We need more than books


IN A rapidly changing world, we need more than books to mete out quality education. Enough has been written in the past about the shortfalls in our education system and although changes have slowly crept in to keep up with the times, they have not been dramatic enough.

A case in point illustrates some of the inadequacies that still exist. Sometimes back, I came upon a GMC Suburban with a group of five teenagers crouched about the rear wheel of the car, closely examining it with animated gestures. As I came closer, I could see it was a flat tire, and from the snippets of conversation I overheard, I could also tell that none of these kids seemed to know what to do next.

Approaching them with an offer to help, I asked the group who the car belonged to and if they were licensed to drive. One of the boys turned to me saying that he had turned 18 recently and had just obtained his driving license. His mom let him take out the family car for a spin with his friends. Things were going smoothly until the car had a flat. And now they were stuck because none of the boys had ever replaced a flat before and were hesitant to try.

Incredulous as it may seem, here we had five young men each scratching his head wondering what to do next. One suggested taking a taxi home, while another volunteered calling the family driver to come and replace the tire. The vehicle owner mentioned that they had just passed a puncture shop and maybe a couple of guys could go there to get assistance.

“Wait a minute. Are you guys serious? You want to leave the car here or find someone to replace the tire for you? Why don’t you get the manual out and try to do it yourselves? And I’ll be here to help guide you,” I volunteered. “First thing you do is make sure you have a good spare tire and the wheel changing jack and tools. Go ahead, look for them. Also put the emergency brakes on and turn on the hazard flasher.”

Although they were hesitant on embarking on what was probably a daunting task to them, soon we had one kid reading off the manual while his friends got busy into the task on hand. It took almost an hour with a few fumbles along the way, but they finally managed to get the replacement on, and after thanking me effusively, they were on their way. In parting, I told them to stop at the nearest puncture shop and get the flat fixed.

As I continued my stroll, I recollected a conversation I had during Father’s Day at my son’s school the previous year. After the initial speeches by the school officials on how their institution was preparing today’s kids for tomorrow, and the routine school songs and dance, I had a chance to corner the principal and let him know what was on my mind.

“You know Mr. Principal; today’s high school boys have primarily two things on their minds, one of them being cars. Soon most of these kids will be on the road behind the wheel, licensed or not. And yet I fail to see how this school has prepared them for this simple journey.”

“What exactly do you mean”, he asked.

“Well, I do not see an auto workshop on your curriculum, one that would help these kids learn a few basics such as simple trouble-shooting and repairs on an automobile under controlled and instructed guidance. An hour a week would probably be very receptive by these kids who will soon be warriors on the road. At least they would be able to help themselves if confronted by routine breakdowns.”

His answer just about floored me. “Most of these kids come from privileged families, and can you imagine us requiring them to get grease on their hands while working in a workshop. Spanners and wrenches! What would their parents say?”

“You wouldn’t know if you don’t try. Developed countries have such programs in their schools, and I haven’t heard of an uprising by parents against such programs,” I interjected.

“No, it just wouldn’t work here and I will have all my time eaten up fending off irate parents,” was his adamant reply.

The challenges facing the Ministry of Education are many. And one of them is the mindset of school principals and owners, who introduce their myopic way of thinking into guiding the future of our students. Run by narrow-minded robots, we are falling woefully short of preparing our youth to depend on themselves.

— The writer can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com; follow him onTwitter / @talmaeena