Schooling the Thought Process!


Vineeta Sood


The purpose of education has to be to prepare the individual at three levels: one is to be in touch with oneself, so that one is aware of ones strengths and weaknesses and is able to create ones own path. The second is to develop sensitivity towards ones family and community in the form of extended family and consider their needs to work towards solving the social problems keeping in view the strengths and weaknesses of the community. The third is to be in harmony with nature and our environment so that whatever steps are taken to meet the needs of the individual and society, the nature is always the topmost consideration. It is of utmost importance to create a balance between the individual, social needs and the nature. And this forms the basic premise for whatever information is to be collected or used.


Earlier on, when there were no schools, children of the community used to learn in apprenticeship with the adults involved in the field of their interest. Trades and skills were passed on from one generation to another along with the sanity and sensitivity of ages. There were organized sectors even at that time that very carefully took care of the education of the young ones, though they might not have used these terms. It was with the advent of industrial age that this kind of wisdom and skills couldn’t find their due place in the face of vested interests of a few who’s decisions mattered. At that time, they needed individuals who could follow the instructions without applying their mind and could do monotonous jobs. At present, the status of our education system is such that the individual is lost in the middle of all the information one is ‘expected’ to know and so are the individual needs. When an individual is not aware of ones own needs, there is no question of being aware of the needs of the others and the environment becomes a very distant thing to relate to. This very clearly shows in the way we are generally concerned for others, work culture in our country and the way our environment is being depleted.


I have been concerned about the mess our education system is in, ever since I was a student, and wanted to do something about this. At that point of time, I could very clearly see that essentially, this system is geared towards creating individuals to fit into various job profiles. When we look at the outcome of the system, very few children are so called ‘success’, that also in terms of how well they fit into the traditional systems of control created by our society and the rest are rejected enmasse. Many children go through the entire process of collecting certificates and at the end of the road, they discover there are no takers in the job market. Many individuals find themselves in the job that is not of their interest and still many more find themselves in a job that is not suitable to their qualifications which means they needn’t have invested so much money, time and energy to acquire the degree for the kind of work they are involved in. Those who get the job, discover that the certificate and seventeen years of their life have been instrumental in getting the job, this being basic requirement, but haven’t equipped them with any skills for the purpose. So they have to learn afresh on the job. Of course learning is a life long process but, learning situations that are created in the present system of education, have no relevance in real life. Besides washing away all their dreams and expectations, this leads to a lot of frustration and dissatisfaction and has a direct impact on the self-esteem and confidence of the individuals.


As I progressed in my life, I began to see much serious problems with our education system. I realized, the process one goes through to acquire this education renders one unfit for any kind of creative and original work. Education and manual work seems to be at loggerheads with each other. Our education system mainly prepares individuals for white-collared jobs and thoroughly trains them to tow the line and be a part of the existing system without questioning and challenging anything that is going on. A very little percentage of people who think differently and dare to take a stand are so ‘in spite’ of the system and not ‘because’ of it. If we trace it back to the beginning of formal education, the babies who should be busy exploring themselves and their surroundings, discovering their strengths and their relationship with the animate and inanimate world around, babies who are just beginning to realize the wonders of speech and experimenting with words are put behind the desks to learn alphabet, couple of rhymes, stories and numerals and made to behave as per the convenience of the adults around, be it a parent or a teacher and are cut off from real life experiences and warmth of relationships. This results in a lot of unrest and aggression among children. As time passes, the child is expected to have acquired certain amount of information. Every thing, right from the intent, content and extent of the information to the timing and the form is decided by the others, better known as experts and transferred to the children by the teachers, to be reproduced in the examination. The outcome of this process passes a verdict on the capabilities of the child. The total emphasis is on the content & memory and not on the development of the skills and the kind of experiences one can provide to them. Any kind of art form, be it craft, music, working with clay and other things are again ‘taught’ in a very structured way. Self-exploration and self-expression are not at all on the agenda and if that happens, that is incidental. The measure of the creativity is also prepared by a committee of experts. This goes on with the children from the age of three to seventeen and above, depending upon how many certificates are required to enter the work one intends to do. And after having acquired the certificate, the fate is as stated above.


Besides, our education system works on false promises followed by the principle of elimination and fear psychosis. Those who can’t cope with the absurdities of the system are labeled as ‘incapable ones and dropouts’ that form a major chunk of youth population. However, they are dropouts not because they are incapable; they are so because this is the system’s requirement. The system works on promoting just ten percent of the participants at the cost of the rest ninety percent. That means this rest was bound to fail even before they joined the system. On top of that, there is such a stigma attached to this word ‘dropouts’, they are considered to be failures in life and no body provides them with the opportunities in any field of work. If they don’t have a piece of paper where others have judged them, they are worthless even if they are skilled better than any body else. They have to live as lesser human beings unless they prove themselves otherwise and to do so, they have to create their own avenues. And if you, as a student, are smart enough to see through the problems of the system and refuse to be an unquestioning part of it, you are a problem maker, a rebel and a dropout and your chances to live a respectable life in the eyes of the system are further diminished. This causes further inhibitions in the process of learning and dissuades people from taking initiatives. But no body ever makes an attempt to find out what is going on in the minds of these youngsters. Why such a vast majority can’t cope and why a few have started to refuse to cope with the system?


Recently I had a chance to be a part of a conference on ‘Celebrating Walkouts’ where I got an opportunity to interact with the youngsters who have dared to question the existing system and are working hard towards digging their own nitch in the journey of life. Some of them decided to quit because they couldn’t cope and some had no intentions to cope. I heard an equivocal voice expressing that they didn’t find any relevance in whatever was being taught. They couldn’t find any flexibility in ‘the schedule’ prepared by others, to the dot, in terms of timing and content; to go deeper into areas of their own interest in this examination oriented system. Those who had developed an inclination towards a particular field be it academic or artistic, couldn’t find any space to pursue it. They have taken a step to say goodbye to the system and proceed confidently on their own. There were still others, who were fed up with the system and have left it partially. They are grappling with lots of questions and uncertainties like: is it their fault if they couldn’t cope up with the system? How will they find livelihood without a certificate? If not school/college, then what? There seem to be no alternatives whatsoever if they have to earn a decent livelihood, at least that is what has been instilled into them. And there is a large majority of student population that was not represented here; that is totally disillusioned with the existing system but doesn’t even know that it is their right to question something that disturbs them.


There was still another group that comprised of ‘walkouts’ not from school or college, but from other systems of control in the society. People in this group have undergone the whole process of collecting certificates and degrees to realize in the end that if they have to do what they think is right, they can’t do it by staying within the system, be it the private sector or government sector. They have realized the problems of the system at the level of working but were not allowed to question it, after having spent better part of their life preparing to be in a position they are in. They have to silently fit into the existing system and help it move with all the absurdities it possesses. If they dare to question, they are misfit, so they must either follow at the cost of their integrity or quit. And this group has to undergo a lot of unlearning whether it decides to stay within the system (unlearning of integrity and honesty), or walkout of the system and carve its own path (unlearning the mentality that has become a part of their being as they are a product of the system and imbibed various values on the way). There are a lucky few who are able to create a balance between the needs of the job and their inner voice, but I am not sure to what extent. There are countless for whom confining without questioning is the way of life.


This conference was an attempt to create a platform for those who are lucky enough to recognize the unrest within themselves and are ready to create their own path. I could see an urge to workout the ways in which one could facilitate the functioning and learning of the  ‘walkouts’, a term very carefully used by the organizers of the conference. But the issues mentioned earlier are just the tip of the iceberg, the obvious manifestations of a much serious and deep-rooted problem. The real challenge is not these surface level problems created by our education system but the very ‘schooling’ of our mentality, our thought processes, our actions and our expectations. It prepares individuals who can follow a path but are not ready to question it or create their own path.


During the conference, there were some exercises organized for sense training. My first reaction was: we all have these five senses and we always use them, what is the need for such an exercise? Anyway, I decided to be a part of the process and discovered for myself that how numb my senses have become because I have always got a packaged program to sense my surroundings and hardly tried to experience it with my own techniques and vision. When the facilitator asked me to sit near a stream of water flowing down the hill, close my eyes and try to feel the flow through my senses other than sight, my first urge was to ask him, what am I supposed to look for? However I could fight that urge and willfully sat down to experience whatever would come my way. As I closed my eyes and began to feel the sound of the water flowing by, I was gripped by another worry, am I doing it right? Is this what is expected of me?  Then I felt anxious about if what I am doing is in line with what others are doing? Having fought with these initial impediments, I began to concentrate on feeling the surroundings. Then I discovered I had varied spans of attention to my immediate surroundings, my inner thought process and feelings and the distractions around me in various forms. Yet there had been other occasions when I had been so totally engrossed in certain things that I had no idea of what had been going on around me. That sent me thinking, how unfair it is on our part to expect undivided attention by a child on something that we have decided is important for the child. Yet we do see children totally lost in their own world/play/work when they choose to do so. I could see all of this unfolding within me because I am becoming increasingly aware of my ‘schooled’ mentality. Had it not been for this awareness, I would have lost in the maize of my own confusion and uncertainty. Do any of these reactions sound familiar?


Now if I try to look at the root of these kinds of reactions, it straightaway takes me to the classroom. The child enters the class full of energy and enthusiasm, curious and ready to explore whatever comes his/her way. But as the time progresses, the child realizes, only certain actions are accepted, only certain queries welcomed and if you press upon what is most urgent to you, you step in to problem area. Slowly, the child starts gauging what is expected of him and behaves accordingly. The packaged learning program only gives

him a readymade path of discovery, where self-exploration, self-discovery and self-expression are nowhere in sight. There are fixed questions, fixed answers and fixed ways of arriving at them. So, does any process here seem to give rise to the self-doubts I went through when I was set on my own while going through the sensing exercises?


These reactions could easily be brushed aside by saying that each individual is different and there are some factors other than ‘schooling’ playing a major role here. Yes! It can be the family, the restrictive upbringing practices, and the experiences outside school and so on so forth. But this is not an isolated case. When I interact with children, with a very few exceptions, I find similar reactions surfacing. They want to know before hand what is expected of them. And many of them also want to know whether it is going to help them pass their exams or if there are some grades attached to the activity. Any encounter with the new experience sends many of them into self-doubts. Besides, even if such a mind-set is a result of the experiences outside the school, having spent such a long period with schools/colleges, if it couldn’t free individuals from these feelings and self-doubts; we need to look into it.


Do we understand from this scenario that the school is on purpose working the way it is, so that it prepares people to fit into the system without raising any questions? If so, people have a right to decide whether they would like to be a part of it or rather find their own ways of survival. And if the schools intentions are not so, then do we take it as schools’ incapability to provide real education to children and free them of any inhibitions they acquire in the process of growing up? In that case, the system must be honest enough to admit that the schools are just the centers for the exchange of information and have nothing to do with individual growth. If so, people must be allowed to choose their ways of collecting information and search for appropriate ways of educating themselves from their own life experiences because education is learning, which is much more than just collecting information. If any of these two is true then at least until the system sorts this out for itself, walking out of it has to be accepted as a legitimate step to protect oneself from the onslaught of the system.


But this is a very sensitive issue. One has to be very careful that walking out is not used as an escape route from a situation that one is not able to cope with. One needs to handle the difficult situations and not escape from them. Here, when I say walking out, I mean I know what and why I am walking out of and what & why I am walking into! My convictions need to be very strong so that I am able to face and find solutions to the questions I come across while following my chosen path.


All I am yearning to express here is the need for a learning situation that fosters the respect and sensitivity towards the individual and acceptance of alternative ways of learning where originality, patience, sensitivity and initiative stay in place. I am looking for a kind of education that helps individual to think and do the things according to where the individual’s faith lies and not choosing the things because that is what is expected of him. I am talking of a system that will help one trust oneself and the others, where people are rational and revolutionary enough to take decisions that are in the best interests of the individual, the society and the environment laying the priority where it is due, and thus, maintaining a healthy balance, irrespective of whether it happens in the school or outside.