Why education is boring and dull! It needn’t be!

We, Indians are accustomed to reading English books written by the Brits, right?  That is our legacy!

C.E.M. Joad

C.E.M. Joad

This is not a book review. This page is an outcome of reading an old book that remains a classic and that too in the field of education. C.E.M. Joad is famous, perhaps only next to Bertrand Russell, in the rank of popularize of very heavy topics and of course he is a master of the exquisite English prose style. Education is an old topic and as Joad himself says; writing on education is often “boring” and “dull”! But then education is so much talked about though, as Joad again says that people, the common ones, also don’t care much for education!

Here, Joad writing at the time of the World War II in 1941 or so, quotes Aristotle who says: The object of education is to cause us to like and to dislike what we ought to! It is for readers to make out what it means! Now, education “is the distasteful subject”. In UK, there are too many pamphlets, books and surveys and opinions on what constitutes education. As I suspected Joad is also an old-fashioned Conservative, he takes the British history and class system and its attendant inequities and inequalities as almost God-given! By this we mean that England has historic names, the famed public Schools, Oxford and Cambridge and as such not much change in education ideals are needed.

Today in India, why, even in the whole world, including Britain, the education outlook and its myriad functions have changed beyond imagination. The Internet had changed it all. Now, for the higher ends of high quality education, the international student community looks for other destinations. May be, UK may be the last, if at all.
Now, there are certain other aspects of life and also education in England that might attract Indian imagination.

In chapter 2 on the purposes of education, he says that education doesn’t really promote a democratic society, as we all imagine. He also goes into some critical observations, (that is new to me at any rate) that the BBC (in my time in England in the late 1950s) used to have a celebrated programme called the Brains Trust with high-powered intellectuals debating on all and sundry issues. Here Joad tells that already in his time the so-called freedom of thought, free expressions were curtailed by several subtle ways, when it comes to religion and politics! This is surprising for me at any rate. And also, surprisingly again, that education and free press didn’t promote a more civilized and well-behaved citizenry!

This too seems to be very familiar to us today, though not many seem to debate this point. Already the mass media both print and TV channels do produce third rate stuff, right! And would education growth, education spread as we also see in India lead to a responsible citizenry? It looks doubtful again. See in some states, more so in the well-advanced state like TN, the political corruption and political criminality touched rock-bottom levels! Other bad social consequences, liquor shops run by government and also liquor manufacture run by those who run the parties and government too!

There are also other social evils like Goondaism and much violence and the rise of crime. Now, more such news even in states run by the new generation politician donning saffron robes! So, education needs to be debated in some critical depth. One more aspect Joad discusses is the role of Public Schools in British education. The Public schools are supposed to produce leaders of society and polity! This claim too needs some finer criticism. Recently, the President of India, the humble Pranab Mukherjee visited through famed Lawrence Public School, in the Nilgiris. He also extolled the role of such a historic school, he came for the 159th anniversary.

Of course the Rashtrapati made a good speech lasting barely seven minutes, barely there was not much time to dwell on such a topic like education and what Indian needs today as its national education goals. But one thing is sure. India needs a literary society, education has to reach all. But then there would be hierarchies and classes and so too certain safeguards and certain quality, to India to compete in the modern world.

So too education has to be a pursuit for some elite class too. We need to ask the very same questions Joad asks like the education for a Capitalist society and the world, education for a Socialist society and equal world opportunities. We too need education as inspired by Greek and Roman classical ideals, as well as education for the girl child, women and gender parity in education and jobs.

We live in a knowledge economy. IT revolution has changed our education, learning and work styles. We can now work from home; work from any part of the world and so life has become to a large extent easy and pleasant.

That is the gain of modern education, modern civilization and modern lifestyles. There is a need and there is so much to think creatively and live purposeful lives more abundantly than what we possible in the last generaiton, right?

But the ministers, policy makers turn it into a consumer product

The rest of the crowd, the private sector educators and the money-minting machines turn it into a fast moving consumer goods sector!

chairmanIs this all about education we have got to say? You see we are at this sector, at this journal for the past half a century. But we are not called a brand, or an icon or a legend! We would have called ourselves so if only we too played the marketing game, right?

But education is after all something above all these petty and narrow considerations. Education, we believe and it is actually so through all the historic periods, is all about man’s imaginations, aspirations and search for some certainties only through education and speculation and daring to predict the future forever! Education, to quote another famous line, is a search for beauty in all its simplicity!

Man has evolved through the history by this constant search and unceasing quest and we see where we have come all through these processes. That is education, please all stakeholders, understand and concede to some of these eternal verities!

Now, we read that the HRD minister, the hon’ble Jawdekar has a quota to allot seats in the Kendriya Vidyalayas under the HRD control. Is this news, we ask. Yet this is reality on the ground. The HRD minister this year has allotted 6,500 admission requests, commands that we all know would be obeyed instantly! His quota is only 450 but he has exceeded owing to pressures. His predecessor did the same. So, this continues, this process of recommending admissions to some of the low-fee high quality secondary education! But as a HRD minister he has an obligation to the larger society.

Education in India, right now, is not in the best of health. We don’t know, there is no way to know it, whether the Prime Minister knows what is the state of education. Education in a society like ours is a highly exploited subject. Society being what it is, an unequal and inequitable society has to have some long-term perspective.

Given the stage at which we find ourselves as a free country, we have to go a long way ahead. We have to fight for justice, social justice and an enlightened society; we have to debate, articulate what sort of an enlightened society and a civilization we aspire to. The class structure in the country is such that we have to reach out to a better integration of the various classes. Then, there is the caste society, that too the Hindutva conception of the Hindu society as it is, we have to weaken the hold of the entrenched caste system. There were just some nine or so castes, we are told in the beginning. But today the castes are getting  split into new castes and sub castes and we do practice still a caste based politics, right? Or wrong?
So, politicians, given their mental horizon would only play for consolidation of the castes only.

So, we as thinkers and leaders should have a moral duty, commitment to see that at least in our education system, as we are able to have now, no undue advantage is taken by the middle classes that are now becoming more and more prone to corruption, corrupt practices to get admissions to other consumer goods and services. So, the middle class driven quotas and reservations and the quotas in the KVs must be resisted. The education minister must set a good precedent to resist this temptation to corrupt our education system.

Once you resolve to resist this temptation then other good things would come about.  The secondary schools in the states, mostly run by the state governments are in dire need of up gradation. So, the government schools where the poor go, would get justice in terms of any new facilities. Use the IT tools to impart quality education in the government schools.

Just now we read that the SSLC results in government schools show very varying standards.
Where the poorest results come through the governments must introduce only the latest technologies in imparting quality instructions. Some balancing of government policies in terms of allocation of funds to introduction of IT tools must be the high priority. The HRD must bring some of the tools, like corporate social responsibility into the government schools sector in the most neglected regions, say in the tribal belts or backward regions.

The HRD ministry news must be about the big picture, not about the nitty-gritty of pandering to the petty demands like admissions to schools. We know from our personal sources that even the other Cabinet Ministers, why even the PMO sometimes come into the prestigious secondary school domains.

Public schools are another area where we have to concentrate. These schools are supposed to to produce leaders, of society and polity! Now, they too produce only clerks and other jobs seekers category only. A great pity, indeed!

We live in a globalised world, right?
What is the future of global civilisation, if at all?

romanAfter the ‘Decline and Fall of Roman Civilisation’, what are the new features of a civilized world? What would shape man’s hopes for a better style of living? Is a more equal world, a more equitable world possible?

I didn’t study history at Oxford. But I studied under great thinkers and philosophers of history. At Oxford, next to philosophy, the history faculty in my time, just the middle of the twentieth century, was perhaps the largest and the most talked about of the academic faculties at both Oxford and Cambridge. In my own time, the most talked about of the thinkers were of course philosophers like Sir Jules Ayer and Gilbert Ryle who taught us. They were so influential that their great books were our philosophy classics. Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic went into multiple editions. It sold like a detective novel, so controversial and its some of the famous lines were always on our lips, the students! If you can’t prove a proposition, for instance by the verification principle then, it is nonsense! What doesn’t make sense must be nonsense, right? That is how we asked every argument then in our time, inside and outside of our class-rooms! That was Logical Positivism, our core philosophic doctrine! Now, Gilbert Ryle, tall and almost athletic figure who used to pause and walk as he talked on the lecture stage and holding the cigar sometimes as he talked and still remember his figure when he thundered with such authority that when we say mind, it is a ghost in the machine. There was no such thing called mind as such separate from the body, it was a bodily process, or call it a mental process but certainly it is not a separate object away from the body, right? His book, the Concept of Mind was also my classic.

Of course there were other philosophy tutors for me. One, Mr. Anthony Quinton, later, Lord Quinton was a great influence on me and I learnt to write precise English when I learnt under him to write precise, exact and correct English words and phrase. At one point I felt ashamed to call myself an M.A from an Indian university! Such was my long-winded sentences and use of too many unwanted adjectives and other excesses.

But then history? Oh, here too are many names to mention here. There was Sir Isaiah Berlin, perhaps the most formidable intellect of my time. He was a Jew and a Russian, in fact a Latvian. Only those who know or care to know more precisely about history of the Soviet Russia know that the big country grabbed and absorbed the three small nations, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. I once encountered a short and bulky Latvian (or Estonian, I don’t remember correctly in Finland, in Helsinki and he grabbed me by his stout hand and went on giving me a long lecture on the street of the capital about how Soviet Russia almost destroyed his country! I was flabergausted! I was to reach St. Petersburg the next day by ship! So, my introduction to the Soviet Russian politics and history started with such a jolt!

Sir Isaiah Berlin is exactly from Latvia and a Jew too. And he had such a formidable brain that he was elected as a Fellow of All Souls College, a great honor. He dominated the Oxford debates of my time. His lectures drew large outside crowds too! Such a brilliant speaker. Now, his specialized field started with philosophy and continued in the history of ideas. He had the reputation of having read almost all the books that mattered. That was again one more characteristic of Oxford scholarship.

I have in my library almost all that had been written by Sir Berlin and I have the books by Harold Laski. Now, as for history, my favorite lecturer of history was Sir A.J.P Taylor. In my opinion, he was the most brilliant of the lecturers. His impromptu interventions in the famed BBC Brains Trust made him a household name! He has no parallel in my view on issues concerning the two world wars. His books are equally famed. So too his writings on Hitler and Soviet Russia.

Now, there were others. Sir Karl Popper and a long line of historians influenced me. Karl Popper’s classics: Open Society and Its Enemies, Poverty of Historicism had changed modern man’s attitudes towards a new political ideology and also of the other Viennese intellectuals and philosophers. Vienna Circle is one that changed my own intellectual beliefs.

Now, I come to my recent readings. While in England I missed travelling to Greece and Rome, the two usual Grand Tour destinations, every educated, upper class families used to make during their life time. I had the money but I missed somehow the opportunity. The rare opportunity came recently. Though late, I am glad I took my family this time when we visited Rome and Renaissance Florence and also Naples and the historicity of Pompeii.

I had read Edward Gibbon’ multi-volume history of Decline and Fall of Rome many times. But an actual visit to the historic spots opened up my eyes to a new reality. How we Indians were deprived by the Macaulay education! The ruling classes didn’t expose the Indians to the glories of Greek and Rome. And as a consequence our education remained clerical job-seeking exercise. Unfortunately it remains even to this day. Now, one or two observations.

The impact of Westernization. We, Indians, don’t understand how the latest globalization trend is a historic flow and direction of the great civilisations, Mesapotomia, Assyrians, the Persians and the Greeks and the Romans. It is the Roman civilization that gave the modern world the concepts of Republic, Rule of Law and urban government, roads, stadiums, modern civic life etc.
From now onwards too we would have to follow the very same flow and direction of history?
But then there is some new awakening possible. That is this: Democracy originated in Athens, Greece.

India’s place in the sun? Today, the world’s largest democracy is practiced in India with one billion citizens, right? This should give us a new impetus in self-discovery, a new self-confidence, right? This new historic realisation, now we have to impute to our people.
Unfortunately, this self-discovery was possible in the time of Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.

Many of our intellectuals, in the past or in the recent past too didn’t realize the flow and direction of history. We were narrowly focused on British rule. The time has come now afresh to re-connect with the past and join the world in its historic flow and direction.

After my visit to Rome and seeing Julius Caesar and his spots I feel I had become a new renaissance man! Let us join the civilization crowd!

That is what those committed to education must be worried about!
We live in exciting times, right? Even the kids are playing with iPads! The very small ones talk of so many things, about dinosaurs, DNA and what not!

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Ludwig Wittgenstein

We just now read about a news item on how pre-school kids read about fictional characters, superheroes that defend and protect the weak and inculcate positive values in children. No, they don’t read for the superheroes for their ethics, their positive traits but they, the kids inculcate just the opposite, the violent skills and, no moral message gives the new age kids their values, it is the aggressive themes, it is the bullying themes that catch their attention. What is the larger message? What is this education of today where the pre-school education is becoming a scandal, so much unethical billing, the long queues, the exorbitant fees, the exams for admission and what other bad behavior you can imagine in the money-makers racket, all these ills are there now in the pre-school education?

Of course there are other bad practices that have crept into the education system right from the bottom to the top? They are all now entrenched into the education system. We in the school journal have learnt many other current practices, the very aggressive mentality we also see, unfortunately, even in the adults, the school promoters and the school heads and also the parents itching to do everything so that they escape and succeed in life.

What a tragedy from our ill-thought out government and policies from many other sources. The point is that the prevailing politics in the country reflect in the prevailing education system. They don’t want to read anything about education and education policy making. And alas! Who are involved into education policy making? The government couldn’t care for indentifying the right people, instead they reach out to some secondary grade retired bureaucrats to make education policy for a country of India’s diversity and need for unity in terms of some larger vision and greater philosophy.

We have just now also read about the Imperial Viennese society at the turn of the 20th century. The ideas and arts and much else, sciences and humanities, from Albert Einstein to many others, from Sigmund Freud to Karl Popper and many others, the names are too many to believe in our times of such low levels, be it politics or the social outlook, so much divisions and so much Philistinism, the period of Viennese history from the late 1880s to the 1920s endured. Music and philosophy, two areas of life that symbolizes the man’s search for new truths and shapes and tones and those Viennese who escaped Nazism and went on to sustain in the West during the cold war and to restore what the author calls the traditions of empiricism and liberal democracy.

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud

It was a Viennese century. India has much to learn from this source of light, the light of reasons and beauty in living and living up to certain visions. The Viennese century saw the world to emerge as a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural heterogeneous society. It has many lessons for as similarly placed multi-linguistic, religious and cultural society like India. India has to be a cosmopolitan society, not a monolithic, narrow tunnel society. Vienna was and hope still is city of coffee house. So a writer says “stir the hot milk into your bitter coffee, and imperial Viennese culture emerges”. So too, “dissolving of differences to produce something afresh”. Yes, this is what we need in much of our public policy making at this juncture. “To show modern man his true face”. Logical Positivism was the philosophy that pierced through much of the mumbo-jumbo, be it religion or other superstitious beliefs. Sciences and humanities encountered into new clashes and new collusions. Then was born a new sense of self-assertion and a new confidence in man. To make knowledge accessible to all was to make education and knowledge democratic.

Today in India, we can see much that is negative, calls for narrow sub nationalist causes. How to understand and act on the public perception of public men, leaders, parties and need for new sophistications in refining democratic norms and values?
These are some of the basic questions that must evoke our educational outlook.
Our education must tap the latest trends in child psychology, sociology and many other sciences so that we really aim for a new India of a progressive liberal democracy. How to live as true democratic? What should be our personal ethics? And no less our public ethics? These should be some of our basic questions when we sit down to draw our education policies? In short, the Liberal cause must be the aim of education, justice, equality and equity.

No pre-conceived dogmatism whatever might work but as the Viennese write-up calls “the lived experience of individuals” that should give our education system the vigor and character to our education.

Does it help to diversify our education processes?
More regimentation of learning doesn’t help. Many creative processes are lost in any such regimentation.

cnr-raoInstead of bureaucratic controls, decentralization, why even a degree of de-schooling could enrich the schooling process. Indian education history is long and very unique.

The old Sanskrit education, the pathashalas and much else had given the Indian education and even the philosophical tradition, a very strong unique Indian air and historic context. Our attempts to revive the Nalanda and other ancient education spirit have to be seen in this context only. The point we want to highlight here is rather modest.

The Bangalore-based Prof.C.N.R.Rao Foundation is reported to have undertaken teaching sciences to the school teachers. That seemed very unique and also triggered some related thoughts. We have in India many other unique institutions like the Bangalore based Indian Institute of Science and also some other institutes promoted recently in the sciences and technologies.

Rather very appropriately, we have the new Azim Premji Foundation, also a university that is doing much good voluntary services in education. In a way, Bangalore is a new centre of many new learning institutions and also at the cutting edge of many new companies, the Start-up culture makes Bangalore the very new creative centre from other areas of learning also like literature, arts and much else.

So the thought came to the fact that as things are at present the CBSE, based in Delhi seems to be concentrating too much on one area of education. The secondary education is also a critical area and we have many new secondary education streams. We have many private and public-funded schools, from Navodaya, Sainik and Kendriya schools, besides some other states-funded residential and day secondary schools.
Aslo, the secondary education sector is changing fast. There are any number of fancy schools here, charging heavy fees and calling themselves International Schools!

When does a school become really an international school? Not when you don’t have foreign students? Not when you don’t follow any radical school syllabus like the ones we see here and there, as in the Nilgiris where you have the Blue Mountain School or some other experimental schools. There are many in Europe and we ourselves have visited many such in France, Switzerland and also in UK. There is a long history of school education experiments.

Now, the point here is the thought why allow only the CBSE to decide everything for the Indian schools from the North to the South. The CBSE, it seems, is doing too many things, from collecting data base, entering all data in a computer to suggesting new exams like a terminal exam at the end of the 10th standard etc.

Do we need to let the CBSE to do so many things for such a large and diverse country like India? We like to invite a debate on this uniform system of secondary education that is also fast becoming highly commercialized. In fact, many CBSE schools have become money-minting machines. We know in some states, high corruption prevails, in granting NOC certificates and the going rates of bribes are unbelievable.

Time for reform is urgent; some autonomous bodies on a regional basis can improve matters. As of now various inequities and inequalities in access to fees and social justice etc are making CBSE ineffective.

Our few suggestions pertain to why not allow such independent practices like CNR Rao Foundation teaching sciences to schools have some formal approval (from society and parents)to benefit others, other schools too in the region? Why not institutions like IISC also engage itself in education experiments like teaching the history of sciences etc.
The possibilities for enriching the learning experiences are immense.

How many know in India that how the sciences grew in history? In 700 BC while translating Greek, natural philosophers in Latin, Bede the Ecclesiastical establishes a method for calculating the date of Easter. He also investigates Earth’s spherical shape, the Moon’ governance of tides and the shortcomings of the Julian calendar!
So also, how the sciences grew in Britian, how the universities of Oxford came into being once the Louis VI drove out the ‘foreigners’!

Such stories of the histories of sciences could be taught by various science labs, as the Prime Minister himself has said in the latest Indian Science Congress. Anyway here are the suggestions for others to think and act upon!