The pond and the swimming pool

Some years ago, we lived in a house with a pond and our two boys spent long hours swimming and lounging around in the water. It was like having a private swimming pool of our own. However, there is a fundamental difference between a pond and a swimming pool, and in this post I would like to talk about it.

What you notice about a pond is that it is alive – its an ecosystem, a self-contained world in itself. The plants and insects and animals that live in it appear to all be components of an ‘alive’ pond. The distinction will become clear when you see that swimming pools have energy-guzzling aeration, filtration and circulation systems that work hard to keep the water clean. Like a person on life support with a machine doing what occurs naturally and effortlessly in healthy people. In other words, a pond is a self-sustaining, effortless, natural system and the swimming pool, in contrast, is an energy-draining, effort-full, artificial system.

We can think of other natural/ artificial pairs like pond/ pool – for example, meadow/ lawn, forest/ plantation etc. An ecologist friend used to say that all of Kerala is one giant plantation. I point this out so that you are not deceived by the greenery in the photo above. It may look natural and forest-like but it is the greenery of an artificial plantation.

The pond/ pool idea serves as a good metaphor when applied to education. We can see that modern education is artificial and effort-full and pool-like. We need to move it in the direction of becoming natural and effortless and pond-like. I like to think that if we succeed, what has happened is Asli Shiksha.

What do you think?

A slightly disturbing idea about education

I have a slightly disturbing idea about education that I want to present to you in a slow, roundabout manner that resonates with the leaves dancing and shining outside my window against the backdrop of a bright blue Bangalore sky…

Two days ago, I was on a call with some close friends and the question came up whether I was against vaccinations and why I had not got my first dose yet. I told them an old story to make my case.

Long ago, I was friendly with a nice couple who had a 3-year-old son. Whenever you asked the boy a yes/no question (for example- Do you want an ice cream?), his instant response would always be a ‘No’. Then he would think about it a little bit and sometimes he would change his mind (As in- Yes, I want an ice cream). The world is always pushing us, telling us that we ought to do something or the other because it is good for us and I remember thinking that the young boy had figured something out that would serve him well as he grew up.

Like the little boy, I find it convenient to say ‘No’ first and take some time to think about whatever is being pushed at me. It has been my experience that when something is being pushed at me, it MAY be good for me but it is DEFINITELY (economically or emotionally or in some other way) good for the person pushing it. I told my friends on the call that I was not against vaccinations but against being pushed. 🙂

Which brings me to the disturbing idea about education that I wanted to present- As parents and teachers, or educators, are we not all the time pushing things at children? Some introspection can reveal to us that teaching and learning are two separate processes and as a teacher we can only have control over one part of the process. It is not only the push of the teacher that makes learning happen inside the learner but the readiness or paatrata of the learner.

Let me extend that and try to express it in another way. You will probably agree that what we are trying in education is the creation of a good human being with some skills useful to society. But, how do we go about creating a ‘good’ human being? Even assuming that we ourselves are good and that we have some robust industrial process for transmitting our goodness, what the previous paragraph is indicating is that there is no guarantee that the learner will become good.

Therefore, does it not mean that as educators we must realize that the project of education we have embarked on is doomed? That, we are only throwing seeds that may or may not sprout? That, the learners who are ready will find their own ways and will anyway learn, with or without our teaching effort? And, should this realization not make us educators take ourselves a little less seriously?

Long ago, I bumped into a hostel-mate at an airport. We were both rushing and in passing I asked him, ‘You look like you have made it big, what are you doing nowadays?’ He responded with a smile, ‘Still doing what I used to do in the hostel – logo ko bewakuf banane waala kaam kar raha hoon.’ I think that when we educators become sahaj enough to say this about our work, we would have moved closer to Asli Shiksha. 🙂

What do you think?