QUALITIES OF AN EDUCATED TEEN FOR THE 21ST CENTURY:
REFLECTIONS ON THE STUDY-PROCESS WITH TEACHERS
BY VIDHI JAIN
SHIKSHANTAR: THE PEOPLES' INSTITUTE FOR
RETHINKING EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT
OVERVIEW OF THE STUDY
“Teachers have crucial roles to play in preparing young people not only to face the future with confidence but to build it with purpose and responsibility.”
Delors Commission, 1996
Shikshantar Sansthan, in collaboration with Mr. Fred Mednick, conducted a study on "Qualities of Educated Teen for the 21st Century" with teachers and learning facilitators in Udaipur (Rajasthan) from April through August 1999. This study was inspired by a growing concern over the deteriorating moral and spiritual condition of the youth in the country/world, and their creative capacity and will to face the immense challenges of the 21st century. At the same time, the study was also concerned with the severe learning limitations of the present system/option of factory-schooling, particularly in relation to the larger struggles for survival and meaning in today's world — a world overwhelmed by increasing selfish consumerism, frustration, insensitivity, environmental degradation, and violence.
Shikshantar envisioned this study as an opportunity to facilitate reflective processes of challenging and rethinking education, and of creating new frameworks of societal learning which could provide youth with more meaningful opportunities for developing themselves and their communities. We were particularly interested in exploring how this study could initiate a generative dialogue among teachers/learning facilitators in which they could begin re-envisioning themselves as ‘transformative intellectuals’ in their schools, communities and homes. In India today, there are very few spaces for teachers from different institutions to come together, to reflect on/critique their work in relation to larger notions of ‘development’, ‘progress’ and ‘success’, and to engage in different forms of shared vision-building for creative new action. Though there are many teachers forums and unions, very few provide space for substantive thinking on issues and concerns outside of improving the status and working benefits of teachers. Most teachers lack the confidence and consciousness to think that they can be actively involved in transforming the current education system. They have been conditioned to wait for ideas, initiative, and a sense of purpose to be dropped on them from above. This survey sought to break some of this deep conditioning and to introduce a language/space for transformation by raising the following questions:
q How do teachers/learning facilitators define qualities and values of ‘educated teenagers’ and ‘good human beings’?
q What are teachers’ current perceptions of the images, roles and the needs of teenagers? What is their current relationship with teenagers and how would they like it to be?
q What are the teachers’ ideas about the 21st century and its challenges? What changes do they observe taking place around them?
q What are the teachers’ perception about the kind of education that they are currently giving in schools and the value/relevance of this education?
q How do teachers and educators see processes of learning and knowledge in the school/classroom in relation to learning and knowledge that exist in the larger community/world?
q How can teachers empower themselves act as agents of change and transformation? How do they see themselves, their roles, and responsibilities?
The study conducted in Udaipur was part of a larger global study, “World Wide Perspectives of an Educated Teen for the 21st Century”, initiated by Mr. Fred Mednick, who is currently director of Bush School in Seattle, Washington, USA. This study was carried out in several different countries, including Australia, Canada, Indonesia, Ethiopia, England, Japan, Korea, and India, as an integral part of Mednick’s doctoral dissertation.
Mednick developed the survey questions to facilitate critical thinking, self-introspection and dialogue amongst those teachers and learning facilitators currently working with teenagers in urban settings. [Please note the term 'teenagers' is not commonly used in the Indian context; we will be using the term 'youth' henceforth.] He sought to work with those teachers “who hold a deep connection to their culture and educational setting, along with a sense of the world beyond one’s immediate community.”
Through this study, Mednick was interested exploring: (1) what educators (individually and in conversation with their colleagues) believe are the qualities of an educated teen for the 21st century?; and, (2) what challenges do educators see before them and what are their visions about the shape of education to come?” Mednick believed that these questions are important for educators to discuss and elaborate because, “if educators around the globe agree on basic principles, perhaps we may imagine into being a newer and stronger form of education, informed by our local cultures. A study of this sort may also establish a means whereby educators internationally gain the financial and governmental support necessary to make such vital educational settings a reality.”
Mr. Mednick asked Shikshantar to carry this study out in Udaipur. We agreed to undertake the study with the idea of using it as a means of identifying committed and concerned teachers/learning facilitators in Udaipur who wished to act as catalysts for systemic level rethinking and transformation. We tried to envision this study as a form of ‘research for action’ since we very much wanted to avoid that its results be sentenced to gathering dust on somebody’s bookshelf. We hoped that the process of meaningful dialogue and reflection with the teachers would trigger meaningful action. In many senses, the process of the study was seen as more useful than the actual results.
Mednick sent us a set of questions in English and procedures for administering the survey in two rounds. We translated the survey from English to Hindi to make it more accessible to a larger group of teachers and learning facilitators. The questions for the first round of the survey were:
1. What do you think are the five qualities/traits/characteristics necessary for the youth to meet the challenges of the 21st century?
2. In what order (priority) would you place these five qualities/traits/characteristics of an educated youth for the 21st century?
3. What learning opportunities exist in the Indian society for youth to develop and realize these qualities/traits/characteristics?
4. What learning opportunities exist within the schools for youth to develop and realize these qualities/traits/characteristics?
5. What is your opinion of the first round of the questions?
The Round #1 Questionnaire was shared amongst a total of 25 educators from 5 different institutions. The institutions contacted were:
ü Devali Government Secondary School For Girls (government school)
ü The Study (private elite school)
ü Vidya Bhawan Basic School (semi-rural experimental school)
ü Vidya Bhawan Teacher’s Training College (teacher’s training college for secondary school teachers)
ü Lok Manya Tilak Teacher’s Training College (teacher’s training college for pre-primary and primary school teachers)
We also shared the survey with a few individual teachers working in different organizations and schools from other parts of the country who were visiting Shikshantar’s office. The teachers/learning facilitators had 5 days to fill out the first round of the survey after which they were invited to Shikshantar and for a reflection cum discussion.
We received 20 completed questionnaires. Though we did make personal contact with all of the institutions, we did not receive any response from 'The Study'. When the surveys were distributed to this institution, one representative said that they were not interested in participating, because they were making enough money from their current activities and did not see the value of the survey or of engaging in this type of learning interaction with people from other institutions. The rest of the institutions completed the survey as requested. The summary of the first round of the survey was shared with participants (see Annex 1). Mednick sent us the summaries of the international responses, which we also shared with the participants.
Shikshantar organized a discussion meeting in its office on April 30, 1999. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss in detail the findings of the first set of the survey and to understand what meaning and value the participants derived from it. Ten people, mainly from Vidya Bhawan Basic School and Lok Manya Tilak Teacher’s Training College, participated in it. Though seven teachers from the Devali Government School showed interest by filling out the survey, none of the teachers participated in the discussion. One reason that they gave for their absence was that they were tremendously overburdened by other tasks and procedures assigned to them by the government.
The meeting informally brought teachers and learning facilitators from different places together on a common platform to engage in deeper self-reflection and analysis on the present system of education and the future of the youth, making it a unique experience in Udaipur. Rarely do meetings for teachers that are organized by government bodies or NGOs give teachers the opportunities to discuss what they think on larger issues that concern society. Organizers typically are caught up in the time crunch of trying to meet ‘targets’, they are too busy trying to teach some specific skill or technique, or they do not believe that the teachers can think for themselves. In the discussion, participants also shared with each other how they felt about the survey and whether they found it useful to be discussing issues concerning youth and their education.
The Round #2 Questionnaire was distributed to the participants and they were given seven days to complete them. The questions for the second round of the survey were:
1. After having read the summary of the first round of the survey and also discussing it with colleagues, would you like to rethink your strategies of work to be able to develop the important qualities/traits/characteristics in the youth to be able to face the challenges of the 21st century?
2. Would you like to make any changes or modify the curricula you teach after having discussed and read the responses of you colleagues for the development of those qualities/traits/characteristics in the youth?
3. To be able to give the youth a meaningful set of educational experiences, would you like to highlight the 3 foremost steps or new directions you would like to take?
4. What kinds of stories or illustrations would you like to give your students to be able to stimulate them to become educated youth for the 21st century?
Shikshantar received twenty surveys in the second round. Due to the summer break, there was a two and a half-month gap between the first and the second rounds of discussion. The second meeting took place on August 19, 1999. Here too, a summary of the second round of the survey was shared with the participants prior to their attendance (see Annex 2). For this meeting, only four participants showed up, though many more had said that they would attend. The four participants were very motivated and they decided at the end of the meeting that the group should continue to meet.
SUMMARY OF THE FIRST AND THE SECOND ROUNDS OF THE SURVEY
“If we want to change what has come into form, we need to explore the self that has created what we see. All change - both individual and organizational - requires a change in the meaning that the system is enacting. It requires looking into the system’s identity, the self through which it perceives and creates.”
Margaret Wheatley, 1996
Overall, the participants found the questions and the whole process of reflection very appropriate and stimulating. They felt that such processes would be very useful in reshaping education for the future and in redefining how teachers see their roles.
Some of the qualities for the youth that nearly all the participants identified as important both in the survey and during the discussion were: discipline, self-confidence, creativity, patriotism, hard work, responsibility, respect for elders, open mindedness and environmentally friendly. A few teachers mentioned qualities such as: critically reflective, far sightedness, scientific temper, spiritually minded, competitive and democratic. In the discussion, some of the potential contradictions between these various responses e.g., ‘international brotherhood’ vs. ‘patriotism’ vs. ‘competition’, were raised. The group also discussed the meaning of concepts like ‘discipline’, and the differences between externally imposed and internally generated discipline. All of the teachers felt that the role of education was to focus on the holistic development of all individuals, though there was a strong tension with the more functional goals of employment and patriotism. It is not clear whether, when formulating their answers, the teachers seriously took into consideration the specific needs and challenges of the 21st century, as government reports, speeches and other propaganda since Independence have repeatedly preached most of the qualities highlighted by the teachers.
Virtually all of the teachers felt that the youth today did not have enough positive learning spaces or opportunities to develop the qualities that they identified. The teachers mentioned that until we provide healthy and enriching experiences to the youth, they will never be able to understand the significance of living in harmony and peace with the world around them, be it with humans or nature. According to the participants, the need of the day is to organize open discussions with the youngsters. They should have spaces to discuss how and what they feel about the world around them and how they want to develop themselves.
In the survey and during the discussions, feelings about the failure of the present system of education repeatedly emerged. As far as the development of qualities, traits, and values of good human beings was concerned, the schools had been totally ineffective. All of the teachers basically agreed that the role and larger understanding of education has been grossly misinterpreted and misunderstood in the schools. The qualities or values they had outlined within the survey were not even considered important in school education today because the agenda of schooling has been reduced to the business of memorizing disconnected information, distributing degrees/jobs and making money. Many of them indicated that they have fallen into this trap with their own children. While they knew that the system was wreaking havoc on the development of their children, none could give up the 'lottery ticket' — the elusive hope that their children would become the IAS officers, doctors, computer engineers, etc.
Both the survey and the discussion made it very clear that the teachers felt there were multiple barriers and obstacles outside the school that come in the way of development and realization of good values and qualities amongst the youth. These obstacles include: the media, growing consumerism, violence in society, break-down of the joint family structures, pressure from the parents, and westernization. Several of the teachers felt fairly satisfied with the job that they personally were doing and found it easy to blame these other forces. Others felt helpless and paralyzed by the changes taking place around them. The teachers all felt a great deal of work needs to be done with the parents and community, as the pressure for and burden of “academic achievement” stems from these groups. The teachers also felt that proper guidance by the parents and other family members was most important for the youth. Some participants suggested that teachers should organize parental education workshops.
In the discussions, one area of major concern was the lack of good role models for the youth. The participants all felt that this was an important area that teachers and parents should focus on, as present day role models, like film stars, models, sports players, etc., not only misguide the students but also push them towards violent and consumeristic directions. Virtually all the teachers felt that schools need to give the youth examples and stories of great people of the past so that they get inspired and move towards their directions. However, an interesting discussion that followed was whether the role models of yesteryear are suitable for the youth today, particularly whether the youth have any connection to these past leaders. The following quote about Mahatma Gandhi was shared with teachers to further problematize the discussion:
“To understand contemporary methods of marginalization, we cannot find a better case than that of Gandhi – whose myth of being much celebrated and revered hides the reality of being little read, little heard, martyred and misunderstood. . . Modern India elevates Gandhi to the stature of saint as well as Father of the Nation. Standing erect on this pedestal, he is exquisitely castrated: saintliness takes him out of the running in matters practical; while fatherhood – particularly the father who is aged and elderly – reduces him down to size, to one who is not sufficiently ‘fast’, ‘smart’, or ‘with-it’ to merit serious consideration in the context of modernization” (Prakash, 1998, p.116).
There is an urgent need to identify new and more local role models – coming from the community and from amongst the youth themselves. Parents and teachers must also begin envisioning themselves as positive role models and take appropriate action toward practicing what they preach. In the discussion, questions were raised not only about the ‘who’ of role models but also about the ‘how’ of teaching/talking about role models. Students in India today are given historical facts and trite anecdotes about the lives of important leaders to read. Very few are encouraged to read original writings of various leaders, nor are they encouraged to go out and research role models for themselves.
All the participants agreed that teachers must play a very big role in developing responsible and good citizens for the future, and they must start working on this now before it is too late. Though all of the teachers had previously acknowledged that learning is taking place outside of the school in many other spaces, it is interesting to note that they chose to limit themselves and their suggestions for change to the four walls of the classroom. The teachers felt that the only way they could change things within the system of schooling was by organizing meetings and workshops with larger groups of teachers as well as with senior officials and government authorities. During these meetings, they would hope to explore spaces/areas where flexibility and freedom to modify the rigid timetable and the overloaded curricula existed. They felt that this would help in the emancipation of the students from the tortuous saga of exams and rote learning and possibly open up some new opportunities and spaces for more meaningful learning. The teachers also stressed that there is an urgent need to discuss with the students, parents and their fellow teachers what they understand by education and what they want from schooling. They felt the following questions should be raised:
§ In our society, good students are currently evaluated by peers, parents, community and even teachers, only in terms of what marks on examinations or jobs/salaries they get. Should there be other indicators to evaluate ‘educated’ individuals or societies? If yes, what should they be and how can we actively integrate these into our day to day life, language, and assessment mechanisms in the education system?
§ It is not clear who is responsible for the upbringing of future generations. What processes are required to clarify roles and responsibilities between various caregivers? How must teachers and parents develop themselves as good role models for the youth? What kinds of responsibility should community, media, business, politicians, and other institutions take on?
§ There is a growing distance, mistrust and defensiveness between the teachers and the students, the parents and the children, and teachers and parents. What are the reasons for these breakdowns? What can we do to reduce these gaps and build healthier and more open relationships between teachers, parents and students?
§ It was agreed that spaces outside of the school were equally important in the development of teenagers. What should the teachers and educators be doing to nurture and legitimize other spaces, processes and actors of learning that exist outside the classroom? What should they do in challenging or mediating negative or anti-social spaces?
§ Today the teaching profession lacks a meaningful vision. The role of the teacher in the present system of factory-schooling was compared to being like a 'helpless and demotivated government professional'. Most teachers in the present system are busy in easy money making strategies such as private tuitions and coaching classes. What is the real meaning of being a ‘good teacher’? Why are most school teachers not motivated to become ‘real teachers’ striving for social improvement and transformation? What de-motivates those who are initially motivated? How can teachers re-empower themselves?
§ All the participants felt that processes of learning that are taking place in schools are very superficial and dehumanizing. The youth are confronted with enormous pressure and frustration which leads to emotional and behavioral problems, which in turn destroys their inner potential, hidden strengths and interests. What kinds of mechanisms do we need to nurture and to constructively channel their energies, spirit, interests, and creativity? What changes are needed in schools (and out of schools) to facilitate within teenagers the processes of lifelong self-learning and self-motivation?
WHAT WE LEARNED FROM THE PROCESS AND EMERGING FOLLOW-ON ACTIVITIES
“The system has tended to be uniform and rigid and allows little initiative, freedom, creativity, or experimentation within its boundaries. It is difficult to make this monster move. There is no force within it that can change it radically. . . With every year that passes, the monster becomes larger, more entrenched and more difficult to be moved or changed.”
J.P. Naik, 1975
Though the survey from Fred Mednick has been concluded, there seems to be a very strong felt need at both the individual and institutional levels to take this study to a deeper and wider level of reflection and action. One important way we can hope to generate some meaningful changes in this system of education is by getting many more people involved in these forms of critical self-reflection, which can help each one of us to re-situate our present roles and responsibilities in the light of the future. As it came out of the various discussions, the system does have some spaces within it that can be mobilized and used more creatively. At the same time, strong efforts will have to be made to subvert, uproot and dismantle the ‘monster’ in order to create more spaces.
Through the survey-process, it became very clear that the inherent feelings of helplessness and de-motivation that overwhelms most teachers and parents need to be reversed. More concrete efforts of empowering them as agents of change, both within the current education system and outside it in other learning spaces, must be undertaken. Part of the problem is a lack of communication and connection between different learning facilitators as each one is busy blaming or accusing the other for the present crisis. More disturbingly, there is a crisis of vision -- about education, about society, about youth and about the role of the teacher. In this context, it is worth reflecting more deeply on the notion of the teacher as a transformative intellectual posited by Henry Giroux. He challenges “the dominant view of teachers as technicians or public servants, whose role is primarily to implement rather than conceptualize pedagogical practice.” He seeks to redefine the work and authority of the teacher:
“as a form of intellectual labor that interrelates conception and practice, thinking and doing, and producing and implementing as integrated activities that give teaching its dialectical meaning. The concept of teacher as intellectual carries with it the imperative to judge, critique, and reject those approaches of authority that reinforce a technical and social division of labor that silences and disempowers both teachers and students.”
In modern India, such kinds of dialectic ‘intellectual’ roles have been denied to teachers and have been mystified in the form of experts from NCERT, international agencies, elite universities, and other such organizations. Furthermore, these experts have little faith in the capacity of teachers to engage in these kind of intellectual roles. Teachers, in turn, tend to reproduce this hierarchy when it comes to their students and to parents and others in the community.
Giroux goes on to clarify that the notion of ‘transformative’ implies:
“that educators are not merely concerned with forms of empowerment that promote individual achievement and traditional forms of academic success. Instead, they are also concerned in their teaching with linking empowerment — the ability to think and act critically — to the concept of social transformation. That is, teaching for social transformation means educating students to take risks and to struggle within ongoing relations of power in order to be able to alter the ground in which life is lived. Acting as 'transformative intellectuals' means helping the students to acquire critical knowledge about the societal structures, such as economy, the state, the work place, the mass culture, so that such institutions can be open to potential transformation.”
This implies that the teachers themselves must have a critical knowledge about societal structures and the changes taking place locally and globally now as well as those expected to occur in the future. Those that do have some critical knowledge must work hard to keep this fresh, optimistic and up-to-date in this rapidly changing and increasingly complex world.
Teachers who want to function as transformative intellectuals, however, will have to do more than simply teach critical pedagogy. On one level, they need to recognize the agency of the youth as well as their heterogeneity as a group. It is interesting to note that nowhere in the survey process did the teachers acknowledge the diversity of youth in terms of gender, class, caste, region, ethnicity, learning styles, interests, experiences, knowledge systems, etc. Rather, youth were discussed throughout as a homogenous group. On another level, they must begin to understand complex processes of learning and meaning-making beyond notions of teaching/training/ transmission/knowledge acquisition. Though many teachers were aware on some level of the critique of the banking model of education, they continue to practice it. Teachers will also have to recognize the important role that others (even so-called illiterates) in society play in facilitating learning processes. Lastly, they must begin to see themselves as lifelong learners. For these things to happen, they will have to take the difficult first step of demystifying themselves as 'teachers-experts' and be willing to rethink dominant notions of power with others. As Giroux describes:
“they will have to open every aspect of formal education to active, popular contestation and to other front line groups and constituencies. This includes community members, parents, support staff, youth advocacy groups, and others with vital interest in the schools. . . Radical educators need to make alliances with other progressive social movements. . .”
The bottom line is that the monster can only be moved if the teachers are willing to change themselves. Current teacher training efforts in India do not create a space for processes of critical analysis, meaningful vision-building and personal transformation.
In conclusion, this survey and related discussions have helped us to clarify and better understand what goes on in the minds of some people involved with education in Udaipur. To some extent, it has been able to involve individuals in processes of reflecting and sharing on larger issues of rethinking education, without getting too defensive or threatened, and at the same time, without reducing them to simply passive listeners. We feel that their involvement has been honest and sincere. The survey has opened up new confidence among the teachers for thinking afresh about the system and their own roles as purposeful change agents. We will continue working with the initial group of teachers to further explore the following questions:
¨ How do teachers in Udaipur envision themselves as 'transformative intellectuals'?
¨ What kinds of support structures and opportunities do they require to develop themselves in this direction? What kinds of spaces and resources currently exist for doing this? How can they liberate themselves from some of the pressure of surface learning and academic performance in order to create more time for developing in this direction?
We also see this survey-dialogue with learning facilitators as an integral tool in the Udaipur as a Learning City process-project. It can help us build a critical mass network of change agents in the city. Together, with the teachers, we have identified the following next steps:
F Expand the scope of this study to identify and involve more teachers from different backgrounds and institutions. Prepare separate surveys for also involving parents and youth. Organize a meeting for all three interest groups together (parents, youth and teachers) to discuss roles, expectations, visions, concerns, etc. and to strengthen communication channels.
F Create mechanisms for identifying local resource people for schools and also local role models for youth.
F Develop an intergenerational workshop for parents and youth.
Today, there are very few spaces in Udaipur/Rajasthan/India for teachers and parents to come together, to reflect on what is happening around them and in other parts of the world, to create their own visions/meanings of their roles in education and society, and to act to influence systemic and individual change. Youth also have very few opportunities for exploring who they are, what is happening around them, and who they would like to become. We must work to support the generation of such contextualized spaces and opportunities if we are to positively transform education and development for the 21st century.
Delors, J. et al. 1996. Learning the Treasure Within. Report to UNESCO of the International Commission on Education for the 21st Century. Paris: UNESCO.
Giroux, H. 1997. Pedagogy and the Politics of Hope. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Prakash, M. and G. Esteva. 1998. Escaping Education: Living as Learning Within Grassroots Cultures. New York: Peter Lang Publishers.
Wheatley, M. and M. Kellner-Rogers. 1996. A Simpler Way. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.