Moving beyond academics; exploring alternatives to the assembly line

Srinivasan Nandagopal, in this insightful article on our education system, examines the critical question, are we really educated?

The critical question in today’s context is “Are we really educated?” More such questions follow when we dig deeper into the system in place at present and its impact on the children who are coming out of institutions called School and our existing institutions of higher learning – The Universities.

It is evident that in most of the cases, we have developed an assembly line, like the many industries around where similar products come out of the conveyors. Here, of course, the products are graduates who do not or cannot think beyond their taught syllabus or a specific curriculum. Is this the kind of robots that we are looking to generate from our educational institutions and expecting to live in a world which is called highly evolved and civilised? Isn’t it time to move beyond academics and explore options to restructure the present education system, options which enable young human minds to evolve as effective individuals and responsible citizenry? This is the question I ask.

I am reminded of the most appropriate elaboration of education by Jiddu Krishnamurthy. “The ignorant man is not the unlearned, but he who does not know himself, and the learned man is stupid when he relies on books, on knowledge and on authority to give him understanding”, he remarks. He goes on to say that understanding comes only through self-knowledge, which is awareness of one’s total psychological process. Thus education, in the true sense, is the understanding of oneself, for it is within each one of us that the whole of existence is gathered.

This can only lead one to the conclusion that “Education adds Value to Life. But, it is glaringly evident today, that education itself needs “Value Addition”, leaving the question, “what is ailing our present education system?” dangling in front of us.

The ghosts of examinations haunt every child. Peer pressure, unrealistic parental expectations, lack of a value education, syllabus-oriented teaching and many other factors have resulted in a uni-dimensional growth of today’s kids. The ability to cram, and not the ability to use information has been the oft-used yardstick in our educational system, which has, in turn, curbed the holistic growth of a child in the true sense.

Further, parents – partly because of their limitations in understanding the constantly evolving job market – have been forcing their wards to pursue professions for which they may not have the actual aptitude or strengths. In this era of consumerism, the ability to draw bigger salaries and boast of a comfortable lifestyle has often been equated with success. In the bargain, we are creating children with price tags rather than responsible, respectable, culturally oriented and humane citizens.

In view of understanding the value of present education, we at the Centre for Integrated Learning, here in Mangaluru have been experimenting with high school and college students over the years, putting them through an array of real-life situations. They are intelligent when it comes to academics but fail to succeed when they have to apply the subject matter of their learning in real situations. This is where we realised the shortcoming of present education. Children’s minds are being honed with consistent and constant subject inputs, but the need of the hour is to mould the young to become smarter to face the challenges of the world in front of them.

When I asked a child if she remembers the subjects for which she has studied just a year or two ago, her reply is a shy ‘No’. However, when asked if she has forgotten how to ride a bicycle that she last rode ten years ago, she happily said no, she can still do it without hesitation. Why then doesn’t she remember the notes in her books? The answer is simple. The notes that she studied were intended to clear her examination and get to the next grade while riding a bicycle came naturally as she had learnt it with an eye on life.

It is pertinent to reflect on the above example which contains two contentious words. “Study” and “Learn”. The present schooling only revolves around examinations and hence we are in a “Study” mode whereas what education should provide us with is “Learning” which can be applied to a real-life situation. In the pursuit of her studies, a child slowly becomes mechanical and robotic, losing out in the bargain on confidence and character that is critical to dealing with the challenges of life and that only ‘learning’ can bring.

Is it not time, therefore, to suggest and facilitate a new approach to the field of education? Through consistent study, action research and experimentations, scholars and thinkers have provided alternatives to the present system, but as usual in our country, there is plenty of resistance.

Our children enjoy an over-protected and cosy environment, thanks to highly possessive parents and the `new-gen’ schools who advertise their air-conditioned classrooms right from Kindergarten. Even social work is taken up as a subject and kids experience a simulated ambience to show their concern for social issues. Kids do not know their neighbourhood and have forgotten the basic mannerisms of socializing. Stiff competition for high grades and an instilled lopsided ambition have taken priority over humanity and its natural interaction with the environment. Real education should infuse the joy of learning, provide life experiences that teach values and love for mother earth, inculcate habits and values that give the child a natural and well-earned edge over the rest, enable her to understand ground realities, respect fellow humans, be complicit and bat for national integration and patriotism, think rationally, have a well-developed scientific temper, and concern for environment among other aspects.

Alternative education, also known as non-traditional education or educational alternative, includes a number of approaches to teaching and learning other than mainstream or traditional education. Educational alternatives are often rooted in various philosophies that are fundamentally different from those of mainstream or traditional education. Alternatives, which include charter schools, alternative schools, independent schools, and home-based learning vary widely, but often emphasize the value of small class size, close relationships between students and teachers, and a sense of community.

While it is not possible to outrightly reject the existing superstructure of education and prevalent mechanisms, it will be worthwhile to experiment with a parallel schooling system where we can incorporate the aspects discussed above along with the present curriculum which again needs to be restructured with greater emphasis on experiential learning.

With experiments in this regard, we are convinced that we can look at examinations as just a statutory requirement, thus planning effectively to meet the challenges they pose, while providing more focus on efforts to facilitate the creativity of the child reaching its optimal level. For this, the mindset of all stakeholders has to change, be it of the parents, management, policymakers, teachers and even the child.

Having worked our way into this rather challenging arena, we are now in a position to define education thus: Education through Exposure, Experience and Expression – The Expression of the Experience gained through a series of Exposures is actual Education. The experiment is on and there surely is a long way to go in transforming the system in order to mould children into effective human beings rather than products of an assembly line.

It is pertinent here to recall the words of our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who lamented; “Man has learnt to swim like a fish and fly like a bird, but has not yet learnt to become a human being”.

The author is a Senior Journalist and Founder of Centre for Integrated Learning, Mangaluru

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of and does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.