Elevate education to a ‘general interest’ topic

Thank you for reaching out. But I am afraid the book of education will not appeal to the general interest audience. I was forced to reflect on the actual import of the message when it was sometimes asked by the editor to assign book reviews. I realized that schools and education were not considered “common interest” material, a label that easily stuck to the books of history and fashion and food and economics and sports. To me, these conversations revealed the general idea that schools are out of society and separate.

For a long time, we have seen schools as cocoon in the mechanical education system, which aims to produce literates, statistics and employees. Achieving basic literacy and numeracy is undoubtedly an important and controversial goal. We should strive to provide this to every child. But should the building of such personal academic potential be the sole goal of education?

The macro problems affecting our nation and the world for it are not caused by lack of technical expertise or scientific knowledge. Instead, they arise from an inability to work together as individuals and institutions with different worldviews, a general tendency to accumulate power and authority to advance one’s ambitions, and an atmosphere of division, disagreement and concentration.

Can we have a fair, equitable and humane society if schools are not interested in these things? How do children learn to live and work together despite these differences? How can we encourage children to think independently and to listen and learn from one another? How can they be thought of as interconnected beyond the rigors of religion, language and socio-economic class? Isn’t the school a better place to catalyze some of these conversations and engage the children deeply with them?

Schools and society inform and shape each other in equal measure. “What kind of schools do we want for our children?” How do we respond? “What kind of society will we be tomorrow?” The answer to that question will surely be decided. Therefore, there is an urgent need for pedagogy and learning situations in our schools to learn about oneself, learn to work together, learn from the environment (as opposed to “about”), nurture sensitivity and talk about fear. School tours, art, sports, community work, forum-theater, student assemblies, parent-teacher meetings and exams, can all be reshaped to allow children and their parents to explore these topics.

For example, the simple, continuous practice of playing games for many years in school in the form of mixed age, mixed gender, and mixed ability enables children to gain valuable insights about patience, mutual respect and openness to working with people of different abilities. And doing this can spread the unwanted attention paid to the scoreline in most physical games.

We are taking concrete steps to improve education socially in our country. But if we stop looking at schools and education as an “established and specialized” thing, and as a matter that only teachers, administrators and policymakers should care about, this work can be infinitely more fruitful.

Instead, it requires time to raise education to the point of “common interest”, open it up to more non-political public discourse, and make it accountable for the goals of action than just literacy and statistics. If we can handle this, we can sow the seeds for the society we want.

Ashwin Prabhu, Teacher and Author, Classroom with a View – Krishnamurti School Comments

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