Education and Society - Dr. Harish Chaudhry
The development of a people, society or a nation is closely linked to her educational attainments - a doctrine that no one would debate, however, what is a matter of debate is the concept of development. To the proponents of capitalism, it is perhaps best surrogated by material and energy consumption. To the socialists, equality is paramount and to the communist, it is the just distribution of wealth. Clearly, no socio-political philosophy is perfect and each form of governance has it’s pros and cons.
To me, development is synonymous with happiness. Happiness of a people is incumbent on material affluence, freedom, security and safety, governance, social institutions and mobility and opportunities and a plethora of other factors. Clearly, economic development may be a desirable condition, if not a necessary one, it is not a sufficient condition for happiness. Bhutan computes a happiness index and is oft rated as the happiest country in the world. That formal education is a driver of economic growth is obvious, the efficacy of formal education as a driver of social harmony is not. Hector Garcia, in the path breaking research presented in the book “Ikigai” suggests that social harmony is the most significant driver of a long and happy life. Steve Levitt corroborates the same in his famous book, “Freakonomics”.
Dr S Radhakrishnan suggests that there are two kinds of education - one that teaches you how to earn a living and the other that teaches you how to live. The first kind can also be segregated in two parts, one that gives you a degree or a certificate that legally allows you to become eligible for applying for a job and the other that imparts skills for you to become employable or become an entrepreneur or self-employed. Much can be said about the effect of the British rule in India, however, one thing is clear and that is, that the Indian education system was uprooted and an attempt was made to transplant a foreign and alien education system in an unprepared ground. They uprooted the beautiful tree to see it’s roots and never put it back again. Whether the advent of English education was a boon or a bane is another debate, but it unequivocally increased the divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’.
Technology is a two way sword. It can be used to enhance the quality of life or to harm others. Whereas the benefits are questionable, ignoring the same makes a society vulnerable. History tells us that a materially and spiritually rich country that India was, fell prey to invaders and foreign rulers because she did not keep pace with technology. It is a shame, but a global truth that conflicts and wars have been and are a reality that cannot be ignored. The conflicts around the world only seem to have increased over the centuries. Clearly then, we have to keep pace with technology, preferably be at the forefront of it. Material wealth contributes to happiness of people. However, to be poor is not a crime, but a vulgar exhibition of riches acquired by short-cuts is.
Sustainable development then involves technological, spiritual, social and moral development. Education then has to impart knowledge and skills to individuals that enable them to earn a living and contribute to the material development of the society as well as make them good and responsible citizens. Excellent education without ‘values’ will result in the making of world class criminals. Education as a learning experience is the sum total of what the child is born with and what she learns from parents, media and the environment. The relative contribution of nature and nurture is not well understood. There are theorists who believe that it is the DNA that determines a child’s learning aptitude as well the attitudes and values. Some others believe that it is the socialization of the child that determines it. (Watson had claimed that if he would be given 12 new born babies, he would make them the best lawyers, doctors.. or whatever was demanded. Needless to add, he could not carry out his experiments as no-one gave him their new born babies). The truth probably lies somewhere in between. However, it is perhaps the school that has the most profound impact on the learning of the child.
Schools are a microcosm of the society and often a reflection of it. It is difficult, if not outright impossible to be insulated from the social reality of the school’s environment. The residential schools may have a little more control on their environment vis-a-vis the day schools. The home environment still has a significant impact on the attitude formation of the child. At the same time, schools can also impact the society and be the catalysts of change. If they do not do so and accept the state socio-political thesis without questioning or challenging the same, they would only contribute to the degeneration of the society.
All progress in science is based on disagreements-some original genius challenging the existing law. Karl Popper suggests that a law in science is a law till it has not been proven wrong. At a point of time, the Earth was flat till it was challenged. At a point of time, the sun went around the Earth, till it was proven wrong. Good education then is not conformity to the prevailing world view or submission to the state doctrine, good education is the ability to question, challenge, disagree and walk the path less trodden. This requires the strength of conviction and character and a social willingness of respecting disagreements. It is this quality of education that can catalyze social change.
Whereas technological development is an integral part of research based education, it’s perils are many. Technology is a double edged sword. It can be used for peace or war. Education must ensure that technology is used for human progress and not as a means of suppression by those who own it. Inequality is a bigger crime than poverty. Freedom is another pillar of an evolved and happy society. Education must instill in children the spirit of freedom. As Immanuel Kant defined it - freedom to the extent that it does not impinge on the freedom of others. Children must understand and appreciate that the Mother Earth is for all to enjoy and that we must contribute to making it a happier place for all. To be able to support the idea of freedom for all, we must educate our children to be patient and tolerant and respect the freedom of all. An educated society must ensure freedom of thought, speech and lifestyle including religion and it’s rituals and manifestations. Religion is the biggest source of peace, it has been the biggest source of war. Religion is the greatest unifier; it is also the greatest divider. To be able to practice what one believes to be correct and be equally tolerant of the practices of others is the hallmark of a sane society. Religious harmony is central to a developed society.
Above all, good education must instill ‘values’ in children. At the very core of an educated society is the value system of her people. Over the years, in the race of achievement at an individual as well as the institutional level, this crucial aspect of education seems to have taken a back seat. Our children seem to be on the achievement express and blinded by the desire to win, often at the cost of others. Schools, pushed by parents fuel this fire by labeling children and rewarding it by prizes, medals and trophies. Education then is confused with certification and prizes. Marks, grades and an obsession with winning is detrimental to the mental health of an individual as well as harmful to social stability. We need to orient our children towards excellence and not winning. That all can be winners and that collectively we can achieve more than individually, needs to be understood, practiced and instilled in the minds of children. The shift from competition to collaboration is difficult and that is what the schools must strive to do.
Schools then have to look beyond academics. That they exist to transact the curriculum is obvious, they have to significantly contribute to the making of good human beings. With knowledge and skills to propel technology and reap it’s benefits and a grounding in values to use it positively, the children of today shall be the corporate, social, political and spiritual leaders of tomorrow. They would then collectively and collaboratively contribute to the making of a prosperous, equitable and happy society. It is this endeavor, and this alone that has to be the purpose of a school. While good education can transform the society, poor education would lead to it’s downfall. School leaders have a great responsibility on their shoulders and they have to discharge their duty with utmost caution. Clearly, the future of a society, nation or people shall be determined by the quality of her schools and the quality of education they impart.