Sunday, December 6, 2009

Educate for sensitivity besides knowledge

Introduction: In this post I have tried to elaborate that knowledge has little value if it does not teach us sensitivity towards fellow human, environment and emotions of other people. Besides, I am advocating that the aim of education should be to initiate thought and encourage curiosity rather than just providing answers .

What is education? In technical sense, Wikipedia defines it as the process by which society deliberately transmits its accumulated knowledge, skills and values from one generation to another. To me, in a broader sense it means, harmonious development of   physical, mental, moral , and social dimensions associated with life and  educating someone else symbolizes an effort to create  the desire in another human being to be a whole and meaningful person  .

The aim of Education is to develop a love for learning that remains throughout a lifetime . Sadly, the word education is now limited to academic and technical development that is orientated  to train a human to get a job with fat salary. The result and destination  has come to mean so much, that  in journey,  we fail to learn how to process the accumulated knowledge .Education fails to  teach us how to make use of acquired knowledge creatively to become a better human and better citizen. It fails to teach us how to react rationally and how to accept things on the basis of reason . It has led to formations of opinion that are not based on thoughts. How correct was Charlote Bronte who wrote “Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education; they grow there, firm as weeds among rocks. What dominates in contrast today is  theory, which  declares that “everything from the neck down is minimum wage. Therefore, we have to develop everything from the neck up”.

A casual observation, of the manner in which, an average youth of country talks, drives and reacts is enough to let one know that education has failed us in every possible sense. An observant look at the manner in which primary class children and in contrast senior class children, proceed to their classes after school assembly might tell you , what I mean.

But, The aim of this post is not to elaborate about the state we are in .The issue is what do we do to better this situation ? We , specially the educators and parents have to be self critical in analyzing why the things are the way they are ? In words of Carl Jung : "If there is anything we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves." As a teacher and  parent  I have a few ideas that I would like to share.

1.More than words it is the meaning that matters: Let us not limit the ambit of subject ,what I mean can be better explained with example , while teaching concept of circular motion and deriving the formula for banking of roads one can very easily show that why taking a fast or a sharp turn is dangerous and a small talk on importance on adhering to traffic rules for safety of self and others can always be done without disturbing the rhythm. A lecture on thermodynamics can well be merged with global warming and ecology . let us accept that a student these days is not prepared for sermons we should learn to  combine sense with the rhetoric
2.Be a benign dictator :  I may sound old fashioned but I think the children are too young to decide about what is good or bad for them. As a parent it is a responsibility to teach our children  the acceptable code of conduct in a civilized society . A school of thought advocates becoming friends with your offspring and students but I think one should be friendly without becoming friends. One has to draw the line and firmly come down on whatever is not acceptable.It is appalling to see teachers promoting and accepting mediocrity to be popular with naive minds .It is assertion, not aggression or submission that holds the key, an authoritative teacher cannot connect with students and a submissive teacher, it seems, is always trying to win some  popularity contest.
3.Nurture your children: every baby that comes into this world is like an angel, pure and innocent .It is the responsibility of every parent to preserve that innocence in the child. A responsible parent has to know the difference between pampering and loving.The thing a child deserve most is your quality time.  Home is the first school of every child and  mother the first teacher. Influence of parents and their acts leave ever lasting impressions on minds of children .all of us know about famous scientist Thomas Edison who gave us electric bulb and phonograph was categorized as dumb and was rejected by school . It was the commitment of her mother who refused to accept this judgment and taught him at home.On the other hand a mother to obsessed with drugs and violence gave the world a most pathetic serial killer named Henry Lee Lucas. I think the last statement of serial killer Tedd Bundy before the firing squad says it all “Killers like me are no different from  your children and  your husbands , you continue to spoil their childhood and you will continue preparing killers like me.”
4. Encourage expression : In my classes I generally ask students to tell me their understanding of what is taught to them, from layman’s point of view. How will they explain the taught concept to a person who has no knowledge of physics in five simple lines .This is to make sure they understand the meaning rather than  just going through the rituals of manipulating the symbols to derive the formula. I firmly believe that it is the thought that separates a human from a trained animal and there is a drastic need to to encourage that. It is so disappointing  that there are hardly any contributors whenever a significant topic is taken for discussion  on internet forums and radio .One should learn to show feelings because suppressing them is like suppressing truth. Martin Luther King so rightly said “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”. This leitmotif  “Nothing is going to change” in young minds is so wrong.  The fact is things change and they change drastically when minds and hands revolt.
5. Bring the human angle to education: Education for what ? This world does not need more "successful"  people .What it needs are more 'sensitive" people who also believe in putting their  thoughts into action in their own small ways.   What world desperately needs are more peacemakers,  poets, painters ,teachers and lovers of humanity  . It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane and , these needs have little to do with success as our culture has defined it.

These are just a few things that I could  think of I would appreciate if you, the enlighten reader, can educate me a bit more on this.


  1. Nice post. Yes, as we have written about it before also, it's indeed a sorry of state of education which we are seeing now. The solutions that you provided are apt. But implementation remains to be seen. Seems like the life is become so restless these days that no one takes out time to think and understand right ways... Things just go on without notice of anyone... Or maybe convenience takes better over rightfulness. Business/profit-orientedness, you see? Who cares about cultivating minds...!

  2. @Darshan- Implementation indeed is a problem because best brains do not want to be teachers.Specially the state of primary education is really dismal and that really is threatening .
    and, regarding who will ? There is no reply to this question all I can do is quote words of Ravindra Nath Tagore
    "Let me light my lamp", says the star, "And never debate if it will help to remove the darkness”

  3. very well written.
    really, today education is missing the sensitivity.
    this is the reason why our world is developing but not prospering.
    keep writing :)

  4. teachers really play the most formative role in a student life, even more than parents. I was fortunate.

  5. "I am advocating that the aim of education should be to initiate thought and encourage curiosity rather than just providing answers."

    I agree with you completely.

    Most teachers... these days... do not encourage curiosity. Perhaps they do not want to answer additional questions. Or maybe... do not want their lack of knowledge to show up.

    There are teachers in one of the prestigious engineering institute of this country... who cannot take more than 25/28 lectures out of the total 40/45 in a month. But... they all have "Dr" prefixed to their name.

    Even students are more interested in cramming... in order to get marks. The habit of reading... a wide variety of authors/books.. for the sake of gaining knowledge is on the decline. It is not considered 'important'. What a pity!

    R&D is in decline. Plus there seems to be a perpetual paucity of funds for any constructive activity in the education institutes. Funds are diverted to make furnitures instead... to grace the houses of the faculty members including the Deans and HoDs.

    Students are admitted via this strange phenomenon called 'reservation' into engineering and medical institutes. Even to doctorate programs and management courses. Yeh sab halwa hai kya... ???

    These courses require aptitude. How will it help someone... if he/she takes several attempts or years to clear his/her papers/course...??? Who will go to a doctor who has taken several years to clear his degree... ??? Who will employ an engineer/management grad... who has taken several attempts/years to graduate... ??? It is a gross injustice to them, the institude, to education, to the course... and to others who are more deserving.

    How do some people expect that reservation is the answer to everything... ??? How can someone whose forefathers have not been to any school or have barely seen the interiors of a classroom (even a dilapidated one) be expected to ace engg/medical/mgmt courses... ??? Or even high school and college... ???

    Noone can climb the topmost rung of a ladder at one go. It has to be a step-by-step effort.

    Meanwhile... not a pip is let out over the state of primary and secondary education in this country. Sadly!

  6. @manank -True it is because we are yet to realize that "Education is an ornament in prosperity and a refuge in adversity"
    @vinita -Teacher only opened the door you entered all by yourself....thanks

  7. @Roshmi-At the outset, I earnestly thank you for time and effort.
    These days politics dominates over everything, be it sports, employment or education.I think we are the only country which compromises on quality for cast on name of reservation.No political leader has the temerity to ask openly as to how and why we should permit mediocres to operate on our children or to build bridges and satellites for us? Isn't it unfortunate that we conduct exams to recruit a class IV employee but to become a political master one need not go to any school.we have reduced to such an extent that the word politics sound synonymous to filth .
    amidst the hackneyed slogans of eradicating illiteracy , wish our masters remember the words of James A. Garfield who so rightly said " Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which which neither freedom nor justice can be maintained".

  8. Our world is developing but not prospering.
    Good thought, Manank.. :-}

  9. @Sunil, Your thoughts are seconded. I just happened to hear your radio snip speaking on the message being perceived by reality shows like Big Boss. And I really appreciate the point you have raised in the conversation. I also appreciate that you are a teacher by choice and your thoughts about our education system are valid. I personally feel that the way our universities bring up our kids in schools and colleges need a revamp. Today's child studies merely for securing higher grades in examinations. He is kept so much confined to the world of his text books and chapters that his innovative ideas and quell to understand the world beyond is literally killed. This is a serious issue. I wholeheartedly support our cause Sunil!

  10. @Neeraj ,Isn't it sad that education instead of being focused on developing thought process centers on spoon feeding information and opinions?
    sincere Thanks Neeraj, for the encouraging words and being the part of this humble attempt. I wholeheartedly appreciate it.

  11. I do agree with you Sir.
    And believe me when I say that i have taken blow of education that provides you with answer and asks you to reproduce them in the exams.

    But I always wonder if we had a system which imphasized on thought process,obsevation and creativity then would it be possible to evaluate the students.

  12. @ Vishal , First of all it gives me immense pleasure to see one of my brightest students commenting on issue of education. As I always say, I have lot of hope from young men like you who besides being outstanding scholars at IIT remain good human.

    Regarding your doubt on evaluation I think we first need to decide what we plan to evaluate? Is it the ability to cram and remember or the skill to draw meaning from the subject that is under evaluation ?

    You very well know that how easy it is to score 90% in boards and students doing that may not be able answer even one problem in the IIT paper. Why? The questions asked in boards mostly focus on reproduction of information and do not challenge the students understanding in terms of problems based on understanding and thought.

    What I want to stress is, to make education more meaningful both summative and formative evaluation should not just focus on testing of knowledge but also on wisdom that demands processing of knowledge acquired. Knowledge by itself has no value; it is like a dictionary filled with words. Words by themselves have no value; it is the process of weaving them together that gives them value.

    Tests should be designed to decide how the mind sorts out and evaluates possibilities and alternatives .and how they are strung together determining the level of value. Present system of evaluation stresses on how well one memorizes. Such dictionary knowledge is unlikely to test or groom the natural skills of a student .This process of memorizing instead of inculcating a desire to learn extinguishes the aspiration to learn.

    After teaching a student all about alternating current if we are not able to make him understand how a transformer can reduce the transmission loss then what have we taught him? Besides, it is truly a failure if after all he lectures on thermodynamics we fail to make students appreciate why Earth will be a little hotter, its waters more acidic, and the fabric of life more worn, if we continue to abuse our resources.

    All I want to say is that there is a need to encourage education that will covert ideas into products and not just few more lines written on paper. A lot can be written about social angle but as one famous educationist has nicely summed up all the problems in two nice lines "It emphasized theories instead of values, concepts rather than human beings, abstraction rather than consciousness, answers instead of questions, ideology and efficiency rather than conscience."

  13. "I am advocating that the aim of education should be to initiate thought and encourage curiosity rather than just providing answers."
    u spoke my mind. very well said sir, bahat bahat shukriya ye awaaz uthane ke liye.

  14. @lonesome wonderer:Thanks ,Faiz Bhai for encouraging words and support

  15. Hi Sunil - thanks for giving me the link to this piece, which I really enjoyed reading today. The quotes that you use are so apt to underline and illuminate the profound thoughts that you are sharing. I particularly like the one from Charlotte Bronte. Thanks again.

  16. @Deborah: Thanks so much for the encouragement. It really means a lot to get appreciation and support from experienced ,accomplished and knowledgeable person like you.Hope you will continue to enlighten with your views .Regards...

  17. what a great read!:)

    In my opinion ,we cannot change the world.It has its own variables. All we can do is to change ourselves.

    Innocence is a beautiful gift but it needs a lot of wisdom and practicality to survive and adapt in the harshness of today's competitive world.

    Materialism and spirituality cannot be separated.

    And yes, I agree. Humanity should preceed everything else. In the rat race, we shouldn't forget that we were born humans!!!

    Quoting Albert Einstein," A life lived for others is a life worth living." The ultimate aim of every individual should be to contribute in every possible way to make this world a better place to live in.

    1. megha, Thanks for the encouragement and you are right all that we can truly change is or own self but generally it is the most difficult thing to do.

  18. "If you focus on results, you will never change. If you focus on change, you will get results."
    Jack Dixon



Your viewpoint will definitely give it wider perspective


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