on helping them gain it because only then it is fun. I think this level 2 of exploration should go on for 5-6 years. Remember these will be the teenage years which is the time when kids need maximum support as they start identifying themselves as ’unique individuals’ and most will begin to get a feel of what they might like and at the same time through life skills realize that life can be fun even when it may not be easy.
When I analyze my idea of an education system, the difficulty of implementing such a system is pronounced. There is no limit to exploration. How many subjects can a school provide to explore? The idea is to have maximum possible. But in terms of resources, this will be very difficult (but not impossible). Further at levels 1 and 2, a close involvement of teachers with the students will be required. I would prefer my teacher introduce me to different ideas to explore instead of parents as they might carry bias. Here the ratio of student:teacher has to be such that the teacher can actually take up the role of an explorer guide for the student. I doubt if a ratio of more than 5:1 would make sense. That in turn implies we need a lot more capable teachers. Capability here would imply one with the requiste knowledge, the ability to help others explore that area of knowledge, and most importantly the teacher should love help kids explore knowledge and ideas. So it is evident that the difficults of implementing such a system are : More faciliites that allow a breadth and depth of exploration, and lot more capable teachers. The system will not work at optimum efficiency if it is lacking in either.
My visualization has yet not addressed ”about kids with learning disabilities, and what if a kid has no answer at the end of 10 years?”. Also kids that we describe as gifted who seem to be way more capable than their peers?
I think if such a system exists and it helps kids explore, teach them to gain knowledge, equip them with the life skills;for 10 continous years(6 - 16) most of the kids will turn up with the answer ”I think I enjoy x, y, z and would want to explore these further”. If these students are then given opportunities to explore and hone their skills for the next 10-12 years, be rest assured that all of these will be happy with themselves because they will be doing what they want to do. These next 10-12 years are what we should we call ’real world higher education’.
Thus I want an education system that helps students discover what they love to do and make a life out of it, not a life that makes work out of them. I earnestly yearn for the day when kids will cry not because they have to go to school, because they have to come back home from school; not because the vacation will end, because the vacation will start!
 I do have a grouse against movies like 3 Idiots is that they inadvertently could make you hate your parents and others who emphasise academics to you. Please remember that theysimply wish well for you as they believe that academics is a safe way to a happy future. But all credit to 3 Idiots here as well as it shows Rancho asking Farhan to have a heart to heart chat with this father about his career choice. But it may not be possible in every situation (remember Joy from the movie)
I am a polyglot software engineer specializing in shipping iOS and 3d scientific visualization applications.