3 Idiots & ITSA Reflections

From what I gathered from the cover photo (three men on silly chairs that looked like butts), I expected a comedy of sorts with maybe some  feel-good message about life. But a student of mine also had told me that the movie really represented what was going on in India. She didn’t tell me exactly what that was, but I was intrigued.

The 3 idiots DVD Cover
Like any Bollywood hit movie, there was inevitably wild yet coordinated dancing scenes with songs that get stuck in your head for days. That was obviously to be expected. There were also lots of comic scenes with cleverly engineered pranks by the three main characters of the movie. But the movie also contained honest depictions of the real danger of mental stress fueled by the Indian education system and other societal expectations. I thought the movie exposed lines all very familiar to most Korean students: “Study your way to bring your family out of poverty,”  or “Choose a stable lucrative careers so as to not burden your family who’ve sacrificed so much for you.” The movie shows that such educational mottos not only were hindering students from following (or even finding) their passions, but also were causing them to end their lives. This is an issue that is not just unique to India. According to Wikepedia, India had 43rd highest suicide rate in the world, whereas S. Korea has the 2nd highest and the U.S. 41st (I was surprised to discover that Lithuania had the highest suicide rate in the world). It seems to me that this issue is getting worse and worse each time I come back to Korea. I hear of suicides by celebrities, young students, working dads often enough to keep it lingering in the back of my mind. Banners declaring a bully-free zone hang in front of schools and swimming pools. “How do we stop this madness?” I wonder and wonder thinking a banner won’t do. The key line in the movie “All is well” was repeated throughout the movie in times of frustration, panic, and stress in order to give the courage to find a solution in such times.
So I must say “All is well” while patting my chest so as to not get too disparaged when lost for clear solutions.
Remembering my experience leading ITSA workshops in India, I feel that what ITSA did was part of the solution: creating a friendly, supportive, and open environment for learning about ourselves and society. A place where questions and mistakes are as valuable as knowing the book answers and getting a high grade (or “mark” as it is referred to in India), where classmates are fellow friends and learners rather than competitors, where students could learn material they’ll actually remember the week after their exams.
When signing up to intern with ITSA, Korea had been in my mind. I had always wanted to do something to reverse the crazy cycle of the Korean education system in order to allow students to enjoy learning and make an environment where classmates weren’t regarded as their competitors. I just didn’t know how… until I ran into ITSA. I remember reading about ITSA in an email and thinking “This is it, I can be a part of the change now. I don’t have to wait until I’m in a high position in the government to make such a change!” Recalling the faces of the high school students I’ve met (looking younger than expected since they say that in India kids look younger longer) and the conversations in which I learned about their education system (how they have to declare their track in 9th standard and take standardized Board exams which determine their college admission), I remember feeling frustrated by my inability to rescue them out of the constricting education system. Students knew that it was too early to decide what to do with their lives, that standardized tests were not effective measurements of knowledge, but I couldn’t offer them a way out. But later I realized that maybe just exposing them to an alternative classroom experience in which they question questions, learn from their fellow classmates not just their teachers and books, and relate their knowledge to themselves and their lives is enough to re-energize their curiosity and keep an open mind, the key to being a true learner.
As usual, I’ve rambled on for much longer than I intended to when I sat down to write this blog post while the movie was still fresh in my head… So to wrap it up… GO WATCH THE MOVIE IF YOU HAVEN’T YET! Though it addresses some serious issues, it does so in a remarkably human way, weaving comedy so naturally and giving you laughs and hope throughout the movie!
Until then, thanks for reading my rambles!
From Natalia Choi’s Blog, the Little Yellow Dandelion (www.littleyellowdandelio.wordpress.com), as she reflects upon watching the Bollywood movie 3 Idiots & her inspiration to work with ITSA. Natalia is a student at Swarthmore College and served as an ITSA Workshop Leader in 2012.

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