How good is the current education? Answer A for excellent, B for above average, C for average, D for below average and E for hopeless.
I pose this question to people whenever I get an occasion; kind of my own informal survey about education. And the answer I get is mostly C and occasionally B, and rarely A or D, and seldom E. And it should not be any surprise. The literature on education, including the tens of thousands of formal surveys and books, millions of journal papers, magazine articles, newspaper columns and internet blogs, say pretty much the same. And, sadly, it has been the same answer for decades, or even more.
The obvious follow up question is ‘what shall be done in order to bring the grade of education to A?’ The answers fall in two broad categories, one arguing for making improvements to the current model of education and the other for replacing the current model. The first category of answers argue for better policies, for more resources, for better or more trained teachers, for reduced or increased syllabus, for less or more testing, for less or more administration, and so on. The second category of answers argue for child-centric, creativity-centric, freedom-centric, innovation-centric, leadership-centric, arts-centric, STEM centric, etc. models of education.
But who is to make the changes? Obviously, the governments, the education boards and the other education related agencies. They see hundreds and thousands of such suggestions coming from hundreds and thousands of quarters. Already struggling to implement the existing guidelines and enforce the existing policies and scrambling for budgets and resources to do so, they have no bandwidth to entertain these suggestions. It is not only the suggestions that come from outside, but also those that come from the rank and file of the education system, find it hard to gain the attention of powers that are. Only those suggestions that are backed up by political interests get some traction. Even those can get watered down and derailed in implementation.
Frustrated with this situation, and giving up the hope on any meaningful change happening to mainstream education, those who argue for alternative models start their own schools, many of which fall off pretty soon for want of funds, patronage, staff and so on.
So the question remains: how to bring change to mainstream education? How to elevate it from grade C to grade A? In this book, we present a completely different approach to bring a change in mainstream education. We a) present a blueprint of a new, powerful, modular and open-ended model of education that is far more comprehensive than all the generally discussed alternatives combined, b) present a strategy of how the new model can replace the mainstream education outside-in gradually, providing exciting dividends along the way to children, parents, teachers, administrators and to policy makers at the end, without asking for new budgets or upfront and significant policy changes.
We develop the new model from ground up, without getting constrained by any of the limitations of the current model. We let the imagination fly without bounds. We take a deep dive not only into what ‘education’ means, but also into what a child truly needs and what additional value we can bring to the child than the current model.
We don’t limit our concern to what happens to the child in the school. We rather think about how best education can complement what the child gets from the family and immediate environment and through the media, social media and other resources on the internet.
We design the new model in such a way that it works equally well for children of any socio-economic background, the rich, the poor and the middle-class, the rural, the urban and the suburban.
We make sure that the new model prepares children for every possible economic opportunity, in the formal as well as the informal sectors of the economy. We focus not on giving a fixed set of skills or knowledge, but the critical skill of ‘learn to learn’, so that the children are prepared to adapt to the changing socio-economic environment, and pursuing emerging opportunities and career paths.
We make sure the new model gives plenty of opportunities for the child to practice the skills of pursuing one’s interests , sharing-n-caring about the others, and collaborating with others who are like-minded as well as unlike-minded.
We now welcome you into this exciting journey of exploring children’s needs and designing a model that meets those needs.
Before we start the discussion about education, we need to answer the question, ‘what is education?’. The first thing that comes to our mind is the textbook or academic definition of education. But there is more to education than the textbook definitions. It means many things to many people. Since we are discussing here a completely new model of education, we need to consider education from every perspective.
For a philosopher, it is the noblest profession in the world, that stimulates and expands the minds of the children. For a sociologist, education is an important social institution that affects many other institutions with the products it creates. For a psychologist, it is an opportunity to help the child in several ways. For an Educator, it is a tool to impart certain skills and knowledge to the child.
For an idealogue, education is a tool to create the ‘ideal’ next generation. For a government, education is a tool to open up (or shut off) the minds of the future citizens to certain things. For an economist, it is one of the major sectors of the economy. For an entrepreneur it is a business opportunity - to run schools or colleges or universities or to render various other services, from textbook publication to transportation services to professional development.
For Indic philosophers creativity and education are complementary and inseparable like husband and wife, with Lord Brahma symbolizing creativity and His consort, goddess Saraswati, symbolizing education.
For the education system itself, education is synonymous with completing the curriculum, conducting the examinations, evaluating the answers and giving marks, grades and finally certificates, diplomas and degrees. For an employer, education is synonymous with training.
Education means different things for different families. For families of lower-economic segments, education is a gamble, as it is bound to disassociate the children from the family profession, but without guaranteeing gainful employment. For middle class families, education is essential, as there is no family profession to pass on to their children. For rich families schools and colleges are places for their children to associate and network with children of other rich families.
Education also means day care for many families. School is a place to ‘park’ the children when parents are busy. It is essential for two-career families and single-parent families. Schools are also considered as safer places for children to socialize with other children, than streets.
Some look at the educated with awe and reverence. Some see them lacking common sense and the touch with reality. Some educated use their degrees as a tool to intimidate others. Some with a master’s degree believe that they are truly masters of the specific subject. Some with a master’s degree know how meaningless that degree is, as the true learning begins only after completing the education.
Among all these perspectives of education, there is one important perspective that is missing: The perspective of education for the child filself. What does education mean to the child? Unfortunately the child is not grown up enough to express fer own perspective on education. So, we have to take it upon ourselves to describe education from the child’s perspective.
Children start their lives like saplings that would later grow to be bushes, vines and trees. Families serve them both as the soil and environment. The taproots of the children penetrates into that soil.
After a few more years, children venture out into the streets, i.e., into the society, getting in touch with people beyond the family members and places beyond the home, exercising the freedom of being on their own, and thus, developing a second root into the society.
Then children would be put in schools, the world of books, teachers and bells, a.k.a., structured and formal learning. They get in touch with the larger world, beyond what they see in their immediate environment, and thus, developing a third root, into the structured and formal learning environment.
This pattern, of developing roots first into the family, then into the society and then optionally into the school, used to be the common pattern for a long time in human history. Nowadays children are not having the opportunity to play in the streets and develop roots into society, as they are put in schools at a very early age. So children are turning school itself into their society. They go to school for the sake of friends.
As children grow up, they start thinking about themselves as individuals, their hopes, fears and imaginations. Another root, a fourth one, develops into their own ‘self’.
These four, the self, the family, the society and the school become the four worlds of the children. They learn from each one of these sources. Normally we associate only school with learning. But from a child’s point of view, all these four worlds are equally important sources of learning. These four also provide them the opportunity to challenge themselves and express themselves, and showcase their talents.
At home, children learn about sharing and caring. They learn about relationships. They learn about the ups and downs of life. They see how some people succumb to the challenges of life or how some survive over them. They see discipline or disarray, first hand. They see emotions, sometimes expressed in raw tones, and sometimes flowing like under currents.
When they venture into the society, from the fairly navigable and finite environment of home, they see a large, open and infinite expanse out there, for them to explore, conquer or tread with care. Some see order as the rule and chaos as the exception. Some see chaos as the rule and order as the exception. With excitement propelling fim forward and trepidation holding fim back, fe takes the first steps of fer dance with the society.
When they are put in the school, they get to learn about the secrets and details of the world, which are not evident in their immediate environment, such as the various terrains of the earth and its layers, and planets and stars. They get a peek into the history of the universe, earth, humankind, civilizations and societies. They get to know arts and literature. They get to learn the skills of reading, writing and arithmetic, and more.
And when they start getting in touch with the self, they get to learn about their own imaginations, fears and hopes. They come to know of their own urge to chase opportunities, to acquire, to accumulate, to achieve, and showcase themselves to the world. They see themselves reveling and consumed in playing games or sports or music, or reading books or cooking. They see themselves buoying when the world recognizes and applauds them and sinking when the world ignores or slights them. They feel glimpses of the chance, the invisible and the unknown playing a role in their life.
Some see the self, some, the home, some, the society, and some, the school, as their primary source of energy and primary field of operation, or their primary playground. Some see more than one of them as their primary sources of energy and primary fields of operation and primary playgrounds. As they grow up, they also see the taproot itself shifting, from home to school or to society or to the self itself.
These four worlds do not disappear when the children grow up to be adults. The same four worlds continue into adulthood also. with the workplace taking the place of the school.
Any culture in which these four worlds celebrate and support each other will enjoy harmony and prosperity. Any culture in which these four worlds try to dominate or discount the others will suffer disharmony and deterioration.
Consider children whose taproots are in society, but their families happen to discourage them from spending time with their friends. Or consider a society or community that does not have the necessary respect for education or learning. Or consider schools that are disconnected from the concerns of families and societies. Or consider schools, families and societies that fail to speak to the internal excitement or turmoil of the self. Children would not do well in such a culture. They would spend, when they grow up, a lot of energy making sense of the disconnected world.
Consider, on the other hand, the cultures, where all these four worlds celebrate and support each other: families supporting the children with taproots in society or school or self, societies supporting children with taproots in schools or self and family, schools respecting and responding to the needs of the children, families and the societies. Children in such cultures grow well, and eventually into adults with a balanced view of the world.
This means that each one of the four worlds have dual responsibilities: One, to do their own job well, and two, to recognize, support and celebrate the other three worlds.
It is under these two criteria that we have to examine how well any of the four worlds, the families, the societies, the education systems and the individuals are doing. If they are measuring well in any one of the two criteria, something somewhere is going wrong in that culture, which might have to do with multitudes of historical and emerging factors.
The reason we need a new model of education is that the current model does not measure well in either of these two criteria. Current model of education does not do a good job of either educating the children or connecting well with the other three worlds. We will discuss the details of this throughout this book.