A short essay on education

The Book Is Not Enough

“Never let school interfere with your education”, quoted Mark Twain once. His words ring true even today, even perhaps more so now than then. There is no doubting the fact that the quality of education being dished out in today’s schools, even colleges and professional courses, leaves much to be desired. For far too long now, we have focussed on the theoretical aspect of education, ignoring its practical face.

Education is meant to prepare a child to live in the world around him. How much of theory can help him to do that? Sadly, very little. We all must work towards reviving that forgotten art of practical training. Rather than trying to drill textbook content into a student, let us expose him to the world around, so that he himself seeks textbooks in order to glean more knowledge about what he’s just seen.

This shift in teaching philosophy is especially crucial among the younger students. For Science, do away with classroom teaching altogether. More can be learnt about the atmosphere, and air and wind (things that we were taught in the 1st and 2nd standards), by spending a day on the field, than a week indoors. For Mathematics, forget the practice of ‘formulae’ and ‘rules’ and move to examples from daily life. A book from the Childcraft series contains this stunningly insightful example to demonstrate the concept to Units, Tens, Hundreds…

“Once upon a time, before man knew of numbers, a shepherd used to take his large herd out to graze everyday, and return at sunset. To make sure none of them went missing in the meadow, he let them in through a gate that allowed only one sheep to pass at a time. Every time a sheep passed, he would lay a pebble on the ground, in a line. Whenever there were ten pebbles in the line, he would lay one pebble in another line, and start the first line once again. The shepherd knew that he had enough sheep to fill three pebbles in the first line, and two in the second.” (Meaning that he had twenty-three sheep). Wasn’t this an ingenious idea, and what better way to explain to a child this concept?

As a child moves into higher standards, his subjects change, but the modus operandi of teaching remains the same. He learns about the solar system. Does he look at the diagrams in his textbook? No. His class is taken to a planetarium where he looks at 3-dimensional, moving model, and grasps the concept. For learning about the earth, they are taken on field trips.

Robert Kiyosaki, business owner and teacher, lamented the fact that “… we do not learn from history. We only memorise historical dates and names, but not the lessons.” We need to rectify that immediately. Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders. If indeed they do not learn from history, it will be a tragedy.

Along with this practical shift, we have to prune useless theory too. In the tenth standard, we had to memorise most of India’s railway network, along with every single place in this vast country where mica, bauxite, copper, and a few minerals I haven’t heard of since, were mined. We forgot all of that right the day after the exam. What the purpose was of teaching us all that, is still a mystery to me.

Hope springs eternal, though. The world acknowledges that India has some of the world’s finest teachers. There is no doubt that, sooner or later, the next generation will be learning by experiencing the world, not by reading about it. Clearly, the book is not enough!