Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Oh! Education!

Sitting here in India at the fag end of 2017, what do I experience within myself when I think of the state of education in our country today? Do I feel elevated, excited or thrilled? No, I don't, with an emphatic 'no'. A certain dullness and boredom fills my mind resulting in a big yawn!

Keeping an allowance for my extreme views, education today means endless drudgery and slavish slogging both for students as well as teachers through the length and breadth of our country barring isolated pockets of excellence here and there. Teachers' role is limited to purveying information in various disciplines which students are supposed to mug word for word and get it out of their systems during the exam. They need not be original in their approach or show any signs of really having understood the underlying concepts or having reacted to the course content in their own individual way! The best answers are those which are a verbatim reproduction of the text. So much for the thrill of learning!

While I don't have much of an idea about the state of our professional courses, some of which charge hefty fees, the above situation prevails in most of the state and privately run primary, secondary and senior secondary schools in our country. But exceptions are always there depending on individual motivation. We humans are like animals in many ways and our lives mostly revolve around seeking creature comforts for ourselves. But since we are gifted with a brain and, more importantly, a will, we are not content with satisfying our earthly desires and basic urges. We all look for something deeper, something more thrilling, more meaningful and challenging in our everyday existence! And here is where education comes in!

Education is a quest into the unknown with its thrill of discovery, peace of understanding and awakening of realisation! It gifts us with a new vision and a new perspective on the world. Do our lessons as taught by our teachers tease or challenge us, or draw us out enough to throw and plunge ourselves headlong into the depths of the unknown and experience the thrill of exploration? I am sorry, but in most cases the teacher lays bare the entire course content and application thereof to the pupil and all that the student has to do is to commit it to memory and know it forward and backward. We leave nothing to the inquisitive genius of the pupil.

There is no thrill of discovery, or the excitement of exploration, or the fulfilment of having overcome a challenge and learnt something new through the dint of one's painstaking effort and application. Such is the state of education in a country which is not tired of drumming its old glory and tom-tomming about our ancient centres of learning like Nalanda and Taxila and our pioneering work in the field of Mathematics, medicine, surgery and astronomy! 'सा विद्या या विमुक्तये' - True knowledge is an acquisition of the mind that liberates us. Liberates us of what? True knowledge sets us free of our bondage and breaks the shackles and fetters that impede our progress. What is it that keeps us in bondage and what are our chains?

As teachers do we seek and experience comfort in following a pattern of educational learning and teaching given to us several generations ago? Do we encourage questions and queries from our students, or our lessons are mostly one way traffic where we just deliver the course content? Are our lessons interactive enough where students also contribute by offering their own inputs and comments? Do we encourage original thinking in our classes, or spurn any deviation from the established pattern? Do we treat any original thinking and questions as a sign of revolt and nip it in the bud? Are our classes vibrant sessions of give and take of ideas between the teacher and the pupils or a monotonous drone by the teacher with the best students even only passive listeners? It is here in our day to day classes where we give confidence and self assurance to our children by allowing them to think on their own, or put shackles and fetters around their minds by restricting free flow of ideas, thus stunting their growth. What goes by the name of educational instruction in most of our schools today is the dry, uninteresting and unexciting delivery of the syllabus. How can this sort of education liberate us?

'Knowledge, our light' is the beautiful motto of The Doon School, though not expressed in so many words. And how true it is! What is knowledge? What darkness does it dispel as a source of light? Can good education help us become free of our superstitions? Has our education empowered us to think on own? Has our education equipped us to think in an organised, logical and rational manner? Has it enlivened our imagination so as to enable us to step into other people's shoes, empathise with them and share in their cares and concerns? Has our education made us good citizens who understand their responsibility towards their society and their fellow citizens?

Has our education broadened our thinking and vision to step out of 'the narrow domestic walls' of the faith we were born and brought up in and acknowledge and accommodate other faiths as only different paths leading to the same destination! Besides academics which is only a narrow slice of education does our education sensitise or refine our faculties to enable us to appreciate a beautiful poem, a painting, a symphony or a 'raaga' and so on and so forth? Or after having completed fourteen years of schooling do we know little else beyond the syllabus that we mugged for our unending tests and exams? Did our school help us develop some skill of hand or eye or cultivate in us any genuine and abiding interest in our life? If it didn't it failed to impart real education and failed in its duty by us. Did our school teach us that a difference of opinion is normal and nothing to be afraid of while enforced conformity is a sign of regressive and retrograde thinking? Did our school teach us that civilised humans settle their differences through debates and discussions rather than fisticuffs? If it didn't it failed in its duty!

What is the role of a teacher or a guru? Before the teacher takes up his first lesson he should ask himself whether he likes his profession and has a genuine interest in the growth and advancement of the young learners under his charge? He has to lead them by the hand and has to have great energy and enthusiasm to be able to lead his charges by personal example. If the teacher is a learner himself he is surely going to enjoy himself and bound to succeed as a teacher. As the Vedic prayer goes- ऊँ सहनाववतु सहनौ भुनक्तु सहवीर्यं करवावहै तेजस्विना वधीतमस्तु मा विद्विषावहै । ऊँ शान्ति: शान्ति: शान्ति: ।। (May that Brahma (ब्रम्ह) protect us both- teacher and disciple; May that Brahma nourish us both; May we work in harmony with great vigour; May our study be illuminating and fruitful; May we not hate or be envious of each other; Let peace abound everywhere!).......An ideal prayer for the teacher as well as the learner!

For those of us who have been or are in the teaching profession 'learning' should be the operative word, the prime concern and passion, for both of us, teachers as well students, are on a common quest of knowledge, knowledge that will help us overcome our ignorance and inborn prejudices and evolve as better humans. For that to happen we have to keep the windows and doors of our minds and hearts wide open and allow a constant flow of fresh ideas! 'आ नो भद्रा: क्रतवो यन्तु विश्वत:' (Let noble thoughts come to us from every side!) goes another Vedic Prayer and how appropriate for us all!

UC Pande
Principal, Great English Teacher and a wonderful Mentor! 
His email address is

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