Almost a century ago, Rabindranath Tagore wrote “Tota Kahani”, the story of a free-spirited parrot who would do nothing but hop, skip, fly and sing all day. A king ordered that the bird be ‘civilised’, and so it was put in a golden cage. So many instructions were forced down its throat that it soon forgot to sing, and then, could not even squawk. When it tried to fly, its wings were clipped. Soon the parrot died, with no sound, except for the rustle of books in its stomach.
The same is the case with our education system where students, who are exceptionally gifted in particular ways, are given a long book of rules and discipline, which presses them to lose faith that regular schools can nourish their creativity. What happens next is the production of lost and confused souls, only worrying about grades and degrees. The system is constantly failing in giving every student respect, responsibilities and challenges. It would be disastrous to mention that in our education system even students with 95% marks are made to feel like failures, as some of our top colleges stipulate for 100% marks to get an admission.
By mentioning failures, I never meant to tag anyone with those dehumanizing labels which when labelled, stay with us, lifelong and we stupidly start carrying those labels and begin accepting them. This is the biggest blunder committed by our education system. We have never been taught about failure, because the term is such that it crushes the confidence of oneself.
In this unsupportive environment, making a mistake leads to punishment. But believe me, failure means to earn an opportunity and find alternatives. Now when students hear or read such statements, they get stunned. The reason is unfortunately again our education system.
Our schools have never helped students to explore themselves and the world around them. They never even tried to make them understand failure and how to prepare for it. And when we actually fail, we are not able to cope with it and end up giving up on our learning process, which I believe is a lifelong project.
We must rescue education from the artificial and oppressive environment. A year ago, when I was in class 11, I was sitting in the classroom, and I did not understand why the bell had to ring so hard to shake us out of our current state and switch to another subject. The system is such that we can not even continue to explore something which we are actually interested in. The academic subjects and the life skills are at a threatening fence. Our knowledge is not evaluated.
In an eleven-minute long youtube video, Sonam Wangchuk, the founder of students’ educational and cultural movement of Ladakh ( SECMOL ), defines how a school campus should be like. He says and I quote, “A school should be like a country with a true democracy. With its own elected government.” He further adds a brief description of his school where he says, students run schools official newspaper namely Campus Times, and also schools official radio channel. They are given portfolios, responsibilities and are asked to manage different things. In his school, students plan, set goals and execute them and later report it to the respective teacher.
Another is Sawaraj university, located 15 kms from Udaipur city in the western Indian state of Rajasthan. The university was born in 2010. The focus is on self-designed learning which engages youth to identify their hearts vision and engages them to in developing the skills they need to manifest those visions. People who join it are called, “Khojj’s”. The university does not ask or give a degree because they believe that a degree is the biggest threat and disease to the human soul.
In the 1970s, Austrian philosopher Ivan Ilich wrote a series of essays critiquing institutions of industrialised culture, including schools. His book, deschooling society, advocated self-directed education. A few years later, American educator John Cadwell Holt coined the term ‘ unschooling’ to refer to child-led education.
Self-directed education is a must, so that we can enhance our life skills. Students at school should be given a chance to apply what they are learning. Sharing my experience at school, I have never seen any teacher approaching us for an interaction tour. Leave alone giving a chance to talk to people of different walks of life to better understand our existence.
But there is a need to change the system. Students should be provided with a platform where they can publish their thoughts. In fact, students should be made partners in running the schools. This can be done by introducing them to the practical world, giving them responsibilities and after a certain experience, make them teach other junior students who are yet to perform such activities.
Meeting new people, watching documentaries, playing outdoors and reading extensively are just some other ways to get a better education, if not best. The assertion that school is unnatural should be abolished. Many students think that it is unreasonable and stressful for us to remain seated at desks for hours at a stretch. But this could be changed by introducing a new method and above all understand the importance of play and conversation in the mental health of a child.
The major responsibility is to prepare students for what’s coming and not for what has been done.