Learning like Bruce

'A King had been defeated six times at war. Forces scattered, facing death, he fled and hid in a rude shed. He was tired and shattered. As he lay in despair he saw a small spider attempting to weave a web. She tried and failed - six times in a row. The King thought, "She too shall taste bitter failure." But the spider tried for a seventh time and emerged successful. Inspired, the King too endeavored into the thick forests, for a seventh time, gathered his forces and won himself a commendable victory.'

It's a time when the self-declared godfather of world nations has allowed itself to be eclipsed by the emerging super powers, and paradoxically, uncomfortable 'truths' of the gaping holes in our political, economic and corporate fabric have made their hostile appearance. Nandan Nilekani 'imagined' the Indian picture perfectly when he said there was a worrying 'dissonance in opportunities that India has and political chaos'. What is most apparent in the word 'opportunities' is the undefined horizons of education. But that which is always apparent may also be taken for granted. This brings us to the story - a very famous one at that - I have mentioned above.

Let me put forth two questions.

1. Who is the King mentioned in the fable?
2. Who/what is the most important character of the story?

Five points for those who answered King Bruce of Scotland, for the first question. For the second question, there are three possible answers: The Spider, the number seven, or King Bruce. If you said 'Spider', you get two points, for 'Seven', three points, for 'Bruce', full five points.

Why Bruce and not the spider?

In any given situation, even in no-man's land, we can identify two players - a lesson and a learner. The spider is the lesson and Bruce is the learner. Argue all you may, I shall still say that the learner is always more important than the lesson itself. Lessons by themselves are dry, lifeless and often unappealing. The learner's attitude and his applicative skills can make a lesson out of even a mosaic chip.
Molding the learner to find a lesson in everything he/she does and applying that lesson to earn more opportunities - that's education. But in India, we are still shackled to several archaic 'lessons' that are stifled between the hard covers of unquestionable authority - the reason why you forgot the name of the King. We need to urgently shift focus to questions such as: Who is learning, How is he learning, and How can he learn better, and not merely, what is (anyone) learning. That is the most practical approach to educating. Forty per cent of the people in the world are kinesthetic learners - those who learn from experiencing, doing or being part of something. Of the remaining, only about 20 per cent are auditory learners, and the rest are visual learners, or a combination of the above three. But, what part of our education focuses on either the kinesthetic or visual learners?
Then again, is it practicable to develop and maintain such focal learning points in the system? Today, the answer is a veritable yes. The internet is flooded with free and paid personality tests, prepared or accredited by psychologists. How difficult is it then for the government to procure them and, with the help of a team of psychologists, develop customized tests that can be made available to schools? Such tests - in English or vernacular languages - conducted at the beginning of fifth grade (when the child begins to warm up to learning on his own) will go a long way in assisting teachers and students in the process of learning. This may even go a long way in reducing the rate of drop outs.
Now the question is this:

In a class of 70 and 80 students, attended to by an understaffed and often disgruntled group of teachers, how does one divide learners and maintain these profitable divisions? There needs to be no division per se. Instead, let's try our hand at fusion, which can bring surprising results.
I am an auditory-kinesthetic learner. Since the ninth grade, I have been attempting to memorize the monuments of India. Some disconnected buildings, builders, places; they all freaked me out. Two weeks back, I saw an audio-visual documentary on a history infotainment channel about the Bara Imambara of Lucknow. I close my eyes now and can see myself walking through the famous Bhul-Bhulaiya, fighting hidden soldiers, even as the sweet voice of a lady resonates in my mind, telling me about its builder Asif Ud-Daula and how it was built under the Food for Work programme and its many architectural peculiarities.
Is providing such learning aid impossible?

A yes to this question will be equivalent to blatantly disregarding our achievements in developing, indigenously, some of the best and least-cost technologies in the world. Knowledge is the only renewable resource. Face it. Rivers stop flowing. Winds stop blowing. And they say, in a billion odd years, the Sun will stop burning too. And if what they say is right, we'll soon be living in space, where we'll have nothing but knowledge to kick start our lives. What's special about this resource is that renewing it is child's play, literally. But must we rely only on certified professionals - who still go by the name 'teacher' - to spread this one, this only key to our futures? (I do not intend to denigrate the role of teachers in education. They are doing it themselves.)
How do we make better teachers and students a part of our burgeoning population? Practice. The CBSE and State Educational Agencies must endeavor to make it a part of their syllabus for all students from the eighth to twelfth grades (along with their teachers) to spend certain specified hours with uneducated children and adults in the nearest rural/semi-urban localities. Learning by teaching - it's an ancient, tried and tested method. If the 20-25 marks that are awarded to children for copying assignments and gobbling up lengthy seminars are given for serving the community, we will have a socially aware, sensible, vibrant and connected future India (not to forget an immensely educated one as well). Because, as it turns out, even spiders can teach!

In India we have a bad habit - of setting too many limits. And the first victim is always knowledge; the second being the learner. Recently, while in the virtual world, I strayed into the land of the National Knowledge Commission. I was happy, because the Commission has done a commendable job of dissecting the scenario of education in India. But why keep two equally relevant fields out of their purview: Sports and Culture? Indians marvel (and Chinese democrats cringe) over two things in China - their sporting culture, and the profound reach of the State's technological arm. Out here, we have 321 sports training centers functioning under the SAI with overall trainee strength of 14,900 (as of 2009-10). Given that most of these centers are attached to schools, we can say that roughly 0.004 per cent of our under-15 population is covered. The success in CWG and Asian Games came primarily from private training centers and personal effort. A similar situation exists in the world of art and culture - the Sanskriti Yatra 2010, a sham; the dilapidated Shanti Niketan, an insult to Tagore. And all this: 321 centers, five air-conditioned coaches filled with chart papers and disorderly history, numerous half-baked culture funds and missions and sporting extravaganzas - a leak in the taxpayer's hard-earned dreams.
The clichéd argument would be: What of sports and culture in a land of rotting grains and over 300 million poor? The rebuttal: Sports and culture are routes to alternate livelihood and a positive safety valve for the aggressive unemployed. As Thomas Master has observed in his free sports school, "Ninety per cent of the students are poor. Sports is their route to get good jobs. They see sports as their life's goal." There are more examples: Rajpal Singh's rifle academy in UP, Mrityunjay Tiwari's football-cum-education programme in Bihar, and Kerala's very own PT Usha Academy.
Had Bruce not been of the energetic and sporting kind, he may well have missed the spider's lesson! As far as art's bearing on education goes, I need go no further than Albert Einstein - the violin sessions he immersed himself in to unclog his Gedanken experiment-ridden brain are quite famous.
The idea is to think strategically, and positively. The idea is to become a stakeholder in the prosperity of civil society. And to practice an education that delinks itself from any one of the four strands of modern civil society - scientific thought, social consciousness, sporting action, artistic creation - that define the human evolution is in itself the propagation of a limiting, discriminatory system; against the tenets of a free society. No education should make you. It should only aid you make your choice. It should help you seek your lesson and fight your war.
I shall not stretch my argument. For there is no argument beyond Einstein!

Courtesy: Centre for Public Policy Research   
Images (c)


More by :  Shraddha Vinod

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