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Is there a need to detox education?

By G. Balasubramanian

Education has always been a positive input to human development. The fundamental nutrients to education have been the nutrients to physical, emotional, mental, intellectual, social, and spiritual aspects of human growth. Thought leaders worldwide have always subscribed to the view of using education as an instrument to growth and development for every learner in one’s own chosen path. “Education is not the filling of a pail, but lighting of the fire,” said Y.B Yeats. “Education is not the amount of information that is put into your brain and runs riot there, undigested all your life. We must have life-building, man-making, character-making, assimilation of ideas. If you have assimilated five ideas and made them your life and character, you have more education than any man who has got by heart a whole library” said Swami Vivekananda. However, the tools and practices of delivering education do undergo change with the impact of the scientific and technological changes of a society. Though massive impacts are not expected on the aims and objectives of education, it is seen that the compulsive consumerist trends in the society have brought track changes in them. The last few decades have accommodated several not so meaningful inputs to educational delivery systems just to bring certain amount of excitement and thrill in learning that have become toxic to the health of the educational systems. Though some of such interventions are neither desirable nor necessary, an overdose of them have really brought heavy toxicity, derailing in many routes the loftier objectives of learning for life.

1. Focus on excessive cut-throat competition

While the industrial model of mass education did promote certain elements of competition to promote standardization and quality, over the years an overdose of competition, and that too cut-throat competitions, cutting-edge competitions, has made learning myopic. The objectives of joyful learning, choice-based learning, freedom to learn have all been sacrificed to keep pace with the competition to gratify the needs of a community than that of an individual learner. The learner becomes a compulsive victim to competition more by force than by choice. Assimilating unsurmountable stress to life, the learner becomes increasingly answerable to a number of people in the journey - the teacher, the parents, the school heads, the family, and the community. The system does not care for the noble as well as pragmatic values that one must gain through learning but stresses on one’s ability to retain, reproduce and remain restrictive. The toxicity of such competitions has assaulted some fundamentals of education.

2. Focus on extensive material consumption

Over the centuries, rather over the last few decades, the design of the curriculum lost the balance between the material and the non-material aspects of life. With an excessive focus on material sciences and on the utilitarian aspects of the humanities and fine arts, the celebration of knowledge for its own sake has been underplayed. Consequently, learning of subjects and pursuit of knowledge refocused to serve to external aspects of life rather than the inner vistas of human excellence. With increasing conflicts with the personal self and the social self, the learners started seeking ways and means through alternate systems including unfair practices to demonstrate success, victory, and ego. With the marginalization of value of education, negation of core life skills, the system sought to deal with curative aspects of problems rather than preventive competencies that would build inner strength.

3. Focus on information than wisdom

The scientific methods always deal with facts and data; and that is the way forward. Unfortunately, the provision of excessive data to learn and consider without an equal focus on developing scientific thinking has proved disastrous. In the bargain, a large number of learners deal with data for reproduction rather than analysis, appreciation, understanding, logic, or arguments. In many cases, the data do manifest to some information just for retention and delivery. The consideration of data and Information for its subtler purposes of improving knowledge and acquisition of wisdom have found no proper gateways in educational corridors. The overdose of data has become toxic to effective and meaningful use of the brain faculties.

4. Focus on success than excellence

Most strategies in educational administration and delivery systems in the last few decades have been focusing on nurturing success rather than excellence. While success is a most desirable proposition in any work environment, is it possible to move beyond just success? In the absence of such insight, both at the individual level and the societal level the vision is increasingly becoming myopic to achieve short term goals and victories at any cost. Though such attempts do support the gratification needs of the individual and the society, it comes with a lot of compromises with both the individual and societal health, and their long-term needs. Oftentimes, the compromises made appear unethical, counter-productive to sustainable environments and the universal peace furthering unhealthy and cut-throat competitions. No amount of justification would be good enough to explain the success gained at avoidable costs to the future of the world. Further, this leads to a ‘toxic’ mindset among learners which is to be avoided at any cost.

5. Focusing on conditioning than creating

The immediacy of success and the urge to demonstrate visible, tangible, and recordable results of performances and to define them into measurable, scalable patterns leads to establishment of stereotypes in human minds. The patterns become the icons of achievements and hence leads to mental and emotional conditioning, thereby minimizing the opportunities for freedom to think, freedom for creativity and freedom for expansion. Though such exercises are outcomes of the industrial model based on mass production theories, the changing dynamics of social evolution calls for a re-thinking that would support, enhance, and empower creative thinking among learners. An overdose of patterns in learning would only lead not only to employment overload and social stress creating inequity in the opportunities for growth and enterprise. It would be better to detox education from such mindsets.

6. Focusing on cognitive skills than Life skills

An overdose on cognitive skills in the learning content and learning processes has marginalized several of the essential skills required for a balanced meaningful and complete life. Absence of firsthand skills, professional skills, social skills, and self-management skills have led to innumerable conflicts in life management. A number of so-called successful people have become wrecks in personal life. The restlessness arising out of the mismatch between these skills has led to social stress, fear, insecurity, anger, and violence among those who could not manage them effectively. Learning must become self-directed, joyful and enable the individual to take personal responsibilities for life than live on social subscriptions and with a sense of social dependency. The ‘toxic’ effects are not on the surface but appear to be getting infused into the body profile of the system.

7. Focusing on personal victory than social equity

With excessive consumerist inputs to material and emotional domains of living systems, the learning models seem to focus on gratification of personal needs with supports to individual and personal victories. In this process, there is an intangible assault on social consciousness and its resultant social equity. With increased focus on self, the accountability to the community and the society is getting marginalized. This leads to polarization in communities challenging some core concepts of democratic and human values. The social distribution of wealth as a process of personal human endeavor through philanthropy and other instruments of engagement are on the decline showing limiting powers of real education. Such polarization could lead to negative social actions over a long time. No system could subscribe to such dynamics.

8. Focusing on wealth assimilation than wealth generation

Wealth generation could happen only when it is equitably distributed to the entire spectrum of wealth operators – the entire population of the system. That facilitates better engagement of wealth resources, productivity, and wealth re-engineering. Unfortunately, the processes and patterns of education are not pragmatically and evenly supporting the entire spectrum of stakeholders thereby indicating limitations in its growth profile. Wealth assimilation in a polarized section of the society and its stagnation will have long term impacts of any society in its competitive profile against their equals as well as others who exhibit leadership. The fundamentals of educational policies and investments on social systems that care of them should be better articulated to ensure equity in terms of quality of education and in pursuit of excellence. Toxic ideas that subscribe to polarization need to be reviewed to give way for better management of knowledge itself as wealth.

While there is no magic wand to set things right over a specific time, it is important that the factors that contribute to the toxic environment in education need to be addressed.