Friday, May 17, 2013

If I were the Principal of a school

The story unfolded when India was under the British regime. Colonial masters reshaped the education system of India. The objective was to create more clerks for the smooth functioning of British Empire and hence significant twists were done such as replacing Sanskrit & Persian with English and disallowing study of epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana which taught great leadership lessons and righteousness of character. The concept of mindless competition was borne out of this system which almost buried the spirit of cooperation; there was a blind pursuit amongst Indians to become submissive clerks and lead a relaxed life without having to suffer  British exploitation. The most unfortunate aspect was that this education inculcated self-derogatory thinking patterns in many Indians who considered themselves a breed apart, took pride in being subservient to their masters while natives faced hardships under colonial rule. The ancient system of learning had communication as its integral part. The goal was to be very good at communicating with society while today; the focus is only to become clever at dealings with the employee/boss/client. The downfall is evident – in former days, one aimed to reach out to society and was concerned with its welfare while today one speaks to market oneself, to garner more dough and to do his/her own good.
Let us pause - Twenty years of academic exercise which fails to equip students with courage and humility to face the vicissitudes of life, which does not bring out strength of character and a spirit of philanthropy – is it worth the name?
I have been a victim of this half-baked learning system like billions of other people. However, I tried not to let my sour academic experiences interfere with true education. The focus has always been to read and understand the lives and works of people who changed the world, who believed in their dreams, who held a purpose larger than life and lived by that.Not limiting themselves to find solace in the jugglery to pay EMIs of a roof over 3 bedrooms for 20 most prime years of life! A human life is more valuable than just contented to fulfill mundane needs.
If I were a Principal and had the autonomy to change the system even a bit, I would like to make the following changes:
1.    Concentration: ‘To me the very essence of education is concentration of mind and not collecting of facts’, said Swami Vivekananda. He further emphasized that if he had to do his education all over again he would not collect mere facts and would rather focus on developing powers of concentration and detachment. Truly, concentration is one of the greatest differences between humans and animals; it is also the difference between a focused and wavering mind. Today, television and mobile phones are affecting attention span but  neither parents nor schools are bracing up to develop the  power of concentration. I would have built meditation rooms and organized special workshops on teaching techniques to enhance concentration.

2.    Art & Sports: I agree that every child can’t become Sachin Tendulkar or MF Hussain but he can’t become Dr Kalam as well. Then, why this unfair bias against sports and other creative works? Sports inculcate greatness traits like discipline, goals setting, leadership, perseverance & team work. It is on the playground that the feelings of brotherhood and mutual concern are created. These traits are more important than the theoretical knowledge of history or Sanskrit. Unfortunately most of the schools today don’t ponder over these issues and are in the mad race of amassing more money. The sports grounds have disappeared from schools. Let us not convert the land for sports grounds into concrete structures to garner money by offering admissions to more students!  

3.    Gita, Bible & Kuran: Swami Vivekananda mentioned in the World Religion Parliament in 1893,”I am a Hindu. I am sitting in my own little well and thinking that the whole world is my little well. The Christian sits in his little well and thinks the whole world is his well. The Mohammedan sits in his little well and thinks that is the whole world. We must not only tolerate other religions but positively embrace each other and know that the truth is basis of all the religions.” All the three major religious scripture must be a part of curriculum from class VI to X. Let the future minds of the nation know that all the religions are one and the same; these are just different paths to reach the same destination of human glory which is reached only by brotherhood and neither by riots nor by belittling others’ belief. Let India be truly secular and socialist democratic country.  

4.    Communication & Leadership: If we truly commit to become better communicators; half the inefficiencies in our systems, most of the quarrels in our families and sorrows in our lives will disappear the way fog vanishes when the Sun rises. Speaking without caring for the listener and writing without caring for the reader are the banes of communication which are unfortunately widespread in employment-seekers. We must understand that relationships are the foundation of all business and communication is in turn, the foundation of all relationships. We must accept that ‘anger may change the immediate action of a person but communication changes the thinking of the person.’  Study of leadership which is the vital ingredient for building an economically developed and happy nation is also untouched in the whole curriculum. Just imagine, if a kid is not able to lead his own life to fulfillment; how can we expect him to lead the nation towards prosperity and happiness? Maybe it is time to take the Toastmasters Clubs to schools as curriculum and Mahabharata epic as a multi-credit subject.  

5.    Reading beyond syllabus: Reading is to the brain what exercise is to the body; almost any luxury should be sacrificed for books. As a Principal, I would have a first rate library in my school and encourage students to read, analyze and assimilate the works of great authors & thinkers. I will help them to not only learn from the people they get in touch with, but also from the men and women of wisdom and mettle, who graced the planet before. Let them know the testimony to the belief, ‘whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.’ Let them shatter the limiting beliefs of centuries and develop empowering beliefs to tap the hidden potential in them. 

6.    Thinking as a subject: Lord Buddha said, ‘we become what we think’. This poised, powerful and pregnant quote was backed by umpteen testimonies in the history of human kind which includes lives of Krishna, Jesus, Prophet Muhammad, Helen Keller, Lincoln, Gandhi, Emerson, Picasso, Henry Ford, Teresa and many others. In today’s time, thinking is the highest paid job. People who can think big enough and communicate their ideas clearly are the ones who rule. However, not even a single lecture out of few thousands is spent on learning or teaching this art from KG to PG. If good thoughts convert into good actions, which culminate into good results, the fate of bad thoughts can easily be predicted. Thinking should be treated as a compulsory subject, for at least three years of schooling. Let us not underestimate the fact that thinkers have the power to shape the future. Children should be taught to think systematically.   

7.    Value of Values: If you do not stand for something, you may fall for anything. In today’s times, when human beings suppress their conscience, when people do not hesitate in gulping money even at the cost of belittling the respect of their motherland, when rape, robbery and ruthlessness are rampant as weeds in jungle – values are vital to survival as the air to breath or water to drink. The way Gandhi is synonym to truth and nonviolence, Teresa to love, Mandela to equality and Lincoln to perseverance, Einstein to imagination; we all must have guiding principles for our life to make it great. Teachers have the responsibility to lead by example and teach the value of values to their students.

8.    Help realizing the power of dreams, words, habits and clarity of purpose: For me, a life without dreams is like a balloon without air – though not defective, yet useless! The tragedy of our education system is – as the logical understanding goes to a new high and resources increase, dreams die down. Kids should be taught the power of dreams, words, thought patterns and be helped in becoming clearer on the purpose of their life. Only then they can hold the dreams long enough and develop supporting habits to turn them into reality.     
9.    Partnering with parents: In 1987, my parents handed Rs 2 to one of our neighbors to get me enrolled in a government school. That used to be our village school fees for one year. 21 years passed by and my parents met with my teachers in 2008 for the first time, on the day of convocation at Indian Institute of Management Lucknow! That is not how education of a child should take place in modern times. Parents have to be actively engaged in the education of a child. Though public schools are starting to involve parents however, the teachers talk to parents just for status update on kids’ classwork. If I were the Principal, I would provide thorough training to parents every quarter on how to be of great value in holistic development of their ward.     

In nutshell, the schools should mould the minds for better citizenship by equipping their students’ minds with winning attitude, healthy habits, sense of purpose, sound values and mandatory skills which cut across fields e.g. communication, leadership, concentration / focus, thought process and team spirit.

These can help us reaching to a level where Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore pointed, when he wrote,
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by Thee to ever-widening thought and action -
Into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake.’