What is Education?

By Ubahunlang Dkhar Tmar

At each junction of socio-economic and technological change, at various intervals of history, in different countries, kingdoms and empires of different socio-cultural make-up, scholars, philosophers, rulers’ debate and discuss issues and theories of the methods of education and its role for the individual and society. We are still grappling with ideas, methods and philosophy of education even today. With the, development,spread and easy access of information and knowledge we are in a better position now to postulate a well balanced and unified, flexible formal education. But we still need to ask the basic key questions: What is Education? What is its purpose in the present/future changing socio-economic, technological, environmental and well-knitted global scenario? What are the means and ends of education? What kind of future citizens do we want our children to be? Will they be subservient or subjugated to a certain power? Will they be autonomous- thinking well-balanced individuals with a free will?  What kind of society do we want to have and wish to see? These are some among the myriads of questions we need to ask ourselves, especially those at the helm of policy-making and administration.

Time to reconfigure Education 

Dissatisfied with the manner in which the discipline of History is steering in its academic exercise, E H. Carr, a historian, raised a question beginning with the key word ‘What?’ in the 1960s he questioned how history should be written in his seminal book, “What is History?”  This re-examination by Carr had jolted historians on their role in researching, explaining and interpreting ‘facts’ of the past. This heartfelt endeavour by Carr, has brought history and historians to questions its academic discourse, research, its methods and approaches on a fresh pedestal. This has strengthened the discipline of history, its relevance, moral authority and its historiography (the study of the writing of history and written history).

At this juncture, we need an E H Carr for Education or a fresh perspective to relook at our education system. After reading, hearing and viewing the pattern of the growth (organic, political, or administratively determined growth) of schools into pattern, deficit, adhoc, government, SSA, the occurrences of errors in school books, misinterpretation of facts, the strikes, procession and hartals of teachers, whose salaries were delayed or denied; their rights, service rules etc. we are forced to question ourselves if there is such a ‘system’ in our education?  Does our education system (?) have a system? In ancient or medieval societies (Gurukul, Confucious, Athenians etc) or modern industrialised countries or societies, teachers and students are well respected and honoured, for they sow and mould a nation and society in their classrooms. In terms of work load and responsibilities, school teachers deserve the highest respect, honour and generous incentives.

Where are we on Education?

We are all here stuck in the same position asking ourselves the role and objective(s) of education especially in our State where there are multiple views and opinions on education. There is the government (technocrat) views; the parents’ views, the view of scholars, education activists et al. These views sometime converge but often collide. But the prevailing common-sense view of education is about getting degrees, good grades and landing up a good job, preferably in Meghalaya. My parents and I are part of that common- sense view. With respect to the school I went to which only followed contemporary procedures and wisdom, and the presence of few beloved teachers and friends, many of us, spend many years of uninteresting and uninspiring schooling. This may be due to the myopia and failure of our policy makers to bring out the best in us, by providing spaces of autonomous, independent innovative learning. Fortunately for some life and circumstances took us to better paths, locations and positions in social and family life. How many experiments, non-pragmatic proclamations, seminars, workshops, and visits to innovative institutions do we need to seek the right approaches to education?Sad to say that education in our State has taken the shape and form of an organism in an isolated pond. There is no input or output; we are in moribund backwaters (in the state of dying). And this has suffocated many of our own children’s futures and their unique and varied talents.

Education and the younger generation:

If we take into account the average life expectancy of an individual in country, 20-25% of a person’s life is spent in rigorous schooling and formal education. The most interesting, vibrant and crucial years of an individual is spent in a sort of house arrest. If schools are run like factories, where the educational process is, eat and regurgitate, produce and throw, rote memory is important, we are already at fault. We are in this situation because our economy and society at large is designed in such a way that marks, grades, intelligence quotient not emotional quotient is rated high and accepted as grounds to successfully participate in the world of work or to be an effective member of society. The current obsession with high marks and grades has ostracised a large section of students who are perceived as least intelligent. But, actually these students are capable of doing and learning many things, provided they have the right, atmosphere, incentives, and enabling spaces of innovative learning. The question is where do we start and revamp or overhaul the system? Of one thing we are sure; we need our students to be active not passive learners. A classroom environment which is participatory and democratic in nature is imperative but we all need the resources, spaces and to do away with the obsession of finishing the syllabus. After all, learning takes time and space.

Those in the teaching profession know and feel very well the psyche of our youth and children. As teachers we are in a blessed, responsible and precarious position to do something better for the younger generation. Those teaching at the level of higher education, get to know the potential of students entering the college phase. At the same time we also discover the reality which is to strengthen primary, upper primary and secondary levels of education. Educational Psychology tells us the paramount importance of these lower levels of education (pre-primary, primary, upper primary, secondary). There is also a universal agreement and well proven researches on the positive outcomes if these levels are taken care. Hence the urgency to provide more resources and care to these levels of education and catch them young or leave them old and inefficient! If the lower levels of education fail the higher levels too fail.

The problems of our youth today can be traced to education and upbringing, whether it is unemployment, intoxication, drugs, alcoholism, lack of directions etc. The youth have reached a point of frustration. We have made them emotionally deficient and insecure, and they just want to escape the drudged realities, spoiled by politics, political flamboyance and sycophantic governance. Aristotle says that a youth who has received a good upbringing will enjoy acting virtuously, become temperate in attitude, emotions and desire.  The Finnish education system, which is one of the best education systems in the world further re-establishes the Aristotelian point. This System is Learner-centric, not Teacher, State or Corporate-centric.  In the current scenario of rampant destruction of environment, careless attitudes, wasteful/conspicuous consumerism, value based education is also vital for the healthy upliftment of the individual, society and polity.

Quasi-Philosophical Note:

In life we have to learn, relearn and unlearn that education is also not only about policy making and then leaving it aside. Education cannot be detached from all spheres of public and private life. The Education policy and plan has to be state relevant, learner centric, flexible, universally competent and socially productive and meaningful. From a holistic perspective, Education is not confined only to the role and responsibilities of teachers, students and parents. We cannot detach this unit from other societal, governmental functions and responsibilities. Education or the development of human resources is the raw material for a progressive and humane sustainable society.   We have to meditate and relook at the objective and purpose of education – the prime objective being the individual(s) including the differently-abled. Education is not about grouping categories, but education for equal variegated abilities, capacities and potentials. Bertrand Russell, in his book “On Education”, emphasised the need for balanced education. He also insists on the humanistic elements such as arts, music, literature, history, architecture because these are essential to power and enlarge the ‘imagination’. If we stress only on the utilitarian (useful, practical) aspects of education, human progress would become boring (mechanical and trivial). Russell also did discount the importance of Science, as he himself was also a prolific philosopher of Mathematics. Albert Einstein too said that imagination is more important than knowledge. This assertion is not about bringing or cultivating a generation of day dreamers but individuals who can balance between the humane and the mechanical aspect. Elon Musk the prolific inventor and innovator also stresses the importance of imagination. Even brain and mind studies  reiterate the balance training of the left and right hemispheres of the brain. We can also say that imagination is the source of lateral thinking (thinking out of the box). Former President of India, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, in his book “Ignited Minds”, says “Dreams transform into thoughts and thoughts into actions.” Hence we need to provide our children the space to dream and think and provide the enabling spaces for their dreams and thoughts to transform into actions. Do we dare to give this to our children, and enhance our budget for education?

At this juncture of intellectual and educational crisis we need a fortune teller to temporarily ease our negative vision and not to run away from responsibilities. Peter Parker/Spider Man (the emancipator and protector of the weak, neglected and exploited), spun these words “with great power comes great responsibility”. To the present dispensation, this power also comes with opportunities to bring about change in our education system. And to all of us who are part of the system – Lets Redefine Education.

(The author is the Assistant Professor, Dept. of Geography, St Mary’s College, Shillong.)

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