Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Knowledge and Learning: A Tribute to Jeebon Roy


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By Bijoya Sawian

Knowledge is a never -ending story and learning an eternal journey of discovery. Schooling and examination results are just a miniscule part of this great adventure.
The results of the Board exams across India are out. The most crucial time and the most important focus for all educators should be on the mental health of the students, especially the senior students. Counselling is imperative. Year after year we have students who have breakdowns and die of suicide. We have to set an expiry date on this horrific phenomenon. Teachers have to learn to relearn. The word success must be redefined.
When I started The Annfield School over 25 years ago I read books by famous educators and also books from the MBA syllabus to know more about time and potential management among indispensable and very useful knowledge. The ethos of the iconic John Martyn of Doon School touched me deeply. He believed that if a school is meant to prepare a child for a life then the child must feel that “life is worth living.” He knew then what we are grappling with now – the problems that arise from a child’ s confusion, anger, frustration and unhappiness. So it came easily to me when I had to coin the school motto: Instill the Joy of Learning.
The task ahead is an arduous one because for almost a century we have been subjected to the joyless, mind crippling form of education brought in by the British to suit their purpose. Thinking for oneself was totally out of the syllabus. Cram, learn by heart and regurgitate on paper was advocated. Learning was strictly for a purpose. It was not the adventure it was meant to be. Babu Jeebon Roy, the Father of Modern Khasis wrote to the children of these hills – I want to teach you not only how to read and write but also how to think- when he established the Ri Khasi Press in 1896.
Let us also not ignore ethics. Ethics is knowing what is right and wrong. Parents and teachers must be aware that ethical illiteracy is rampant in all sections of society and across all ages. It is important because globally, society has plummeted into an almost an irredeemable abyss because of faulty education which no longer includes, Value Education. There are millions of young people in different fields doing brilliantly in their jobs who are totally unaware of our inextricable link to nature; that peace and progress go hand in hand, that basking in the sun, wading in a stream, walking through the woods and gazing at the stars are enriching and healing experiences.
Education is not merely gathering information and passing examinations; it is not only about books, results, degrees and careers. A person who is exposed only to this is literate but not educated. Education is a holistic experience which instils the right values and prepares an individual for life not merely for a living. Joining the maddening rat race is the first step on the highway to ethical and spiritual destruction. This is the cause of all the malaise of modern society.
Education begins at birth and stretches across a human being’s lifetime. The child’s first school is his home and the parents and elders around the child are the first teachers. Every gesture, every word, every movement is observed and felt by the child and all this is important for his/her emotional health and overall development. A child may be brilliant and talented but if he/she grows up to be a disturbed adult the consequences are, as we are all aware, tragic and aggravates the societal imbalances already present today. Nowadays a child joins school as early as three years of age. The teacher’s role is , therefore, immense.
In ancient India we had the Gurukuls where education is imparted. Guru means teacher and Kuls means home/family. Children live in the gurukuls and are involved in the lives of their teachers. Besides a rigorous routine in learning, the students participate in domestic chores, gardening, tending the cattle and any other work which is part of the Gurukul. This enables the teacher to form a strong bond with the child and also observe his strengths and weaknesses. So, in the classroom, the interaction is comprehensive and this adds to the child’s learning experience. The teacher thus becomes the mentor and guide of the student.
If we bond with children the teaching of values comes naturally. The child takes it as part of life and not a mere ‘subject’ to be learnt. The Gurukul concept is being revived to an extent and this will definitely bring a positive change in the years ahead. When a student leaves the Gurukul he is ready to become a good member of his family, a useful member of his community and a worthy citizen of his country because the correct values have been imparted by the teacher.
In ancient days, in the Khasi Hills, a child is handled with care right from infancy. The way they bathed a child, held a child, fed a child was always with gentleness and love. The lullabies have soothing , calming tunes that soothe both mother and child. This was the first step towards establishing his/her emotional well- being and stability which are now believed to be important precursors to a child’s intellectual growth. Good behaviour and etiquette were taught at special timings when an elder would instruct the young ones on etiquette and the rules and regulations that they must abide tom.All these teachings were compiled into the book of ethics and etiquette,Ka Jingsneng Tymmen by Radhon Sing Berry Kharwanlang and first published in book form in 1901 in the Ri Khasi Press The best way of teaching the contents of this book was, however ,was by example and the elders in a family took this seriously.
Stories were told around the fire in long winter nights and endless days of rain when one was forced to keep indoors. The folktales, tales of the origins of the world and explanatory tales were akin to history books. The riddles were the quiz books, proverbs were the tight encapsulation of philosophy, the jokes and trickster tales were for humour and laughter but also educative in their own way. The environment, the hills and forests ,the streams and rivers were the Geography books and the men would take their children outdoors and instruct. Life has changed tremendously but the idea of bonding cannot be undermined. Teaching is only successful if the child feels good about the teacher. It is simple : you would not respond as you should to someone who you do not trust and feel connected to. The responsibility at home is for parents to spend quality time with their children for this is an important part of their mental well being which is an irreplaceable input for the realisation of their full potential.
The emotional well being of a child depends a lot on the environment ,the atmosphere and the method of teaching. In my school I have a subject for Playgroup and Nursery – Good Manners and Good Values along with Spoken English. In the senior classes the specified syllabus does not have Value Education but the teachers are instructed to find opportunities in class to talk on Honesty and Integrity, Compassion and Diligence, Respect and Gratitude, among other qualities. We also have informal talks and share good karma experiences -what good deed did I do yesterday? It could be a kind word that brought a smile to a sad face, or more weighty ones if they are able to. We encourage the children to share and we show our appreciation generously. We also impress upon the children the importance of knowing what is right and wrong and the greatness in doing little good deeds, impressing upon them that being a good human being is a huge achievement and success of the highest form.
In life what eventually remains, is one’s reputation. In the Khasi literary masterpiece, ‘Ka Jingsneng Tymmen,’The Teachings of Elders, Radhon Singh Berry Kharwanlang wrote :
Whatever you know whatever you gain/ It’s useless if not by Truth sustained/ Even if very rich you become/ If no one respects you what use is the pomp ?
Even if you are grandly attired/ It’s useless for it’s only your shame camouflaged/ You may reach the top sit on horse, elephant/ If your reputation is sullied what use is it then ?
As parents and teachers we have a long journey ahead on a road we have neglected for a long time – the road less travelled.
Jeebon Roy was a strong believer in education and the written word. He fought with great courage and fortitude for bringing in higher education to the Khasi Hills. He faced insurmountable challenges because the British believed that ‘ Khasis do not need education beyond Class 6’. After being refused several times he eventually, went ahead and established the Zilla High School in 1878 ,contributing nine hundred rupees from his own pocket. The school immediately registered fifty students. Seeing this development Reverend Jerman Jones ,the Education Officer relented and the Mission School was amalgamated with the Zilla High School and the Government High School was established in Mawkhar in 1879.This was the doorway to higher education in the Khasi Hills and the realisation of Jeebon Roy’s dream. He wanted his people to be educated and walk confidently shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the country and the world. He believed that knowledge gave one the power to gain wisdom and wisdom then leads to understanding.
Today, May 16 2024 we commemorate the 121st death anniversary of a stalwart who believed in the value of education for a progressive society. Let me conclude this tribute with his motto – ‘Iai Minot’ – Persevere with diligence.

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