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Can Indian Education Dream a Moon?

By G. Balasubramanian

If moon had always been a ‘Chanda mama,’ a distant relative not good enough to let us enter there, we would not have thought of making a visit there. “Dreaming the moon” has always been proverbial associated with a wishful thinking, a journey to an impossibility. The human will has always attempted to convert an ‘impossibility’ to a ‘possibility.’ How does an impossibility become a possibility? “Every man is an impossibility until he is born,” said R.W. Emerson. This statement brings the moot question whether one’s physical birth is more glorious than the intellectual birth that is caused by the unleashing of the latent potentialities which one brings along with his physical birth. The seed of any change, any progress, any innovation lies in the nucleus of the human thought. It is the thought that manifests into an idea resulting in an action driven by the adrenaline in the system. Hence, if the Indian education system must move to its moon, it needs to conceive a thought that drives its adrenaline. But where lies the moon for the education system? Who is the lord of this moon? Which institutional architecture provides the best conveyor belt to reach this moon?

Well, for every learner the moon is the symbolic silvery land defining the larger purpose of one’s life. It is the manifestation of that slow, cool, Yin-energy that gives the self the sense of achievement, the sense of oneness with the purpose of his journey, and relationship the learner establishes with the universe in which one is born. The purpose of the education system is to facilitate the manifestation of this energy which makes one self-conscious, ‘Sthitha Pragna’ – an individual in harmony with the creation giving one’s maximal output to the community to which the individual belongs. Does the design of the current educational system provide that opportunity to the learners even to dream of that moon? What are the roadblocks? If one is unable to move and stuck with inertia, what are the forces that hold them?

Albert Einstein once remarked “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe.” The satire that underscores this statement is conspicuous. And the entire system and its constituent stakeholders need to take responsibility for creating the roadblocks. With our intelligent effort to prove to the world that we can reach the moon, the Indian education systems needs to hold hands with the ISRO to prove to the world that even the education system has the capability to reach its own moon. And how do we do that?

1. We need to understand that the ‘learnability’ of the learner is operated by the freewill which should not be shackled through a pre-conceived learning structure wherein the learner is not able to access entry through the closed doors. The so-called ‘first generation learner’ was also learning, oftentimes, better, and more effectively, than his counterparts who are more blessed. They were not acknowledged as potential learners because they could not adequately relate with what others learnt or were wanting to learn. We used yardsticks of measurement and benchmarks that were non-contextual to the way they have been brought up from their first breath. We failed to understand that their dreams to reach the moon were in no way less than others and possibly they had more adrenaline running in their system. Sometimes we consciously marginalized them. “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education,” said Mark Twain. The elite approach to ‘learning’ held the intellect of a large human resource at the starting point and declared them ‘at inertia.’ Over the years, ‘elitism’ associated with structures, degrees and alien knowledge structures created a myth of education linking it to a curriculum which was not a native food to many. We need to redress this fundamental defect. The statement of Swami Vivekananda that “Education is the manifestation of the perfection already in Man’ needs to understand in its right perspective.

2. Learning, and hence the pursuit of knowledge, has neither a direct nor an inverse relationship with any curriculum or textual content. Unfortunately, the guidepost to a journey is being misconceived as the vehicle for the journey. Learning, being open to all senses, all geographies, all weathers and climates, and all environments is a function of the brain. It can be formal, informal, incidental, or even accidental. Recent research in Brain sciences and neural cognition give evidence to the fact that the neural activity is triggered from within. They can be empowered, enhanced, and re-engineered through external designs. “You can never be overdressed or overeducated,” says Oscar Wilde. Restraining either the capacity of learning or the content of learning to the four walls of a classroom is injurious to the health of learning. (Even the possibility of such a situation seems questionable). Thus, in a structured learning situation, learning does not become inclusive, but a top-down process undermining the several facets of multi-dimensional learning of the learner. An examination and assessment and the consequent certification are a definition of a functionality and not a projection of the totality of an individual or his learning. The apparatus and the instruments used to measure the quantity and quality of learning are just contextual and should not be used to hold the learnability and its consequent quality of learning of the learner, to a ransom. The system needs to facilitate each learner to dream the moon and design his own spacecraft which will help to take either an elliptical or circular route depending on the fuel at one’s disposal. “Freedom to learn” and acknowledging the outcome of the freedom as integral to learning, will redefine the position of the learner in the learning curve. The super-imposed learning curves as a norm over all learners becomes a threat to many causing psychological inadequacies. There is urgency to celebrate the individuality and the talents latent in each learner and to recognize the potential human resource.

3. Learning institutions should be liberated from the ‘inspection raj’ to let the schools and teachers to play a freer, yet an accountable, role to educate the learner. While learning basics must be conceptually universal, its operatives cannot be the same everywhere. Contextuality must be recognized, appreciated, and facilitated to offer the variety of opportunities for learning. No where a ‘curriculum’ restrains the school or the teachers to condition the learners into specified parameters in learning. It is, basically, the schools and teachers tend to fall in line to comfort zones of teaching or comply with the directed modes of delivery systems. For administrative convenience, there is a conscious effort to promote mediocrity and sustain the same, rather than promoting excellence. It must be acknowledged that individual excellence is not a threat to social definitions. As such the multiplicity of such individual traits of excellence is an asset to social concretisation of culture and heritage. “Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence,” says Robert Frost, the noted American poet. With digital learning devices and resources facilitating open learning, extended learning and space-time free learning, the schools need to re-engineer their mindset to encourage a more liberal system of learning that promotes curiosity, confidence, courage, and cohabitation. The Indian education system from its early times has been a treasure house of knowledge and skills promoting the culture of mind, attitudes, aptitudes, skills, and values. It helped every learner to articulate their journey to their own moon!

4. Learning is all about dreaming, imagining, fantasising, experimenting, exploring, and researching. Innovation is not the propriety of select few and everyone has the right to be innovative, sometime, if not always. A thinking mind, a reflective mind and a researching mind is what education should nurture and cultivate. A peep into the pedagogy adopted worldwide is evidence to the intellectual relationship between the teacher and the learner, each questioning and building knowledge as a joint venture. We need to rediscover the process of co-construction of knowledge as a social construct simultaneously celebrating the individual learner’s attributes. Our efforts with Chandrayan 1, 2 and 3 have only indicated these dynamics. Educators need to be more liberal in trying to acknowledge failures as gateways to further learning, thereby enabling the learners to rediscover themselves. “Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each,” said Plato. Any system of learning that does not promote the self-esteem and self-awareness of an individual falls short of its own expectations. No wonder the National Education Policy focuses on ‘self-learning’ and ‘self-directed learning’ which are two key words for enabling the learner to be a continuous learner in congruence with the personal learning curve. Any definition of learning that restricts learning to institutional outliers, be it K-12 or a university degree, is myopic.

5. A huge cross section of young learners are deprived opportunities of effective learning due to systemic issues associated with governance of institutions. Unfortunately, even if they have big dreams, they have their own moon in their dreamland, they stand marginalized because of the limitation of resources. Says C.S. Lewis, the renowned essayist “The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.” Many government schools and others funded by them appear to be low performers because of lack of accountability and unwarranted interventions into the system. Negligence arising out of the mismanagement of such State systems is indeed cruelty towards a generation of learners. “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire,” opines William Butler Yeats, the famous poet. When we can build world class airports, have super-fast trains, golden highways linking the country all over and have innovative technology at industrial outfits, there is no reason we cannot build good schools and administer them with care and conviction. A country which carried the materials to a rocket launch centre in cycles decades before, can boast of landing on the moon with AI facilitated self-landing processes, there is no reason we cannot rethink about how our schools should be in the current scenario. Reimagining learning systems with enthusiastic teaching community is the call of the future.

6. Any educational institution that does not ensure and assure quality is a bane to a generation of the learners. Corrupt practices that lead to compromises on the basics of educational infrastructure and its concurrent practices is a hazard to social development. While private initiatives do need to be encouraged for active participation, it is equally important to ensure that the business of education is superior to education as a business. A close analysis might suggest that we are not only under-performers in education, but we show conscious indifference to the process and product of education. We are placed at the right time and context with the New Education Policy opening the gateways to some amount of freedom to learn. I think we should take this opportunity to re-engineer our education system that would give our learners the freedom to dream.

It is said “If you strive for the moon, maybe you will get over the fence.” Can we at least get over the fence?