November 22, 2003
When we speak of the “quality of education”, it becomes imperative to address the important issue of “what kind of education”? Education, to my mind, is an organised system that facilitates learning so that each individual imbibes the process of understanding and becoming what he/she can be and wants to be.
How do we envision the individual our education system should strive to create? In moving words from the Discovery of India, Nehru says: “We can never forget the ideals that have moved our race, the dreams of the Indian people through the ages, the wisdom of the ancients, the buoyant energy and the love of life and nature of our forefathers, their spirit of curiosity and mental adventure, the daring of their thought, their splendid achievements in literature, art and culture, their love of truth and beauty and freedom, the basic values that they set up, their understandings of life’s mysterious ways, their tolerance of other ways than theirs, their capacity to absorb other peoples and their cultural accomplishments, to synthesise them and develop a varied and mixed culture; nor can we forget the myriad experiences which have built up our ancient race and lie embedded in our sub-conscious mind.”
I will take the risk of articulating what education could be like. One, every child is an individual with a right to respect. This respect for the child must translate into providing a non-intimidating and exciting space in which the child learns. Schools need to identify and eradicate every element of threat — physical, mental and emotional — that stifles learning and growth. Two, the right learning environment ought to be contextual to the learner and to the community. For instance, a blind child needs non-visual learning tools; hunger is a physical threat detrimental to learning in underprivileged communities. It follows that the local community has a responsibility in creating a feasible environment in and outside the school.
Three, there has to be this clear understanding that learning occurs everywhere and that all learning can be interesting. It would build on the operating principle that each child constructs her own learning.
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Why is it so difficult for us to accept that every child learns differently, at different depths, at different speeds? Some children learn best when doing things with their own bodies; some learn better in peer groups; yet others learn best by emulation.
Five, let me ask you, under what subject should the eruption of a volcano in Japan be covered? Geography? Physics? Maybe chemistry? Geology? It is all of this and more. Nature is inherently whole. Then why is the curriculum boxed into subjects, modules and chapters? We ought to think of “integrative” and wholesome learning.
Six, this form of education will not stop at “content”. The child would continuously develop life-skills. This would include physical development, vocational skills, creative and critical thinking and abilities such as risk-taking and coping with change. The child’s learning would be grounded in an individual, social and human value system imbibed from self-discovery.
Caring for children and feeling responsible for the holistic progress of every child would form the basis for all decisions. Such education will invest in teacher development, better assessment systems, community participation, and in a culture built on the imperative of the learner. It would be an education system which would continuously refine the dynamic balance between being the key agent of socialisation and being the driver of social change.
The stage is set. It is for us to choose which play will be staged. This will depend substantially on what choice we make on our education system. Will we continue with the present blinkered system? Or will the key stakeholders join together and transform the system to facilitate true, lasting and relevant learning for every child which inevitably will lead to a turbo charging of our unique human resource pool?
The choice clearly is ours to make. And the future clearly is ours to construct based on these choices.
Click Here for The full text of the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Lecture
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