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.

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