Absence of real education : The Tribune India

Absence of real education

Intelligence is not a measurable product — it is the ability to live meaningfully

Absence of real education

Missing: Students seem to have found ‘experts’ and ‘specialists’, but not great teachers. PTI



Amid inflated marks in board exams and the flourishing business of coaching centres, does anybody bother about true learning and meaningful education? Or is that as a collective — parents and teachers — we have taken it for granted that there is nothing in education except the ritualisation of examinations, the neurotic obsession with the quantification of learning experience, and the mythologisation of a notion of success defined by the instrumental reasoning of techno-economic power? Look around, see the pictures of the ‘toppers’ as brand ambassadors of all sorts of coaching centres, and the gorgeous ads of the ever-expanding education shops offering courses in hotel management, fashion designing, or information technology, and tempting the potential customers through the narratives of placement and salary packages. And move around any town or city, look at the book shops, and see how guide books with all sorts of success mantras have succeeded in replacing the sort of literature that opens the windows of consciousness, enriches one’s understanding of the world, or activates human sensitivity and critical faculty.

Imagine the fate of a student who has been told by his anxiety-ridden parents that nothing matters more in life than the urge to be a topper (the fetish of 99% in the board exam), the strategic power to crack the IIT-JEE entrance test, and the internalisation of the competitive spirit to run faster, defeat others and go ahead. Imagine the state of consciousness of a young student who has been directed by coaching centre ‘gurus’ that there is nothing in physics, chemistry, mathematics and biology except what is needed to succeed in the entrance tests. Or imagine what it means to grow up when one seldom gets an opportunity to hear the inner voice, understand one’s unique aptitudes, and is almost compelled to follow the standardised path to success—techno-science, commerce and management. This is like killing human possibilities; this is alienation; and this is to promote a non-reflexive crowd behaviour.

In an overpopulated country like ours, we live amid terrible structural constraints. While the scarcity of resources and opportunities, and resultant fear of unemployment haunt us, the heightened socio-economic inequality makes many of us think that job-oriented technical education or skill learning is the only capital one can acquire for upward social mobility. It is, therefore, not surprising that English-medium schools with fancy names are everywhere, contractors/politicians invest heavily in the mushrooming growth of engineering/management/BEd colleges, and Kota — the town in Rajasthan known for all ‘branded’ coaching centres — begins to symbolise the dream of the rural as well as the urban aspiring class. And middle class parents see it as a status symbol if their children with BTech/MBA degrees manage to migrate to the Euro-American world. In a way, this is the sociology of the dominant ‘common sense’ that characterises the prevalent educational practice in India.

However, amid this market-driven utility, there is something deep and enduring we are missing. And if we do not take care of it, we will eventually cause severe intellectual, spiritual and politico-ethical damage to our society. This requires a realisation that meaningful education is not just confined to training or skill learning or technical efficiency; nor can the worth of true education be measured through the utilitarian scale of success. It is equally important to realise that our children are not simply ‘resources’ to be trained by coaching centres and colleges of engineering/management, and utilised by the techno-corporate empire. Our children are endowed with possibilities; they are not born only to memorise the facts of history and geography, solve physics numericals and differential equations, and ‘prove’ before a highly oppressive/judgmental society that they are ‘intelligent’ and ‘meritorious’.

Let us begin to accept it. Our children, far from being exam warriors, are potentially wanderers, seekers, explorers; they are born with the eyes to see, the brain to cognise and conceptualise, the heart to feel and experience, and the hands and legs to do things. And meaningful education is fundamentally the process of inner flowering; it is a quest for the integral development of the faculties of reason and love, and creative labour and intellectual cognition. Education is the celebration of awareness. Education is sensitivity to life and the world. Education is not rote learning; nor is it confined to the official curriculum. It is immeasurable. It is the curiosity of science, the wonder of philosophy, the creativity of poetry, the skill of an artisan, or the reasoning of a mathematician. And merit or intelligence is not a measurable product; instead, it is a quality of being; it is the ability to live meaningfully, distinguish creative fulfillment from the external markers of ‘success’, and transform the ordinary — say, repairing a bicycle, nursing one’s old grandmother, or watching a melancholic sunset — into the extraordinary.

However, for this sort of aesthetically enriched and life-transformative education, we need great teachers, profound educationists, insightful pedagogues and sensitive parents. Sometimes, I feel that possibly many of our youngsters have never found a great teacher — say, the kind of teacher that the likes of Rabindranath Tagore, Jiddu Krishnamurti or Paulo Freire would have imagined, or the teacher who touches the soul of the seeker. They have found school principals who use the technologies of discipline and surveillance to restore ‘order’ in the classroom; they have found ‘experts’ and ‘specialists’; and they have found all sorts of coaching gurus for whom education is nothing beyond the act of bargaining in the marketplace: ‘you pay, and I deliver the package of success mantras’! And the irony is that as parents, we too seem to be quite comfortable with the normalisation of this pathology.

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