Many years ago, there were two missionary schools facing each other in Canada. One was an all boys school and the other was only for girls. The schools shared common grounds and recreational areas. During recess, the children would come out and mingle freely as they liked.
During one joint management meeting, the principle of the boys’ school, a senior priest complained that the boys were often lingered with the girls during recess and were late for their classes afterwards. He insisted that the recess timings for the two schools should be staggered to prevent the girls and boys from mingling.
To his surprise, he was opposed by the superior nun in charge of the girls’ school. She pointed out that after school, these children would have to face the world where they would have to deal with each other. It was better they learnt how to deal with each other in the safety of the school rather than on their own.
There are basically two schools of thought about education. One is that it should prepare you for life. The other is that it should give you the basic knowledge that any citizen should have.
There are problems with both the approaches. For instance, the idea of preparing for life can be very restricting. It harkens back to the days of the 3 Rs of reading, riting and rithmatic. The problem with this sort of education is that can limit horizons rather than expanding them. Despite this, there have been several distinguished champions of this approach, such as M.K. Gandhi who felt that students were wasting their time going to college and should give up their trigonometry and geometry textbooks in favour of doing manual field work.
The danger of the other approach is also evident across the world. There is just too much information to cram into a few years of schooling. Any attempt to sort through this is bound to lead to howlers. For instance, an Australian lady once told my mother about how she discovered the lacunae in her teenage daughter’s history syllabus. They were walking in the city when they came across a memorial commemorating the Australians who had died in World War 1. Her daughter asked her which side of the war they had fought on.
The heart of the problem is that the skills needed to navigate life are not restricted to those needed for a profession. Critical thinking, innovation, independence and above all else curiosity need to be taught as much as anything else. Raja Gupta, the former CEO of McKinsey once visited my school and told the assembled students that it is not what you learn in school, but rather that you learn how to learn that is important.