Search This Blog

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


What is education? -  The unsolved puzzle.

There is always a huge potential for knowledge industry.

Let us get certain things straight. Formal education is important. Primary education is very important. Measuring, testing methodically any development is equally important.

Many great scholars , scientists, saints , philosophers, politicians, social workers , artists, writers, film stars, academicians, educationists, sports persons, why even modern journalists and lawyers have said many wonderful things about education.  

I have come across some of them as mere quotations; some as essays; some as serious research works; some based on their own perceptions and experiences; some based on an urge to establish some social order; some goading people to acquire necessary skills to survive as useful citizens –which involves making oneself  a respectable professional in some field of activity that can range from being a scientific research scholar or to good teacher to religious preacher or political speech writer to talkative salesman to many other professionals.

All of these writings give us an opportunity to look at education from various perspectives and various levels of perceptions. The link to some of these quotes and references is given at the end of this write up.

So, to even venture to try to add something to such a subject which has already a vast literature and observations available is a rather a very adventurous task but then I would like to take the adventure.

I have learned a lot, savored a lot and got educated and enlightened while reading all those writings and I have given the links to some of them mostly as quotes as I am not willing to elaborate on the many essays I have read on this subject. I am neither passing judgments on any of them but merely making some generalized observations out of those scholarly outpourings.

They start from one extreme of seeing and viewing education only as a passport for an entry into a job market [inevitable in the materialistic world wherein post, position, power, pelf are the ultimate image/individual evaluating factors] to education that enhances understanding of  other human beings, other living beings, environment of this planet and knowledge about other planets etc to education that helps one to grasp mystical and supposedly great truths about the self, reality, spiritual dimensions of life and things etc beyond even logical reasoning and normal knowledge and understanding. 

There are also other views which see education getting into territories with emphasis on imparting skills necessary to enhance understanding of many things to explore scientifically many possibilities to improve living conditions and improve life and to develop technologies that can help us understand as well as approach knowledge in much deeper dimensions and make life more comfortable and connected or at least to understand how everything and everyone is interdependent, interconnected, inter-related and therefore must learn to interact effectively with everyone and everything in a contextually relevant manner which will design our reciprocation and define our relationship with everyone and everything else.

First we must clearly understand therefore, that there are many things or methods which the knowledge industries across the world [we need not call them educational institutions] try to incorporate in the curriculum as well as the testing methods that are adopted to test and verify ones capabilities in those areas.

Education in general invites lot of criticism and cynical views purely because its perceived aims are too vast and various that realizing all of them becomes difficult. Naturally, therefore, all systems of education and methods of measuring or testing the level of education are always susceptible to some criticism.

Besides the problem with the systems of education and methods of teaching and testing are susceptible like all other areas of human life to a great shortcoming of human perception. Namely, frames of reference and subject to contextual relevance and both these are interconnected in many ways.

Contextual exigency:-

So, by this definition the type of education is decided by the context or circumstance or situation or one may sometimes also call it a goal for which it is considered as a tool. Whether is it to enable one to become a more capable person for a specific activity i.e. a better driver, better engineer, better preacher, better teacher, better thinker, better manager, better technocrat, better bureaucrat, better prospective employee for a particular industry, profession etc

In the evaluation, role and impact of education as in of many things, two factors that are of vital importance, which we cannot afford to ignore, one the context because life does not function in vacuous inanity nor on past templates, and two because of the context the prioritization of things in terms of its contextual utility for each individual, the society at large and the environment as a whole.

Frames of reference:-

What frames of reference that those who impart education get fixed upon? For example let me take one particular sector the cyber world- what type of an engineer a particular system wants to produce a software professional who can write creative new software programs, a hardware engineer, a cyber security professional, a call center employee, a medical billing staff, a back office operator, a systems analyst, a data collector, a web designer, a coding specialist, applications developer and so on.

Normally the type of social milieu mostly weighs heavily on either one or some of them.

Of  course along with these highly emphasized aspects of modern life there are also many traditional and well intended facets of education which have been pushed to the back ground like:- things connected with physical fitness, health consciousness, social awareness, freedom to think and question, express creativity, exhibit imagination, explore artistically etc besides observing, appreciating , enjoying and living with nature which is labeled as nature environmental concerns, social interactions, how to relate with all life around without harming or hurting anyone else or anything else, develop artistic taste and then develop skills, playing for joy of fun and then toning up the skills in the sport etc.

I have avoided morals, values, discipline, principles, character etc because all these have too many connotations based on multiple variables in terms of taboos in different nations, religions, and social groups. Therefore, these have become highly relative and sometimes unnecessarily controversial too, reflecting and reiterating more of our atavistic negative tendencies like intolerance, command, control, domination etc which manifest in multiple ways.

The ultimate result is that we have produced few generations of highly well informed, very intelligent, extremely talented, superbly skilled, appropriately academically qualified great professionals who have a very healthy contempt , and rightly so, for anything that talks about morals and values because they feel its irrelevance to their professions and the other dark side of Socio-religious-cultural morality, namely, intolerance.

The polarity of Survival aspect and Living aspect of life:-

If we observe, closely, most education systems have focused more on Survival aspect of life, which , of course , is the primary aspect of life, and almost neglected on the Living aspect of life- which involves loving whatever we learn [incidentally in the whole write up the word learning pops up only now], whatever we do, with whosoever we interact, enjoying and experiencing life as it unfolds every moment as opposed to merely planning, programming and producing an individual capable of executing a particular way of survival at a future date. 

If this sort of one-sided focus on education is carried on to the logical extreme of mere information data accumulation and knowledge assimilation and merely reproducing all of these, then , computers with internet connectivity will be more efficient, less costly and  become much preferred than actual schooling.

These sorts of high flown appealing didactic statements, however, have the danger of producing a lazy day dreamers who spend their whole life merely verbally justifying and lecturing on every subject without ever producing anything of real value to either themselves or to the society.

These self contradictions are the inevitable polarities of life and learning. Balancing them is the art of education.

John Adams said it beautifully, “There are two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live”.

It is appealing to write or read deschooling societies or savor sayings like what great writer Mark Twain has said, “I have never allowed schooling to interfere with my education”.

Though almost all the great epics, extraordinary literature works, great philosophies have been the works of unschooled souls, formal education is the sign of  advancement of human civilization because it offers an opportunity, prompt , incentive and motivation for everyone to learn and it need not necessarily curtail innate intelligence or stop creativity.

Great sources of creativity and intelligence will, anyway, manifest despite any hurdle.

Importance of formal education:-

We cannot use the above works or statements or examples of to avoid schooling.

Formal schooling is, and must be, an inevitable aspect of scientifically advanced modern civilization because it offers a package of  not only survival skill sets but also is the playful testing ground for learning about relationships with different types of humans beings through observing, playing, enjoying, loving and experiencing together with others outside the confines of one’s  family.

The processes and methods of learning may differ from place to place , from one goal to another, from one objective to another, from one context to another, but all learning other than extreme forms of original creativity or chance discoveries require fundamentally some methodical preparations and being conversant with the existing data of knowledge in relevant subject instead of  redoing what has already been discovered, experimented, applied and explained over the centuries for our convenience like for example a readymade mathematical formula to find out the area of a circle , instead of taking the trouble and spending several months or years on trying to discover originally deriving a formula through putting on lot of time, efforts, energy, resources etc

It is always very easy to sit on judgment over some original work, improve upon some basic work, or come up with some modifications on existing work, or discover something totally contradictory to existing theories etc. But we all must remember that education too, like everything else, has an evolutionary trend. It is constantly evolving according to many different needs, as per the various methods adopted and in tune with the multiple demands, goals, purposes for which education is geared towards.

Though people are good at remembering and reproducing the quotes referred earlier by Mark Twain they never bother to read his sayings in some speeches and writings quiet contrary to that as indicated here in the following speeches and writings :-

A] Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail. What you gain at one end you lose at the other. It's like feeding a dog on his own tail. It won't fatten the dog.
- Speech 11/23/1900

B] It is noble to teach oneself, but still nobler to teach others--and less trouble.
- Doctor Van Dyke speech, 1906

C] The self taught man seldom knows anything accurately, and he does not know a tenth as much as he could have known if he had worked under teachers, and besides, he brags, and is the means of fooling other thoughtless people into going and doing as he himself has done.
- "Taming the Bicycle"

Aldous Huxley, in his wonderful essay titled ‘The Education of an Amphibian’ writes,
 “We must give up the insane illusion that a conscious self, however virtuous and however intelligent, can do its work singlehanded and without assistance”

Importance of primary education:-

Primary education is the foundation on which the whole edifice of future education, society everything depends. The problem is when it comes to primary education the issue gets further complicated because all the active stake holders are not and cannot be decision makers, I mean especially the children.

So, who has to decide what they must study or learn or what types of knowledge or information they must be imparted etc especially because any system of primary education has to take care of physical, mental and spiritual [not religious] aspects of the child and enhance it at least to some degree by motivating with the active participation of the child with its initial inquisitiveness, interest, involvement, enthusiasm and energetic attention intact and gradually lead them to make their own initiative to learn more.

This won’t come about by learning many psychological theories in teachers’ learning course manuals but this will come about naturally through interaction with a child. So, naturally it depends more on the individual child and the efficiency of the teacher. Then, there crops up another contradiction that one cannot frame a curriculum for every child according to its tastes, level of understanding, attention span, willingness etc.

For example there are more than thousands of educational methodologies and thousands of educational psychological approaches etc.

Unfortunately, no system of education in any place in the world can be tailor made to suit everyone.

“The most important difficulty known to human learning seems to lie in that area which treats how to bring up children and how to educate them.” (de Montaigne, On teaching Philosophy of Education)

Education after adolescence is a different ball game:-

However, in most cases after adolescence every individual is aware of his/her potential [unmanifested/unexplored abilities]/interests/attributes/obligations/life's inevitability etc and also the awareness and realization of what they want to prioritize [potential/interests/obligations etc]. It is left to the individual.

Utopia or workable proposition:-

In the whole scheme of these various methods of education we tend to forget some very vital tools necessary for life which, for reasons of brevity, I would like to define as clarity of thinking and understanding with contextual relevance or appropriateness, rationally approaching issues, events and actions, scientifically testing through measurable methodical means, evaluating anyone or anything based on inherent merits, intrinsic values and contextual relevance and relating and reacting to anyone and anything with a happy and loving disposition free of any inhibition. More importantly all these require to know how the mind works in general and how each and every brain of each individual child responds. 

Actually educating a child is like treating a patient. One needs to take into account various psychological, social, cultural, emotional factors as well.

Swami Vivekananda rightly says it, “Education is the manifestation of the perfection already in man”.

The advantages of present age in history:-

We have not only the accumulated wisdom gathered over the centuries of  masterly works and mistakes but also have them readily available anywhere in many languages. In such a scenario, incorporating and implementing anything is possible, subject certain minimal constraints.

There must be a conscious effort to balance the blend of quality and quantity. Thus, acquiring knowledge and wisdom, enjoying learning, experiencing the subject of study in terms of its relevance to individual life, social living or spiritual understanding etc must be part of any educational system.

Disadvantages of present age in history:-

At too young an age too many conflicting opinions about the methods, goals, intentions etc of education will confuse young minds. So young minds must be motivated to enjoy learning and enhance understanding irrespective of the ultimate utility of what they learn either to themselves or society.  

Actually not bothering too much about or preoccupying too much with ultimate utility value [[this applies to parents too, in some cases]. Stop bothering about what type or quantum of outcome of ability or capacity that such learning may confer on the individual at least at primary level.

Like evolutionary biology there is evolutionary education and environmentally/contextually  impacted education which further emphasizes the need for and impact of  formal education:-

Mostly each society adopts the system best suited for it like how each child naturally starts the process of its learning through initially inquisitiveness then tempted to   imitate, followed by  adopting and selecting what it likes, what it is more comfortable with, what is available around it etc based on its natural instincts and impulses.

Similarly  in societies some situations/contexts there evolve a very competitive and conducive atmosphere for certain areas of knowledge acquisition over the rest and certain areas of knowledge predominate even globally at such times, broadly viewed, for example:- 

In the 17th century it was philosophical inquiry and study of astronomy and elements ;

In the 18th century it was art, drama and literature ; 

In the 19th century it was scientific discoveries, invention of machines, manufacturing, commerce and trade;

In the 20th century it was electronics and sophisticated technology  etc ;

In the   21st century by extension logically and ideally  it the must be making the optimum utilization of all these accumulated knowledge over the centuries for the benefit of maximum number of people, all species and the whole of nature through a sense of sharing and caring compassion and make enhancements in each domain.

A child is born without any culture, any knowledge of any language. If we take a child born to two illiterate parents in some remote island of the coast of Africa and make it to be adopted by two great Japanese research scientist couple, it will not only pick up Japanese language soon, it will adopt well to Japanese culture, it will also show interest in science because natural learning process initially is through inquisitiveness and imitation. So any type of learning method or education must instigate inquisitiveness and create a conducive atmosphere where the child can imitate worthy things.

Having said briefly all these, it goes to prove that as a species, most children are born with a natural survival instinct and a certain level of natural intelligence which enable them to understand, learn anything anywhere. Therefore schools, parents and society must encourage the children to express themselves freely, allow them to question everything without restraint, allow them to analyze things according to their level of intelligence and help them understand things and people around them in life without imposing any social or religious or ideological bias etc. Then, such children can manage many things in life and handle many situations in life with equanimity, patience, tolerance etc.

Parents, society, schools must help children through suggestions which are appealing, prompts which are compelling and examples that are uncontrollable to imitate and thus help them to manage, maneuver and maximize their inherent attributes and talents without too much interference with instructions of dos and don’ts which will inadvertently lead them to think that life is a pendulum that swings between two extremes of ‘yes’ or ‘no’, with nothing in between or beyond.

The stark reality is that life depends to a very great extent on how we relate with everyone and towards everything with two major factors inherent attributes and acquired attitudes.

What happens is that very often instructions which are temporary may mask the fact that  education is a lifelong process, I may add and say that education is, in fact, a life enhancing and enlightening process. Frederick W.Robertson too says something similar, “Instruction ends in the school-room, but education ends only with life”. I believe it does not end with life it continues to influence posterity as G.K. Chesterton writes, “Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another”.  

Attributes are natural flowers and their natural fragrance, color and beauty manifest based on how well they are allowed blossom but attitudes are nurtured and therefore more pliable, susceptible and vulnerable to manipulations. This is where the formal schooling plays a vital role.

At least, for all practical purposes let us keep the ultimate purpose of education as the creation of a livable, preferably lovely, society filled with people who share unqualified love towards all and have unqualified for all.

Role of parents- a delicate and joyful one:-

All these are based on manipulating different aspects of the attributes of the child.

Certain activities that the children are motivated to adopt as a part of their natural being help them to become more intelligent, more expressive, and broad- minded in their early life itself and become wiser as they grow.

The most important among them is the development of habit of encouraging the thirst to learn, habit of reading, instigating the hunger to know more about anything , playing with others, socializing etc.

The worst among them are making them passively watch television, cinema etc for mere time passing or entertainment etc as these have been found by leading psychologists to blunt the process of thinking, reasoning  etc.

So, parents play a huge role in a child's education. They need not necessarily teach him or her complicated trigonometry or grammar.

Parenting is the joy of watching, observing, participating and enjoying the process of growth and development of a child's strengths, passions, reasoning through several methods including provoking and instigating arguments to scan the depth and width of the child's intelligence, approach, the impact of socio-cultural activities around it etc.

Parenting plays it part in everything staring from potty training to facing the tantrums thrown around when its cravings are unfulfilled, to trying to understand and adjust to the adolescent hormonal changes influencing the child’s attitudes and actions etc.

Parenting is watching the child grow from its birth to as long as you live, even if your child is 60 years old, because it is still your child, may be now he or she is a parent himself/herself.

But we must participate with him/her, always relating with the a huge amount of love and affection and also allowing freedom at all times with calculated concern towards his/her safety and welfare, involving without interfering, motivating without bothering about the results, always interested in the child's happiness.

We need not get into nor can we possibly get into all the specific details of all that happens in the name of education in different parts of the world. But we must acknowledge the fact that with constantly changing trends, demands, aspirations, economic conditions etc all societies are in constant process of evolution- some requiring more guns and weapons; some requiring more cars computers and newer technologies etc- the field of education is still not a clearly mapped atlas and therefore, there are still many areas which remain undefined because it is still not completely explored and hence, the potential for knowledge industry is very huge. There are various areas of  life of which the whole knowledge industry is ignorant and every now and then in the course of open minded exploration of the field of education one manages to overcome certain ignorance,

As Phenella writes, in “The Unwritten Comedy”,

“To be ignorant of many things is expected
To know you are ignorant of many things is the beginning of wisdom.
To know a category of things of which you are ignorant is the beginning of learning.
To know the details of that category of things of which you are ignorant is to no longer be ignorant.”

All said and done , ultimately, either the society is indifferent to or ignores or everyone in society scorns at an individual who is unemployable, unskilled, unintelligent, lacks street smartness, incapable of achieving any social respectability [leave alone success as defined and expected by society] etc. No parent would wish his child to be at the receiving end of social boycott or indifference.

What formal education does is to create an individual, if not very intelligent or capable but at least one who is fit enough to avoid getting ignored and scorned on account of anyone of the factors referred in previous paragraph.

So, formal schooling is the best available, in a way inevitable , cauldron into which a child is thrown so that after all the churning they come out as someone better in as many aspects of social survival skills and capable of living a worthy life, sometimes with certain additional bonuses of wisdom, humanitarianism, compassion, creativity, adventurous spirit to discover and invent, rational approaches to events and actions, ability to create visions and lead, sense of caring and sharing, willingness to cooperate and help others


There are some excellent practical books like this one ‘Your Growing Child: From Birth to Adolescence By David Fontana’

Some links to write ups about parenting

The link to great quotes and writes ups on education

No comments: