Peer into the crystal ball, and find statements such as “Did you know one-third of scientists at NASA are Indians?” and “Indians do extraordinarily well abroad” being freely thrown around by people in the ‘know’. In the present too — though the desi male’s notoriety for being a sleazebag over the Internet may have dwarfed any expression of the superior Indian intellect — we still keep on hearing of the brown kid’s triumph in US-wide spelling bees, much to the prolonged joy of the Indian diaspora in the West.
But turn the lens on India — especially towards Youtube, and enter the search term ‘Indian IQ test’ — to find a population of millennials who do not exactly appear to be the smartest. For instance, this search leads to various content creators where, in each video, the interviewer asks a bunch of people a series of simple questions that they, almost without exception, fail to answer. For instance, a video titled ‘Delhi Students IQ Test’ has plenty of youngsters embarrass themselves on camera in response to, among other things, what ‘etc.’ stands for. While some know the answer, travesties such as ‘excezta’ and ‘ex-sextra’ fly around, while almost no one can spell ‘etcetera’.
Another millennial on the wall
So, a question arises — is our first Internet generation, otherwise known for their global exposure and tech-friendliness, really just ignorant and uninterested? Psychologist Riddhi Kapoor, although while abstaining from the use of such adjectives, agrees and says, “There are three reasons why this has happened.
Firstly, millennials have grown up while being reliant on technology for simple functions such as calculation, spell check and online searches, which leads to the dimming down of basic mental faculties. Even a millennial psychologist, such as I, doesn’t know the DSM-IV (a manual of mental disorders) by heart, as it is accessible on my phone as a PDF, but the older generations know things on their fingertips.” Courtesy instant access to information, the youth has lost all will to use their faculties, making them a flock of sheep reliant on the shepherd of technology for guidance.
“The second reason,” Riddhi continues, “Stems from how we face an overabundance of fact and opinion. We use these to formulate our own thoughts, and aren’t really coming up on anything on our own. We just Google, read the first ten articles and be done. Where’s the lateral and critical thinking to make your own judgement?”
And the third reason, as per Riddhi, is the one that forms the basis of the first two — an over-competitive world, led by multinational companies and the need for optimum productivity, is demanding more out of millennials that it has from previous generations. “In the end, the pressure is so much that a millennial cannot possibly concern themselves with what’s wrong with the world, the economy, etc., as the struggle is simply to make ends meet or complete what work demands from you. Without the mindscape to think of personal wellbeing or the acquisition of knowledge, such clueless answers to those videos don’t come as a surprise.”
We do need no (rote-learning-based) education
Since this a matter concerning learning and intellect, one wonders whether the Indian education system has a role to play. Lehar Arora, a schoolteacher, points out that the teacher-to-student ratio is still very poor in schools and teachers are overworked. This way, students are unable to receive individual attention from an early age, and not everyone receives the benefits of holistic learning and intellectual development.
“What we are taught to teach as teachers is completely opposite to what is learned in classrooms. We are taught the constructivist approach, where students are supposed to create their knowledge themselves, but in an actual classroom a teacher is running after completing the curriculum, and all this just goes out of the window,” she says. This way, a marks-based system, where competition is cutthroat but only promotes rote learning, continues to dominate even now, making children run after quantity (over quality) like a horse with blinders.
But do millennials agree with any of this? Millennial Gazal Singh definitely doesn’t. She says, “Each generation has a newer set of social and economic challenges. I don’t think we have got enough opportunities either, as in the West. The failure comes from society, in providing good education to kids and emphasising on what really qualifies as intelligence and adaptiveness. Given the right education, most Indians do their best anywhere they go.”
She also feels that an emotional quotient (or EQ) is just as important, which is something that isn’t being emphasised upon much. Also, as per her, “It is in social media that we do find a certain dimming down. We’re often to busy being polarised and conforming to sub-cultures, other than reading and getting to know things in-depth. After all, people don’t have the patience for context.”
Bharat Misra, another millennial, while being more critical to his generation, focusses on the ‘lost of depth millennials face’, and says, “By the virtue of being so dependent on so many things, my attention span has gone down drastically, and my ability to read at long stretches has diminished. For instance, at any given point of time I’m free, a hundred different things are vying for my attention — and I always choose the more attractive audiovisual medium, losing out on the depth a book would have let me experience. I feel that’s the struggle with all of us. After all, no millennial I know has time on their hands.”...