What kind of education should the state provide?

In any modern society, the role of the state in providing education is almost given. A modern society is run by machines and machines require complex cognitive and analytical skills to mange. So any society that needs to survive needs to build a population (or at least a part) that is expert in these skills.

But are these enough? What about broader life skills? What about individual happiness? Self actualisation?

The state needs to reinforce its own self creation myth so that it survives and prospers. For this it curates the “curriculum” students have to learn. It is a kind of indoctrination as well.

For a democratic society, we need “free thinking individuals” who are willing to have open inquiry into all matters of knowledge, while also ensuring enough people learn the analytical skills (STEM) that is required to sustain modern society.

The education system in India is a patchwork of various systems - we have state level primary schools, some excellent colleges of engineering and an ever mushrooming private education system. While the brightest often use “education” as a means of exiting the country.

My own personal experiments in education, have led me to believe that education should be “self-directed” and based on “curiosity” and “play”, rather than force and exams, taking on the amazing work by people like John Holt and Peter Gray and schools like Summerhill and Sudbury Valley.

So what do you think should change? Should we have a centralised system that will help in improving quality, or should we continue the decentralised model? What about common national entrance exams for college admissions?

Lots of questions. Would love to hear some opinions!


IMHO, I totally agree with the fact that education should be based on the driving energy of a child based on “curiosity” and “play”. Education recently is no fun in the current times.

Education at the junior level (ukg - 10th std) now is a still a bit fun because of some subjects like History or geography which are like deep dive in the geographical landscapes and the history from the old times (Chapters on Napolean, nazism etc). That used to feel a bit fun and curious while you are listening to a good history teacher.

It starts getting a bit worst after the 10th std. And that is where the Rat Race starts picking up, students tend to start roting and studying subjects which they no more enjoy. I’m not sure how many students enjoy learning physics (from a marks and academic perspective), surely physics could be better if its taught from a fun way. I personally never enjoyed all of these subjects because

  1. I was a bit weak as a student
  2. No one made me feel curious about it.

What can be changed ?
I wish the state could provide and promote an open minded culture where there’s inclusivity, sharing of new ideas and information. If there’s not much sharing of information or newer ideas (which is happening now) then, again the education system will again be like how it is now, unfunny, boring, and the goal will again be “just to pass”.

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When you said state curates curriculum, it is actually the political party in power that adjusts the curriculum framework according to their philosophy. So I think we should focus on what should be this philosophy, if we were to get power.

For a democratic society, we need “free thinking individuals” who are willing to have open inquiry into all matters of knowledge, while also ensuring enough people learn the analytical skills (STEM) that is required to sustain modern society.

This sounds like a good starting point.I think a big part of this selection by students (in most cases, by parents in practice) is based on potential for a good paying job. I think the state will have to continue playing a major role in education to make sure this remains accessible to a large part of our society. If we simply let this be an option to make profits, we will lose out on human resources.

I don’t think we are in a position to fully go into a self-driven education system. This will reinforce the existing privileges as a lot of this curiosity depends on your parents and things available to you. So a large number of people will easily lose out.

I think the state will have to continue funding the infrastructure and increase its spending to raise the quality of our schools and teachers. Teachers should be paid more to incentivise smart people to choose teaching. I think in most cases, teaching is the last option when they can’t get an engineering or medicine job. Very few people actually choose teaching as their interest.

So a concrete policy would be, spend more on education and increase the quality (the money to fund this could be found from reducing the defence spending - though that will need us to end conflicts with our neighbours, which is going to be challenging). If we have peaceful boarders, we should be able to move defence spending elsewhere like education (and healthcare too).


Thought-provoking opinions!

Perhaps, in a state where the population is large and uneducated, the state’s incentive is to keep them as is, to stay in power for longer and make all the gains for themselves.

An alternative could be for citizens to provide free STEM education. For volunteers to teach open curriculum, online and offline, for free.

MIT has all its courses available online for free. If these courses reaches to the masses, in the language they understand (thus, taught by local volunteer teachers), within a generation, we’ll raise citizens to be independent thinkers and learners.

Education’s only goal must be to teach how to learn, not to teach a particular topic. Education must teach a person to fish, not to hand them a fish.

Do you think the can scale to a country like ours? Let alone scale to country, can we even do this at the scale of a state or a city?

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Not easy, but worth attempting.