Learning to Unlearn|Jun 6, 2007 8:07 AM| by:

What is to be done for Education?

We all wish our children to develop and to enrich their faculties; we all wish our children to learn attention and concentration; we all wish our children to thirst for knowledge and perfection.

We do not, however, know how to achieve these desirable things, and our present system of education is a direct result of the human mind’s method of solving subtle and complex problems by means of simplification and of reducing living processes to so-called practicable, rigid and deadening routines.

Learning and its Evaluation

We want our children to wish to learn; not knowing how to inspire the children to learn, we give them the threat of exams and force them to learn. We want our children to be regular in their pursuit of studies; not knowing how to instil this precious habit of inner discipline, we increase the number of tests, and make the entire process of education a constant process of moving from tests to tests. We want this unnatural system of tests to succeed, and so we propose a fixed syllabus and insist that every child must go through the syllabus even while educa­tionists know that there are several different ways of learning the same thing, and that there are variations of speed of learning and variations even in the rhythms of interests.

It is so rational to argue that the tests have to be objective; but not knowing how to make the class teacher himself objective and impartial in his judgment, we insist that the child should be examined by someone who has had no contact with him. But even this ‘someone’ may have his own prejudices, so naturally we should have still some other one to counteract the former. This vicious circle of checks and counter-checks is, it is admitted, not at all satisfactory. But how practicable and facile it is in practice! And can it be replaced, it is asked, by anything better.

Tests are necessary, it is argued; for how else can we judge the progress of the children? The rationality of the argument is so obvious. But we know that there are tests and tests, and yet we rely mostly on written tests; and we know also that the written tests can easily be tests of memory which even a silly, mechanical mind can without much difficulty acquire. A saner view, however, has tended to give some importance to oral tests, homework and day to day work, but these, it is argued, are likely to be so subjective that they could be given only about 20 per cent value or perhaps a little more. The lion’s share must be given to one single Final Written Test.

We have, of course, forgotten to ask how we are to test the growth of sincerity, truthfulness, cheerfulness, pru­dence, perseverance, benevolence, simplicity, courage, straightforwardness, honesty, justice, love, and hundreds of such qualities which we as parents and educationists desire most heartily should blossom in our children’s tender hearts. These are indeed beyond the purview of the written tests, or most of the other tests. And the perni­cious result is that we have tended to banish the develop­ment of these qualities from the serious concern of teachers.

Aims of Education

And what about the still deeper aims of education? What about the psychic and spiritual dimensions of personality? What about the higher domains of conscious­ness, and what are we to do to lead the children to aspire for and to climb up the hills and mountains, of the luminous peaks of the supreme Knowledge and Power?

Once again, shall we omit these sublime aims of education because they can’t fit in with our system of tests? What is the solution?

It must at the very outset be said that the solution is extremely difficult to find, and even when found, it is more difficult to implement.

But it is certain that our attention must be directed to one central thing in education, the discovery of the right aim of education which in turn implies the discovery of the right aim of life.

A capital factor would be the idea that life is an evolving reality, and that it is at present a field of battle through which the eternal perfection shapes us in its own image. The ultimate aim of life is to be completely transformed so as to become a fully developed and effective means of the manifestation of perfection, and thus to be a field of progressive harmony and unity.

This is the aim that we should put forward for Edu­cation:

“There is a Divine Reality wanting to be manifested. We aim at knowing this Reality and working for its manifestation.”

The entire system of education should be so organised as to embody and fulfil this aim.

The Role of the Teacher

The role of the teacher in this system may be sum­marised as follows:

To aid the student in uncovering the inner will to grow and to progress – that should be the constant endeavour of the teacher.

To evolve a programme of education for each student in accordance with the felt needs of the student’s growth; to watch the students with deep sympathy, understanding and patience, ready to intervene and guide as and when neces­sary, to stimulate the students, when necessary, with striking words, ideas, questions, stories, projects and programmes: this should be the main work of the teachers.

But to radiate inner calm and cheerful dynamism so as to create an atmosphere conducive to the development of higher faculties of inner knowledge and intuition – that may be regarded as the heart of the work of the teachers.

The New System

An adequate organisation of the working of the New System would need, among many things, the following:

1. A room or rooms of Silence, where students who would like to do uninterrupted work or would like to reflect or meditate in silence, can go as and when they like.

2. Rooms of Consultations, where students can meet their teachers and consult them on various points of their seeking.

3. Rooms of Collaboration, where students can work in collaboration with each other.

4. Lecture Rooms, where teachers can hold discussions with their students and where they can deliver lectures – short or long – according to the need.

It would be not true to say that there will be no tests and no assessments in the New System. Written or oral tests are indeed useful in relation to certain areas of intellectual development. But these tests must be individual and adapted to each student, not the same mechanical tests for all of them.

There are periods in the life of students when their interests and enthusiasm are intense. During these periods, tests would very often tend to dampen the enthusiasm and would lead students to turn to arti­ficial or mechanical processes of learning. There are periods of dullness, during which tests in the form of challenging or stimulating questions would help stu­dents to come out of mental inertia. There are again periods when the students need revision, and then broad questions involving some panoramic view or comparative study would be very suitable. Students also need often to be precise and accurate about what they have read or understood. And there, questions involving short and precise answers would be welcome. And thus there are varied needs at different times, and the new system must provide the facilities to the teachers to give to each individual the type of the test that he needs.

It will also follow that the syllabus in this system will be evolutionary. It will grow and develop with each indi­vidual’s need and pace of development.

The Content of Education

And now regarding the content of education. The study of each subject can be so directed that it leads ultimately to the discovery of the fundamental truths underlying the subject. These fundamental truths form, ultimately, a unity, and at a higher stage a deeper study of this unity would itself contribute to the deepening of the sense of truths, which directly helps in the maturity of the psychic and spiritual or yogic aspiration. The sense of the unity of the truths would also contri­bute to the reconciliation of the various branches of knowledge, thus leading to the harmony of Science, Philosophy, Technology and Fine Arts. In the spiritual or yogic vision, there is an automatic perception of this unity, and in the teaching of the various subjects the teacher can always direct students to this unity. In the words of Sri Aurobindo:

“The Yogin’s aim in the sciences that make for know­ledge should be to discover and understand the workings of the Divine Consciousness – Puissance in man and creatures and things and forces, her creative significances, her execution of the mysteries, the symbols in which she arranges the manifestation. The Yogin’s aim in the practical sciences, whether mental and physical or occult and psychic, should be to enter into the ways of the Divine and his processes, to know the materials and means for the work given to us so that we may use that knowledge for a conscious and faultless expression of the spirit’s mastery, joy and self-fulfilment. The Yogin’s aim in the Arts should not be a mere aesthetic, mental or vital gratification, but seeing the Divine everywhere, worship­ping it with a revelation of the meaning of its works, to express that One Divine in gods and men and creatures and objects. The theory that sees an intimate connection between religious aspiration and truest and greatest Art is in essence right; but we must substitute for the mixed and doubtful religious motive a spiritual aspiration, vision, interpreting experience.”

There are golden reaches of our consciousness, and from them and from the reaches intermediate between them and our ordinary mental consciousness there have descended forces and forms which have become embodied in literature, philosophy, science, music, dance, art, architecture, sculpture, in great and heroic deeds and in all that is wonderful and precious in the different orga­nised or as yet unorganised aspects of life. To put students in contact with these, eastern and western, ancient or present, would be to provide them with the air and atmosphere in which they can breathe an inspiration to reach again to those peaks of consciousness and to create still newer forms and forces which would bring the golden day nearer for humanity.

The Four Factors

Four factors must combine together to effectuate a true revolution in education, which people have been feeling as an urgent necessity. There must be first, on the part of organisers, administrators, policy-makers, a para­mount sense and need to discover most centrally and above all other needs of the nation, the right aim of education and fix it in the consciousness of the people and to do every possible effort to find the monetary and material means to implement all that the right aim of education implies.

Secondly, there must be a burning and sincere awaken­ing among parents to demand the right and full education of their children. They must be free from the limiting demands arising out of the fears of various kinds. They must realise that the new world in which their children will be asked to discharge their responsibilities will be radically different from the present one, and it is therefore wise for them to search for that new world and prepare their children for that world. They must not make the mistake of asking for their children the kind of educa­tion which they themselves had and must insist that their children receive a new education which we are all in need to discover and therefore for which we are all in need to take the legitimate risk. A courage and heroism on the part of parents is indispensable.

The third need is to have a large body of teachers who are prepared to build in themselves the highest qualities and capacities which the new education de­mands. They must be prepared to work day and night, to labour indefatigably to prepare the new material which needs a patient and painstaking research. They must be fully dedicated to education and the growth of the children should be the paramount interest in their hearts.

Finally, students must themselves realise that the indispensable condition of the ideal system of education is a burning aspiration in them to learn and to educate themselves, that nothing can be achieved if they do not have the thirst for the Truth and that if it is there they will be able to discard progressively their dependence on outward agencies of instruction and discover that all knowledge is truly within.

Kireet Joshi

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