Krishnamurti, a visionary, philosopher, speaker and writer, says that there are two instruments available to us: the instrument of knowledge that helps us acquire various skills and the instrument of intelligence that comes from keen observation and awareness. A good educational system should ensure the proper development of both these instruments.
Sri Aurobindo and The Mother believed that education begins at birth and continues till the death of the person. They even spoke of subtler forms of education that happened before birth through the mother who is carrying the child in her womb. These two visionary Masters emphasized that education should be holistic and cater to the five principal activities of the human being namely Physical, Mental, Vital, Psychic and Spiritual. Hence education is not just the process of acquiring knowledge through books but a wholesome process of enhancing human potential on various dimensions.
We see from the works of visionary thinkers and educators that true education goes much beyond textbooks and classrooms. Vishwam Gurur Mama is Sanskrit saying that means “The whole universe is my teacher”. There is a lot to learn from nature, the cosmos, the society and our own selves. True education fosters creativity, inculcates humanitarian values, makes one self-reliant and ignites a spirit of inquiry in the learner. Without these characteristics, education will remain a bombardment of information that turns into undigested knowledge.
Why is a transformation needed
We have been part of several conferences and meet ups on education. While there are many good things to talk about the modern educational system, administrators and educators definitely have a lot of limitations to share as well. These insipred educators, whom we have met, are actively thinking of major transformations in the educational system, both at a grassroot level and at the top.
While the existing educational system has contributed majorly to the economic development of countries it is seen as very goal-oriented and objective. But what are the problems with education being so objective? With a goal-oriented approach, there is a lot of pressure to achieve results and in the process it becomes too focused, narrow and uni-dimensional. Students of this generation surpass the capabilities of the previous generations, yet there are so many problems in the society and there is a sense of dissatisfaction. Such an objective approach is leading to very strong focus on materialism, aggressive competition and unending restlessness. The purpose of education having changed, the content too has been designed to satisfy these goals. In a hurry to achieve quick results, rich educational content has been reduced to digestible capsules. This reductionism is disconnecting the learner from the reality around him. The learner may become adept at dissecting a flower but will find it difficult to observe a flower with full awareness and wonder at nature’s perfection. The moment children learn that chairs, tables and rocks are non-living things and humans, trees and animals are living things, there is a possibility of them failing to perceive the vibrant and dynamic electrons that are in constant motion in all animate and inanimate things around us and the fundamental consciousness that connects everything.
A world renowned spiritual leader and mother Mata Amritanandamayi shared recently at a gathering that “Education without any emphasis on values, Sophistication without any emphasis on culture, Development without any concern for nature, and Lifestyle that disregards health” are the root causes of many problems faced by humanity. More and more people are recognizing that the problems we face today are systematically interlinked and they can be traced to the purpose and quality of education being offered.
Education has a significant role to play in shaping our worldviews and our worldviews shape our actions. The purpose, content, environment and the stakeholders of education impact our worldview to a very large extent. With the focus of education leaning more and more towards economic well-being, we see that the learners who come out of this system focus more on the economic value of things around them. Nature is seen as a resource that can be exploited for ones benefit and not as a dynamic ecosystem that is throbbing with life. As a consequence of this thought process, life around us has been objectified. Many children are cut-off from the true history of the land, for whatever reason, with little or no knowledge of indigenous cultures. Hence they feel disconnected from their past and this has led to identity crisis for many of them. When students learn something, they absorb the content and then want to make sense of reality around them. If what they have learnt does not help to construct this picture, then they are confused and disconnected.
Reducing the purpose of education to getting a job and earning money impacts the learner and all stakeholders at many levels. Parents put pressure on their children to perform well to get a good job, schools develop a completely job-oriented curriculum, administrators focus on results and the learner, who is at the heart of the educational process, experiences tremendous stress. The metrics, that are used to measure the outcomes of education, change with the purpose of education and learners who do not fit into those metrics will clearly be left out of the process.
The crisis that the society is facing today is pushing educators, administrators and academicians to deeply reflect on the existing educational system and bring about a fundamental shift. They are recognizing that the objective model of education is taking a toll on the learners and many learners just want to break free from such a system.
Some of our extremely capable students have expressed to us that the existing educational system limited them from aspiring for and achieving bigger things in life. They found it uninspiring and an obstacle to their creativity. We did take the efforts to make them understand the larger context of education but at the same time we could not deny the limitations of the existing models. These students, who are self-motivated, are looking for playing fields were their capabilities are challenged, a place where not only their questions are answered but their quests are encouraged and appreciated, a system where the content not only takes them outward but takes them inward as well and a context to solve problems that humanity is facing today through their knowledge and skills. They look for a platform where their role in the bigger picture can be understood.
Alternate schooling systems, online courses and value-based educational models are burgeoning all over the world. These alternate systems do not cut-off the learner abruptly from the existing system but neatly blend higher-order thinking and a larger vision with a personalized approach. These schools are bringing in a multi-dimensional approach to education including self-awareness, mindfulness, environmental sensitivity, learning-by-doing, virtual reality, project based learning and situated learning. Outdoor classes, music, story telling, nature walks and silence are part of their school timetables. Physics, Chemistry and Biology are not learnt as subjects but understood contextually. By observing a plant grow, the child learns photosynthesis, the connection with rest of the biosphere and the science behind the microscope that is used to observe the fine structure of a leaf.
Having studied and worked in a regular educational system, we do not believe in uprooting what is there and replacing it with a better system nor do we support a mere patch-up work. A transformation is definitely required but blindly scaling it up to the masses may not be a good idea. A differentiated model for various sections of the society will be needed where the system is designed to suit the needs of the population.
It is not easy to build such well-balanced system and it takes the cooperation of all the stakeholders. An educational institution is like an organism where the various stakeholders are like the limbs. The limbs should move in perfect coordination to keep the organism moving.