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By Ananya S Guha
We often use the term pedagogy in educational contexts, by which we loosely mean ‘teaching’. Teaching is an art, we have been told. We remember our best teachers in school and college, with wistful nostalgia because of the ambience they could create in a classroom or even outside it, because of their knowledge, support and student friendliness. But here too there are dichotomies, some were excellent scholars, but detached outside the four walls of the classrooms. Some were very student friendly but were not good performers. Some had both qualities, and some were outstanding performers. They electrified the vapid classroom by sheer performance and depth of knowledge.
I have gradually come to realize that teaching is not so much an ontological tool, but is performance oriented and hence creative. The supposition is that it is both content and form, and is vigorously exploratory. It is intuitive and requires certain pre-knowledge, if I may call it; of the class room situation. This situation is juxtaposed with certain realities, such as tests and examinations. But if the entirety of teaching rests on examinations goals; to achieve and only to achieve then the art of teaching is marginalized making the thinking process subordinate to information oriented goals. This subordination of teaching to knowledge based goals, knowledge or information driven, makes the teaching process singularly monotonous, devoid of creativity and pretentious. Without going into ontologies of knowledge and information I will use these two terms synonymously here, in a broad sense. This synonymity is a problem. How do we distinguish between knowledge and information, especially in a fiercely market driven world, where information systems are so wide ranging, infused with sophistry, to the extent that technological tools are a means to a higher end? Is that end knowledge, what drives it, is it learning or only systems in which we are entrapped?
That brings me to my basic question, which I started off with (and which has trigerred a series of questions) – how do we make the teaching methods more and more creative – leading to a build up of creativity and then a climax, where both teacher and taught are enmeshed in suppository values where the situation is cathartic, where both are learners and teachers interchangeably? Does this happen or how does it happen? How can student and teacher become one caught in a moral and intellectual web of autodidacticism? What is self knowledge in this context? How can we make teaching and learning cybernetically related? That is to say, it is a set of ideas, leading to cause effect and a train of myriad thoughts. Is teaching and learning pre-cognitive, can I have a broad construct and then let my experience fit sublimely into that construct?
In my generation the class room was vacuous space, with one black board staring into your sleepy eyes. Today there are technological tools and devices but how are we maximizing them for teaching ends, which is hortatory and needs fuelling? Is the class room de-personalized and substituted by mechanisms, is that happenings; or is desirable? We are often told that the lecture method must be abandoned. We are also told that teaching is learner centric. What do we mean by learner centricism, what role does the teacher have to play in this learner centred experience? How, do we create an ‘Audience’ for the student, especially school students, who have just begun to experience life and its nuances? Is there a need to rigidly stratify knowledge into compartments of say; humanities and the sciences? Does literature or history or sociology have no ‘scientific’ dimensions? Does science not impinge upon history and society? How do we create interdisciplinary syllabi, where there is an intersection between ethical principles, human values, literary history and the vast domain of conflict ridden sciences caught between empirical and extra sensory impulses? One has to read the essays of Bertrand Russel to understand how dialectical and configurative forces work in the world of science which unabashedly continues its dominance today in the form of micro and macro devices, in the avatar of information technology, as also manifested in nuclear arsenals. What are learning and teaching! How is learning related to an experiential world? What role do the arts and literature have to play to deepen sensitivities and embolden creativity? Why is there a bludgeoning of killings and murders even though life has so many creature comforts?
From teaching to education, I digress since education is the parent and teaching / learning the child. The parent must guide, education is the fount of knowledge and a deep seated quest for the truth, the kind of truth which at times is slippery, elusive and a camoflauge for wanton destruction. In trying to radicalize education, we mus radicalize teaching in an effort to combine human and technolocical interface to the best of their abilities. The best of teaching comes from the best of minds and information systems are merely means to greater ends. But technology must complement teaching, not substitute it. The teacher was, is and will continue to be human, the broad humanism of teaching learning processes are the artifacts of human history, civilization and culture. Teaching and learning is a continuous cultural pradigm, exponential and didactic. If we leave out this sense of didacticism from teaching, learning and education we are bereft of the inner realities, the light which strikes at our very being and existence. That light is education in conformity with our spriritual and luminous existence.
I began with pedagogy, focussed on teaching ontologies, then learning expositories within the condition of education and then tried to transcend all these by looking at man’s luminosity and spriritual co-existence with the scientific, machine riddled world. I do this to get out of an entanglement and moral dilemma. What has education and learning taken us into? the morass of divides, wars, militarism and ruthless interventionist strategies of powerful Nations, power mongering bodies like the NATO & the UN which dictate military supremacy in the garb of good and bad, right and wrong whether it be in Afghanistan, Irag the Middle East or Syria? The diplomacy shuttle of the World’s Super Powers has made education meaningless, teaching and learning redundant in the face of military swoops and indiscriminate aggrandisement.
So, simplistically put: What have we been teaching; and what are we learning? In the face of such ghostly realities, the exciting creative ways of teaching and learning gradually is infected with hubris; and sink abysmally into a nether world.
I end on this open – ended note.
(The author is Director, IGNOU Institute For Vocational Education & Training, Shillong)