A four year story

sumavanam2.JPG

Sumavanam School

Madanapalle

This is a relationship that began with a term paper and turned into what seems to be a life long association with a duo who have helped an ignorant mind understand the fine print that life sometimes comes with and which some fail to grasp. Rode down to meet a couple who founded a school for kids in villages around Madanapalle over thirty five years back. The school shut down this year – no teachers to be had in this village. The city-dwelling find it too distant and remote to live on this farm cum school. The village-dwelling aren’t quite making it to higher education. So that rings in the closure.

Meanwhile, the couple lives on, amidst their farm, a dog, shut classrooms, late May rains and a stunning landscape. We share lunch, plenty of conversations and memories of years gone by. Every little instance from their past comes with a hook into the present. Their lives run like a constant background process in my head to score my life against and sometimes compare if I will ever experience the satisfaction and the sense of compose that comes from having lived for an idea. On that noon in Sumavanam I could only admire and feel a bit struck by the life these two chose to live and the sense of quiet that prevails in their minds and on the farm.

Far from it, I continue to dwell in my chaos and clutter.

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Understanding Children & Feeling Naked

drawing_poornakid

After a session on rights of children the teacher asked her group (10-11 year old) to draw what might be their idea of rights of children. This was one of the rights that a kid thought of and illustrated.

Last week in school, two incidents forced me to think about what does one really know about a child’s mind. A better question would be to ask what do we know about a child through his years of growing up, until an acceptable, complying adult is formed out of her by years of joint work by school, family and the society.

Then, I felt, that the best of insights into a child’s mind has been those of authors of children’s books – Dr Seuss, Maurice Sendak and lately Oliver Jeffers. Some object to the idea of “children’s books” vehemently. Sendak is even better on this – “A woman came up to me the other day and said, ‘You’re the kiddie-book man!’ I wanted to kill her.” I have to admit that I had never tried reading books meant for young readers after my early years of schooling and ever since I stepped into university. I started reading them after I joined Poorna as a teacher. The library was teeming with eye-catching, hilarious and endearing books which were also very well illustrated. I was hooked. Also, I’d find the kids of younger age groups highly engaged in their weekly reading sessions. Three years since my first encounter with this amazing world of literature for young readers, I am inclined to look into these books to find life lessons.

This morning, I woke up and read Dr. Seuss’ Oh the places you’ll go. Someone on twitter had mentioned it, after I had already forgotten it from Poorna’s annual day theater performance which was based on another of Dr. Seuss’ work.

Going back to the two incidents last week in school – a six or seven year old girl (from a group I do not teach but hang out with them during breaks) in a nonchalance that only children are capable of, tells me, “you talk to boys only”. I was standing with a group of boys of her age in the foyer. This felt like a remarkable observation coming from a six year old. She and I have seen each other in school for two years and she probably has also seen me speak and play more with the boys than her or her friends. It made me think about my unconscious bias and tendency to play with boys only. In the end, I felt she is right on this. While I stood gaping at that observation and my own inability to see this pattern in my interaction, I was also amazed at the range and variety of information that children tend to pick up. I think adults seldom have any idea about it.

Dr. Seuss or Mr. Giesel, to use his real name, once said that when he writes he does not think of moral of a story in the beginning. On the idea of a moral in a story, he says, “kids can see a moral coming a mile off”. This I would completely agree with, after last week’s incident. And I’ll also add that they can beat adults hands down in their insights on daily living.

The other incident speaks of the degree of carelessness that I tend to have with words and being conscious of what I speak. A kid in sociology class had not done her assignment which was due that morning. No, she mentioned that she forgot her notebook at home and that she has completed her assignment. We were only beginning the class and kids were just settling in. I remarked that she needn’t attend the class since she doesn’t have her work with her. And in the next moment my attention shifted to another kid’s notebook. I didn’t realize that the first kid had actually left the class and stood in the corridor overlooking the playground. When I was about to begin the day’s discussion, I noticed the vacant chair and still couldn’t recall that I had been careless enough to ask her not to attend. I looked out into the corridor, called her out by name and asked if she would not want to attend the class. That is when the kid responds by saying, “you had asked me not to attend.” It hit me then about how attentive I am to my own words, while I ask the students to pay attention to the discussions in the room, all these years. To say it was a humbling moment is being incomplete. It was more than that. I used that do-not-attend-the-class often as a threat and never meant to exclude anyone. Turns out that threat and even to consider exclusion as an idea, is so misplaced as an approach.

Both these incidents happened on the same day. The day felt like a waterloo of sorts! I am convinced that if one wants to know where the society is headed in its consciousness and what is to become of it, the world of children is the space to begin looking into. As I write this, I am reminded of several such incidents which offer a telling picture of the contemporary world. The drawing image in this post being one of them.

Observations from parent-teacher meeting

poorna_staffroom

Last week at Poorna, we had parent-teacher meeting (PTM) spanning over two days. I was looking forward to this since the current academic year began. I wanted to see and get to know the parents of the kids I was spending time with in sociology classes. At Poorna these meetings have an unhurried and informal format void of any sort of tension that might ride over the kids. I have admired this quality in the school because when I was growing up, PTM in our school was an extremely tense affair. At least for me. However, I am also mindful of the distance between the format and regimentation heavy ways of Army  School which I attended, over a school like Poorna which completely breaks away from such an approach to education and raising children. Hell! The kids don’t even get the national anthem straight here, whereas, we would sing it like Hitler’s boys  – chin up, voices soaring etc.

The conversations with parents is in some ways deep sociological insights into the society, with us embedded in it. Three conversations have stayed with me from last week with parents who came in. I can understand the anxieties that they might be going through in raising their kids and the worries that take over as they think about the future in the world that is only getting more demanding. So, this is just meant to share with due recognition that these concerns are valid. However, they do tell us what we are probably putting our kids through.

One of the parents wanted to know if their child is at par with the children of other ‘conventional’ schools, as Poorna is an alternative school. This I felt was unusual because I assumed that parents are completely aware that they are in some ways choosing to drop out of the conventional education system and let their child learn in a different environment. The element of being competitive and the at par-ness doesn’t leave us Indians, I guess. The mother of the kid was concerned that the kid doesn’t know times tables in math and if that was okay. The teacher felt that it was great that the child could visualize numbers in her head and add up. However, the mother had a different view. She explains – ‘I see her working additions in her mind. Every time she does that she starts anew. This way she will make mistakes. If she knows tables, she will not make mistakes’ The focus as I see was on not making mistakes for the parent, whereas the teacher felt differently about it. There is no room to make mistakes, it appears. And our kids have to ensure that. Who knows… in the future we might have ISO ratings for kids – 1 mistake per million calculations or some such!

Another parent was so concerned that her son is always reading ‘these’ books which are so popular among kids and reading them he is always in an imaginary world. I am completely empathetic to that observation and do feel that a grounding with reality is as necessary. In fact, this was my concern (that kids do not know much of real world around them) when I taught A level sociology and the NIOS 12th standard course. However, I felt that in this case the parent was alarmed way too early and the move to keep the kid’s fiction books away will stifle his imagination instead of enhancing his grip of the real. The anxiety of the parent is sure very identifiable, but perhaps the answer is not to be concerned that the child is forever in an imaginary world. May be that is how he routes back to the real.

Last one is a telling commentary on how for families in India it is not enough to know the good. The paranoia of whats the bad side, the negative etc is ever so present. I do not know where do we get that baggage from. A parent sat through all that I had to say about his son’s performance and his classroom behaviour. The kid is highly engaged, articulate and observant. I had only positive remarks to make. There really wasn’t anything concerning to share. The parent said and I am paraphrasing – all this is fine, what are his negatives. I wasn’t expecting that and was stumped. Again, I think those are his concerns. But for a moment I felt if as a child wouldn’t I want a bit of recognition for the positives? I am not sure, but I began speaking to the kid directly and mentioned that I really do not have or see anything negative to speak of.

I had an exam to write (at the law school where I am doing a masters), later in the day. But some of these conversations remained in my head as I rode back. I felt that the parents are too distanced from their children. It just appears so, may be it is not true at all. And more so in urban settings. School was meant to be a secondary form of socialization, but in the current times it is mistaken as the primary. Look at how early kids are being sent to pre-schools, play schools and the likes. The order is reverse now – more time outside of home and with others who train, coach, mind, tend and shape kids, and less time with the parents themselves.

This must change.

Meanwhile, a million such stories will unfold on September 30, when Rajasthan government has arranged a statewide parent-teacher meeting in all the government schools.

Freedom of a real education

assembly_poorna

It has been a month since I left my teaching job at school. Since, this move was to make more time for other things I was doing, instead of a sense of relief, a constant sense of loss has prevailed over the last several weeks as I finished classes and bid farewell to the kids and colleagues at school. In the two years as a high school teacher, I tried making sense of what education might mean in our lives and what is it that differentiates the proverbial ‘real’ education from the other varieties. The reality bit of this other kind of education professed by some, I have not quite known. I remember listening with serious attention when this Prof of Education at the former university whenever he spoke of purpose of education and what is wrong with the current system in India. I have figured this for sure – that simple it may seem, it is not easy to think about this area of human existence and daily life. If it was, we wouldn’t have so many grownups thinking that something was wrong with the education they received in school and at the university. I find the number of such people increasing around me.

While the school and the life-changing opportunity that it gave me is still a long piece being written in my head, I continue to dive into writings on education. This has been no less thrilling. Also, it sits in such a contrast with my experience at the university I am attending lately. If one wants to understand what is wrong with higher education in this country, this university would be a fitting place to do an ethnographic study. The tyranny of unconscious, hard-headed and impervious professors is unleashed daily on the sponge like minds who are processing their first experiences of a place of higher learning and forms of intellectual inquiry. Their sense of the world is being formed by these professors. This repeatedly foregrounds the question – what is real education? For an academia which has a scorn for Humanities, this question, shall remain beyond the grasp, forever perhaps!

We are led to believe that pursuit of knowledge is what education is about. Skills is what it is about. A skill with which one can make a living and satisfy the wants of life with the money earned through that skill. This is what it is about. Indeed, but this is half the truth. I am glad to discover that there are thoughts beyond this myopia. Among the thinkers that I have been reading on purpose, significance, role and forms of education, I was surprised to find David Foster Wallace delving into this subject in a remarkable commencement speech.

As I read Wallace’s speech I could help but see the simple, yet valuable insight that he is driving all so lightly and that too through a college address. I can trust it to come only after long years of experience… because that is just what it takes to see things this way! He tackles the role of subjectivity in perspectives on life with an unseen clarity. Wallace says –

The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it. This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.

Freedom of real education is to decide for yourself what you think has meaning in life and what doesn’t. Last year, in class with high school students, I remember insisting to the students that – you decide what you want to do and what should be your grades in the board exams. It doesn’t matter what I expect or what your parents expect. Unconsciously and in a cruder form I was walking along this thought of freedom. I wanted to let students know that they are free to decide.

On the kinds of freedom, he goes on –

the kind (of freedom) that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving and [unintelligible — sounds like “displayal”]. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

Personally, this real freedom he mentions has been difficult for me to be mindful of and practice. Every once in a while, it becomes so natural to join the race for better jobs, higher salaries, more things to make life better and similar such things that are regarded as natural and justifiable pursuits. Nothing short of amazing that we sometimes point complaining fingers at it and sleep, only to wake up and do the same. Wallace is affirming the same difficulty in a stronger tone as he concludes with this –

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.

Every few weeks I sort of lose the plot and begin getting worked up about the little things that demand attention and time. Then, readings likes these bring it all back and sort of insist that the daily is important, but larger picture of what is the meaning of all the pursuits that we fill life with, is necessary.

Subject knowledge of teachers

A government run primary school in Kuppam, Andhra Pradesh.  Pic: Arun Sivaramakrishnan

A class in progress in  a government run primary school in Kuppam, Andhra Pradesh. To understand this town better, a few of us at the university spent time at various institutions in the town. Pic: Arun Sivaramakrishnan

There is a rare corner in the Indian media (print and broadcast) where concerns about various aspects of education system in India are being pursued. This space, I am glad to see, has  a significant presence of researchers and academicians from the university I attended. Over the past year, these articles have aided my work as senior secondary teacher. Besides, reading views on classroom teaching, learning outcomes, teaching-learning process etc have helped me make sense of my experience in the past year.

This morning, in his regular column Other Sphere, Anurag Behar (CEO of APF and former VC of APU) speaks of the lack of subject knowledge among teachers in India (Read: Making Teachers Specialists). This problem he notes, is systemic – that the required qualification for a teacher to teach Grades 1 to 8 is a Diploma in Education (D.Ed) degree alone. This D.Ed degree can he had after Grade 12, in India.

He observes –

To be a teacher for Grades 1 to 8 in India, a diploma in education (DEd) is the basic qualification. These norms on qualifications and all other aspects of teacher education are governed by the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE). The entry to a DEd programme is after passing Grade 12. It is a two-year programme, and doesn’t have anything to do with subject knowledge of the future teacher. Its curriculum is designed for other educational aspects, e.g. child development, sociological issues of education, pedagogy.

The educational attainment that is required for teaching Grades 1 to 8 in India is simply inadequate. Some years back I spent some time with a bunch of senior secondary graduates who were pursuing D.Ed degree in a small teacher training institute in a district town in Maharashtra. This district is infamous for malnutrition in children in India and for agrarian distress. These boys I met were doing this 2 year D.Ed program with the intent of being appointed “para-teachers” in the state government run schools in distant villages of the state. Para-teachers was an interesting idea that Maharashtra government came up with, to improve teacher presence in its schools across the state and perhaps someone in the government also thought that this will improve teaching quality in the schools.

These boys were too young to be teachers, was my first thought. They were too inexperienced to be made responsible for education of children. Though the intent was to create a cadre of teaching assistants to help regular government teachers in their work in school, in practice, most would end up handling classes themselves as teacher absenteeism was rampant at the time. They were clearly seeing this as a job opportunity. They’d be paid between INR 3500 to 5000 per month for the work. And in the interior districts which also suffer from long running agrarian distress, this is a very decent job opportunity. Not surprisingly, several teacher training institutes were cropping up and D.Ed program was a run away hit. The fate of children in government run schools of Maharashtra’s districts was not partly or wholly in the hands of these young, inexperienced boys and girls who have inadequate knowledge. Poor training which is also a problem, doesn’t even matter.

With Anurag’s piece, I am reminded of those boys. And now, as a teacher, I am able to clearly see the kind of debilitating effects it might have had on learning of children in the schools they joined. Simple in proposition, Anurag’s observations on a teacher’s subject knowledge requirement in India being hopelessly low is single-most important factor in poor educational outcomes in schools in India.

Elsewhere, in Deccan Herald newspaper Rohit Dhankar (heads the School of Education at APU) writes on the myth of Private Schools for the Poor (PSPs) in his piece School as a Mint.  He is looking at a completely different front of the school education dynamics in India. His analysis of two categories of schools (that he sees in India) – schools for rich and schools for poor, builds a plausible case that these schools are not concerned with quality of education and contribute to the poor-elite divide in the society.

He points to a space which is not being questioned by any quarter of the society –

In spite of irreconcilable difference in their appearances, both of these schools have exactly the same notion of quality: that which gives the maximum return for the investment is good quality education. This is the market-friendly definition which is almost unquestionably accepted by the parents, the governments and the economics centric researchers in education.

This drive for profit he argues is ruining education.

Neither is concerned with the quality that helps in developing a harmonious authentic self or a concerned citizen with critical rationality. Profit motive, therefore, creates its own saleable illusion of quality and thrives on it; and, in the process, turning humans into self-seekers and deepening the chasm between haves and have nots.

Again, a rare piece of commentary on the state of schools.

A year as a high school teacher

Poorna, Image Courtesy: Vinay B R

Poorna, Image Courtesy: Vinay B R

This seems to be a month of anniversaries. This month I complete a year as a high school teacher at Poorna. Besides this, I figure that our little startup which took off from a small house in a small college town is now a fledgling company which is over 7 years old. The business has gathered momentum and the company now has two areas of work – consulting and scientific instruments sales. Momentum (a healthy work pipeline and a sufficient annual revenue), I guess is a natural consequence of sticking around long enough in business.

But back to teaching, I look back at the year in school and realize what a tremendous learning opportunity it has been. I take this as a moment to draw together the lessons.

“Teaching” would be a rather tall claim for me to make and after a year it sure would be a claim to say that I am teach. I realize that I am an agent, who goes into the classroom and shares his knowledge and understanding with the students. That is all. I have been a rookie at best.

Starting with A level and Indian senior secondary level students was a soft launch into teaching as the challenge to simplify ideas and  field questions from unconditioned, formative stage minds of children is lesser with students of senior secondary. Moreover, teaching economics and sociology to such a group can be intellectually stimulating as well as an opportunity to reflect and bring back to class the experiences of daily lives which connect the concepts that one reads in these subjects. In a way, it completes the loop from learning to experience and back to learning in the society.

I also realize that teaching helped me in focusing on what is meaningful in life. And this insight kicks in only when I take a telescopic view of a full academic year. In my pursuit to be a teacher who practices what he teaches, I had to ensure all along about this consistency between thought and action. I couldn’t have been more wrong in imagining this consistency as easy to achieve. There were several occasions when my own beliefs were questioned.

The other view that developed along the course of the past year is that teaching firmly keeps a person in touch with society’s growing and most dynamic section – the children. This has become the most enriching aspect of this experience. Besides, there is always a quick game of football that can be played, a poem that can be enjoyed and absolutely hilarious moments with children who are busy comprehending and making sense of things and people around them.

As long as I can, I am sure to be a part of a school for the rest of my life.

 

 

Education in pre-colonial India: Dharampal’s The Beautiful Tree

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Image Courtesy: K.L. Kamat (Illustration by B.K. Mitra for Kalyan Magazine shows students and animals in harmony with nature)

In the school where I teach, the teachers hold a very diverse range of views about the role of a school in a child’s life. What must school stand for and what areas of the child’ s life must the school be concerned with. Those who run the school – the management folks, stand at one end of the spectrum of beliefs about “education” and the manner in which a child’s time in the school must be structured. The rest dot the entire spectrum with some of them occupying the far opposite end of the spectrum which means that they are of the opinion that democratic means of taking decisions in school must be the overriding criteria. Above that, the school should let children be – in a sense that let them decide when they want to take up written exams if exams are a necessity. However, they’d prefer that there are no exams and that children should be assessed in some other non-structural, preset format. Exams, in short, are tyrannical. This has been an ongoing discussion for several weeks now and likely to reach no easy consensus.

Meanwhile, there is another discussion on role of a school in children’s lives. It began with this article on children’s emotional and psychological needs. It gives a roundup of the ways in which schools in Indian metros are catering to such needs:

Children in Indian metros are reaching out to school counsellors to make sense of their increasingly complicated, increasingly lonely lives. A nine-year-old is no longer too young to have a problem — or even know what a problem is.

This led to someone remarking that probably Indian schools will soon be back to the “gurukula” system of ancient India – where schools will “again” begin to cater to all the aspects of a child’s education – academic, social, emotional and spiritual. The remark led me to think of the sources from where one can draw inferences that ancient schools or “gurukulas” were indeed catering to all of those needs of a child.

As it looks, there is no historical evidence to say this conclusively. Even as a possibility, this is hard to imagine because launching off from the point of believing that India’s “ancient” system was the best arrangement which developed well-groomed, well-grounded and learnt individuals one is already given to believe that there was something extraordinary that the “gurukulas” did. They sure were a very different institutions from the modern day schools. But saying anything further – about how they approached education and helped children will require more evidence, in the absence of which, I feel compelled to tell that teacher that her argument is a mere conjecture.

Thinking of existing works on history of pre-colonial education system in India, I can think of only one very well written and comprehensive work – The Beautiful Tree, by Dharampal. The discussion in school reminded me of this book which I had read a few years back. Re-reading it this week, I find it remarkable in scope and review.

Dharampal refers to the lack of historical records in the introduction:

Very little, however has been written on the history, or state of education during this period, starting with the thirteenth century and up until the early nineteenth century.

Further, he reviews the records for nineteenth century and describes the sources:

Most of the discussion on the state of indigenous Indian  education in the early nineteenth century, and the differing viewpoints which give rise to it, use as their source material (a) the much talked about reports by William Adam, a former Christian missionary, on indigenous education in some of the districts of Bengal and Bihar 1835-38 (b) published extracts of a survey made by the British authorities regarding indigenous education
in the Bombay Presidency during the 1820s, and (c) published extracts from another wider survey of indigenous education made in the Madras Presidency (from Ganjam in the north to Tinnevelly in the south, and Malabar in the west) during 1822- 25. A much later work on the subject, but more or less of asimilar nature is that of G.W. Leitner pertaining to indigenous education in the Punjab.

Even these later works, leave alone the earlier ones, do not say anything about what was the approach of a “gurukula” in imparting education nor are any ethnographic works dealing with what went on inside them. It leads to the argument that all the glorious claims about the traditional Indian “gurukula” system lack evidence. However, we do have sufficeint account of the fact that the macro role it played in the society and pre-colonial, “indigenous” system was remarkably effective in addressing needs to the society at that time. It is this “beautiful tree” of indigenous education system that Gandhi said was destroyed by the British in India. Dharampal adds that:

It is important to emphasize that indigenous education was carried out through pathshalas, madrassahs and gurukulas. Education in these traditional institutions – which were actually kept alive by revenue contributions by the community including illiterate peasants – was called shiksha (and included the ideas of prajna, shil and samadhi). These institutions were, in fact, the watering holes of the culture of traditional communities. Therefore, the term ‘school’ is a weak translation of the roles these institutions really played in Indian society.

What he highlights in the following lines is the trap that educationists are walking into again:

The idea of a school existing in every village, dramatic and picturesque in itself, attracted great notice and eclipsed the equally important details. The more detailed and hard facts have received hardly any notice or analysis. This is both natural and unfortunate. For these latter facts provide an insight into the nature of Indian society at that time.

The proverbial ancient “gurukula” system needs to be looked into with a more critical lens and the first step would be to find records from the history of what went on within these ancient schools. Without this we will continue to have these vacuous conversations about the ancient glories and continue to push the current school system towards a vision which no one knows what it looks like.

Grad Life Ends Here

APUBldng

This week, grad life comes to an end officially. With convocation it draws to a formal close. As I looked at the grade statements which have never been a happy sight for me, I realize that they do not reflect is the quality of time that I spent at the university and subtle transformations that came through along the course.   What they do reflect is a long trail of papers not submitted and assignments not done. Over the last two evenings I have been thinking about the ways grad life impacted my work and personal life.

It has been an enormously enriching two years, as I look back. The diversity of projects, internships and studies that I have packed in these two years would be hard for a work life to deliver even in four years. This has been the single most point of satisfaction for me personally, as I finish this program. A carefully chosen grad program I realize can be a great boost to professional growth as well as personal enrichment. On this point – about promises of a higher education, I am a recent convert! Two years back this would be hard to see.

Barely two months since the program finished, our business pipeline has grown steady and also higher in value. A part of it is a direct consequence of the time spent at the university. I also think that deliverance of higher education in terms of professional value is specific to chosen field. While a management degree may not seem to be a smart investment of money when compared to the experience gained in the same two years when spent at work, in some other fields it can work quite the reverse. For example, in journalism or in development sector. I see that it can improve the quality of work several notches up in development sector. The assessments and evaluation studies that our company now conducts are more comprehensive in the range of factors they consider and are more rooted into ground level action. Works earlier would often be weak on theory-practice-action connect.

My partners at the firm have been able to shape our company’s focus from a pure business orientation to a space which is sensitive to development challenges in countries and then bring in our business into addressing those challenges through our business. Here is an instance – in our scientific instruments business where we sell laboratory instruments for healthcare and lifescience research applications, my partners are looking at the role of these instruments in creating an impact on the healthcare situation (and in some cases science education in colleges) in the geography where we operate. This would have perhaps been hard for us to do if not for the learning in the past two years.

Personally, grad degree’s most significant impact has been on my outlook to life and its purpose. I am more likely to listen to folks who are contributing in their own small or big way to change social situations around them. There was a fair degree of indifference in how I looked at social issues earlier. Why did this change had to wait for the university and why did it happen only now, it fails me. But it did. I considered taking some time from a typical work week to do something self-serving.It was hard for me to imagine because near hundred percent of what I did was all for the self. This is when teaching happened. I considered being a teacher in a high school and teach a few days every week.

A direct consequence of grad program – that I teach two days a week in a high school and get to spend time with children. This is a complete turn around from the way I would do things earlier. Plus, a teacher’s hat I see is quite a responsible one to wear, which can bear heavy on the self-conscious individuals who think several times before committing themselves to tasks as these – which require disciplined and consistent efforts.

Looking back I see that University is a great place to experiment. Experiment with oneself and with ideas. This is what I did. If you also happen to run a small company, then be sure that the company too would reflect the changes that you go through, provided you have been inclusive enough to involve your colleagues in the range of crazy ideas that you tried at the university. In our case, it was the company that went for higher education. Not just one partner!

 

 

 

Modernists – Then & Now

Early Indian modernists

Early Indian modernists

This morning a discussion on life, work and legacy of Raja Rammohun Roy and Syed Ahmed Khan led to a question on why did they call for ‘modern’ education in India of the mid 19th century (around 1840-1890 period)? How different was the Indian education system before the onset of colonial period and post? What did Indian education lack that the ‘modern’ British system have?

One perspective stems from Dharampal’s The Beautiful Tree, an important work on the history of Indian education system. He argues that much of the British education system of the British India (and consequently today’s education system) is based on the ancient Indian structure. By this he probably means that the instruction method, spread of schools (as in a school in every village) and curriculum all appear to have been adopted and modified to the needs of the British administration and presented as their own. I do not doubt the claims of the book nor the scholar’s study. In fact, I find the process only too natural.

I have two observations on the current discourse on origins of modern education system in India and its effects:

1. Allegation that British education system is essentially Indian, with a sense that it is noting new but our own system shown to us as new is not true.

2. ‘Modernists’ of 19th century are not much different in their approach to the new crop of Indian academicians and professors who have returned to India (or visit periodically) after being trained abroad or worked abroad. The ideas they propagate back in India are pretty much the same like what the modernists of 19th century did!

Saying that the British system of education is only a derivative of traditional Indian system is one thing. But implying that the British system has in some way borrowed and been deceitful in doing that would be flawed. Here is my reason for believing so. If the invaders in any geography are powerful enough and have long term ambitions to rule the place and not just plunder it then it is quite a natural progression that the dominating power would manipulate the processes of this new land and its people. Like if they want Indians to work in the new order of production (and industry) in British India then they would also have to be oriented and trained likewise. If the British empire brought in railways, elaborate administrative processes and newer technologies (post industrial revolution) to India then they also wanted to condition Indians to be able to work in that new environment. This is easier when one takes in an existing mode of learning of the natives themselves and modify it by incorporating all that you would also want to ensure that the natives learn in order to serve you better (remember this is a colonial power-colony relationship) The ‘modernists’ like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Raja Rammohun Roy saw how out of tune a native Indian is, in this new order of things in British India. They probably felt that it would hinder the growth of the native Indian as he wouldn’t be able to better his lot if he doesn’t ‘learn’ the ways of the new India. Also, we know that Syed Ahmed Khan held British empire to be way too powerful and that Indians didn’t stand a chance if they were to revolt against it, as they did in the uprising of 1857. Now this was one group of people who thought that Indians should modernize – learn English language and train in newer fields of science and industry. Those who pushed for such ideas are termed ‘modernists’ of the late 19th century.

There is another set of modernists that I see – Indian academicians and professors who are trained abroad. I find that they do not see themselves as agents propagating certain ideas which do not necessarily hold the same importance as they think it should or are simply irrelevant. To my understanding they aren’t any different from what our 19th century modernists were doing. These I call modernists of now. Except the subaltern studies initiative, I do not recall anything as original as this in its concern and rigour. We have some of the major works on Indian society, culture and politics from western thinkers. Also in many instances divergent from what the native sociologists would see it like.

These are some first thoughts on a discussion on some of the early modernists in India and which was in some way imagined as something that happened in the past. In spirit, I think it still happens and will keep happening. Being conscious of it can be a better position to be in than always looking at it in retrospect.