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Portraits from two different worlds

September 15, 2011

For last two years I have been going around the country, visiting different schools and trying to understand the meaning of Education/ Shiksha. Last year, during a visit to a small, innovative school in Jaunpur, a village near Mussourie, I was informed about an interesting experiment a teacher had conducted with the children. The results of the experiment had raised a lot of questions in my mind. Last week, I decided to conduct the same experiment in the school, I was working with (a small school near Dharamsala).

I drew two portraits on the blackboard, one of a typical village youngster, wearing a kurta, shorts and slippers and the other of a city guy, clean shaven, neatly pruned hair, wearing a suit, tie and shoes and then asked the children to tell me something (qualities) about them. I conducted this experiment with two different classes and the results observed were exactly the same as those in the school at Jaunpur.

They looked at the portraits for a while and then started telling about them. Given below are the words I wrote on the blackboard –

Despite having expected similar results, with each word that was added to the list, my mind grew more and more numb. Most of us would have expected the same. Some of us would have more or less answered the same too. However, I am sure we would also agree to there being something profoundly wrong with this kind of generalized judgment being made not only by adults but by children aged 12-14.

The experiment raises many questions –

  • Do we really see all villagers and farmers as uneducated people? Are they are not clean and intelligent?
  • What is the meaning of being “Smart” and how is it related (if so) to being educated? Is “smartness” something that is devoid of innocence and naivety? In the list the word “Smart” follows “Unkind”.
  • More importantly it raises a question on the meaning of the word “Education” itself? What in the name of “Education” are we feeding to the young minds? And who exactly is responsible for creating this inexplicable discriminatory behaviour? Media? Schools? Text-books? Parents (telling their children that if do not study they will have to do farming)?

When we delve a little deeper into the realms of education (today perceived as only schooling), we see many lacunas, one being associated with the curriculum. We see a child in Ladakh, a child in Kerala, the one in Bihar and now the Tibetan students in India, all studying the same curriculum, the same history and geography text books, which has nothing to do with their own culture, their own little place and their own language and traditions, the traditions that at some places change after every 50-100km and not at the state boundaries.

No wonder a child from a village (who goes to school) gradually starts to look down upon his fellow beings from villages, his own native areas (to a certain extent develops the same attitude towards his grandparents too). While on the other hand his respect for the city dwellers and their gizmos continues to grow manifold. He would rather go work in a BPO and live in a small one room apartment in a city than till his own field in his village. Isn’t it but natural that these traditions, values, knowledge systems that were being passed on from generations to generations since thousands of years are getting wiped out?

The second subsequent question that comes to mind is – If so then why is this happening? Why are we trying to paint every child with same colour?

May be that’s because the current system (with growing industries and corporate houses and supporting structures like banks) needs more people with specific knowledge and does not really value anything about the different traditional beliefs, knowledge systems. And our education system, with its de-contextualised and partly irrelevant content, is continuously gearing itself to produce such people. It is believed that the Industrial revolution had bred the current educational system (not only the subjects, but the structure) which partly aimed at providing more conformed people who talk the same language.

I tried to explain to the children my thoughts on education, on how education is much more than schooling. I did so by telling them stories about how wise our grandparents and people from villages are (despite not having ever gone to a modern school), how reading, writing and doing arithmetic is only a small (and not indispensable) part of being educated, and how every person and every profession should be given equal respect. One of the stories that I told them was a real incident that I was told about during my visit to the same school in Jaunpur –

“It was the month of March. In a small school in a village a teacher was teaching children about rainfall. The children were asked to go back to their parents, grandparents and ask them about the changing monsoon conditions and learn about rainfall. Next day the teacher asked the children if they had learnt anything new.

One little boy got up and said that his grandfather had tears in his eyes when he asked him about rainfall and showed a desire to learn from him. (It is a rare thing for a child going to ‘Modern School’ to ask his grandparents to teach him something.)

A little girl got up and told that her grandfather says that it would rain heavily this year. Her grandfather had showed her a bird’s nest on a tree. The nest was made deep inside the tree. He told her how the birds are very good at understanding the nature. They are able to predict and make their nests accordingly, on the top if it’s not going to rain much and deep inside if they feel it would rain heavily.

That year they say it did rain hard. The little girl was so proud of her wise grandpa.”

I told them that the right answer to my question should have been –

“We cannot say. We need to spend some time with both of them and know them better. Only then would we be able to comment on their qualities.”

… but at the end, the little glimpse of this huge wave of (mis)understanding that is being pushed and propagated has left me numb and depressed …

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. Rihana permalink
    September 16, 2011 10:05

    So true and disturbing 😦 Loved the part where you spoke to the children about your own thoughts, “how wise our grandparents and people from villages are (despite not having ever gone to the so called modern school), how reading, writing and doing arithmetic is only but a small (and not indispensable) part of being educated”

    Like

  2. Wanderer permalink
    September 16, 2011 10:25

    Continuation of what Macaulay had said in British Parliament on India –

    “I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation.”

    Nothing but the same is continuing, nothing but the same is being fed into the system time and again..

    Like

    • September 16, 2011 10:37

      Yes true, it is being cultivated and propagated through the educated.. And I wanted to write about this too. Having said this, let me also share that, I do not want to in any way say that our culture, heritage is superior to that of English. Neither am I saying that wearing tie and suit is bad. All I want to say is what I told the children in the last line – “We need to spend some time with both these people and know them better. Only then would we be able to comment on their qualities.”

      Anyways it is all very confusing 🙂

      Like

  3. September 16, 2011 12:11

    I think the sort of education we have brings in a hollow sense of proud in us and sense of superiority that we look down upon the ones who are weaker in economic sense. I wish we can give our culture, and traditions their due..

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    • September 16, 2011 17:57

      Yes true.. but I am wondering how would that be ever possible with national boards and curriculum in place.. the local cultures and flavors (that are fast disappearing) change every 50 to 100 km in some places, so should the so called curriculum (if at all the people feel that it is required to have one)..

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  4. September 17, 2011 09:01

    yes..I too think that why do we need a curriculum? curriculum in any way becomes a hidden agenda to instate that into the minds of kids since we think that is good for kids. I feel we should appreciate the local culture, food, traditions as much as we can.. and i’ve serious issues with schools and universities.. a school will always remain a school however alternative it is.for sometime it may go good..but ultimately..the kids are programmed and re-programmed the way elders think its good for them..

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    • September 18, 2011 16:09

      yes a school will remain a school till it is just a place where children are getting together to learn from each other and elders in a free way… In an ideal world one does not need to have any such special place for kids as the whole community (world) is their school.. But in today’s world (where there are so many negative influences a child is affected by (media etc)) such places are a must..

      In other words, if every parent has understanding and vision of the ones (that you had mentioned about) then we do not need such a place. But when that is not the case then these parents can help other kids and families by creating such a place and sharing their learning and understanding practically..

      Like

  5. robinb333 permalink
    September 19, 2011 00:05

    Hi Amit…I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article. It very much reminds me of the teachings of Jesus. Judge not, lest ye be judged. I agree with you, this modern way of thinking may not be whats best. It seems so many people are more concerned with acquiring money and material wealth that they tend to forget basic humanitarian needs. Thank you for sharing your post….Robin

    Like

    • September 19, 2011 11:27

      Robin, Its interesting and beautiful how the teachings (like the one you mentioned) of almost all prophets, seers had pointed towards the same thing, showed the same path.. I have experienced this with the Vedantic teachings, Buddhism, Taoism and lately with Zen..

      Like

  6. Adharshila permalink
    September 21, 2011 12:24

    We have also done similar exercises with adults. i thought about it yesterday and would not like to end the discussion by saying that the right answer is…

    we view the exercise as and exercise to understand what he thinks and why he thinks in that manner. it is not just what we tell him in school or not tell him. even after telling them the so called right answer or our way of thinking they may not change. what i am trying to say is that what they say could be due to their societal experience, of power relations that they have seen or experienced etc. same thing will come out in attitudes towards gender relations and other power relations viz. america and india or africa.

    i talked to our students about this too. what came out was that after poking them they realize that this attitude is contrary to their experience. they were not able to defend their stand logically but the image of richness, money, good, powerful etc associated with cities doesnt go. but it sets them thinking. so this has to be a continuous process with them. also we have to bring in power relations and other processes like social change movements, needed to change those relations. within those power relations, schools, education will always have a limited role.

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  7. November 9, 2011 12:07

    I’ve added on my website a link to this article of yours:
    http://www.jeevanshala.org/bicycles

    Like

  8. November 9, 2011 19:53

    Hi Vinish, nice to hear from you. I have heard a lot about you and your work and had planned to meet you sometime. It is my pleasure to see this piece on your website. I had made a few changes to the article but had not updated it here. Have done it now. Hope it is in better shape now.

    Like

  9. Sumit permalink
    November 21, 2011 12:49

    Hi Consti ! Awesome article, I always enjoy reading through your blog but forget the link all the time. Time to add it to my reader list:)

    Like

  10. bonnie permalink
    May 2, 2012 07:27

    I definitely just learned thing new from that little girl’s grandpa and I live in one of the US’s most predominately industrial cities ^_^

    Like

    • May 2, 2012 10:30

      I am glad you did.. I too stay(ed) in a growing Indian industrial city and through my travels have learnt a lot of things too..

      Like

  11. Shipra permalink
    July 17, 2013 11:27

    I am glad to get to your blog…through Vinish Gupta of Jeevan shala ….I just attended one of his mini workshops called karwan here in Secunderabad….he recharged our thinking cells…
    The story here is so inspiring and touching and brings out the message loud and clear…. I am sharing your blog with my son’s school too.
    Many parents have taken to home schooling for the simple reason …that you so beautifully describe.

    Your article leaves us thinking……

    Like

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