To me, education is a leading out of what is already there in the pupil’s soul. To Miss Mackay it is a putting in of something that is not there, and that is not what I call education. I call it intrusion. ~ Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
It is now accepted that existing models of education, with their emphasis on acquisition of technical skills, the pursuit of bookish knowledge and the focus on examinations and grades – all acts of “putting in what is not there”- have only helped create a pool of skilled labour.
Is this why we educate our children?
Is education, as popular perceptions go, merely a means to a career and a “successful” life?
If yes, the current model continues to deliver, going by the proliferation of schools, colleges, coaching classes and what have you. At least in India, a majority of parents are pre-occupied with making an engineer or doctor out of their children (yes, even the selection of course is pre-determined), and if it requires the child to flit from one coaching class to another and lose out on sleep, that’s a small price to pay at the altar of “success”.
On the other hand, is the purpose to develop complete human beings, equipped not only with technical knowledge but also with sensitivity to the world around them?
If this is the case, then education as practiced today is necessary, but not sufficient.
There is no doubt that the current model is well-equipped to churn out technically proficient students who go on to find jobs, marry and settle down to a domesticated existence. But at what price?
Gone are the boundless energy, the curiosity, the vitality of youth. Gone also are the sensitivity to appreciate the world around them, to understand their relationship with the world and the discernment to act, not out of compromised choice, but out of deep awareness.
Where lies the insufficiency? What is it that students are not getting out of the present education system? Why there is so much discontent – shared alike by parents, teachers, students, and even policy makers?
And, in spite of this discontent, why do all involved persist in perpetuating what is clearly not working?
I suspect that while parents endorse the current model and the educational ecosystem, they are afraid to speak out – out of a fear of spoiling their children’s chances to carve out successful careers. Out of boundless love for their offspring, they don’t want to rock the boat.
If children do grow up to be human beings with sensitivity and discernment, it happens not because of education, but in spite of it.
What does sensitivity imply? To me, it brings to mind an ability to empathize with all living things, to appreciate the beauty and harmony in nature, to introspect, to balance one’s inner self with the external world.
An education that emphasizes these aspects will lead the child to correctly discern where knowledge and technical skills are necessary and where they are irrelevant and even harmful, as also how to use it judiciously for the betterment of mankind.
I believe this should be the true purpose of education.
To quote J. Krishnamurti…
The right kind of education cultivates your whole being, the totality of your mind. It gives your mind and heart a depth, an understanding of beauty.
What is the right way to bring this about?
Obviously, not by tinkering with the curriculum or pumping in more funds to improve the infrastructure.
Should we work within the existing model, broad-base the curriculum to include elements of holistic education?
Or should we break completely away from it and start afresh?
Given the centuries old, well-entrenched educational apparatus, is a total break from the past at all feasible? Would the experiments under way in alternate education remain just that – experiments?
Important questions, with no ready answers. But answer them we must, for our children’s sake.
We, at The Life School, would love to hear from concerned parents, teachers, and all others who touch education in any way, to share their thoughts.