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Education for developing the Head, Heart and Hand

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May 7, 2016

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Education for developing the Head, Heart and Hand

The multi-dimensional aspect of education, developing the head, the heart and the hand, has propelled many schools to apply such pedagogical methods that sub-serve the above objectives. The pupils are provided a variety of learning experiences along with the core academic programme, inclusive education notwithstanding, transacted with loving effectiveness.

Some years ago when I was the Principal of a school, an energetic and imaginative Nursery teacher reported to me a problem she faced in her Nursery class. She said, ‘Sir, there is a difficult little toddler in my class. Today, I requested all my 30 little children to pick up their little chairs and form a circle for playing a game. Every one of them picked up the chairs and formed a circle, except one child. He stayed in the centre of the classroom and refused to budge. I asked him why he wasn’t taking up his chair and joining the others in the circle. Without batting an eyelid, he answered that this sort of work is done by my servant in my house.’

I was aghast and took some time to recover my composure. Later investigation revealed that ‘my servant’ was a 20-year-old young man who worked in their home. So, I ask what we as parents are teaching our kids. Social inequality, high and low, superior and inferior, indignity and disgrace of work, the fear of soiling one’s hands with manual work, and ultimately pushing a normal individual into incapacitation as a man or woman in later life? Let us remember that pampering one’s child is hampering his or her future in the new global world that’s already here.

I studied in a boarding school and college in Darjeeling, where we were taught to do anything and everything an adult human being should perform. We had daily morning jobs when we swept and cleaned the whole school and college, cleaned the toilets, and dusted and wiped the windows and doors, swept the compound, pruned the plants and watered them. We had hardly any servants to speak of. And what is more we enjoyed doing these morning chores before classes started. After that we had classes and a regular academic schedule. A day in the week was set apart for work when we did gardening, tilled the terraced plots, dug little canals, built walls of stone, mowed grass on the lawns and did odds and ends till mid-day. This was one of the most enjoyable days in the week. As co-scholastic activities went, we had instrumental music lessons, school orchestra, regular dramatic presentations, musical plays, debates, painting and sculpture, and all kinds of creative activities and competitions. Our education was a preparation for real life. Along with all these we had daily sports and games of every type. We had students from every state of India, every caste and tribe. But words like ‘caste’ and ‘tribe’ were not in our vocabulary.

Following from this, some vital questions arise: What is education? What is the purpose of education?

Years ago Swami Vivekananda made a prophetic statement that if there is salvation for India, it most certainly lies in the awakening of the masses for which the only remedy is education; and the truth of it was echoed by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen whose views on the significance of Education and Health Care as the only panacea for progress are well known. He cites Kerala as the prime example where education and health care have brought about social and economic progress to a very high degree. The consequent social change is there for all to see. In my childhood days in Kerala, our servants who stood 15 yards away to talk to us and ate only the leftovers in the kitchen, have their sons and daughters in high places as doctors, engineers, police officers, bank employees, etc. Today we all work, sit together and talk and share meals.

This is the social change that has happened in Kerala. How many states have followed the advice of Mahatma Gandhi or Swami Vivekananda on the all important role of education to modernise India?

We have to lay stress on the foundational aspects at the primary level. Life-long habits are sown in the early years of one’s life. If these precious years are wasted with nothing sown in the fertile soil of infancy and childhood, whole lives may become futile. Hence, we have to implement the latest in the Early Childhood Education programme along with other good habit forming routines. Noam Chomsky has shown that a child internalises the structures of a language in the first four years of its life and consolidation of the four linguistic skills takes place in the next five or six years. It is here that we have to be innovative by focusing on a slew of routines for the child in the primary to learn English speaking skills and to acquire the Reading Habit.

Let me remind the readers of this article that all great men women who have climbed the heights of success and shown mankind the way upwards have been voracious readers. A child is capable of picking up two or three languages simultaneously without tears; hence we have to insist on the perfecting of the skills of the mother tongue as well as the other tongue, the international language– English.

Let us return to the incident I narrated in the beginning, where the child called his grownup helper, ‘my servant’. Obviously, he had been brought up in the Indian Feudal system wherein the heinous caste system prevailed. That child could not have reacted differently, given the attitude and role of his doting parents.

The 2015 Survey of Millennium Development Goals reveals that 24 percent of Indians are below poverty level. This year’s Nobel Prize winner for Economics, Angus Deaton, has studied India’s poverty, the resultant stunting of the children and the deterioration of the human stock in the long term. To add to this, we have 15 million slaves in India living in miserable sub-human conditions. Add to these the lower castes, the tribals and the marginalized people and you get a vast number of Indians who are not free, to whom all the ‘patriotic’ preaching means nothing. Feudalism in Europe is history. But in our beloved land it is alive and kicking. Our mindset is geared to the concept that we are high and low, superior and inferior, noble and ignoble, high born and low born. Recently when two intelligent dalit boys made it to the IIT by cracking the IIT entrance exam, their house was stoned by the higher caste people. It is sad that the high castes want to keep the status quo ante.

What then is the remedy for lifting India to the higher echelons of Liberty, Fraternity and Equality, as the French revolutionaries chanted? The answer is: an education that develops a variety of competencies in the child, especially, Mental Competence and Attitudinal Competence. Today the world over it’s a knowledge driven society and empowered knowledge means having developed the capability to think, to question, to re-create, to problem-solve, to analyze , to re-synthesize, and to apply objective norms of evaluation. Einstein dropped out of school, because his teacher would not answer his scholarly questions.

Attitudinal Competence gives us the right perspectives, a frame for our way of seeing and responding to new situations, to the new socio-political resolutions we have taken soon after Independence, in order to build the new Indian, and a new India. A necessary change in our attitude and mind-set will recognize the equality of all Indians, the dignity of labour, and the slow abandonment of caste-bias. Kerala, as I mentioned earlier, is an example where social equality and egalitarianism have taken deep roots.

Now let us recall the attitude of the Nursery child, who was brought up in the wrong way by his parents. Mukesh Ambani, after he returned from abroad with high degrees, was first made to work on the shop floor, in spite of his dreams of getting a top managerial post. Mukesh had to learn to work with his hands and do low jobs and dirty his hands like anybody else, if he had to be promoted to the post of a Manager. Dhirubai Ambani himself had worked as an assistant in a petrol station as a young man. Dignity of labour is a sine qua non virtue for the new Indian, if India is to catch up with other developed nations.

We are challenged to develop a new National Character Ethic, based on the spiritual foundations of our Culture. I do not mean the narrower and often conflictual perspectives that religion has ushered in. Remaking of India (the vision of the Mahatma, of Vivekananda and others) and the shaping of the character and attitudes of our people is a daunting and necessary task in the decades ahead. It is in our classrooms that the destiny of such an India is being shaped.

Mathew Panamkat holds Master’s degrees in English literature and Linguistics, and also degrees in Philosophy and Education. He is Director of Laurel High School, Pitampura, Delhi. A writer of children’s books, he also conducts workshops for teachers, parents and students on the inculcation of reading habit. Email: mpanamkat@yahoo.com

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