Have you ever wondered why our schools and centres of learning are ill-equipped to nurture creative skills in our children and instead keep them unengaged with life? Have you wondered why a sufficient number of graduates in India face unemployment?
It is because we have brought up a textbook culture in which we test our children not for their understanding, but their capacity to download textual matter into their heads and let it pour out verbatim onto the answer sheets. Connecting studies to reality today, appears far from reality. Mind well, it’s not that the matter cannot be connected, but the inclination to do so is absent. The education policy may want the students to get practical knowledge but a clear gap remains between the planning and the execution of intentions. The heads of our students are filled with factual information till they swell up with the pride of collection. Our children today are caught up in the arguments of problem solving and problem finding and in the process of frequent policy changes, they are often lost.
This brings to my mind a short and simple lyric by a nineteenth century poet, Emily Dickinson. Literature students often quote her with pride; but the irony is that the poetess herself preferred to live in obscurity. Our present system of education is like a leaking tub which collects knowledge in it and fails to notice how it all empties itself out after the exams are done; because the focus is only on the temporal market value of grades. These are the heady graduates who have no scope of employability. Their pride remains on paper as they shrink in reality.
Emily Dickinson, recognizing the futility of such headiness preferred to remain a nobody. “I’m Nobody! Who are you?/ Are you – Nobody – too?/ Then there’s a pair of us!/ Don’t tell! They’d advertise – you know!”
She hid from recognition which many longed for. In one of her most popular short lyrics, ‘I Am Nobody’, published in 1891, she elucidated the longing to become somebody, as ‘dreary’. She never wanted to croak like frogs that made sufficient noise in order to be recognized by the least progressed individuals.
Perhaps our education system would do good to take a lesson from this humble lady. We have tragically transformed our ancient system of learning into a corporate world of accomplishments. Our institutes have become brand labels; which students long to wear.
This system has made many of us into learned and domesticated beasts who like the unthinking bovine, have no sense of choosing their fodder but eat instead, whatever the world feeds them.
Today this system, has put before each one of us, a great challenge with every step we take on the rungs of the ladders of knowledge, in order to cross the bridge from one corner of ignorance to the other corner of wisdom. This challenge, in Nido Qubein’s words is, “The greatest challenge is to be yourself in a world where everyone wants you to be somebody else.”
This system treats only the best as individuals. The others fall out into the world with depressing lack of recognition. This, our present education system, a gift of the British to us Indians, was in fact a plan to destroy the desire to know, in order to learn. Education soon became a stepping stone for achievements of the body, where the soul of man was left totally ignored. With the shift in focus of purpose, the obvious follow up was pride.
Ever wondered why today we have learned criminals? This is obviously because the purpose of their education was only earthly success.
“How much better to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver. The highway of the upright is to depart from evil; he who keeps his way preserves his soul. Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Proverbs 16: 16-18
The tree of life has on it, many branches of love, care, concern, responsibility, compassion, empathy, mercy, pity, tender heartedness, kindness and deep awareness; and yet we have on it thousands of parrots achieving expertise in rote learning and screaming a chorus of arrogant satisfaction.
If only they were to humble themselves like Rahim, – (a great minister in King Akbar’s court!) who often went out donating to the poor, keeping his head and his eyes lowered to the ground. This queer behaviour of his, puzzled his friend enough to one fine day question him regarding this peculiar habit of his and Rahim’s answer, to date is quoted by many who understand their insignificance in the magnitude of the cosmos. “Denewala aur hai, beje woh din-rain. Log bharam hum par kare, neeche howat nain.” Which means, “I am not donating this wealth. The actual donor is the Supreme Lord Himself. But people falsely understand me to be the donor. So, in shame I bow down my eyes.”
All of us involved in the system of education today, whether as students, teachers, parents or ministers, need to ask ourselves a question. “Is our education helping us to grow tall like a tree, or is it helping us to sway in the breeze of success and yet stay firmly rooted in the ground like the grass?” Because, when a strong gale will blow, the humble grass will survive but the proud tree will fall down.