By Roli S
‘Education is freedom’. Yes, this quote I have read many times while walking through the corridors of various schools. I know that every child must be encouraged to get as much education as he/she has the ability to obtain. We want this not only for his/her sake – but for the future of our nation. Nothing matters more to the future of a country than an educated populace. What use is military preparedness if as a nation we lack brain power and intellectual capacity to build world peace? What use is it to have a productive economy if we cannot sustain growth due to the lack of trained and skilled human resources? Our democratic system of government is also of no use because freedom is doddering and fragile if the citizens of a nation are ignorant. Therefore, the point is proven that education is a human right and the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.
While India celebrated its seventy-five years of freedom, I ask myself this question – how free is formal education in India? Here I am not discussing the control of the state on education, I am discussing the methodology of teaching and assessment in our schools and the experiences that are provided to a child in the school, because when you take the free will out of education, then it turns into schooling where education functions as an instrument used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity.
How many schools provide the practice of freedom, the means by which boys and girls deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world? In that regard, I think that schools have not necessarily much to do with education…they are mainly institutions of control where certain basic concepts must be taught, and basic habits must be inculcated in the young. Education that comes with limitations is quite different and has little or no place in school. Knowledge, which is acquired under compulsion and force, obtains no hold on the mind. So, a general state education curriculum is a mere contrivance for molding people to be exactly like one another; to produce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed a standard citizenry. This need is understandable and unavoidable.
I think that the most necessary quality for any person to have is imagination. It makes people able to put themselves in other people’s places. It makes them kind and sympathetic and understanding. It ought to be cultivated in children. Performing one’s duty and following the rules is the one quality that is most encouraged in schools. Children ought to do everything out of love, not fear. Instead of teaching students to memorise the answers to predetermined questions, we must inspire them to come up with their own questions.
Simply being top of the class does not necessarily guarantee that students will top in life. Life requires much more than your ability to understand a concept, memorise it and reproduce it in an exam. Intelligence and excellence in life go beyond your ability to provide cut-and-paste answers. We are faced with the paradoxical fact that education has become one of the chief obstacles to intelligence and freedom of thought.
All experience shows that persons must be given a certain freedom to stumble in action as well as to err in knowledge so long as they do not get from within themselves the freedom from wrong movement and error; otherwise, one cannot grow. But this should not lead one to believe that I advocate a freedom in school that allows the children to indulge indiscriminately their desires and caprices. The freedom that should be available to the child in the school is the freedom to establish the conditions of personal progress, where the child is able to understand his or her true potential by reaching out to his/her own inner strengths.
Is such freedom available in our schools to our children? Is it even possible to give such a freedom in regular state schools? Or, the most important question is whether it is even necessary to have such freedom in the basic education system?
Albert Einstein once said, “Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.” When I was a child, I always thought education is all about studying and achieving good grades but later when I stepped out in the world and started to learn things myself and pursued a career in education, this notion started to fade away. I then got my head around the concept and told myself that education is beyond being literate, it is way above just studying, it is much more than just understanding the meaning of photosynthesis and atmospheric pressure. That is when I realised that the same thought might exist in many of the students sitting in my classrooms.
Since then, I have made it a point to explore various possibilities that can make education more self-determining, uncontrolled, and out of love for learning. More free. Whether I will ever be able to find that breath of free and fresh air that I am looking for in the education models of our country is a thing to wait and watch.
(Roli S is an Educator, Teacher Trainer, Author and School Reviewer based in Thane)