Forget soft skills and physical education. What we need today is social network etiquette and lessons on half-life
In between bombing the bejeezus out of random places completely uninvolved in 9/11, George W Bush also unleashed eminently quotable blockbusters on the subject of education. “Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?” he once poignantly asked, making a certain Percival Christopher Wren and H. Martin turn in their graves. But little do people realise that Bush had a deeper subliminal message buried in that seemingly clumsy construction. I believe his larger point was, “Rarely is the question asked: does perfect grammar really matter in our day and age”, and it is quite unfortunate that most people have failed to grasp that rare bit of clarity and lucidity from a President whose eight-year term is ideally set to the background score of Wagner's ‘Ride of the Valkyries' while explosions ring out all over the place.
Bush' quote is, in fact, an indictment of modern day education. We still teach our kids English skills that a Raj-era clerk might've used to impress his British masters. What we do not teach is how to squeeze the most amount of information into a 140-character phrase, a skill that is quite crucial to mankind's future. Universities churning out MBA graduates teach the utterly obsolete skill of reading long paragraphs of text and making sense out of them. What they should be teaching is the ability to craft an SMS advertisement for prime property on ECR that crams in three phone numbers, two landmarks and an attractive discount. With the new TRAI regulations on SMS spam, this is a skill that I think is important and must not only be taught at schools, but supplemented at tutorials.
Schools and colleges also claim to teach ‘soft skills' for career development, but dear parents, they are taking you for a ride. Learning about dress codes, eating roti with a fork and spoon and making effective Powerpoint presentations do not a soft-skills course make. The softest of skills in the electronic rat race of our times is the ability to craft reality from the raw materials of lies and deception. Have pimples? Use the Photoshop smudge and blur filter on your Facebook profile photo. Flunked a course in your degree? Make that ‘boldly challenged the status quo of an obsolete body of knowledge by the strategic use of deliberate underperformance' on your Linkedin profile. Bought a new smartphone? Learn how to subtly let your social network know without appearing show-offy.
No school or college teaches these skills. It is a national shame. Our education system has been usurped by a bunch of geriatric non-digital-native relics who couldn't change the ringtone on their mobile phone without the help of an eight-year-old. We need Chatspk Gramr, not Wren & Martin. We need social network etiquette, not civic and soft skills. We need half-life, not physical education. You think I'm joking? Have you ever wondered why schools have stopped teaching Art, Dialectic, Reasoning and Philosophy? They used to, till the Industrial Revolution came around. Then, factories needed mindless, non-thinking automatons so clearly reasoning and philosophy could be problematic there. The times now are a'changing again. It is time to take the axe to the rotten log of curriculum that is keeping us behind the times. If I may paraphrase Bush again, “Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning useful skills for the future?”