Education Beyond Books
Completing the syllabus, creating question banks are a few things which come very naturally to teachers. In fact, a day is incomplete until I have thought of which chapter needs to be completed or supplemented with notes. We cannot deny that this is important. However, lately I had been noticing a very peculiar case of intolerance in my class, especially when I discussed some shameful communal incidents in the country. At one instance, one of my students defended the idea of killing a human being in the name of some falsely held notions of caste, colour, etc. Of course, I could let it go and brush it under the carpet, as my student was just, very innocently defending the idea. However, killing a human being can never be justified, no matter under which pretext it is done. And, coming from a student of class 12 painted a very bleak picture of the future in front of my eyes. Really! Was it okay and normal? And, what was I doing, while he was rationalizing it in his mind? Who is at fault? He, us (his teachers) or the parents? Should I shout at him? Will it change his opinion about it?
My head had never hung in shame before. With a million questions, all the great notions I had held about teaching and readying some fine individuals for my country were shattered at that very moment. Of course, I had a very normal discussion with him and the rest of the class, but underneath I was so overwhelmed that I wanted to cry. It dawned on me that there must be countless others like my student devoid of alternative viewpoints. It dawned on me that exposure only to the classroom was failing children, where somehow it is all about books or marks and media also seems to be doing a bad job instead of giving saner and alternative viewpoints.
There is so much chaos in the world, which seems to be only increasing every day. And, with things like these, sometimes I feel we are just adding to the madness. We as teachers with our students have a huge responsibility to give a semblance of sanity to this world. Unconventional ideas like sympathy, empathy, tolerance and sharing spaces with other communities through travelling etc. need to be the benchmark of our school education even more, so that we can break fixed notions and stereotypes.
We all have fixed notions about the kind of people to meet and to talk with. However, my fixed notions have been broken in my travels. It is during my travels that I have learnt to see the world in many colours than just black and white or just right and wrong. My travels have instilled lot of patience and tolerance in me, which I think is the root from where empathy stems.
Why are tolerance and empathy so important? So that next time a human being is killed for nonsensical ideas like caste, etc our students will get up and say, ‘this was wrong’. It is imperative that we foster tolerance in young hearts and minds. But how do we do it? There can be no better way to instill tolerance than sharing spaces with other communities. We may come across many different things, but that is the beauty of living in a secular world. We must never forget that we share this planet with lots of different communities and we owe it to our future generations to make this world a better place where all of us can peacefully co-exist. Similarly, as far as alternative viewpoints are concerned, I think the goal can be achieved by travelling, going out, meeting different people.
On one hand, travelling to new and fancy locations might not be possible for everyone, but on the other, just stepping out of home for a well thought out purpose can do wonders to the thinking of young teenagers studying in schools. At this point, it will be easy to point out the importance of trips and picnics in schools. It not only improves interpersonal relationships for children, as they interact with their peers, but sometimes a simple trip to a local zoo can instill empathy in students for fellow living beings, which can never be taught through books, no matter how many inspirational biographies are read in the classroom.
We are very fortunate in having a whole new world in front of us, which can be easily accessed by internet. If estimated numbers and various surveys are correct, at the beginning of this year, in India alone, 30 crore people were still living in poverty. However, we still refuse to acknowledge our privileges when we splurge money on gadgets, etc. and we let our children do the same. Wasting food, spending millions of rupees on crackers as a country every ‘Diwali’ are just few examples which go to prove that many of us have skewed priorities. A simple reason for this can be that either we do not have enough information at hand about realities that we as a country need to face or we lack empathy to recognize our priorities as a society. This is because we neither see the world with an open mind, nor do we read enough. And, when we are not doing it enough, how do we expect students to magically wake up one day and know what to do.
We can never acknowledge our privileges until and unless we see what others are missing. What others are missing cannot be known with our minds only in the books. We need to step out, talk and listen, see the real world and not be influenced by extreme and negative viewpoints and encourage our students to do the same. We need to tell them and assure them that the world is only as scary as we make it. So, let’s go out into the world and explore its endless wonders, know what we need to do and where our help is required. Let’s not underestimate the importance of courage, as it is the only thing which gives us the fearlessness and wisdom to be tolerant, sympathetic and empathetic. Courage comes when we do things and not just read about it.
Priyanka Ohri says, ‘Having finished my schooling from Auckland House School, Shimla, I pursued my Masters in Mass Communication and Journalism. At present, I am teaching Mass Media Studies in St. Thomas’ School, Shimla. Teaching as a profession was discovered accidentally, but it is my second love after writing. There are two lessons that teaching has given me for a lifetime. First, to do what I love until I become perfect and second, you never know what you are capable of.’