School reforms: The way forward

In these series of posts (part 1 and part 2 here), we have talked about problems with the modern schooling system and have tried to look at the paradigm of modernity inside which the system functions. In this final post in the series, we will try to talk about a tentative way forward with school education.

First we need to talk a little bit more about modernity. If we look at nations, what we understand by the word ‘development’ is material progress. In this talk of development there is no talk of human well-being. For example, Finland, a developed nation with the world’s best education system also has 50% of its families having no children and 12% of its families being a single parent household. In other words, a major breakdown of its family structure. This seems to be where the materialistic paradigm takes us when applied efficiently. People need food, clothing, shelter but beyond a certain minimum, materialistic possessions do not seem to increase or ensure well-being. Living within the materialistic paradigm, this does not seem to be obvious to most people. In modernity, at the level of individual, family or society, well-being is falsely equated with material possessions and success/ failure are decided on measurable materialistic parameters.

The paradigm of modernity is western in origin and in India we seem to have only half-heartedly adopted it (65% of our children fail the education system). Our traditional paradigm can be called the paradigm of the sanaatan, the eternal paradigm based on the way the universe IS. If we use the word Truth to mean something that is unchanging across time and space, we can also call the sanaatan the paradigm of Truth. Well-being (happiness, health, harmony etc.) is at the very heart of this paradigm.

Whatever we try at an individual level, at the societal level it is not possible to shift paradigms in any planned manner. Paradigm changes happen slowly and over several human lifetimes. So, what can we do about the education system beyond the literacy and numeracy that all schools seem to manage without too much trouble? Since this is a short post, let me list out the kinds of things that can be involved in a new kind of education. These could be:
– Understanding the paradigm of modernity and the paradigm of the sanaatan.
– Teaching based on the sanaatan or on the way things ARE.
– Understanding how perception works and the transitory nature of what contaminates it.
– Using the dhyaaanakarshan vidhi to draw the attention of the students towards the Truth so that it can be revealed to them.
– Focusing on developing the student’s power of discrimination (Viveka) through logic.
– Focusing on effective communication.
– Understanding basic distinctions like
—– Truth and opinion/ idea/ fact/ ideology etc.
—– Meaning and word
—– Being and doing
—– Quality and quantity etc.

The list above is only indicative. It needs to be expanded and fine-tuned in the environment of a school willing to experiment with this philosophy. If you are interested, you can get in touch with me at arun@sidhsri.org to take the conversation forward. Namaste!

School reforms: Systems and Paradigm

In last week’s blog post (linked here), we looked at some problems with the current education system and why it seems so difficult to effect any school reform. This week let us zoom out a little and look at the broader perspective, at the paradigm inside which the modern education system is situated. We can start by defining the term ‘paradigm’ in the way we are using it here.

Gandhiji in ‘Hind Swaraj’ (download from here) deconstructs five systems of modernity. These are the governance, technological, judicial, medical and education systems. (If you haven’t read this short document, you should. You may not agree with everything it says, but if you read it with an open mind, you will be forced to question many of your assumptions about how the modern world works) Gandhiji tries to show how the systems that he discusses in the book are all working to enslave and control us and, contrary to what is claimed, all these systems reduce human well-being.

In the paragraph above, ‘modernity’ is what we are calling a ‘paradigm’. ‘Modernity’ is not being used as a term for what is ‘modern’ or ‘new’ as opposed to ‘ancient’. The paradigm of ‘Modernity’ is something like a social operating system. Just like all the programs running on a computer have to work within the limits and rules set by the computer’s operating system, the systems running in society are limited by the values that are inherent in the paradigm. It is possible to have multiple paradigms running across the world simultaneously but today there is only one dominant paradigm—of ‘Modernity’—that is behind all the systems that we are part of. We can also understand it as primarily a materialistic paradigm. Important examples of the values inherent in the paradigm of modernity are:

Freedom – Living according to individual wishes and desires.

Rights – The right of everyone to have individual freedom.

Equality – Every individual has the right to freedom. This is equality in the external, tangible, gati domain and not equality in the sthiti domain.

It is easy to see that the values listed above are not rooted in reality. For example, ‘all human beings have the capacity to swim (barring those who are physically disabled)’ is a statement of reality. ‘All human beings have the capacity to fly’ is a figment of the imagination. Freedom, rights and equality as defined under the paradigm of modernity fall under the second category. An example – If my desire is to play with and feed street dogs and my neighbour’s desire is to banish their nuisance from the neighbourhood, both desires cannot be met simultaneously. Freedom to do what I want at all times is an imaginary value. We find difficulty in questioning these imaginary values because the paradigm is continuously brainwashing us using its systems of governance, media, education etc.

Which brings us to the system of education set inside the paradigm of modernity all across the world. The education system today, based around comparison and competition, is aligned with the imaginary values of modernity. Once we see this, it becomes possible to talk about school reforms that are not cosmetic and actually work to help the learners and society at large. We will talk more about it next week.

School reforms: The problem statement

When well-meaning people start questioning the way current school education works, they run into a fundamental problem. You see, our entire experience of education is from within this deeply flawed system. So when we try to think of making things better, we are unconsciously trapped within the limits of the existing system. A little bit like a person in a jail cell trying to move towards freedom by painting the bars of his prison sky-blue. Sounds like an exaggeration? Let us go a little deeper and see.

We can start by listing out some of the features of modern mass schooling:

– It covers 12+ years of childhood, mostly sitting quietly inside classrooms with 40 other children (all wearing school uniforms).
– Teachers who have very little interest in education or in children and are there because they couldn’t get another job, spend most of their time in classroom management (which means ensuring silence and discipline in the classroom).
– The 12-year academic curriculum starts with learning the alphabet and basic maths and ends in ridiculous things like organic chemistry and integral calculus.
– Academic achievement and conformity are rewarded and the children who do not see the point of the nonsense that passes for academics or are spirited enough to rebel against the system are labelled ‘failures’ and thrown out.
– With its uniforms, discipline and pointless hard work, it is like a jail which lets its inmates out on parole every evening on condition that they come back the next morning.

When sensitive people feel the problem and think of doing a better job, these are the kinds of things they typically try (and the flip-sides to their solutions):

Well-meaning attemptFlip-side
Having teachers who actually care for children and could have actually got other jobs but chose to become teachers for some misguided reason.Having confused well-meaning teachers is not better than having confused apathetic teachers. Sometimes healthy neglect is the only way for children to navigate through a toxic system without permanent damage.
Having fewer children in the jail-cell-classrooms so that the teacher can pay individual attention.This leads to the immediate discovery of the spirited children and their ‘normalisation’. It is easy to hide in a 40 child classroom and difficult in a 10 child one. Also as mentioned above, individual attention from a confused teacher may not be a very good thing.
Letting the children have a lot of ‘freedom’ in a ‘non-stress’ environment.Since life does not give us simple ‘freedom’/’discipline’ type of choices and because the people who are trying to make things better are reacting to ‘discipline’, which they think of as a problem of mainstream education, they tend to lean towards too much ‘freedom’. This invariably has bad effects on the children on whom it is inflicted. Too much ‘freedom’ is probably worse than too much ‘discipline’.

We can make this list longer, but I hope you see what I trying to say. There is no way to improve or repair a faulty system by thinking within its boundaries and tweaking things inside it. So, what can we do? The first obvious step is to break free from our conditioning that assumes that the current type of education is the only option possible. If we are able to do that, some avenues may open up, we may be able to ask questions about what a good education, one that is appropriate for our country and its people, can look like. I plan to explore some of these ideas in the posts next week and the week after that.

(Disclaimer: There may be readers who do not find organic chemistry or integral calculus ridiculous as part of a mass schooling curriculum. I was one of them! But instead of making fun of my weirdness, the system actually rewarded me by making me think that I am better than others. It has taken me a very long time to break out of that.)

Sthiti and Gati

(The following is the script of the audio-visual component of chapter 8 of the SIDH online course – ‘Understanding Modern Education -An Indic Perspective’)

Our experience of reality has two aspects: The stable, unchanging, intrinsic, unseen, intangible, BEING part. We are calling it the STHITI. And the changing, sensorial, tangible, manifested, DOING or behaving part. We are calling it the GATI. STHITI and GATI are like two sides of the same coin.

We have already talked about some sthiti/ gati pairs in previous chapters. Let us first look at the ‘I’ and ‘We’ identities. The ‘I’ identity is gati-centric. It is mostly about quantitative aspects like wealth, status, income, degree, clothes, material possessions etc. All these can be compared. In contrast, the ‘We’ identity is sthiti-centric. It is mostly about qualitative aspects like honesty, integrity, courage, and pride in one’s culture and traditions etc. For example, it is possible to hear someone say that ‘No one steals in our samaaj’ or that ‘we are brave people’.

We have also earlier looked at word and meaning. You can now easily see that word is the gati aspect and the meaning is the sthiti aspect. Words are external symbols that are IN a language, whereas meaning is always an inner process that is BEYOND language. Knowing the word and not the meaning is no good but knowing the meaning and not the exact word may still serve our purpose. The word is a symbol which is different in different languages whereas meaning is existential.

Let us look at some other Gati/ Sthiti pairs to make the distinction clear.

We can start with hearing/ listening that is directly connected to word and meaning. We hear a word but we listen to the meaning. So hearing is the gati aspect and listening, that is to do with understanding the meaning, is the inner, sthiti aspect.

Another important distinction between Information and knowledge is being ignored in present day education. Information is something that keeps changing both with time and space. It doesn’t remain the same. Information needs to be remembered or stored to be retrieved later. Knowledge on the other hand is something which once gained becomes ones own and does not need to be memorised. Strangely, any book of general knowledge today is only full of information. This adds to the confusion and information is unknowingly ASSUMED to be knowledge.

Finally let us look at the distinction between getting influenced and getting inspired. Influencing or impressing is always with the outer veneer, the gati, whereas inspiration is always an inner process, to do with sthiti. Getting influenced leads to imitation and comparison. On the other hand we get inspired by the intrinsic, qualitative aspects which cannot be copied. The quality gets manifested in different individuals naturally and in their unique manner.

Modern education and modern systems are almost entirely gati-focused. If you are only focused on gati, you are prone to be manipulated. Because gati, like fashion, keeps changing and the people in control of setting these trends are faceless. Once these parameters are accepted almost unconsciously by us, we end up constantly comparing ourselves with the other, leading to irresolvable tensions. Education needs to be sthiti focused and gati needs to be treated the way it is, subordinate to sthiti. The decision-making if it is sthiti-centric, then the doing, the manifested, gati part would naturally follow taking into account the circumstances. In the process of education, the shift of focus from gati to sthiti will help create grounded children with Nirapekshsa Atma-Vishwas and authentic, sahaj behavior.

The above can be summarised in a table as shown below:

GatiSthiti
‘I’ IDENTITY
(Wealth, status, income,
degree, clothes etc.)
‘WE’ IDENTITY
(Honesty, integrity, courage,
pride etc.)
WORD (Hearing)
IN language/ symbol
MEANING (Listening)
Beyond language/ existential
INFORMATION
ASSUMED to be knowledge
KNOWLEDGE
No need to memorise
INFLUENCING/ IMPRESSING
Leads to imitation
INSPIRATION
Cannot be copied

(Notes:
– The other posts on this blog about the SIDH online course are here, here and here.
– The course is available here.)

A good education

My schooling happened in Delhi, where I grew up playing cricket and football with the neighbourhood children and paying minimum attention to academics. After my 12th class, I studied furiously for an year and got through the IIT entrace exam. I ended up at IIT Kharagpur, where, after four years of hanging around aimlessly creating some life-long friendships, ingesting tea and other more harmful things, paying a minimum attention to academics, reading a lot of fiction from the institute library, and in other ways having a very memorable time, I was thrown out into the world with a job and with no idea of what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

All-in-all, I think I had a good education. (You will notice that ‘paying minimum attention to academics’ runs through my school and college experiences. 🙂)

Samdhong Rinpoche, in the video linked on the blog post dated 27/6/2022, says:
“Right now people are all intoxicated, like someone asleep after taking opium, or in an alcoholic stupor. People are dazed, unconscious, in the intoxication of modern civilisation.”

Another way to look at my educational journey is that it introduced me to types of intoxication and taught me how to maintain the basic level of intoxication required to function well in the modern world.

I have been thinking about what a good education for India can look like…

A batch-mate of mine is from a big business family and his folks were very unhappy when he decided to join IIT. Their argument was – but these are the people we hire, why do you want to waste your time hanging out with them? Getting through the IIT entrance exam is a ticket for a seat on the privilege-bus in India. You can get tickets many other ways too, including being born in a privileged family. Almost all my friends form IIT, who came from middle-class backgrounds like mine, took the offered privilege-bus-seat and became part of the privileged class (Dharampalji in his essay ‘A question of backwardness’ says what seems to symbolise this class most is foreign trade and travel). Unfortunately, I was otherwise occupied and I missed this bus.

The privileged classes, who decide the fate and direction of all the modern systems that are running India, are a small minority (Dharampalji thought that, including their helpers and assistants, they are 15-20% of the population). It seems obvious that a good education for India must be something that leads to the good of all (or most of) the people of India. This is difficult because the people who take decisions and run the education system belong to the privileged classes and they naturally work towards maintaining and growing their privilege.

I was thinking that a good education for India can:
a. Be designed for the not-privileged people of India, celebrating and nurturing their strengths.
b. Show the students the hollowness of the intoxicated stupor of modern life.

A costly personal transport vehicle

(Disclaimer: All the following facts and figures are obtained from the internet, you should do your own internet search to verify the facts.)

– A petrol or diesel car (say, a Maruti Swift) uses what is called an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE).
– As the words show, an ICE operates by exploding fuel. The explosion in a cylinder is channelized through a piston to become the motion of the car.
– Efficiency of an Internal Combustion Engine is very low. Wikipedia says that 18-20% is the average efficiency of an ICE.
– This means that when you buy petrol for Rs 100, Rs. 80 is going waste because of the limits inherent in an ICE.

– In spite of the limits, a Maruti Swift can go 20 kilometres by exploding one litre of petrol.
– Which means that the petrol that fits into a water-bottle-sized container has the power equal to a person pushing the Maruti Swift, weighing 875-905 kilograms, for 20 kilometres.
– Imagine that! Fossil fuels have miraculous superpowers.

– The 875-905 kilograms of the Maruti Swift is holding all the paraphernalia required to move 4 people comfortably and fast.
– At an average of 70 kilograms per person, that is 280 kilograms of people. So the Maruti Swift has a self-weight 3.2 times the weight of the people it can carry.
– In a Maruti Swift with 4 people inside, out of every Rs. 100 we pay for petrol, Rs. 76 is being used to carry the self-weight of the car and only Rs. 24 is used to carry the weight of the 4 people.
– If you combine the data above with the efficiency of an ICE, every Rs. 100 you spend on petrol gets you only 24% of Rs. 20 or about Rs 5 worth of personal transport. (If you do the maths with one person in a Maruti Swift, for every Rs 100, Rs. 98.5 is going away as heat or is carrying the self-weight of the car)

– A solar cooker is a simple device. It is made of a box painted black inside with a glass lid on top. Water boils easily inside the cooker.
– The Maruti Swift with its windows rolled up behaves like a solar cooker. And then we burn more of our miraculous fossil fuel to cool the interior of the solar-cooker-like car. Further reducing the efficiency of the car.

Wikipedia says:

“The origin of fossil fuels is the anaerobic decomposition of buried dead organisms. The conversion from these materials to high-carbon fossil fuels typically require a geological process of millions of years.”

This is what we are squandering unthinkingly!

Bharat: A vyay-pradhaan samaaj

(The following are the points covered in the video of Dr Harsh Satya talking about how the paramparik samaaj in India was expenditure-centred. The video is linked below.)

Harsh’s teacher at IIIT Hyderabad, Navjyothi Singh, had a sudden insight that the experiences that Guruji Ravindra Sharmaji used to relate were all about a Vyay-pradhaan samaaj. An expenditure-centred samaaj. (As opposed to modern society which is Aay-pradhaan or income-centred)

Harsh shared this with Guruji Ravindra Sharma and he liked this formulation and incorporated it into his talks.

Harsh once told Nagarajji, the saint-propounder of Madhyasth Darshan, that Bharatiya gram vyavastha was Vyay-pradhaan and not Aay-pradhaan. Nangarajji asked, son how can we have Vyay without Aay? Harsh had no answer. Then after a pause Nagarajji shared the insight that in a Vyay-pradhaan vyavastha man will not do sangrah (accumulation or hoarding). Nagarajji told Harsh to do more research in this direction.

Harsh realized later that actually man’s Aay comes from Prakriti’s Vyay. Like the fruits, flowers, leaves of the trees are its Vyay and this becomes man’s Aay. Or the earth’s minerals that are on its surface are its Vyay and they become man’s Aay. Farming is also a good example – A farmer’s Aay is coming from the earth’s Vyay plus the effort put in by the farmer.

So, with this background, it looks like Guruji Ravindra Sharma’s conception that in the samaaj if everyone is doing their Vyay according to their responsibility, it ensures the Aay of everyone, appears correct. Or, Vyay is the cause of the Aay. In this, Vyay meant all our giving including our action in the world.

In the paramparik samaaj it was understood that my Aay was because of someone else’s Vyay and this brought in an element of gratitude. In modern society an individual thinks his Aay is a result of his skills and effort.

When Sri Ram gives his khadau (wooden slippers) to Bharat, he also tells Bharat that it does not matter who sits on the throne, but the Purohit being taken care of would ensure a well run samaaj. This matches with observations by many Indian and English writers that the Indian samaaj was largely unaffected by who the current ruler was. The breaking of the institution of the Purohit probably was a major factor in the decline of the Bharatiya samaaj.

For a Vyay-pradhaan vyavastha it is important that the people are not unhappy letting go of things. And it is probably the primary responsibility of the Purohit to use various rituals to develop this maanas of letting go in the people of the samaaj. For example, in our festivals we create something beautiful, a rangoli, a statue of Ganesh etc. and then we immerse the statue and let go of this beauty without sadness.

The full video is linked below:

Why is Dharampal Ignored?

Question from Pawanji:
It seems like the Indian academic world has not opposed Dharampal but has ignored him. What do you think?

Rinpocheji’s answer:
In this regard, it appears like people have treated Gandhiji and Dharampalji the same way. To be in opposition you need logical arguments. The academic world doesn’t have any. Whatever opposition can arise will be superficial. On a rational ground neither Gandhiji nor Dharampalji can be opposed. They (people who ignore Gandhiji and Dharampalji) only say – but how do we stop development? Development is such a big thing, whether good or bad, and it needs to be allowed in. With such hollow talk they put their ideas forward and ensure their livelihood inside the developmental paradigm. Not having the capacity or the logic to oppose Gandhiji and Dharampalji, they ignore them.

And they do not agree to what Gandhiji and Dharampalji are saying because that is uncomfortable and not acceptable. Nehruji must have surely understood the ideas of Gandhiji. In the beginning he did some minor opposition to Gandhiji but quickly realized that he could not oppose Gandhiji logically. The solution Nehru found was to continue to do the things he wanted to do after putting Gandhiji on a pedestal and making him a Mahatma. It is true that if Nehru had opposed Gandhiji a process of dispute and dialogue would have started and Gandhiji’s ideas would have reached a wider audience.

Gandhiji, Vinobhaji, Dharampalji – people have not opposed them, in fact they have only praised them. They were made Mahapurush. But their ideas were not accepted and were wholly ignored. But how long can they be ignored? A time will surely come, a limit will be reached, beyond which we will not be able to live in the current paradigm. Then, possibly, the ideas of Gandhiji and Dharampalji will be paid attention to. Right now people are all intoxicated, like someone asleep after taking opium, or in an alcoholic stupor. People are dazed, unconscious, in the intoxication of modern civilisation. What opposition can one do then? They will not accept the ideas but will also not be able to oppose them.

Chennakeshava Temple at Belur

“Belur is situated on the banks of Yagachi River and was one of the capitals of the Hoysala Empire. The Chennakeshava Temple (also called Vijaya Narayana Temple) at Belur, built by Hoysala King Vishnuvardhana in 1116 AD, is a star shaped temple believed to have taken around 103 years to build. The temple stands on a platform and has exquisite artwork on its outer walls adorned with bracket figures depicting the Puranas and Epics.”
From the Karnataka tourism website

My civil engineering batchmate who works in a company that makes luxury hotels and apartments has been urging me to go and visit Belur. He has travelled extensively in India and abroad and claims that he has seen nothing as spectacular as the Belur temple. I got a chance to go there recently and the dominant memory is of the densely and intricately carved figures on the temple walls. Figures that depict an unbelievable level of detail covering both earthly and divine themes.

For example:
– There are numerous women figures in various postures, dancing, singing, hunting, combing their wet hair, looking at a mirror etc.
– The women have details like carved necklaces that hang in front of them and, in one figure, a bangle that moves freely on an arm.
– The divine themes include Ravana lifting mount Kailasha, Narasimha killing Hiranyakashyap etc.

The inner sanctum is a large hall with 42 unique, apparently lathe-turned, pillars. The Narasimha pillar and the Mohini pillar are special. There is a story that the Narasimha pillar, covered from top to bottom with carved miniature idols, has stone ball bearings that allowed the pillar to be rotated at some time in the past. The Mohini pillar has a five-foot image of Mohini wearing a crown through which light can pass. The magnificent main statue of Lord Vishnu in black stone is around 14 feet tall from the bottom of the pedestal to the top.

The well-informed local guide who showed us around said two very interesting things:
– That the temple and its figures frozen in time were not only a sacred place of worship but also of education. Walking around and telling stories that were depicted on the walls was a deeply immersive learning experience.
– That the Belur temple was buried under sand by the local people when Islamic invaders were sweeping through breaking temples. The statues are largely intact because of this precaution, the guide said.

I don’t know if the second story above is true or just something that the guides make up to add spice to their stories, but I am glad that so much of this exquisite temple is left untouched, that the temple is still fully functional and that we can go and get a glimpse into the minds of our ancestors who could dream something like this into existence.

There is a lot of information about the temple available online. Here are some links you may find useful:
Karnataka tourism page on Belur is at: https://www.karnatakatourism.org/tour-item/beluru/
The Wikipedia article is at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chennakeshava_Temple,_Belur
A brief video tour of the temple is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfFjuTuIj2g

Samdhong Rinpoche on Paramparagat Shiksha

The main points made in the 3-part video are as follows:

Part 1: Adhunik Vs Paramparagat

Modern education makes us slaves in all respects. It snatches away our swaraj. In particular, today’s education makes us a slave to greed. It makes us lead our lives in the pursuit of the pleasure and convenience of our physical bodies. Even on our deathbed, we die enslaved.

The paramparagat shiksha used to make man swatantra (‘swa ke tantra ke saath chalne waala’ and not ‘independent’ as it is translated today in English). It taught man to minimize his needs. It taught how within limited means one could live a large, rich life.

Part 2: Five Mahavidyas

When the Buddhist parampara started in 600 BCE the categorization of the vidyas (sometimes counted as 64 etc.) was reworked into the five mahavidyas.

  1. Shabd-vidya – This encompasses language and literature.
  2. Nyaya-Vidya – Relates to logic.
  3. Chikitsa-vidya – All medical sciences.
  4. Shilp-vidya – Art, architecture etc.
  5. Adhyatma-vidya – Relating to Dharma and Darshan

Part 3: Details of Paramparagat Shiksha

Going by the 5 mahavidyas, paramparagat shiksha starts with language, the medium to learn all the other mahavidyas. The second step is nyaya – proofs, logic etc. This is to ensure that a student does not get caught in blind assumptions but rather uses rationality/ logic to move towards knowledge. Bhasha and nyaya are considered to be the foundation stones of shiksha. Once this is in place, the student is given some basic grounding in chikitsa, kala, adyatma etc to broaden his perspective. That is the end of the basic education. The student, according to his interests, may then specialize in one of the mahavidyas and go into the depths of a particular subject.

There was no clear demarcation between primary and specialized shiksha. You could spend 10 years doing primary shiksha or you could finish it in one year. When you developed the competency to start on a specialization you would be out of the primary shiksha phase. Moving up one class every year or making one age-group sit together was not a practice that existed in the paramparagat shiksha.