Written by Rhea Narayan Kuthoore 

A vital organ of society has been decaying over time. If you are reading this piece, you were probably thrust into “education” at a very early stage and continue to be invested in the idea of it. Although most people are concerned with the structural and instrumental inefficiencies of education, let us, for a moment, turn our attention to some conceptual problems of its current form.

‘Education’ is derived from the Latin word ēdūcō. It means to “draw out”, i.e learning is a process of “drawing out” from the learner. As observed in history, the Socratic and gurukula methods of education largely followed this understanding of the word and were based on the technique of questioning. The teacher would spark curiosity and guide the student by asking all the right questions. In this manner, education was focused on realising knowledge rather than ingesting knowledge.

With time, the nature and purpose of education have been continuously moulded in order to fit the paradigms of society. For instance, during the scientific boom, reason and rationality were considered to be of supreme importance. Subjects such as science and math became essential to education. Similarly, during the Industrial Revolution, productivity and efficiency became the need of the hour. Hence, education became the means to acquire the skills required to secure jobs in the market. Correspondingly, a hierarchy of subjects was created based on the norms of society. Math and science are valued the most. Humanities and arts follow second and third respectively in terms of utility. As Ken Robinson famously said, “We educate progressively from waist up and focus on the head, and sadly to one side.”

While adapting to the demands of society, the concept of education has compromised its key organs; it has distanced itself from observation and creativity, as well as consciousness and sensibility.

Observation and Creativity

Today’s education undermines the crucial nature of observation. As argued by the Polish philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, “The human intellect is said to be so constituted, that general ideas arise by abstraction from particular observations, and therefore come after them in point of time. This might be called the natural method of education.”

According to him, education ought to proceed from experience to inference, rather than the other way around. However, it is more than evident that education prioritises inference before experience. By informing rather than questioning, the system of education neglects the art of observing.

Education, today, is what Schopenhauer calls artificial. “The artificial method is to hear what other people say, to learn and to read, and so to get your head crammed full of general ideas before you have any sort of extended acquaintance with the world as it is, and as you may see it for yourself.”

Second, education hampers creativity. Ken Robinson points this out, in arguing that “Creativity is as important as literacy”. Moreover, “if you are afraid of being wrong, you will not be creative. As we are so afraid of being wrong, we are educated out of creativity.” As the significance of education is highly dependent on its instrumental gain or utility (i.e the ability to assure a job or grasp the world), there is very less scope for being boundlessly creative, imaginative and exploratory.

Consciousness and Sensibility

Finally, education has moved far away from consciousness and sensibility. It teaches us to entirely look outward rather than inward; it forces us to look for the objective at the cost of the subjective. If a child can understand and reproduce organic equations, then he/she is rewarded for being ‘educated’. Why and how these questions are meaningful to the child is pushed to the sidelines.

The aim is not to comprehend what is important to you, but it is to comprehend what is important in the world and pursue it. The learnt has precedence over the learner. The truth is more important than the realisation of the truth. Therefore, knowledge is meant to be swallowed and consumed rather than chewed and experienced. It has become just another commodity that is bought and sold at different prices based on quality. The Indian education system is more or less a near-perfect reflection of this.

All in all, the purpose and goal of education ought to be re-thought. Education has seemingly replaced introspection and reflection with a canon of texts to be studied. Has education separated us from our environment and society in a way in which a biologist is divided from his microbes? Thereby, is education merely a magnifying glass through which we are meant to scrutinise and study the “other”? Before we work to improve the quality of education, we must scrutinize, question and reform the concept of ‘education’ itself.

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