Dialogue April-June 2007 , Volume 8 No. 4
An Overview of Education Todaytc
Pawan K. Gupta
What Is Education
When we study ourselves we find that there is an innate desire in all of us to be perennially with a feeling which is acceptable or agreeable to us. This acceptability can be explored and examined by each one of us, as it is innate in us. To give this feeling (of acceptance) a name, we can call it happiness. So we can say, we all desire to be continuously happy.
On further exploration we also find that with this underlying desire to be happy, we are ‘doing’ something all the time. This ‘doing’ stems from either: 1) understanding reality the way it is and then accepting this understanding or 2) assuming (or perceiving) reality on the basis of conditioning i.e. without understanding or accepting reality to be other than what it is. It needs to be mentioned that this ‘doing’ is essentially taking a decision. So ‘doing’ (or decision) could be to speak or not to speak, of walking or not to walk. Even when we take a decision not to do something it still is a decision and it impacts us as well as the environment around us. These are the consequences of our decision (doing). We enjoy or suffer the consequences of our decisions as they culminate in a feeling which is either acceptable or not acceptable to us. This happens all the time. If the consequences are in alignment with our innate desire we are happy otherwise not.
It is proposed that if our decisions are based on understanding of reality - as it is - then we take the right decisions and the consequences are in alignment with our desire to be happy, otherwise not. So there is a need to understand this difference between assumption/belief and understanding or knowing and to go from assumptions to understanding. This is what education is all about.
It is worth mentioning that not all assumptions are incorrect. Some assumptions may be right but as long as they remain assumptions (and not convert into understanding) it is not necessary that they will be stable or there will be permanency and stability in them. So whether wrong or right, we need to evaluate our assumptions and convert them to understanding.
The purpose of education is to understand reality and to establish correct relationship with self and with others (human beings and other units in space) - based on this understanding.
Reality remains (the same), whether we understand it the way it is or we assume it to be other than what it actually is. If we understand it the way it is, then we recognize right relationship and fulfil it and enjoy the feeling of fulfilment. Otherwise if we assume reality to be other than the way it is, this wrong assumption leads to incorrect behaviour and actions, culminating in frustration, unhappiness, dissatisfaction etc. The choice with human beings is only between understanding things as they are or assuming other than what the way they are - reality is. Education helps us go from assumption to knowing/ understanding.
Understanding of Harmony in Existence and the Role of Human Being
If we look at the entire universe we find there are units and there is space. The units can be classified into four broad categories –
(1) The material order (padarthavastha) like soil, water, minerals, and all ‘man made items’ around us (which have not been made by man but merely transformed from natural resources). In fact there is no growth or development in the material order - only a conversion or transformation from one state into another. It is quite an irony that what we refer to as ‘development’ today is entirely based on transformation and not actual growth!
(2) The plant order (pranavastha) includes all the greenery and vegetation This order is characterized by growth and regeneration;
(3) The animal /birds order (jeevavastha).
(4) The human order (gyanavastha)
The first three states or categories co-exist in a harmonious and mutually fulfilling manner. The plant order is dependent on the material order while the animal and human orders are dependent on both the material and plant order. While the higher orders take nourishment from the lower orders and are dependent on them but they also enrich the lower orders and do not exploit them. The trees draw sustenance from the soil but the leaves shed by the tree enriches the soil. The relationship between the three is not only that of mutual enrichment but there is no wastage or exploitation as far as these three stages are concerned.
But while human beings are dependent on all the three orders, their own participation with the rest of the three orders is not in harmony. And above all their relationship with fellow human beings is also not in harmony. Human beings do not seem to be living in a mutually fulfilling manner either with their own kind or with the rest of the three orders. They are only exploiting and not enriching the other orders.
Vital Difference between Animals (training) and Human Beings (understanding)
Human beings are said to be social animals but when we examine this statement we find that all animal species are known to behave in a similar and definite manner irrespective of the place of their birth. Animals have definite eating habits (either vegetarian or meat eating) and life styles regardless of the fact whether they are dwelling in Africa, Asia or Europe. In short their behaviour is definite. This is true of all animal species unless a particular animal has stayed in close proximity with human beings and learns to behave in an unnatural manner. For instance cows are vegetarian. In Europe when they were fed with non vegetarian food it resulted in the mad cow disease.
Also while animals (e.g. in a circus) and human beings can be trained, only human beings need to understand/ educated. There is a vital difference between understanding (education) and training, just like there is a difference between information and knowledge.
Human beings are different. We know that two people not only from the same cultural background but also from the same family can be very different from one another, in their behaviour. In the entire existence, human beings alone have the freedom to choose, because they act or behave according to the way they perceive or understand reality. For example if there is a piece of rope lying on the ground and one perceives it as a snake, that person will act or behave accordingly. The person may get scared, aggressive or even violent, in right earnest. But the incorrect perception of the person will not change the reality, only affect the person’s behaviour. The rope will still remain a rope and not turn into a snake! Human beings have a choice only at the level of perceiving (or understanding) but they seem to have no choice at the level of behaviour or action, which stems from perception or understanding and at the level of consequences, which stem from the action and behaviour.
All the major problems in the world today have been created by human beings. Whether the problems relate to resource depletion, pollution, waste creation and global warming or they relate to war, terrorism, or interpersonal problems – all of them are interrelated and result in making the earth unhealthy and human being unhappy, dissatisfied and frustrated. We need to see if these problems stem from wrong assumption belief or are they based on reality.
In modern times there seems to be confusion between knowledge/wisdom and information; between knowing/understanding and training or methods. One gets the feeling this confusion is getting perpetuated. Education is gradually tilting towards information, training and methods. There is an urgent need for clarity on these issues. We know or understand and then do accordingly. While in the realm of skills we have to learn while doing. Reading, writing, operating and making of various machines, instruments all fall mostly in the category of training and methods and not knowledge.
I am working with Society for Integrated Development of Himalayas (SIDH), a not for profit organization working in the area of education since 1989. We started by opening schools in villages where there were no other schools, in the tribal area of Jaunpur in Tehri Garhwal district of Uttarakhand. We realized very soon, and we owe our learning to our interactions with elderly women from the community, that we were very naïve. Reading “Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi” also helped. We thought “education” was teaching the three R’s; that “education” was going to do “good” to this “poor”, “underprivileged, backward lot. But the women made us aware that somehow the education we were providing was:
(1) Alienating these people from whatever was their own - their language, lifestyle, village, traditions, culture, people, parents, work, manual labour etc. and
(2) Breeding in them a sense of inferiority towards all this, culminating in a poor self image about themselves and all that was their own.
These two factors turned the “educated” into imitators who became desperate to camouflage whatever they considered their own and became anxious to adopt a false identity. “Education” was somehow defining “modernity” and “development” solely in materialistic terms - outward symbolic representations of how one dressed, the manners, the language, items and quantity that one consumed, the kind of work one did (the less manual work the better). Instead of taking pride in who they were and in manual labour one started feeling ashamed about all this after getting “educated”. “Education” was mesmerizing us into believing, without critically examining, what was superior, what was developed, what was right1.
It gradually dawned on us that this kind of education was doing more harm than good. At best it may make some of us, world class imitators while making the majority into mindless servile savants. We were convinced that education must provide self confidence. If it was not doing that, instead, if it was breeding a sense of inferiority then there must be something terribly wrong with it. We were told we were wrong – that education was giving self confidence. Look at public schools, look at the IITs, we were told. But we were not convinced. We felt our students even those coming out of some of the best schools and colleges lacked the kind of relaxed self assurance, the easy manner that was desired. They lacked true confidence (as different from arrogance) where one can be oneself and be honest with oneself. We started differentiating between two kinds of self confidence :-
l the absolute self confidence, the nirapeksha atma- vishwas and
l the relative self confidence or sapeksha atma-vishwas.
Ability to speak a certain language, wear clothes of a certain kind etc. in short outward appearance or learning a few skills may be appropriate or appear to give power in at a certain period in time and certain location and this in turn may give sapeksha atma-vishwas to a few in a certain space and time but it was not a stable state. This confidence was based on comparison and kept fluctuating depending on who one was comparing with.
There are problems with education the world over but our problems are even more complicated. A sense of shame for our own, for manual labour seems to pervade our educated classes. If we look at our textbooks closely we can see a certain mind set clearly. And this mindset pervades the entire educated classes irrespective of their political affiliations from the extreme right to the left. In this mindset the village is “backward” and a town or city is “developed”, yardstick of “development” is increased consumption; cooking while sitting down is inferior to cooking on a gas stove while standing up; “science” is not to be questioned, it is sacred, above reproach, anything termed as “scientific” must be unquestioningly revered. Increased consumption (however mindless) is considered “progress” and “development”.
One only has to do an analysis of our textbooks – those written by the conservatives and traditionalists and those written by the progressives and liberals – to see the assumptions behind words such as “development/ developed”, “modern”, “progress”, “scientific”’ “science” etc. In our analysis of textbooks from 6 different boards/ institution (from the RSS supported Shishu Mandir/ Vidya Mandir schools to ISC, CBSE, Uttarakhand Board, UP Board, Tamilnadu Board) we find the underlying assumptions are the same, the imposed values are the same. There is no recognition of intrinsic value. They only are imposing values. The intrinsic value of car for instance is its ability to transport; the intrinsic value of clothes is its ability to protect our bodies. But these books do not teach objectivity. They talk of objectivity of science being objective, but what they end up doing is something contrary. They impose values so for instance a person wearing dhoti or lungi is “backward” and the one wearing trousers is “developed”, “educated” etc. In our country English is not just a language, a means of communication but a tool to impress people, to announce that you have arrived, that you are “educated”, “civilised”. The books, if analysed carefully, seem to be the chief culprits for imposing a false value system by giving hidden assumptions to our students from a very young age. And in this, ISC or CBSE books/ syllabus is no better than Shishu Mandir.
Hang Over from Our Colonial Past
All this is understandable if one looks at our history–Macaulay, Bentick, Charles Travelian et all. If we look at what Bentick and Travelian had to say about “educated” Indians in early 19th century Bengal then it is easy to understand the mindset. They express satisfaction at the manner in which the “educated” Indians had started imitating the ways of the British because now (after getting educated) they had started considering them (the British) as their superiors. Or when Richard Temple, the Governor of Bengal writes to the Viceroy Northbrook in 1875 imploring him to introduce the teaching of the sciences to the Indians educated in literature, law and administration because now the “educated” Indian has started considering himself as equal to the British. They therefore had to be shown their place (as inferior to the British) through the introduction of the study of sciences. And in 1876 the Indian Science Congress was established. The British understood how to rule. You can not rule for a long time by force or by threat. You can rule for a very long time if you can show that you are superior and the ruled are inferior2. We talk a lot about Macaulay without having read him.
Mind Control through Education
About 5 years ago in the month of Chaitra (March) there was an interesting item in Jansatta, a national daily in Hindi from the India Express Group. It reported that the farmers of Malwa region were very happy as they were sure there would be a good rainfall that year. This was after experiencing near drought situation for the past few years. The monsoons were still nearly four months away but the farmers were already pretty sure. The reason for this was that they had observed the crows making the nests, which they make in the basant ritu, in the middle portion of the tree. Their belief was that if the crows make the nests on the higher branches then either there were no rains or very scanty rains but if they made the nests lower down then there were good rains. Somehow this news aroused my interest and I was happily surprised that that year there were heavy rains in Malwa in the month of July/ August .
I was narrating this to a group of activists from Azadi Bachao Andolan3 when an activist from a village from Maharastra came up with an even better example of traditional knowledge. He claimed that in his village there was a person who could predict exactly which day it was going to rain and when it wasn’t going to rain. This person, it seems observed the colour of the sky when the sun was setting and made a note of it. From the colour of the sky he could predict if it was going to rain or not, nine months hence, according to our traditional lunar calendar.
The point is how traditional knowledge systems 1) make the connection between events that apparently look unrelated – between crows nest and rainfall, between the colour of the sky at the time of sun set and rainfall. And how 2) they see this connection between (apparently unrelated) events spread over a substantial period of time–from four months (in case of the Malwa farmers) to nine months (in case of villager from Maharashtra). These two elements seem to be common in traditional knowledge. If we read the couplets of Ghagh4 we find he is also connecting seemingly unrelated events with a big gap of time between them. Ghagh makes predictions about weather conditions by observing the behaviour of ants, termites, birds, animals, position of stars, constellations, direction of wind or the direction of the flame of Holi. Modern science, in its arrogance, may put all this under the category of ‘superstition’ but thousands of people believe in them, and live their lives accordingly in a fairly satisfactory manner.
But my point is not to compare different knowledge systems but only to explore if, in the kind of modernity which we the ‘educated’, the ‘rational’ seem to have accepted universally, we have lost something vital and unknowingly imbibed certain assumptions, subjecting ourselves to being controlled by forces beyond our control. If so then perhaps by becoming aware, we can do something about it. My intention here is only to explore and not enter into any argument. What is of interest to me and also a matter of concern, is what have we done to our students that they have stopped – well almost stopped – observing (vs. seeing), listening (vs. hearing). My feeling is that by and large we are somehow being encouraged to argue but not discuss, hear (the words) and not listen (to the meaning of the speaker), see (what is apparent) and not observe (in its totality with the context).
Modern Education–a Tool of the Market
The modern mind, it seems, is almost incapable of making connection between two or more events which apparently seem unconnected or have a big time gap between them. One can not but speculate that perhaps Mahatma Gandhi had such a (traditional) mind and could therefore see a connection between making of a fistful of salt and the impact it would have both on the Indian people and the British, which others (the British as well as our educated classes) could not. We need to consider it if we need to develop such minds which are able to make simple observation.
It is important to recognize the importance of observation - to study the reality of existence ‘as it is’. Being obsessed with finding a ‘reason’ behind everything and believing that, that is the only way to understand reality, may be limiting. We need to be aware that in any act of seeing and making sense (understanding), there is the observer or rather the drashta (the knower), there is the drishya (the observed) but in between these two there is the drishti (perception). When the drashta and drishti are not acknowledged/ recognized and only the drishya is taken into account, our seeing (understanding) is biased or incomplete and we also become vulnerable to being controlled by the other, who may be influencing our drishti without our knowledge, as we are not even aware of the presence of drishti to begin with. In a state of unawareness our seeing (understanding) is subjective, but we assume that we are being objective. This (wrong) assumption makes us disempowered. We need to be aware of all three and not just about the drishya. Whether we acknowledge it or not, the drashta, the observer who is drawing conclusions and the drishti, which is determining the kind of conclusion the drashta draws from the drishya, are always present. Only focusing on the drishya makes us vulnerable to the forces outside.
This tendency to ignore drishti and drasta limits our perceptions, and makes it vulnerable to being moulded by outside forces. We are unaware of the impact the outside, invisible forces are exerting on our drishti. We give away our powers to outside forces, leaving them to show us only that which they want us to see. What is shown to us or our education system trains us to focus on is only the functional, the instrumental and that which can be seen, touched, heard, tasted, smelt, that which titillates and these too, in a very short, immediate span of time—turant.
The framework of modern education (and other systems and instruments, which emanate from the same framework) which dominates our lives, creates the illusion that we are ‘developing a open mind’, ‘broadening the horizons’, ‘developing a scientific temperament’ etc. Actually it is putting blinkers on our eyes. The result is that though deep within, the observer feels uncomfortable with the outcomes, and experiences a different reality, they are unable to figure out the cause, because they do not acknowledge or consciously recognize drishti and drashta. Most of the times we the drashtas, suffer from an inner conflict between the conclusions we draw and our own inner acceptability towards that conclusion. For instance we may draw the conclusion that to be successful we need to compete, manipulate or dominate the other, but deep within this conclusion is not acceptable as all of really like to live in harmony, in relationship with the other.
The power of the market lies in the capacity to create and sustain this illusion. By steering the focus of our attention only to the functional aspects, the dominant system has succeeded in making us subservient to technology, which has increasingly become a tool of the market and larger systems protected by modern constitutional framework. We are driven to turn into obedient citizens and efficient but subservient users of technology. Instead of the system or technology serving us we unknowingly become their victims and start getting controlled. We may be experiencing more freedom to do as we imagine but not more swatantra (more in control of ourselves). Swatantrata is different from freedom. Freedom connotes freedom to do as one wishes, which may be in conflict with our own inner most feelings or with the desire of the other. Swatantrata is to be in harmony with one self and with the other. This comes from understanding the self (inner most desires etc.) and the other and basing the relationship on this understanding.
We need to recognise the subtle ways in which everyday life is transformed by the mediation of technical devices in our lives. Unfortunately, we recognise the shortcomings after a considerable gap—when it is too late to do anything. In a very subtle way, technology unknowingly moulds our drishti. For example, a pedestrian has a certain flexibility of movement—he can pause to look at his surroundings, speak to a passer-by and so on. All entities have a name and a distinct meaning for him. But as soon as he becomes a driver of a fast-moving vehicle, suddenly all entities turn into nameless obstacles that he must avoid, if he is a good driver. Without his knowledge, his drishti undergoes a change. His perception of the world changes without his willing it—things which had distinct names and meanings suddenly get clubbed together as obstacles to be avoided. Most technical devices appear to save time but in reality we have less and less time. We also become more dependent on these devices and thus loose our freedom!
There are other issues. Modernity, which has been accepted unquestioningly, thrives on mind control. The focus is deliberately restricted to only the functional and narrowly defined utilitarian terms through education, technology, market etc. Look at computers. It gives the impression of making a person free but the fact that the user is compelled to spend a large amount of money periodically on replacing or upgrading the machine, escapes the perception of the user who only looks at the freedom, in the immediate, in a short time frame. The users usage of the machine has not increased, even so he/she is compelled by the technological advances supported by the market forces to get exploited and feel good in the process! There is an illusion that one is saving time, but only when we see the activity in a short span of time. If we look at the larger picture we find that the machine has actually made man busier than before. But we are trained through education to only see a fragment of the total reality. This is the control in which education is playing a major part. Instead of making people think in an original manner, educating them in how to think, how to observe, instead it is telling them what to think. It is making them scared, training them to think only along politically correct lines.
We need to understand currently acceptable modernity and challenge it. Today our education is supporting or rather is a tool in the hands of modernity, which promotes secularism, making individuals lonely, rootless, faithless, and devoid of any convictions.
Ultimately it endeavours to turn individuals into mindless and obedient citizens of the State.
What can be Done
We need to understand this and get out of this mentality. One may think these are sophisticated issues, that we have a large population to deal with. It is true. One way of tackling that problem is to start large scale world class vocation courses right after class X. Let us train our youngsters who are not academically inclined into good efficient hands on mechanics, operators, craftsmen, agriculturists, horticulturists. There could be hundreds of areas in which youngsters could be trained within a span of 2-3 years after class X. This would release the pressure from higher education as well. And we can invite private enterprises both from India and abroad to undertake this task. Industry can be roped in and may be even given incentives if they are able to train and absorb people in different vocations.
But we really need to focus on creating original thinkers, philosophers, leaders who can dare to be original without getting bogged down by pressures of ‘political correctness’, who will dare to challenge even ‘modern science’ if need be. We take courage here from our own history. We do not have to look very far back. Let us try and understand Mahatma Gandhi, who was one such person who dared. We need people who will dare to reinvent the wheel. Who will question without hesitation – like a child and have the courage to say ‘the king wears no clothes’.
All subjects taught in schools or universities are ultimately categories created by us, human beings, to help us understand various dimensions of reality. Unfortunately darshan which is to see - rather understand - has been turned into philosophy. Philosophy is a subject, a category while darshan is understanding, which should be the basis of any subject (category).Darshan is not a category. Darshan must be the basis of all subjects. Present educations has delineated darshan by making it into philosophy which itself is a category and so subjects are devoid of darshan. We need to restore darshan in every subject teaching. This is also the basis of integration between various subjects. The ultimate synthesis of all subjects ideally would lead to complete understanding of reality.
In today’s education words have become synonymous with meaning. But in existence meaning IS and we give various names to these meanings, which are existential, in different languages. So while meanings are existential and universal, words are location specific. Education is ultimately about understanding the meaning. So the focus must be on meaning rather than the word.
In the absence of understanding the distinction between meaning and word, between objective and means, we are focussing on words and busy interpreting reality by giving meaning to the words. Thus modernity has reached the conclusion that there is no reality, no meaning, no purpose in existence and it is we who give meaning to whatever exists. So each one of us is free to interpret, free to do - as he/she pleases. This is called freedom. Those more powerful are busy giving interpretations (and using education and media to promote their meanings/ interpretations) and encouraging certain belief systems, words, ideas to control the larger masses. This is oppression of a different more subtler kind – oppression of ‘political correctness’. This is taking us no where. As one man’s freedom is another man’s oppression. This has ultimately given rise to extreme form of individualism both at the micro and at the macro level. Bin Laden and George Bush both are convinced they are right!
In actuality meaning exists and education must help us understand the meaning (words are only names). If we do so we can understand the co-existence in existence, the harmony in existence and also understand that we as human beings are the only entity in existence that have a need to be educated and thus understand this harmony and make efforts to live accordingly to maintain this harmony which ultimately leads to happiness – the intrinsic desire of human beings. This is swatantrata (as different from freedom). Education is the only means of achieving this and restoring sanity in the universe. A beginning has been made in this country5 and hence there is hope for the universe that we will be able to find answers to the two seemingly insurmountable problems of pollution, resource depletion, global warming and war, terrorism, exploitation.
1. For details see “A Matter of Quality” SIDH (2000)
2. See Macaulay’s address to the British Parliament, 2nd February, 1835 and Charles Travelian’s interview with the Committee on Educational Reforms ion India 1853.
3. A popular movement in North, West and Central India against Multi national companies.
4. A wise person whose couplets get passed on trough oral tradition. The couplets give advice on weather conditions, nature of people etc. A large number of farmers in Bihar, eastern UP and Madhya Pradesh follow these advices. Each region claims that he belongs to them.
5. Madyastha Darshan (Sah Astitva Vad) or Manav Kendrit Astitva Moolak Chintan as propounded by Sri Agrahar Nagraj.