Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Why do we need schools?

I suppose this post comes after drifting wildly on some drafts which happened with least design. I suppose this topic is such that I can't help drift. When we talk about pedagogy, we could come up with a mini constitution about what should be done and what shouldn't and how things should be and how they shouldn't. I would urge the eager reader (and the not-so-eager ones too) to find time to read an earlier post (and a few others scattered all over the blog) of mine regarding what I would like to see in a school in which I would contribute significant effort and time. That would form a micro-constitution and surely serve as direction to my concept of education. What I wish to visit in this post is the meta-need for education so that we understand what we need to do with this critical matter as our cynosure.
My original article (which is still on paper) covered many aspects of the education system in India and the education system per se. I shall restrict this post to one facet. The remaining issues (administration, finances, detailed curriculum, etc.) shall be discussed in later posts. This post is basically about understanding and realising the need for change and my ideas on achieving it. I use he/his/him in this post to mean she/he, her/his and her/him respectively.

We all say that the education system is horrible, or it is in dire need of reform and repair. Pray, tell me why? What is it that is bad in our education system? Globally the output of our education system is considered lucrative enough. We now have scores of companies moving their technical as well as semi-technical work to India (and mind you, cost is not the sole reason). So our education system seems to be doing a good job. Why, then, do we still complain about our education system?
My take on this (and I insist that it is purely my opinion) might seem idealistic. I can't help it. I prefer looking at a person as a global citizen and I believe that the education system should prepare one to be fully equipped in meeting that role with their best. What I mean by a global citizen can be easily summarised in a few words. I think a global citizen views his actions and the consequences of his actions with the larger picture clear in his mind. His action is not determined by self-centredness. A global citizen is mature. The global citizen is not out to impress you with his high ideals and grand plans. So a school that prepares you for this is what I would call a school. Secondly, the school should prepare the student to pursue his favourite field of occupation. This requires a great amount of involvement and effort from the school and parents too. We shall proceed to outline the steps necessary to effect this. The message and philosophy of the school would be present in every action and practice of the school and its members. This philosophy is what stems from one's wisdom and maturity and can be partially captured in the following statements:

Strive to be a person of use to this world.

Believe in what you do and you would see the folly of competition and rivalry.

The behaviour and philosophy of oneself cannot be contingent to others following the same.

Education is a collective responsibility and activity, and learning is mutually realised.

It is essential to understand, and constructive curiosity is encouraged.

The role of the Educators and the school does not end.

An Educator's job is not merely to instruct.

At each stage the student and Educator should progress one step further towards making a wise and natural decision.

We have to live in this world and it is important to understand the ways of the world.

These are what I am eager to call the 9 commandments, but I refrain from doing so. These are meant to be realised by every individual in the school absolutely and not followed as a commandment is.
Now we shall proceed to discuss how a student's stay in the school is divided into phases. There isn't a line dividing these phases and the student shall naturally transit from one phase to another. The Educators would be involved with a student throughout his stay and shall be aware of the child's progress. Although we are dividing the stay into phases, every student will realise each phase to natural and organic completion.
The initial 5 years of the student's stay will be spent in nurturing and maintaining his instinctive and spontaneous nature. A child is not forced into doing anything, but allowed to explore the world. The focus is on building the foundation for the child to enjoy learning and understanding. Knowledge, as something accumulated and stored for on-demand disposal, will not be exposed to the chidren at this point (as far as possible it shall never be something that a student gets to see). Children are gradually taught a variety of things and these are carefully linked to theory (photosynthesis, for example, is theory). Appreciation for colour, shapes, mechanics, nature, etc. is important at that age. From this should arise natural curiosity and intelligent reasoning. A group of children could be shown a steam engine and they should be allowed to enjoy and play whatever games they can conceive in the engine. Occasionally, an Educator should throw in statements and questions which would raise the curiosity of a few children and maintain the curiosity level. Another scene I can imagine now is a tree-house construction exercise. Safety measures, careful planning, team work, physics of balancing and equilibrium, etc. can be introduced in this exercise. All this in a matter of 3-6 hours of fun filled activity! Games and creative projects and artwork would fill most of this phase. New students shall not be admitted into the school beyond this phase.
The next phase lasts for about 3 years. Students in this phase are introduced to the vital need of accepting responsibility and solving problems. Subjects are introduced with a clear explanation as to why we are learning them. Memorising periodic table elements and the like can be postponed to later. A student is introduced to a subject by clearly presenting the scope of the subject, the learning that we shall gain from studying and investigating it and then the current application of it in the real world. We need to pick up suitable examples in order to impress upon the child's mind the utility of what they are learning. To tell them that they should study about a micro organism because they need that information if they are going to study some rare strains of it while working in a research lab in the Amazon forest... that's not going to catch their attention although it might catch their yawns. To take them to an ill maintained waterway and explain the problems of these things and how the water in their houses can get polluted and then slowly explain the role of micro organisms in spreading diseases and thereafter studying amoebas and flagellate organisms might have a comprehensive impact. Honestly, I am shooting from the hip when I suggest this. I am sure we can come up with better ideas, so let not the idea hold you down but let the need for an idea lift you. Respect for printed/visual/available material, and how to research printed/visual/available material shall also be introduced here. Serious and well meant study is the concise goal of this phase. In this phase, a child will also be exposed to various streams of lifestyles present in the world. Philosophical discussions about why and why not shall also be introduced at this stage. These discussions shall stem from the student's curiosity about the world and incidents of the world. The student is also introduced to taking care of what belongs to them as well as what they utilise. This includes maintaining the school, the roads that lead to the school, areas around their houses, etc. This is introduced as a continuous activity and not something exclusive to this phase or while being part of this school.
Students should realise why they are in school and what they need to do. The consequences of nearly every plausible choice should be presented to them in order to help them make decisions. All this forms a part of the 2nd phase.

The last phase (extending for about 5 years) concentrates on helping the child realise his true passion and building him towards it. Mind you, this is not done at the outset of the phase (we really aren't expecting 12 year olds to be clear about what they want to do in life), neither is there a surety that every child will realise his dream path or passion at the end of this phase. There will be individuals who aren't clear and all that they want to do is get a degree because they want to get a job because they want to earn money and gain respectibility because they wish to get married because they wish to form a good family with children and a sense of security. We cannot look down upon such people. Some people are not made for stepping beyond the ordinary (I really don't think I would love to see the world filled with Beethovens or Edisons or Mother Teresas). The objective of the school is to make them realise that their natural disposition is towards being ordinary and they should be comfortable with that choice and not regret it later. Great problems arise due to rejecting the truth.
This phase will help students specialise or continue to be generalists (and most of them can go ahead and pick popular courses in the market). The specialist are not necessarily artists or creatives. They could be children who have decided to go into medicine or go ahead and become an aeronautical engineer (but not those aeronautical engineers who later join software companies!;-). Specialists would be an inappropriate word. Let's call them the clarified. Actually no, we can't call them that as well. By the end of this phase, everyone is clear about what they want to do. Those who pick streams which aren't likely to earn large monetary benefits (like a painter, or a social activist) will be supported by the school (which includes anyone and everyone who has ever been a part of the school). By supporting them, we mean that we would provide basic requirements only.
Once the child (and the school) feels that he is done with his basic foundation and is ready to go ahead and continue with some form of specialisation (academic or otherwise), the school shall help him find footing initially and then sit back and watch him make his progress. The school will continue to serve as a place where all members of the school can return whenever they feel that they need a place to sit and understand/ponder. Educators are available to those who currently study in the school as well as older members of the school. As we said earlier, the role of the school never ends. If a member is overwhelmed by life and the world and wishes to return to the school, he can take up the role of an Educator or contribute towards other activities within the school. A member need not have studied in the school for a complete 16-17 years in order to be a member.
So basically, education, to me, serves the purpose of making me more receptive, intelligent (not in a conniving way) and clear. In other words a well prepared global citizen.

Links of interest:

Researched articles and opinions:


  1. WOW!truly I am wowed. I love your ideal school. It makes me want to be a child again & go back to school(You know I have always been a good student if there's good guidance). I would love to send my kids to your school-hopefully you will start it in the next five years or so.
    This post + the earlier post, were long enough.I haven't been able to go through the links yet.I will do so in time.
    I hope your dream continues and becomes a reality soon.

  2. Dear W,
    Thank you. Frankly this is what seemed appropriate as a place of learning and growing, to me. I am glad you find resonance in this... :-)
    Most children and adults as well, would be in a much better position was there an environment of discussion (and not hand-me-downs) and facilitating...
    "hopefully you will start it in the next five years or so"
    You planning to have kids in the next 5 years??? :-O

  3. Anonymous4:23 PM

    That is a great ideology.. "Applause"... If you happen to really get into starting such a school, I wish to make some good contribution for that.. .... ... KAR