Stuffing For Boxes

I. Malleable Minds

The philosophical theory of dualism (Rene Descartes) expounds the independence between mind and body. It suggests that the brain is a somatic organ performing the biological function of controlling the nervous system. On the other hand, the mind is a non-spatial structure characterised by consciousness and perspicacity. Therefore, reasoning happens in the abstract space called mind and not brain.

To grasp this idea, visualise the thinking portion of our consciousness as a coarse, unworked piece of clay. It forms an ideal substitute because of similar qualities of malleability. Clay casting skills allow from construction of simple figures to conjuration of intricate sculptures. Comparably, dissimilar minds conceive ideas ranging from uncomplicated to fantastical. The ability to shape clay is enhanced through modelling lessons. The formal equivalent for moulding minds is education.

Education’s power to transform sensibilities remains intact even centuries after the first lessons were imparted. It has remained the most powerful tool available to metamorphose an individual (and through assembly, entire society). Keeping merely that benefit in mind, it commands a remarkable place in any society at any point in time. However, this significance gains colossal proportions when it is viewed adjacent to the present state of India.

II. State of India

The state of our nation is dire in many ways. Any discerning individual inspecting India closely today would detect an intellectual deterioration setting about the burgeoning populace. Hypocrisy seems to have become the primary characteristic of the Indian society where specious politicians and similar sanctimonious orators wax eloquent about showering care on the helpless, old, infants and ensuring equitable progress for all. The reality is far from these claims-

  • An attitude of abandonment and cruel insensitivity best represents how the old are regarded.
  • Child welfare is neglected in every aspect; physical well-being, mental development or financial security.
  • The poor and the marginalised are treated as unwanted sections whose existence needs to be swept under the carpet and hidden away from our consciousness (there was an instance during the preparation of the Delhi Commonwealth Games when instead of redeveloping a shambolic slum cluster, the Government decided to erect huge hoardings in front of their shacks to remove them from view).
  • Life in our ‘proud’ nation is characterised by a sickening perception of women in the minds of men who seem to be on the prowl like predators on roads, in buses, trains, restaurants, parks, night clubs and any other place conceivable.
  • Brutality against the weak is rampant through leveraging of majoritarian religious or political “ideologies” executed by imbeciles who are only looking for an adrenaline rush and impetuously view their violent tendencies through shades of righteousness.

However, hooliganism and delinquency only form the more visible and criticised side of the coin. The other end of the social spectrum is marred by crass elitism and intellectual snobbery treating anything not sanctioned by it with a high brow attitude. The only purposes this serves (besides the redundant one of fuelling empty egos) is the elimination of an opportunity for integration of the ‘lower’ class.

The privileged section of our society is so deeply ensconced in its comfortable cocoon that the act of questioning is mostly perceived as superfluous and deemed as ‘overthought’. People have the means and foresight to alter things but the primary interest only lies in strengthening position in the social order and upgrading existence to one of superior opulence. The selfishness is so deep-rooted and unconscious that even those usually capable of extraordinary discernment about other matters become blind to their own cruelty and thoughtlessness towards the comparatively unfortunate .

Thus, the two headed beast of political apathy and reluctance to share prosperity is the reason why India is failing to flourish inspite of both natural and human riches. In such an atmosphere, all economic or political attempts towards upliftment remain futile due to eventual obstruction by powerful money spinners or corrupt politicians looking to maintain the status quo.

III. Power of Education

Considering these factors, it is obvious education holds greater importance in the Indian context. Sound education can make the perpetrators of the present, unjust system conscious of their actions and the victims enlightened to the realities of their own existence. This would require a setup providing encumbrance-free insight and an ability to think critically. The present Indian structure is grossly inadequate to serve this purpose. An overhaul of the entire system is urgently required if schooling is to have any impact on the condition of the masses.

The requisite process is a long drawn one; requiring shrewd forethought, painstaking efforts and considerable financial impetus. Resultantly, the proclamation deeming the all-shadowing supremacy of education is fiercely contested by proponents of technological literacy who claim that a cumbersome tutelage is not a compulsion for ascendence of the lowest sections of society. Rather, free access to technology and an instruction to use it may be adequate to serve the purpose of empowerment (this might be a version of the thought behind facebook.org). This rationale is agreeable in some part. The importance of technology cannot be undermined in today’s times of digitisation and electronic connectivity. Technology, if used correctly, can prove revolutionary and save productive time and money.

But it must be kept in mind that technological literacy (and the internet) can be a two edged sword, the wrong side of which can result in shredding a heap of useful hours into scrolling through irrelevant information. A sensitive mind would be required to filter the detrimental effects of technology or we will next be dealing with a social rot stemming from the top of each person’s palm.

Education, therefore, is indisputably the best means of transcendence available. It could help each person to critically introspect, find their places and extricate themselves from whatever unfavourable social condition they may be withstanding.

IV. Flaws in the Indian Education System

Having established the dire need of a sound education, it would be unwise to circumvent the warped perspective with which pedagogy is viewed in India. The fact that college level education is abysmal and spewing unoriginal research is well recorded by social and political commentators and it would be futile to add to the din. My vexation instead stems from an under-discussed issue that could possibly address the root of all problems — the method followed in schools to impart education to the youngest children.

The schools in India can be demarcated into visibly separate portions-private and public.

The public schools are underfunded, poorly managed and are in an overall shambolic state. A large reason for such mismanagement is government’s apathy, lack of adequate funding and under-qualified, disinterested teachers who are often guilty of treating the children without any care or respect. Therefore, the entire onus of gleaning knowledge falls upon the child himself / herself. These children often belong to families facing financial hardships with plenty of factors distracting them from their studies. As a result, many government school classes descend into unruly and chaotic spaces. The result of twelve years of such education is undereducated students who lack employable skills.

The private education environment primarily serves the elite section of the Indian society. These schools are characterised by conformity, excessive strictness and a sense of false pride arising due to the instilling of these two attributes.

An assembly line approach is seen in every aspect of the private school experience and the fraternity is very enthusiastically embroiled in creating ‘products’ (I was aghast when I heard the term used in the context of humans during a conversation. I thought products came from factories). Everyone is supposed to look the same in the same uniforms (individuality is taboo), study the same lessons, regurgitate the same answers in examinations, fight for the same places in “streams” unknowledgeable fifteen year olds are forced to opt to form the basis for the rest of their professional careers. Thereafter, the students are all expected to tussle over seats in the same “prestigious” institutions that repeat the whole process all over again to eventually present the deluded albeit illustrious candidate a job (a job mind, not a career).

I think the whole system is absurd and ludicrous and if incorporated with identical haircuts would be one Kim Jong Un would be proud of. This is never going to be successful because it forgets to factor in the psyche of the most important part of the whole machinery-the children.

Children thrive in unpredictability and dynamism. That is their nature by default and is what lends their thought process innocence, beauty and joy. To come up with such an elaborate system to coerce creativity and originality away must have taken extreme contemplation, planning and stupidity. The encouragement of a practice which demolishes individual streak to instil discipline and an ability to recall facts at will needs a serious rethink. All this strategy achieves is to transform minds into stuffing used to fill up rows upon rows of office shaped boxes. The purpose of these offices is to mint money for corporations that share an extremely unfair amount with their overexploited employees. These employees then spend those amounts to fill their box shaped houses with materialistic things which are equated to happiness and progress.

What the lack of a sound education has done is to make critical thinking appear redundant to this vast class of extremely obedient and employable sect. Instead reliance is placed on opinionated journalists, haste inspired news app articles, social media formed of uninformed opinions and an underdeveloped ‘common sense’ for making judgement. Moreover, in the race to accumulate symbols of modernity the individual is losing touch with the simpler, basic self. This results in discontentment, dejection and a generation of directionless youth. Hence, even though materialism may overpower logic for a short duration, as soon as one obtains the maturity to question the fulfilment of personal actualisation needs, the whole mirage tends to fall flat.

The source of these materialistic tendencies seems to be a phenomenon that is making India gravitate towards an America like consumerist society revolving around desires to earn and own. It is arguable whether Americanisation of sensibilities is disagreeable or may be advantageous and progressive for a young country such as ours (it is after all a great nation responsible for fuelling development and intelligent thought).

One would be inclined to agree to the latter, except prudence reminds that a Donald Trump like personality is in with a genuine chance of running that glorious country of free thinkers. It is debatable whether such a political predicament is worse than the non functional legislative machinery of our country. But however long we may roll our r’s and embrace the generous gifts of America, it is certain that nobody wants India’s political, economic and intellectual atmosphere to be suffering from the epidemic like immaturity that we have become acclimated to (if only America wasn’t as magnanimous towards Pakistan’s military). Therefore, proper rectification measures for the education system need to be instituted at the earliest.

V. Possible measures

The questionable material standards with which Indians view success have percolated to the institutions with the important responsibility of shaping the youngest and the most impressionable part of our lives. Resultantly, an unneeded sense of competitiveness is prevalent in an entire generation constantly trying to outsmart on superficial levels. This is uncomfortably visible through the general proclivity of the young Indian to prove to be the ‘best’ at everything (which translates to being better than everybody in their limited circle or immediate vicinity). This sense has taken over thought processes and allusions to being superior / knowing more dominates (and effectively kills) conversations. The only way any grudging respect is now earned is generally based on materialistic factors.

The rigidity and abrasiveness of this system might have left an indelible imprint on the psyche of the Indian populace and the damage would be difficult (if not irreversible) to rectify. However, little respite is available in the fact that the problem is not hard to spot and if the wheels are turned in motion with promptness we might yet salvage a somewhat functional social structure.

Jean Jacques Rousseau in his book ‘On Education’ advocated the need to impart individual child-focussed education. The book propounds that children are good by default and the key to raising them is to prevent their corruption by society. He believed childhood should be full of play and exposure to nature. His teachings are still very relevant today, especially in the Indian context.

The Indian education system is only aiming towards monetising intelligence leading to lopsided personality growth of its students. Most schools in Delhi are focussing merely on academic laurels and completely disregarding holistic development of children entering their precincts. This is the primary problem to be addressed.

The solution to the problem is seemingly simple-let the children focus on creative interests besides merely scoring marks during their formative years. Such a plan would incorporate focussing more on life skills and provision of an understanding of arts, sports and the world in general instead of breeding humans for academic excellence. The benefits of this alternate system would be multifold-

  • Economics — Emphasis on augmenting creativity during formative years would create an alteration in how every individual approaches problem solving. This would translate into an instinctive tendency to innovate in future vocations contributing to the development of a pragmatic, utilitarian ecosystem.
  • Politics — Providing the students with an ability to think critically and to question would result in recognition of problems surrounding them from a very young age and implore them to indulge in public discourse to look for solutions. This would lead to politically responsible citizens eager to engage for improvement.
  • Art — An entire generation of young people involved in artistic endeavours would bring a cultural overhaul, removing the vulgarity / staidness from presently created art. It would also take away the excessive pressure felt by the normal working class twenty-something forced to spend strenuous hours in foreboding workplaces through an artistic outlet.
  • Sports — Considering India’s large population, the country’s achievements in sports feel extremely underwhelming which can be traced to untapped and underdevelopment of latent talent. A policy of intensive involvement of children would help to produce better athletes and consequently improve the country’s standing in the international arena.
  • Personal — The children can explore their creative sides helping them to express better. In the longer run, each individual would have at least one hobby to cherish and refine. It would be simpler to naturally forge friendships through the exploration of common interests.
  • Uncomplicated implementation — The most important point to note is that this system of education is steeped in simplicity, is inexpensive and easy to implement in both new and existing educational setups.

Its is entirely possible that the above suggestions might come across as idealistic and impractical. The truth is actually the exact opposite. This alternative system of education is already being executed in a free progress school in Delhi called Mirambika and the results are very encouraging. I have had an opportunity to study and interact with erstwhile students of the school and the children invariably seem to be happier, friendlier and more talented than the average Delhi school ‘product’. Such students don’t fit in very well to the conventional occupations but that is the whole point of this system. Their perspective is never limited by run of the mill priorities and consequently most of them have ended up creating niches for themselves, often excelling in the arts and humanities.

It is high time that this system is immediately introduced in other schools as well. Even if a complete overhaul seems unpalatable, a beginning with incorporation of certain aspects would go a long way in transforming the ugly, dangerous beast our nation is becoming into an India we could actually be proud of.

PS- Indian Psychology Institute’s analysis of Mirambika education