Sunday, December 16, 2007

Being Schooled or Being Educated ?

The other day I went to hear a lecture by an American anti establishment intellectual David Barsamian who was saying that in the US, they are good at teaching Quantum Physics, Rocket Science but were very poor at teaching many of the other things that go to form an education. He was alluding to larger matters of global import but the stories of the frequent shoot outs in the US malls and schools flashed immediately to mind. But then why worry about the US- Don’t we have similar issues to deal with in India.

Literacy has long been measured as a yardstick for human development and while that will remain so, the question perhaps needs to be asked – is literacy a good enough indicator to measure a person’s education, when all that it actually tells you is that a person can read, writer and do a little math. To learn to do that, typically one goes to school, but not necessarily so. One can learn these “off site” too. How important is schooling? How important is education? Does going to a school ensure education, and by extension, going to a “good” school, whatever that might mean, ensure a better education? What about the celebrated Emperor Akbar? From our history books, we know that he was illiterate. Was Akbar educated or uneducated?

Azad Yadav, the father of the accused Akash has told the Indian Express that he had sold off land in the villages lying in the hinterland and moved to the city, so that his sons could get a good education. Did he get a raw deal? He isn’t the only one to do so. Lured by the prospects of making a quick fortune in the city, many are selling of land in their ancestral village with the motive of obtaining a good education for their children.

Almost on cue to cash in on the boom, schools whose credentials and pedigree no one knows has come up. The Euro School, is itself just five years old, and is too new to have developed any deep rooted traditions and customs. If it is guided by any moral philosophy as say the Rishi Valley or the Vasant Valley, or the several other schools which are ideology driven, then it is a carefully guarded secret. The indicator of a “good” school is today the number of air conditioned classrooms and heated swimming pools and the number of computers and internet connections in the computer laboratory. Conspicuous by their mention if not their absence is the teaching of ethics, cross cultural living and the inner values that could help a child steer a course in a rapidly changing world.

But I want to come back to the Emperor Akbar. Azad Yadav wanted a good education for his son and at best got him a good and fancy school but perhaps not much of an education; especially if education is fundamentally about formation of the inner person. Akbar remained unschooled all his life but here is a summary of his life and reign: “The Mughal Emperor Akbar (1543-1605), though illiterate and unable to read or write, demonstrated a remarkable appreciation of other religious thoughts. He was also a connoisseur of music and fine arts. The Mughal architecture, that later culminated in the glorious Taj Mahal, found its beginnings in Akbar’s rule. Music and miniature paintings reached their zenith. The court of Akbar held some of the best India had to offer at that time. The great administrator who was also an aficionado of the arts attracted the best contemporary minds to his court. Nine such extraordinary talents, who shone brightly in their respective fields, were known as Akbar’s nine gems. The foresight of this illiterate and dyslexic Emperor was remarkable and unique in history”

Going to school is not the same thing as getting an education. One can be illiterate and be educated beyond measure and one can go to the best schools and be uneducated in just about every thing that matters. So the next time a human development report is released some where and the literacy rate shows a rise, let us applaud; for literacy has its own relevance but let us be circumspect too. For being literate is not the same thing as being educated and literacy rates will never tell us the whole story.

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