Of learning, unlearning and relearning
The word ‘education’ takes in two other Latin words, namely ‘educare’ and ‘educere’, meaning to train or to mould and to lead out respectively. There are two contradictory positions people take about education today.
The word 'education' takes in two other Latin words, namely 'educare' and 'educere', meaning to train or to mould and to lead out respectively. There are two contradictory positions people take about education today. One takes education to mean preservation and passing down, of knowledge, while the other sees it as preparing the emerging generation for the future imbuing in them the ability to find solutions to problems they are likely to face. In other words, while one relies on getting information 'by rote', the other encourages students to question, think and create.
Teachers most often see memorisation and drill on the basics as the most effective way to teach. As a result, the function of the educational system changes from providing students with a well – rounded education, to preparing them to pass the all-important examination. A person who is schooled only to pass the examination, however, is ill prepared to cope with today's rapidly changing world. Something more is needed to make the students successful. Obsession with unreally high marks, an unhealthy insistence on cramming and surfeit of information have become the hallmarks of formal education systems today. The system is unable to prepare a youngster to face the issues of life ahead and the pressure is leading to dropouts, drugs and, on occasion, even suicides. Little wonder, then that Albert Einstein despaired that "education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school. It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education".
Those in the science stream need a truly liberal exposure to the essentials of the humanities, while those in the humanities stream can benefit from learning the fundamentals of scientific principles and the rigorous discipline that characterises them. Perhaps it is time to think of a separate semester in every course leading to a degree covering this aspect.
These thoughts, mind you, come from the bottom of my heart. Because I have tried my hand at speaking, lecturing and teaching; and, at reputed institutions at that, such as the IITs and universities abroad. Another issue that merits attention is that over- insistence on premature specialisation can well result in creating competent specialists, who, however, may lack the necessary base to help them retain a sense of balance when the ship of life rocks, as it will, at some time or other.
In other words, the basics are important. The Government of India has taken many farsighted and visionary steps to enhance the value of higher education in the country, including the enunciation of a revised National Education Policy (NEP) in 2020 universalisation of education setting institutions such as the National Education Technology Forum, the National Assessment Centre – 'Parakh', a proposal to set up a Gender Inclusion Fund, for moving, education from the state to the concurrent list, and the making of education an enforceable right, apart from programmes such as the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the mid-day meal scheme, Jawaharlal Navodaya Vidyalayas, Kendriya Vidyalayas and the use of IT in education all fallouts of the NEP 1986.
The systems of teaching and learning have also to undergo a sea change. Universities need to aim to produce people with contemporary minds- physically fit, mentally alert and emotionally stable-not mere experts in individual fields. Emphasis should be not so much on loading students with information/knowledge and testing their absorption, memory and reproduction through a rigid and mechanical system of examinations and marks, but rather on aiming at assisting them to fulfil their innate potential – a process of drawing out, in other words, then putting in. In the ultimate analysis, education should not only lead to remunerative careers, but also help individuals lead emotionally rewarding, and socially useful, lives.
Finally, all students need to be sensitised about matters such as combating climate change, sustainable management of natural resources, containing scourges such as terrorism and, last but not the least, continuing a relenting war against the problems of poverty, food insecurity, deprivation and exclusion. And all these should be marked by a humane and ethical disposition. And that is what our temples of learning need to remember as we enter an era when 'education' is acquiring a hitherto unknown definition.
Before we close this discussion on education, there are other aspects of the discipline of education, and nuances to the meaning of that word, which will be interesting to note. While under training at the National Academy of Administration we, as fresh recruits to the civil service, were taught about the need to 'educate' our 'masters'.
Quite frankly, the exercise was somewhat outdated by them, as the relevance it may have had earlier had diminished considerably. In the initial days after Independence, barring a few notable exceptions, the average political leader had little prior experience in public office and, therefore, needed to acquire a grasp over the essentials of administrative matters. With the passage of time, however, that situation changed dramatically, and more and more, a new generation of political leaders emerged, many of whom had earlier exposure to elected offices at lower rungs and, therefore, were au fait with the demands likely to be made on them in the discharge of their functions.
Education needs to extend to dimensions other than the intellectual and cover physical fitness and emotional stability, before it can be recognised as a 'putting in' that can 'draw out' the innate potential of the recipients.
'All work and no play…', is relevant in the context of education too. Participation in games and sports, and competing with other institutions on behalf of their own, is a desirable part of a well-rounded educational system. The traditional rivalry in boat racing between Cambridge and Oxford Universities is a legend in itself.
I recall the frenzy created by the intensely competitive atmosphere that characterised the annual cricket match with St. Stephens' College (as a student of Hindu College in Delhi University in the 1960s). Such activities act as a good emotional release for the youth, who are otherwise emerged in serious academic pursuits. And participation in movements, such as the Boy Scouts and Guides and the National Cadet Corps, inculcates in students of schools and colleges a sense of discipline and commitment which are essential to the development of an all-round personality. Also structured exposure to the ambience that obtains in organisations where students are likely to find employment in the future will go a long way in preparing them for the life ahead.
While on the subject one also wonders whether it will not be a good idea to introduce a system of compulsory military service for a short period, as a prelude to professional employment, as it is being done on other countries. After all, as Malcolm X (the African American civil rights activist), said, "education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today".
(The writer is former
Chief Secretary, Government
of Andhra Pradesh)