Learning to Unlearn|Jan 18, 2011 6:13 AM| by:

Starting from the Beginning

Something is happening to our education system. It’s crumbling. At least partially. There is something in it, which is breaking down — the old order. The problem is that the new one hasn’t emerged yet. We are, ‘living between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born’. Hence, the heartache, fear, confusion, restlessness and rootlessness. It’s nothing new, it happens every time there is a major transition in the world at large. The transition here is of course in the consciousness. Basically what our growing children are feeling in a vague way is just a mirror of what we’re feeling in the larger school of life. Our schools and colleges are the microcosmic reflections of the macro-level changes in our adult global society. There are no secrets about the societal and political unrest and widespread disillusionment with existing norms, the world over.

Today, if you get a chance to listen to children incognito, you get to know what’s really on their minds. Is it okay to cheat and get marks if ultimately marks are the only thing that counts? Am I good only when I come on the top of the list? Can teachers be friends? If I get angry what should I do? What’s wrong with lying? I’ve learnt all the formulas in Maths, all the symbols and valencies in Chemistry, all the grammar rules in English, all the dates in History, all that all text-books say, now tell me, am I educated? Many teachers can’t handle this, so we ignore it when we can, or if it’s too obvious, the ‘good’ teacher will say, “Hush child! Good children don’t talk like that!” So, those children who are keen to be ‘good’ try not to think or talk like that. A lot many just don’t talk like that in front of their teachers or even their parents. But they still think.

This is more so in rigidly structured systems like the formal education system in India, which is actually the legacy of the British colonizers that aimed at producing clerically trained minds. They succeeded. It is perhaps time to question the old order, question its relevance in today’s world. Difficult though it may be we have to be ready to change. Remember King Arthur’s advice to Sir Lancelot who broke down when the legendary King was departing, in Tennyson’s poem, Morte’d Arthur—

The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfils himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.

Are we corrupting the world, or are we helping God to fulfil His way? Is it time we started addressing the need to change the kind of system we have in education? Change does not however imply that we have to shut down our schools. We simply have to be honest about acknowledging the shortcomings in the system and be open to change. If there is need to reform then we must reform, if we need to re-energise, then we must re-energise, and if we need to change totally then we must change totally.

People like Tagore, Krishnamurthy, Sri Aurobindo and others around the world tried to experiment with the educational system of the times and arrive at solutions and alternatives to help the situation. There is a great amount of literature available which contains the views and thoughts of these authentic thinkers. For Tagore, it was his poetical and aesthetic vision along with unpleasant memories of his own schooling that led him to create Shanti Niketan. Krishnamurthy and Sri Aurobindo, who were both men of deep spiritual insight, addressed education as a fundamental dimension of human life.

While these along with other thinkers have not given complete answers or even offered perfect models to emulate, they have however inspired many people to experiment with education in order to try and develop a superior system. Schools that follow alternative systems as compared to the common formal structured system are scattered here and there in India. Not many are well known, however they have a story to share about their educational experiments to any sincere and interested person who wants to listen.

The new millennium has brought about the dawn of a New Age, which is asking a whole lot of questions. We are striving to find alternative ways of dealing with the health of the body, mind and spirit. A renaissance has begun with man trying to find his roots by exploring the old so that the essence can be used for the betterment of today. How then can we ignore the question of right education for our children? It is said that it is better to build children than mend adults. The question of the ideal way of educating a generation is a living question that has to be addressed anew. Complacency and indifference will not do any longer. The overwhelming question in the new millennium is not, ‘to do something or not to do something’, but what is that something? If we want the world to be right, we have to address what is wrong with education.

Harvinder Kaur

(Harvinder Kaur began her journey in education because it made her heart dance! After a regular job for some years, she worked as a volunteer in non-formal education based on Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy which was for her a turning point. An avid writer, she writes poetry, articles and stories on education and spirituality.)