No one could have a difference of opinion regarding the fact that education results in, or at least should result in, learning. The differences arise, though, over what this ‘learning’ is or should be. A simple click on the thesaurus shows that to learn means to discover, ascertain, understand, to become trained in or skilled at or to gain knowledge of. The question is: does our attempt to educate our children through institutionalized systems of schooling result in such learning? It seems to me that the institutions meant to educate have been reduced to measurement systems that cater to the need to quantify learning so as to grade the churned out products on a universally acceptable, recognizable scale.
Whereas education should free the mind, open it to new discoveries, help each individual child find their unique voice, cultivate a thinking mind and an independent personality, it is reducing children to a mass of regurgitators and nervous wrecks. Schools have become factories that churn out products that are expected to conform to set standards, the norm. It’s a race against time, against copious competition, and there’s little space for imagination, innovation and such esoteric metaphysical irrationalities.
Knowledge, if institutionalized education assessments are to be believed, is in the textbooks and there are plenty of them to rush through in an academic year; learning is what you produce on paper or spout without a second thought, or a second’s thought for that matter.
To stem this mindless acquisition of what is considered an ‘education’ we have to stop trying to teach our children everything that can conceivably be taught so that they are not ‘deprived’ of the opportunity to know everything that there is to be known.
By all means, familiarise children with various disciplines but let not the learning be tied down to textbooks straitjacketed in terms of ‘subjects’: geography…history…statistics… economics… mathematics; Sanskrit…English…Tamil…Kannada…economics… life science, et al. Introduce young students, instead, to the notion of inter-disciplinarity which is the way of life in the real world, and expose them to readings from the best of literature in the original. From classics to modern works of fiction and non-fiction, build a curriculum with stories, poems and plays, essays, book extracts and published works of reputed researchers, drawing on all genres and disciplines, both nationally inspiring and globally renowned.
Reading is more likely to become pleasurable activity and result in meaningful learning as well as a zeal to learn more through self-discovery when the texts being read are those that have been authored by masters of language or experts in their fields, texts that have stood the test of time and scholarship. Besides, learning is a generative process that happens through exploration and discovery, discussion and conversation, listening and reading. No one has learnt every word that is in their vocabulary from their textbooks and their teachers!
As for Mathematics, rather than making it formidable by bringing in topics that have few applications in most people’s lives, relate it to real life commerce and statistics.
Logic and moral science, sports and home science were all part of the school syllabus once. There is no gainsaying their practical application. The first two equip us with skills of reasoning and analysis as well as values and virtues that are necessary for intellectually aware and equitably sound decision-making. The latter two make for physically fit and capable and useful citizens.
Teach children to read and understand first, and then to communicate and to express their thoughts and ideas, and then to count and calculate, evaluate and analyse: A gradually evolving teaching mechanism that gives time for contemplation and absorption would alone result in wholesome learning. And, perform tests of assessment through various mediums: written, oral, graphic, and/ or action. Comprehension can be better evaluated if the opportunity is given to a student to express themselves in the spoken or written word, through pictures , models, and/ or mime , for, not everyone has the same comfort level with each of these modes of expression.
Maybe it’s a dream, perhaps a hope, but I wonder if India, which is supposed to be re-inventing or re-discovering itself, or both, can also spare some mind-space to re-conceptualise education and re-orient it towards its true purpose. Education is meant to result in learning; it should open the mind and help it grow in awareness about the self and the society. As of now, these functions are being poorly performed because of mistaken notions of what learning is meant to be, and what it is meant to do.