How to write about education has always seemed to me a greater problem than what to write. I have been convinced ever since I started writing that the real challenge is to make the reader more demanding. Generalized writing about education inevitably takes the form of demagogic criticism. It is marked by supreme withdrawal from responsibility-to explain why a problem might persist-and freedom from the awareness of being an accomplice. That kind of writing always ends by providing great solution too, for who doesn’t have solutions to offer for India’s educational problems?
Unless one gets into the daily details of education, there is hardly any point adding to the vast ocean of writing already available, especially in the form of reports. By details I mean what goes on inside education-inside the school gates and behind classroom doors, inside offices where decisions are taken or avoided, in training colleges, inside the covers of textbooks, and inside the vast, clandestine apparatus of the public examination system. It is this inner world of education that has always interested me, and I have been intrigued by its absence in much of Indian writing on education. There are exceptions, of course, especially now when a growing number of young scholars have started assiduously peeping into what Michael Apple correctly called the ‘black box’, alluding to the everyday disaster that institutionalized education symptomizes in many parts of the world.
The selection of shorter essays this book offers is not intended for an exclusively academic audience. These pieces represent my desire to address the general reader who worries about education and wants to understand why it is in such poor health. From the point of view of this reader, it is truly puzzling remain so stuck and moribund. The puzzle can be solved if we agree to distinguish between education as a concept and education as a system. When we engage with the concept or idea of education, we feel emotionally aroused, for education does evoke the prospect of a better, improved life in the future. Philosophers such as the Buddha and Plato have offered to humanity a vision of how, or what kind of, education can build and sustain a good society. Writing on the idea of education in this vein adds precious little to the already existing literature unless we spare some thought for education in the other sense, namely, its system. Our present system of education has evolved since the middle of the nineteenth century. To think about the system is deceptively easy, for it is all around us and looks so obviously poor and unreformed to most of us. Its state of health hits us especially at the time our children are seeking admission to a nursery or college, or are about to face an examination. To analyse these chores in a precise manner, and at the same time stay in touch with the first meaning of education, that is its idea, is what I find challenging whenever I sit down to write.
Any attempt to meet this challenge makes one instantly aware that children’s daily educational experience is not entirely the school’s or the teacher’s doing. There is a world
I have traced some facets of this story in my study of colonialist and nationalist ideas in politics of Education in Colonial India, surrounding the school that enters it in ways not all of which are subtle, yet it is easy to ignore them when we focus attention on how schools are running or how teachers are doing the job assigned to them. The world I am referring to constitutes powerful agencies which relentlessly shape the child’s mind and behaviour. These agencies are so diverse and omnipresent that we can hardly enumerate them all. Where would you start and how would you distinguish? Television, for example, is an obvious choice among the agencies which exercise a great amount of influence on our children, but we can hardly separate television as medium from what it shows, whether it is a scene from the parliament, a battleground in some remote country, or the advertisement of a new product. All such material, as well as the manner in which it is presented, shapes our children’s perceptions and state of mind. Television edits reality, in highly problematic ways, but the character of the reality itself cannot be denied. Childhood is a stage of life when receptivity is strong and awareness is weak. The little child ends up engaging with everything, real or virtual, without distinction. It is customary and correct to call childhood a formative period of life, but this label seldom reminds us that the effort schools and teachers consciously make to educate children is intersected every evening by all that happens in the wider world and gets represented through the medium of television. Canadian economist-philosopher, Harold Innis, saw the technology of communication used in any period of human history as a primary force, shaping economic and cultural choices and the social order itself. The pervasive influence of communication technologies on how we think about learning and education has not been fully recognized. Some people occasionally worry about television and the Internet these days, but most of the time we bow to the inevitability of technological progress, and many of us begin to appreciate its utility for children and their education. Turning to a different facet of the surrounding the school, the role that orally transmitted memory plays in shaping children’s perceptions of the past and the future is ignored when people judge the impact of education. The point is that people judge the world in radically divergent ways with the help of their own imagination, and institutionalized education does not always manage to make them aware of their constructions.
The shorter writings collected hare have been chosen randomly to encapsulate my professional concerns about education. In our society, education is not regarded as a serious profession. Teaching, which comprises the heart of education, has a poor status, especially if you teach children as opposed to youth. The poverty of our system of education has everything to do with the powerful value system which motivates both society and state to deny professional status to the teacher of young children. The fact that more women are now opting for school teaching compounds the problem. Women suffer from a major cultural bias to begin with, and the job of a nursery or school teacher does precious little to counter that bias. But it not just the teacher of young children who has low professional status; those who train teachers fare no better. Indeed, teacher training can be quite accurately described as the centre of India’s educational depression. In an ethos which gives increasingly greater priority to material status and power, how teaching can gain at least some of the value it deserves, is a big question. The larger questions of finding adequate funds for education and investing energy and money in reforms are equally important.
Colours and Shades
A Pedagogue’s Romance
A Child’s Swaraj
Let Us All Blame the Teacher
Two Memoirs of Sporting Event
The World Around
Democracy Without Democrats?
A Memory of Coming to Life
The New Politics of Education
Computers and Children
Colour of a Girls’s Skin
Reading is Basic to Democracy
A Matter of Details
Crafts at School
The Woman with a Broom
Watching as Work
Metaphors of Innovation
Learning from Iqbal
Green Schools in a Greying World
Cultural Context of Girls’ Education
Their Universities, Our Universities
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