Seeds of all problems emerge in the mind. The mind needs some serious cleansing. Then the problem will truly be solved.
The dynamic world that we are all a part of, demands the ability to cope with it. Since time immemorial we have been facing various crises and will continue to face many more in the times to come. The current COVID -19 pandemic has presented itself as an opportunity for us to think about change. During the early phase of lockdown, about 1.5 billion school-going children around the globe had to stay at home, and parents, teachers, and education ministers suddenly didn’t know what to do. Education had come to a standstill. But is that true? Are our schools truly administering a holistic education? It is high time we ponder.
The 17th Century English philosopher John Locke’s ‘treatise’ on education is relevant even in the modern era. According to him, an infant is born with a mind that resembles a blank slate (Tabula rasa in Latin) and is extremely malleable and adaptive. The role of education on these young minds is key to transform them into responsible and virtuous adults. As the seeds of all problems emerge in the minds of people, education must be aimed at training the minds from an early age. If there is a way to start making amends and cleansing the world, it has to start with the right form of education.
The urge to redefine a system starts with identifying the errors in the pre-existing one and reasoning about it. Tonnes of questions arise during that process and let me start with a few of those here. What is education? Going to school and learning to read and write formally, then progressing towards languages, followed by the disciplines of mathematics, science, and social studies is just a part of it. Education must also include shaping one’s personality and most importantly the practice of dealing with emotions. Educational institutions must advocate means of training the mind, which is fundamental for a balanced life. The discipline of training the mind must be imparted rigorously during the early years of education. The next phase of education is to apply the knowledge gained to address problems in society.
In a country like our own, people have been attending school with the mindset of achieving good grades which are always assumed to be the equivalent of great knowledge acquired. With good grades, you can easily get into a college of your choice. The same idea persists at the level of college, except the domain of knowledge is now more focused. All that we have been receiving in schools is a one-way transmission of knowledge i.e Teacher ====> Student. This has to change.
Firstly, a school must not be a place where loads and loads of information is dumped upon a student. It must be a hub where all are learners, including the teacher and a place where ideas and thoughts are exchanged. It should be a magical destination where dreams are born.
The system must be such that students drive their own learning. The brain naturally loves learning new things, and all it needs are ‘wow’ moments to kindle the curiosity. Schools must make this their motive. How do we then nurture their natural curiosity? We have to find a means to make them scratch their brains every day. Imagine starting the day in school by asking the students to go around the school premises, looking outside the window, and coming up with three questions that they are curious about. Believe it or not, we would be surprised at the variety of questions that arise and I am sure that the teacher would not know the answers to most of the questions. Have a special board in the class, and write down all the questions gathered by the students. Tell them to think about a possible answer to their questions – without consulting their classmates, internet, or any other sources.
Think of these students’ brains – contemplating, putting things together, wondering! At the end of the day, spend some time and ask each of them to share the possible answers with the class. Do not reveal the answers yet. Tell them to go home and find out from any source they wish to. Do not underestimate curiosity – More than 90% of the class would go and find out the answers, for a spark has been ignited within them!
Once they fall in love with learning, schools must gradually harness this and channelize it in the right direction. During the summer break, before the upcoming academic year, the students must be asked to identify 5 problems (social, political, scientific, cultural, and personal) and work on it for an entire year and at the end of the year, they shall submit a report of their research on the problems, the steps they took to address them, and finally the implementation of solutions. The students must be asked to present their progress every month. No examinations and no more cramming up right before the exam night and puking out the content on the answer sheet. Now we shall observe the school culture changing drastically.
Instead of studying compartmentalized disciplines that are so decontextualized – leaving some kids clueless, students start looking for answers to their problems in the subjects being taught to them. They interact with the teachers and start asking questions in an attempt to learn more about the problems that they had identified earlier. They realize that the knowledge that they acquire in school can be used to address problems and make reforms. They are no more purposeless kids, sitting in class staring at the teacher. In the course of their journey, they may have had several of those precious ‘wow’ moments. They are more involved in this process of learning. The trend has now changed to teachers <===>Student<===>Peers.
Along with the children, the mindset of teachers and policymakers must also change for such a system to function. These are ideas that are interesting to write and think about, but when it comes to the practical implementations of those, there would be numerous considerations. It doesn’t mean we cannot debate about this. This is the time to act and change something we all know is lacking somewhere.