Do I really care about “In which year did Akbar die”? Or should my question be – will it ever be important for me to know this? Perhaps, 8 years earlier, this was necessary for me to get that vital one mark in my grade 7 history paper. However, as we grow older and evolve in terms of the kind of examinations we appear for, ask yourself, is General Knowledge really the need of the hour? Ask yourself, in a world where people depend on Facebook to remind them of their family members’ birthday, is it really important for us to know the birthdays of some random politicians?
Knowing such things is fine, but I am questioning its utility and its importance in terms of being a basis of testing.
The endless syllabus of every competitive exam in India has a daunting component called General Knowledge; perhaps the widest scope any subject can ever have. People are seen slogging over memorizing names of authors of books which would be lost in oblivion sooner or later, names of the first person to accomplish some really irrelevant feat like swimming across some channel (sometimes the name of the channel too), random dates, sports records, names of politicians and their sons, and a variety of diverse facts from across the world.
All these facts and information, which constitute General Knowledge, are available on the internet, freely, widely and quickly, at the click of a button. People are judged on how well they can remember and correctly answer these facts; those very facts which can be procured anytime, from anywhere, and more importantly, by anyone. Does one’s ability really lie in knowing whether Usain Bolt ran the Olympics 100M race in 9.69 seconds, or in 9.67 seconds; or knowing the President of Costa Rica, (or sometimes even the correct spelling of his name)?
This world has advanced at multiple levels. With technology ruling almost every aspect of our lifestyle, we are definitely lagging in this race of effective management of human resource. It is redundant to test people, and label their ability based on their raw knowledge of random facts, one, which is hardly important, and second, which is easily procurable. Truly talented people are lost in this race of rusty methods of screening. Be it entrance exams or the civil services, GK has been seen as a critical component. With developing times, we need to evolve our lenses to pick the best. A person serves little or no utility by having the knowledge which technology can substitute. Once we realize this, and make an effort to mitigate this loss, we shall be able to utilize technology to its full potential, and also maximize the human resource at our disposal.
Some may trivialize this thought and argue that “Mathematics is redundant because we have calculators,” or “There is no point in English exams as there is a dictionary.” However, we need to understand the difference between being skillful, being smart, being knowledgeable and being the generic Sharma Ji’s son. Subjects like Mathematics and Science develop a mental skill and sharpen the mind to better understanding of logic, among other things. Languages learnt are inherently a necessity and reading and writing are acquired sills. Geography may be boring, but it instills the understanding of climates, terrains, people, businesses and food habits. The purpose of subjects like History is to give one an idea of the evolution of ideologies and peoples perspectives, with the knowledge of philosophies, and also a coherent timeline about the cultural heritage of different countries around the world; none of which sounds redundant. To be cynically fair, it also allows sneaky governments to spread their propaganda, which GK doesn’t. Worthwhile application of knowledge and skill is what makes a person smart, not mere mugging of facts.
The new modern narrative is developing around the murmur that marks are not a true indication of a person’s brilliance and smartness. The question is whether the marks are redundant, or is it the basis of the marks that makes the difference. We need to test better, and select wisely; not blame the idea of testing itself. Acquired skills, application of knowledge, ability to innovate, and presence of mind are among the parameters that give us a better understanding of a person’s caliber, and testing criteria should include these aspects over every other thing. Perhaps this is the reason why examinations of the foreign land like the SAT are more renowned. Probably, we could link this back to their efficient usage of technology as well as human resource.
Probably, even just testing people’s ability to Google search would serve a better purpose in determining his utility, or revamping the testing to suit the needs and demands of the sector could help a great deal. I am sure we do not want the teenage population and beyond, in their prime years, to spend their minds mindlessly over memorizing GK, which is not just hated, but also useless; and let us not even question the retention of such knowledge.
2 + 2 = 4. The question should not just be restricted to what the answer is. The real ability lies in getting to 4, and knowing how to get to 4, rather than just knowing 4 to be the answer. The truth is we are searching for people with a brain, because memory cards are easily available in the market; and we seem definitely lost in our search.
Let’s evolve with Google, and search for the right people in the right manner.