I was talking to a young man who wanted to leave his corporate job and go back to his town to start a school and I thought that the (slightly exaggerated version of the) conversation we had may be useful to other young people interested in education. The conversation went something like this…
Me: Why do you want to start a school?
Young potential educator (Ype): Most children have no interest in what they are learning. They learn by rote to pass exams without understanding anything. Also they have no idea of what they can do after they finish school. The only goals seem to be engineering or medicine and, if unsuccessful, to do whatever graduation is possible and then try for a government job.
Me: What kind of school are you thinking of starting?
Ype: We would like to create a space where holistic education is provided that creates strong, knowledgeable children who can contribute their knowledge and talents to the world in a meaningful way.
Me: That is a very noble idea. How are you planning to go about it?
Ype: I am still reading up and visiting alternative schools to see how they are doing things. I think that our school has to have an environment where children can learn with freedom and without fear. Also we have to make the academic content interesting so that the children don’t need to do rote learning.
Me: A philosopher I read says that the opposite of a bad idea is not a good idea but a bad idea in the opposite direction. If you think schools foster rote-learning and you create a school that has zero rote-learning, you will be creating a bad idea in the opposite direction. Rote-learning has its place and we have to neither over-evaluate it nor under-evaluate it. Is it not true that small children ‘rote-learn’ and remember any number of songs and poems without apparent effort? Is there anything wrong with that? Similarly, if you think that too much discipline is the problem with the current school system and you choose to provide 100% freedom to the children of your school, you would be creating an environment as toxic as the one you wanted to get away from. What do you think?
Ype: I will have to think about it. What about making the academic content interesting? Do you have any problem with that?
Me: Gandhiji has written that modern Indian education (which was set up by the British to subjugate us and which we suicidally continue to propagate) alienates us from our culture and our roots. If you read the works of scholars like Dharampal, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Professor C.K. Raju etc., you see how badly distorted and intentionally demeaning our academic content is. If you think a little, you will realize that the academic content is also arbitrary, needlessly excessive and of little practical use. Because we cannot change it immediately, what we need to do, ideally, is to minimize the damage it does to our children. To me, spending effort to make it interesting seems to be a waste of time.
(To be continued next week…)