Friday, 7 October 2011

Education - A Paradox !

The introduction of the Right to Education was a landmark decision passed by the Government of India  It is an affirmation that Education is an important tool for empowerment, and, if we want to empower the weaker sections of the society, the underprivileged, and the downtrodden, then we must provide them Education. To Educate, means to enlighten. To educate means to dispel the darkness of ignorance! Education, thus means spreading the light of knowledge and an understanding of the meaning of existence!
In today’s context Education has however become a paradox, an antithesis, a study in contrasts! On the one hand we have a surfeit of information, and on the other hand, you have a dearth of information. In a developing country like India, we have a great divide between the rural areas and the urban areas. Thus students in interiors and rural areas may be deprived of information while their cousins in the urban cities have access to all kinds of information. Now what concerns most Educationists is if this surfeit of information might not be after all white noise, something which is useless and not better than no information at all!
The moot question is, what happens when you are bombarded by excess  information you can’t use? Does it further Education? Information is of use only as long as you can use it! The advent of the Electronic Media,and the availability of  the internet has meant that everyone is bombarded with information such that there is a paradigm shift from no information to excess information! The usage of “lol” in chat sessions is popular, but few know its meaning!
As a contrast, children in rural areas lack proper  text-books, reference books, and face frequent power cuts. The challenge before the ideal educationist is to strike a proper balance between no information and excess information. When a child has to spend hours walking or traveling to school, he has no time for studies, or perhaps even time to surf the net! Amazingly students from rural areas are known to do very well in competitions and, some even top the Civil Service Exams later on!
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While the  the right to education re-affirms the right to primary Education, the student-teacher ratio set by the bill is unrealistic. The ratio of one teacher to every 30 students is difficult to maintain. While you have overcrowding of class rooms in urban areas, you have empty class rooms in rural schools. In fact, ghost attendances of students are maintained because the teacher doesn’t want to become surplus and be transferred to another village!
According to W.E.Du Bois, “Education is that whole system of human training within and without the school house walls, which molds and develops men”. Thus it is clear that  Education is human training and it starts within the four walls of the school and goes beyond it. In the words of Marva Collins  "Once children learn how to learn, nothing is going to narrow their mind. The essence of teaching is to make learning contagious, to have one idea spark another." It is that quantum leap in understanding, the ability to ignite a flame, a contagion that leads to the education of young minds, and this is possible when you have a teacher who is able to balance between no information and excess information and able to further proceed to ignite young minds. The words, spark, and ignite sum up the meaning of Education as a process which enlightens, or lights up the darkness of ignorance. 
In the age of Information Technology, we have what is called as an information overload. Students resort to cramming and rote memorization of information, data, facts and figures which they remember till the exam and then soon forget! In the words of William Feather,"In education it isn't how much you have committed to memory or even how much you know. It's being able to differentiate between what you do know and what you don't. It's knowing where to go to find out what you need to know and it's knowing how to use the information you get." Education therefore is not about cramming or committing to memory, rather it is the ability to discern between what you know and what you do not know! It is about knowing where to find relevant information, Education is about research, it is about curiosity, curiosity which has been ignited by an enlightened educationist! Education is about letting the child be, giving him or her the chance to do something instead of spoon-feeding him or her! Unfortunately, in the words of John Gardner, "Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants." Today instead of learning by doing, we have learning by cramming. Thus you have all sorts of help books, guides, and refreshers from which our students cram before exams! Today, Education is not based on learning of principles, understanding of problems, it is not based on the problem-solving approach, it is not based on inspiration, and it is not based on divergent thinking! We don’t like students who think differently. It is a human tendency to conform to the run of the mill, to conform to popular opinions, and beliefs. Conversely, we discourage different thinkers and force them to conform to what we think! In the words of Linda Conway, "It is not what is poured into a student that counts but what is planted " that matters. The Educationist plants the seeds of inspiration and curiosity in  the minds of his students.
Perhaps the greatest role of Education is to make children learn to fend for themselves, to be self dependent, confident and work as if the teacher was not around! According to Maria Montessori, "The greatest sign of a success for a to be able to say, "The children are now working as if I did not exist." Thus Education means leading the learner to the threshold of enlightenment, but not carrying him or her into enlightenment. It takes place when the teacher puts aside his ego, and lets the child be, learn for himself. It is about the self-effacement of the teacher! "Ideal teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross, then having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create bridges of their own." -- Nikos Kazantzakis

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