Wednesday, December 20, 2006

On Education

I recently had the honour of interacting with some very intelligent and deep people and we spent most of our time discussing education and its role in the society. Most of them were educators at an alternative school and some were from other schools and fields (psychology, publishing houses, NGOs, journalism, academia, etc.). We were, without the telling of time or under the watchful need to arrive at a conclusion, discussing the various issues related to education. Most, if not all, of them found it quite surprising that someone from the software domain (that would be me) would be interested in education. A professor (and a rather young one) told me, "Surprising that someone like you (and the tone, fortunately, wasn't derogatory) has thought so much about education." Well, I don't do much on weekends and week days... :-)
Some of the most interesting points/questions that seemed to emerge from the rather short duration for which I spent time with them, were:

1. What is education?
2. Why should people be educated?
3. How should we approach providing education?
4. What is happening to society and how much is the state of education the reason for it?
5. Why aren't many people considering educating as a career option?

Our discussion around these points were very interesting.Where should we go from here?

My personal take was that if we thought that education was the reason behind the current abysmal state of society, then we are giving too much importance to education. If we further went ahead to feel that a modified education system was going to dramatically improve society, then we will simply not be able to achieve it.

The problems with society aren't new. The scale might be different, but the issues aren't new (Atilla the Hun, World War 1, concentration camps, racism, poverty, inequality, 9/11, extremists... did all this happen only since a formal education system came about?). So the problem is not with the form of education that people are going through. There is no statistical evidence that products of the current scheme of education are the people behind the miserable state of current affairs. Secondly, the current state of innovation and advancement (in the fields of medicine, management and technology) owes a lot to the education system and infrastructure in place. [I managed to recover this post only till here and this forms only 1/5th of what I had written and lost :-( ] I personally don't think that approaching the world with a preconceived idea that society is already bad, makes sense. We need to understand society and realise why it is the way it is. I think that is where education comes in; in helping the child to understand society and then realise and decide on what s/he wants to do with it. Was there ever an era of an "ideal" society which owed its existence to the format of education that was in vogue then? Is it possible to have an "ideal" system of education which will churn out "ideal" citizens who will always conduct themselves in an "ideal" manner? Is it then a question of proportion of "ideal" students churned out? Wouldn't a student churned out with the notion that society is "bad" react adversely, condescendingly towards the world around him and then find himself in the sorry state of being drowned in the voice of reality? I am thinking aloud...

Education is not restricted to the initial 18+ years of one's life. Did we ever think otherwise? Then why do we place such an enormous emphasis on what happens in the initial 17-18 years? Because the child is most impressionable then, which is not necessarily a good thing. I hope we realise that not everything about the world and about life can be captured in those few years. So what should the focus of an appropriate education (and I prefer this phrase over good or complete education) be? Shouldn't it be to provide the essential skills which can be used to build more? Shouldn't it be to empower the child to gather, to assimilate, to discern and then to decide in the most intuitive manner? Shouldn't it also be to provide a variety of raw material (sciences, math, history, etc.) which might allow the child to understand the physical world better? Is the physical world not important? Shouldn't it be to help the child realise that s/he will always have a lot to learn and s/he should always be curious and receptive as well as analytical and deductive while also being sensitive to the matter at hand? Isn't the initial education then about building a foundation for what the child is inclined to do, or might be inclined to do? How bad is the current education system as far as this is concerned?

Education is not restricted to the school. Would you expect a child to switch off while outside the school and only be impressionable in the presence of teachers and books and educational equipment? What about the influence of his parents, friends, TV, relatives, movies, the street? How does any educational system intend handling the sheer volume of information that a child receives? And what about the data which each child seems to process uniquely? Shouldn't the responsibility of the school then be to equip each child with the necessary tools to vivisect issues that s/he encounters? Shouldn't the school work on encouraging the child to discuss issues with several people in order to gain perspective as well as insight? Wouldn't the facts of life (1+1 will always be 11) be provided to the child in order to use them wherever required? Or should they be called mechanical details and mere cramming of data and denounced? Shouldn't the school encourage understanding ideas and issues rather than reacting and memorising?

Education is a part of life and not what decides life. Though I personally believe in perfection in everything, I am real enough to smile and nod my head when you shriek "Enough" in my ears. Education cannot be blamed for everything that goes wrong. How about commending it for all that goes right? For the birth of Buddha (did I just say that was right!?)? For the rains in Rajasthan? Why not? I heard someone say that behind most crimes is a PhD or a MBA or a B.Tech (that's Bachelors in Technology for those not in India). Really? Wow! And what about the M&As and new stem cell research not to mention carbon fibre utilisation in building strong wheelchairs? Well, what did you say? That was expected of them? Actually no., I could get an MBA and then realise that I am done enjoying the world of business. It's not the degrees that make someone criminal, but the way a person thinks. Education is not meant to make people think alike and acceptable. Do you think I would like Poe or Van Gogh to be sent into an Art of Living session and risk losing the beauty they created?

Education has a purpose. The purpose is not unique. No particular purpose is inherently base. Do you think that a child in Africa, US of A, rural India and in Columbia be educated entirely similarly? Does everyone approach life philosophically? Is philosophy essential? Is making money bad? What if a person is fascinated by the stock markets and wants to become a stock broker and nothing else? He gets married, loves her till she has no regrets, has children, provides well for them, lives as an example to them of passion and dedication, makes piles of money, takes his family around to various places on earth, ... you get the picture? What is wrong with this? What is wrong with someone who wants to immerse herself in physics and the study of it? What is wrong with a person who simply want a 9-5 job and spend time with family or in front of the TV? They might all view their education as having served their particular purpose of realising these needs/wants/desires/drives/passion. So should we condemn them for not having bothered about the Darfur situation? Should we call their education worthless because the person is not doing something to change the world around her? Why should purposes be categorised?

Education is individual and not for the mass. The efficacy of an education is to be determined only by the individual. An individual who is innately philosophical and deep will not like a school which makes them memorise chapters and commands that their students clear the popular entrance exams and tests. An individual who loves colour and beauty would find a school that focuses on academics or philosophy as quite boring. A beautiful young girl who loves living life in full spirits would find the confines of a convent school quite stifling. A young boy who is like water, would fit just about anywhere and emerge as water. There can never be a single educational system that would fit all. Never. Facilitating a child to grow and develop as is her natural course (and do forgive me for my Taoist phrases) is the only way to raise a child and this doesn't constitute a system.

Educating is not a career. Teaching could be. Educating a child is about connecting to the child and facilitating an environment where she can realise her true self in this world. A career is about personal aspirations. Do you see them going together? What can I aspire for, while I am living for the sake of a child and helping her bloom in this world? Would I call that as an aspiration? Not sure. When my personal aspirations include financial security and status, would I imagine myself educating someone? When I am clear that I wish to educate a child, would an institution and institutional goals help me? I would distinguish between educating and teaching and I have this gut feeling that only one of them can be a career.

Wouldn't it be better if school systems worked together rather than pick individual identities for themeselves and worked at cross purposes? Mainstream schools already have the resources and infrastructure in place. Alternative schools have the wisdom that they have gained over years. Is marriage impossible?

Well, I am still getting educated... :-)


  1. Very interesting post, Eroteme...

    From a society that revered a Guru,treating him like a God, we have moved onto systems which made teachers friends/ an attempt to make them more approachable. I quite agree with you when you say educating is not a career... I feel we lack people who can put their minds to education...think of developing systems already present..The last idea sounds very interesting..

    "Wouldn't it be better if school systems worked together rather than pick individual identities for themeselves and worked at cross purposes? Mainstream schools already have the resources and infrastructure in place. Alternative schools have the wisdom that they have gained over years. Is marriage impossible?"

    Do you think there is a love that can make the marriage possible?Each one is only set to outdo the other, to prove that theirs is the 'best' way of education...

  2. Dear P,
    Glad you found it interesting. I actually liked what you wrote. Is there "love" to make the marriage possible? Hmmm. Makes me realise a few things which I had pushed under the rug...