Finding True Education beyond Literacy

What does it take to draw the picture of an orange tree by 7 years old? Does it only need the drawing skills as a pre-requisite? Or does it need fine observation skills, the eyes which are trained to look at minute details? As educationalists or parents, we need to change our outlook towards learning and education. The learning has to be more realistic and connected to the child’s immediate environment.

Let us talk about what is education in the first place. We as adults need to understand the difference between literacy and education, to avoid any confusion I will elaborate both here. Education is the way of life, it is the way an individual lives his life, solves his problems and thinks rationally and is able to take data driven decisions.

On the other hand literacy is the ability of an individual to read and write and perform basic arithmetic. According to the world data, India ranks 159 amongst all the 196 countries in the literacy rate with 69% of literacy rate. The statistics are not very encouraging, though even further disappointing fact remains that there are schools which are following the hackneyed pedagogic which are nowhere connected to the learner and his environment/living conditions.

There are viewpoints stating many factors contributing towards high dropout rate of students from schools. To mention a few, children drop out due to high poverty, children working as laborers and contributing to the income of the families. There is one hidden factor as well. It does not meet the naked eye so easily.

The fact is that school is considered as a knowledge store house wherein the child will GET all the knowledge from the teacher lecturing in front of her. There has not been any credibility or accountability for the child to use his mind to THINK, REFLECT and EXPERIMENT. Instead the child has to act against his wish, he/she has to tortuously sit through those number of hours and try and fit in all the EXISTING information in the head. There is NO scope, and I mean it, No scope for the child to TRY, fiddle with things, and have their own tinkering time.

To understand the current scenario of the way our pedagogy and methodology have been designed, we will have to look into the emergence of our educational system.  During the colonial time, the British had introduced schools to produce literate clerks who could read and write for clerical work. They did not need THINKERS. As producing thinkers would have been a threat to their own rule. They did not support analytical skills, problem solving, observation skills. However, it has been 72 years of India’s freedom.

The paradox is that we still continue with the same old education system wherein we discourage a child to TRY. We condition their mind with fear, anxiety and threats and they do not even try. We continue to be colonial in our thoughts wherein we continue to give prime importance to memory over the skills of reasoning, dialoguing. We consider dialoguing as offensive for the child and end up punishing them. In case a child raises his voice, he is considered indecent to question authority.

Questioning which a natural way to clarify a doubt is was and is considered a taboo. Napolian Hill in his book, Think and Grow Rich mentions that an educated person is not necessarily one who has an abundance of general and specializes knowledge. To be truly educated is to have so developed faculties of mind that one may acquire anything one wishes, or its equivalent, without violating the rights of others.

As teachers and parents, we shoulder responsibility in bringing up the child and shaping his future. However, that responsibility has turned into a burden. We live and sustain in a production unit where our hearts do not respond to our inner voices and the joy of learning is a fantasy. As rightly quoted by A.S Neil in the book Summerhill “The function of the child is to live his own life- not the life that his anxious parents think he should live, nor a life according to the purpose of the educator who thinks he knows what is best.” Instead our roles as adults should be to scaffold a child’s learning. Give them the experiences but not feel on behalf of the child. Education has to be a zone to try out new experiences without fear and anxiety. What is wrong in failing? Failures are nothing but experiences which help us grow.

Now the question arises, if not this, then what kind of education system do we want? We are looking at global leaders who can think, be good problem solvers and have rational decision making abilities. We need to allow our kids to make mistakes. Mistakes should not be seen as failures; instead they should be seen as learning opportunities. As parents and educators, we need to focus on skills of reading, writing and arithmetic. The focus should shift from mugging up to the practical utilization of those skills.

Upasana Kapur is working in the field of education and is based in New Delhi.

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