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Thoughts on Education

  1. 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.

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