Super 30: A story of discrimination and search for excellence

I watched the Hindi film Super 30 again. I had quite forgoten the sequence of events and I learned something new. Super 30 is a Hindi film (2019) starring superstar Hrithik Roshan in a very deglamorized role. It is based on a true story of a mathematics teacher who runs an educational program of the same name for poor children. The film scrutinizes the ambition of parents and children in India to enter the top engineering schools known as the Indian Institute of Technology. The film questions the ethics of the cut throat system of coaching centers in most cities. Kota in Rajasthan is considered the Mecca of them all.

The protogonist, Anand (Hrithik Roshan), was a brilliant child of poor parents. His father worked in the postal department and somehow managed to get him through school. Anand gets admission to the Cambridge University, but with no funding. Anand’s father tries all means possible to raise funds, is insulted by politicians in the process and ultimately succumbs to a heart attack. Anand is left with no resources and begins to help his mother earn a living by selling ‘papad’ on the streets.

The owner of a coaching center, named Excellence, recognizes him and introduces him to the world of teaching. He does well and becomes financially well-to do. But one day his conscience is woken up by seeing the plight of a bright student teaching himself maths under the street lights while working as well. He decides to start a free coaching center for poor students. The rest of the story is about the trials and tribulation of Anand and his brother Pawan in running the center with no real source of funds and of the children’s ambitions coming from poor families of manual and self employed workers.

Many facets of dicrimination are shown quite poignantly in the film. But what struck me was a very simple scene when the children reluctantly describe why they scored lower than the students of Excellence coaching center in a competitive exam. In this scene set in the classroom Anand asks ‘was the examination too difficult?’ ‘No, it was easy’, replies a student. ‘Then why did you not score well?’ The students are silent, till one pops up with ‘they were speaking English’. This was a declaration of their perception of inferiority when faced with the priviledged children of the Excellence center. It psychologically affected their capacity to perform.

In our educational system, excellence is judged by a single measure as reflected in this cartoon. The system does not allow for differential evaluation based on given endowments of the students. In an unfair selection process, the differently endowed would ‘live its whole life believing that it is stupid’,

I teach a course on Development Economics and discuss the topic of Affirmative Action in education. The question of why there should be quotas for the socially disadvantaged communities in education after more than 70 years of independence in India is raised everytime. The students of the disadvantaged communities, even after getting admission into prestigious educational institutions, face discrimination in subtle forms. Not able to speak English with a flair is just one of those. Students from economically and socially disadvantaged communities face double discrimination. They are lost in a gathering where the conversation is around say music, sports or other cultural experiences that are different. Very soon their incompatibility in the new environment leads to isolation, another form of subtle discrimination.

How can our educational system help to bring culturally different students together? How can it help the economically and socially different students to assimilate in the system? Similarl issues exist for the differently abled students as well. We need to ponder over these issues if we wish to built a truly inclusive educational system.

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