“I have never let schooling interfere with my education.” – Mark Twain
You could laugh it off as a humorous quote, but if you pause and reflect, it is a profound observation – that, rather than facilitating, schooling is an impediment to education.
Everyone has an opinion about what is wrong with the existing education system. However, the emphasis continues to be on skill development, learning by rote and the dependence on examinations to assess intelligence.
Everyone agrees that the machinery needs to be repaired, nay overhauled. However, the repairs – changing syllabi, pumping in more funds to make better classrooms or score more in examinations – only perpetuate the problem.
Almost everyone agrees that the existing education does not deliver on expectations.
What Should Effective Education Deliver?
In its most complete sense, education should focus on enabling students to respond with their whole being to life situations, or, to borrow the words of J. Krishnamurti, helping them “to flower in goodness.”
This goes beyond the mere acquisition of technical skills to an understanding of the world around us and an awareness of the self, so that students develop the capabilities and confidence to live life as complete human beings.
How many schools in the world today can claim that they provide such an environment? Regrettably, only a handful. Even these are termed “alternate” education, and confined to the fringes of the system.
Students are equipped to be take up “careers” – as doctors, engineers, software professionals. In the process, they gain “depth” of knowledge in the chosen subject but not the “breadth” of intelligence required to live life.
The student might be deemed “successful” by the standards of knowledge and memory and careers, but they come out ill-equipped as far as creativity, awareness of nature, and a socially conscious mind are concerned.
To change this, all players in the process – policy makers, schools, teachers, parents and even the students need to recognize that fundamental changes are required in the way they look at education. And the change has to come from within.
How do we encourage this change through introspection? And where do we focus?
The first step, to my mind, would be to engage parents, teachers and students in thinking about what should and can be done. A groundswell of acceptance for holistic change needs to precede any meaningful action.
At the same time, we can design focused interventions to create the right thinking among parents, teachers and schools. These interventions can take the form of blog posts, articles, lectures and workshops.
With parents, the emphasis could be on highlighting gaps in the current education models that prevent their children from developing into complete human beings, and enlightening them on their responsibilities in creating the right environment for this.
With teachers, there is a need to make them aware of their responsibilities in guiding students in their journey to face life; and to give them the right perspective and tools to be change agents.
Stephen Smith and Alok Mathur put this very well in their article “It’s the Educator Who Needs Educating”…
…teacher learning need to exist to galvanise change, to support the teacher in the classroom situation and to provide, by means of subject studies, a process of creative learning and reflection facilitating access to largely unexplored terrain.
It is a raising of the level of the whole endeavour. It must seek to bring about a quickening of understanding of the role of the educator for him/ herself, the relationship between the educator and the student, and the interface between the teacher and the subject.
The moment we realize that teachers are also students, and they don’t enter the classroom as “one who knows” but rather as “one who explores” together with the student, we would have brought about a significant transformation.
And students? They need to understand that education is not only to acquire a lot of knowledge, but also to help them understand the whole expanse of life, the beauty of it as well as its ugly side. And that when they pass out of school, they’ll not only be equipped with the intellect required to make a living, but also the intelligence to live life fully, completely, totally.
Let’s work towards this.
I’d like to end this by quoting a letter written by Abraham Lincoln to the Head Master of his son’s school.
My son will have to learn I know that all men are not just, all men are not true. But teach him also that for every scoundrel there is a hero; that for every selfish politician, there is a dedicated leader. Teach him that for every enemy there is a friend.
It will take time, I know; but teach him, if you can, that a dollar earned is far more valuable than five found.
Teach him to learn to lose and also to enjoy winning.
Steer him away from envy, if you can.
Teach him the secret of quiet laughter. Let him learn early that the bullies are the easiest to tick.
Teach him, if you can, the wonder of books, but also give him quiet time to ponder over the eternal mystery of birds in the sky, bees in the sun, and flowers on a green hill –side.
In school teach him it is far more honourable to fail than to cheat.
Teach him to have faith in his own ideas, even if everyone tells him they are wrong.
Teach him to be gentle with gentle people and tough with the tough.
Try to give my son the strength not to follow the crowd when everyone is getting on the bandwagon.
Teach him to listen to all men but teach him also to filter all he hears on a screen of truth and take only the good that comes through.
Teach him, if you can, how to laugh when he is sad. Teach him there is no shame in tears. Teach him to scoff at cynics and to beware of too much sweetness.
Teach him to sell his brawn and brain to the highest bidders; but never to put a price tag on his heart and soul.
Teach him to close his ears to a howling mob… and to stand and fight if he thinks he’s right.
Treat him gently; but do not cuddle him because only the test of fire makes fine steel.
Let him have the courage to be impatient, let him have the patience to be brave. Teach him always to have sublime faith in himself because then he will always have sublime faith in mankind.
This is a big order; but see what you can do. He is such a fine little fellow, my son.
Yes, they’re fine little fellows, our children!!
And they deserve better.