What is Education For?

Image courtesy Lisha Menon

So when I began my research for my paper presentation, I had a question. I want to ask all of you that same question, which you should be able to answer for yourself at the end of this session. And that question is – “what is schooling for?”

Now if we go all the way back, we can see that human beings have been learning all their lives; our ancestors learnt to make stone tools, they then made wheels and learnt agriculture; civilization, art, craft, leisure, wars, religion … all of these ensued. Did they learn these in school? Because I sure can’t imagine a Paleolithic man attending a school to learn to make stone tools! This learning can happen without an institution called school or university.

Many of us would have heard about the Gurukul and apprenticeship system of ancient India. I am not saying they were perfect systems , they had their flaws of restricting learning to the upper castes alone, who had right to education according to their vocation. One aspect of Gurukul that really appeals to me is this- The shsishya lives with the guru, participates in all the activities that are required for running a household or an Ashram. Or take the apprenticeship-system of the latter time period. Here too, the apprentice lived with the mentor or the expert.

Fast forward to now. Mugging up is the order of the day. 40 minute periods are order of the day. Studying subjects that I don’t understand is the order of the day. Competition over collaboration is the the order of the day. Tests and exams have become as natural as breathing itself. The direct outcome of such a system is this: we have stopped questioning, we have stopped questioning what we are being taught at school. The only and the most common question in a classroom has become “Is this going to be on the test?”

I remember my father telling me about his classmate, who would sleep in class, sitting on the first bench. My father tells me that he is doing alright in life, now. This brings to fore the question- “is it okay to just be alright?” Or all of us are aspiring to be successful? Is schooling pushing each of one of us, you and me to become successful of a particular kind?

Schooling for me is simply this: It’s is like a map. It enables me to navigate, teaches me lessons in self – learning, responsibility and creativity, and takes me to a destination in the near future. As I stand before you, I don’t know what my destination is. And as my sister says this destination is not etched in stone. It will constantly change and evolve. I am looking at schooling to provide me with experiences and tools to move towards that destination.

So what are the tools that school can provide so that I experience life as it evolves? As I had mentioned earlier, one of the tools I am seeking is to find equilibrium, a balance, homeostasis.

I have friends who don’t even know how to use a broom because they have never been taught to use one. I also have friends who look at exams as a burden and don’t come prepared; I have friends who don’t do their homework and scribble something and submit the same.  I also have friends who don’t come out play or even chat or even smile during exam time. I know parents who have quit their jobs in order to make time for their children’s studies. Once I overheard my mom’s friend say that she’d be unavailable for the next 2 weeks as her daughter would be taking her 7thgrade final exams.

As I said, schooling for me is finding this right balance. That we need to learn how to sweep using a broom, make our beds, and iron our clothes and also learn that examinations are also important. Discipline and freedom, for me goes hand in hand, doing and saying goes hand in hand , so called the routine and the exciting goes hand in hand. Just like that balance between ying and yang, I believe that one without the other creates an unhealthy imbalance.

All I am trying to convey to you is that schools need to teach the students to find this state of homeostasis. Students need to be given opportunities to find a balance between

  • freedom to question and responsibility to strive and put into action ,
  • emotional and physical well being ,
  • rigidity and flexibility,
  • structure and flow ,
  • order and chaos,
  • looking at macro issues and micro details.

All of this is vital.

Modern research in neuroplasticity has shown that children’s brain are wired for learning from birth; supportive experiences provided by parents and teachers must be aligned with these natural ways of learning for a child’s development.

Schooling teaches us to draw the dots and life teaches us to join them.

Anjali Verghese – Class 10


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