Indian Education's Obsession With the First Boys
Isha Pharka 26.12.2015
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Amartya Sen, the Nobel laureate has always been seen to speak the harsh truth. The same is seen in the excerpt, The First Boy Syndrome, taken from his collection of essays, The Country of First Boys. Here, Sen talks of the Indian education system, which in his opinion, favors the select few who excel throughout their life.

 The average student keeps lagging behind mainly because no, or very little, additional training is available for such students. Even when available, such skill development institutes are not of the highest order, unlike what the ‘First Boys’ receive, laments Sen. Indians however, remain fascinated by them.


Through Sen’s essay, we come across the disparities in the education system that are based on a number of factors including gender, class, location and social privilege. On the other hand, the privileged seldom fail to make the most of the opportunities available to them. Their academic success and success in the world is seen as the ‘nations triumph’. The ‘not so lucky’ ‘Last Boys’ and ‘Last Girls’ do not sit and curse their luck but also relish the success of the ‘First Boys’.


A shift in the focus of our Education System is needed


Sen also points out that he has nothing against such ‘First Boys’, much like the ‘Last Boys’ and ‘Last Girls’, but wants the Indian educational system to stand up and take note of the lacunae in its functioning. Their success and the jubilation that comes with it is not the problem, but having no way out for those neglected is certainly alarming. He praises the ‘First Boys’ for being responsible for bringing in newer development, successes and breakthroughs in different sections of the society. At the same time, he fears for those who are unable to get the full set of facilities for their education. This is clear when he says “The most foundational issue is, of course, one of injustice.”


Taking China as a case study, Sen points out that China has made the most of its available workforce by imparting skill training and additional basic education to them. This has led it to become the ‘East Asian Miracle’. India can also achieve such success in fields of manufacturing which require basic education—making clocks and computer hardware fall under this category. Sen not only gives us the scenario in China but also compares the nature of Indian exports with the economies of South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand. In these cases as well, he finds the lack of basic education as the main reason of India lagging behind in quality exports.

"Not to be able to read or write or count or communicate is a tremendous deprivation and a great violation of the elementary freedoms that we all have reason to value and want."

-Amartya Sen, The Country of First Boys

The excerpt clearly highlights the disparity in the social justice, from where rise many of the issues faced by the Indian education system—the select few find it easy to reach the higher institutions for better educational opportunities. The problems he points out are deep-rooted in our approach as a whole and as a result of this, the Education System suffers.


The visibility of the ‘First Boy Syndrome’ in our system is evident and is only getting stronger. Creating opportunities can only be effective if they reach out in totality. While the intellectually and socially sound are doing their best to take the country forward, those left behind need to be focussed upon. The system prevailing today needs to go beyond the first desk and reach out to the last student—to every student in an equal manner. It’s only then that our nation can bring more people in the fold of quality education and help in nation building.


THE EXCERPT 'THE FIRST BOY SYNDROME' WAS PUBLISHED IN THE NOVEMBER ISSUE OF READER'S DIGEST. CLICK HERE TO READ THE ARTICLE.