What is Education For?

Image courtesy Lisha Menon

Note: the key ideas for this write-up are based on a video titled “6 problems with our school system

The current system of schooling consists mainly of a systematic method of conditioning young, creative minds into obedient factory workers. The current system of education was formed during the industrial revolution. It was a direct outcome of a system that had wanted to create a class of obedient, efficient workers for the rapidly growing industries.

So what do schools do? In schools children are awarded for following instructions, being timely and for sticking to a “rigid path of knowledge,” the system wants us to learn. They are reprimanded if instructions are not followed, if they begin to stray away from “the true and only path”. We are taught to blend in, to become one in the crowd. Why is it that the nail which sticks out is hammered down?

A great example of the faults of this system is none other than Albert Einstein! He was expelled from his school due to his apparent rebelliousness. What did he do, you ask? He challenged the status quo and dared to formulate ideas of his own.

The world of 70 years ago is incomparable to the world of today. Innovations, inventions, discoveries are happening at a much faster pace than you and I could imagine. They are changing the world around us, they are changing the way we interact with one another. Did you guys ever imagine, say 25 years ago, that you can be anywhere in the world and communicate, literally in a matter of seconds to another person who lives half away across the globe? Did you ever imagine that there will be things like FB, whatsapp when you were growing up?

Our mode of communication, transportation, healthcare, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, even the festivals we celebrate…all of these have drastically changed in the past 20-25 year. But, like the North Star, one thing hasn’t changed a bit – it’s our schooling system. Unlike the North Star, it takes us nowhere!

Joy talked about ‘carrots’ being dangled in front of us. He says that workplace determines what we do in school. I am countering him by saying this – If schools were to change, then workplaces would be forced to change too.

New inventions and innovations as I had mentioned earlier continue to make things easier for us; however there are unintended consequences of these innovations and inventions. We, as a society are becoming more and more fragmented, and are drifting apart, which result in myriad of social ills – depression, addiction to name only a few.

We need a schooling system that teaches us about togetherness, moderation, relationship-building, effective use of technology along with subjects, skills and time management. In this context, a request to Prakriya: Don’t shun technology as technology undeniably plays a huge role in our lives. Embrace technology and teach us to use it effectively with moderation.

Now, back to schooling. The industrial schooling system worked because it developed in children the exact skills necessary to become a worker, an obedient worker who follows instructions. Now tell me, how far can one get by, in the modern world by simply following instructions?

Schools in this context, I believe, have a bigger role to play. They can continue to produce students who are obedient. Or they can choose to teach us to be authentic human beings who are creative, can communicate and collaborate with others. There is, hence, no need to dangle carrots in front of us now.

Another aspect of schooling, which I have a major problem with is the idea of freedom. I may be exaggerating a bit, but I feel there is a complete lack of autonomy in schools. No freedom and only controls are imposed on us. The system controls what we do every minute of every day. From the time, we get into the school bus and reach the school till the time we leave, I feel we are constantly being monitored and controlled. Every minute of every day is accounted for. The breaks-in between and games periods are a bliss, but those periods are monitored too. There are surveillance cameras everywhere, fortunately we in Prakriya have escaped that! Is this the way we want to live our lives? Schools, for me, should be a place where I experience myself and others, learn to make my own decisions, learn to manage my time, and most importantly learn moderation.

Yet another problem in the schools is that there is inauthentic learning. We define what each child MUST know and then every few months we measure how much has been retained, by administering tests / exams. How is this not authentic, you ask? Believe it or not, the fact of the matter is that most of the content that children have mugged up is gone by the day after the exam.

For some reason exam and test results are the only things we value, because they are the only way we measure what has been taught. What is more important? Fickle knowledge that disappears the day after an exam? Or knowledge which lasts forever? Or wisdom that comes with life’s experience? If knowledge is power then wisdom must be divinity. What we must gain in school is not only information, not only knowledge but also the wisdom to know the difference between the two.

The current issues we face are many, including poverty, overpopulation, pollution, global warming and environmental degradation. The current system of schooling explains these problems but solely on a need to know basis. What we need are schools which provides us- the children- the opportunities, time and space to go in depth, understand these issues, see the inter-linkages and connections and help us find implementable solutions. Schooling should not be of the past, it should not be only of today but also of tomorrow. The purpose of schooling, hence I believe should be for tomorrow, to provide children with the skills, content, technology and most importantly humanness required to connect and relate with the world at large.

Only by changing the schooling system can we change the world. After all, the students of today are the leaders of tomorrow.

Siddarth Gahlaut – Class 10


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