My vision of education
what education means to me and what I believe its purpose is
I have always had a keen interest in education, starting from the time I was fifteen and have harboured it for the last twenty years of my life. The interest has survived erosion by tendencies for instant gratification, peer pressure, intellectual dissection, societal pessimism, and above all, my fear for the future, and I only feel more aware of that interest today than I was before. Action has been limited until now: even though I have engaged in education more than most of my peers, I am not as immersed in educational practice as I believe I ought to be. That is set to change now. Today, I experience a new energy with which I recognise my interest in education and prepare new actions around it. And it is with that energy that I write this note, meant to serve as my guide, and of others I work with, in my educational work going forward.
To me, education means a transformation of the self, a way to increase effectiveness of the individual, to deepen his or her relationship with the world, and to direct the individual’s mind into creating impact on its environment. Within the realm of education, I believe that the most fundamental and essential form is the education of children, particularly of children in their early stages of growth: children are our link to the future and educating them, to me, is the key to a bright future for all of mankind.
What I wish to achieve through education, and education of children in particular, is contained in three ideas: the imparting of skills, the tackling of fear, and the realisation of the self. Many of the traditional ideas and goals of education — knowledge creation and sharing or the idea of building memory, creativity or increasing employability — are secondary to me and, I believe, will be achieved incidentally if these three essential ideas are embedded in educational practice. I write this note to clarify my thoughts around these ideas.
I believe that all of us are born to learn and to occupy ourselves in creative work, work that creates a safer and more vibrant world than what we observe in the current moment. I classify occupations using personas and I draw attention here to identifying the skills which underlie these personas, and are thus essential to being effective in any occupation. To me, the imparting of these skills is the primary objective of educating an individual.
The personas I like to use for the classification are: (a) a farmer (representing hard work, proximity to nature and a sense of surrender); (b) an engineer (representing analytical strength, and being procedural); (c) an artist (symbolic of spontaneity, creativity and an ability to inspire); and (d) a sky-diver (symbolizing passion, courage and focus). Individuals in all occupations could be viewed as possessing characteristics which are combinations of the characteristics of these personas.
What is it that effective people in all these personas possess? I believe that their most important skills are captured in three qualities, each equally important to each of the personas:
- communication: Effective people in all spheres are, at first, effective communicators. An effective farmer must not only understand the soil and be in touch with nature, but also take on tasks with other human beings, where he succeeds only as long as he communicates well. An effective sky-diver is one who is not only good at his art but also has the ability to learn well and lead well, which he can do only as long as he is in communication with others. Communication is the greatest common denominator for all effective people in all walks of life. Even the blind and the deaf need to develop and practice communication to be in effective existence with other beings.
- reasoning: Effective people possess basic reasoning skills, which help them question, resolve, argue, defend, reflect and navigate in the world. An artist may be brilliant at his work but he needs basic reasoning ability to prove himself to others, to create a wider impact. An effective farmer is one who can reason about what happened and what did not, what is expected and what is not. Deductive reasoning and an ability to make reasoned predictions are critical skills in all occupations.
- joyful awareness: Effective people in any occupation are intensely aware of themselves and their environment, in any circumstance; they “live the present moment” and experience joy in each moment. Effective people have sharp observational skills, which comes from awareness. Effective people are good at accepting every situation and “letting go”, which manifests in their constant state of joy. Effective people respond, and not react because they are closely aware of their surroundings. Joyful awareness creates space for a lot of great qualities one sees in effective people, like their ability to focus, their ability and strength of determination, and their self-reliance.
Isn’t imagination required to be effective, too? It is, but it is not a skill that needs inculcation — it is universally present in every human being — which is why I choose not to list it here. Most impactful things begin with imagination, and much of the predicament of mankind is a result of our failure to satisfactorily execute on imagination. Education should create a sense of awareness in every individual to be able to fully exercise imagination; and equip him or her with the power to act on imaginative thought.
Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.— Albert Einstein
Fear, Integrity and Decision-Making
My second objective in education is to enable individuals to tackle fear and to practice integrity, in thought and in action. Integrity and fear seem disconnected at first glance, but I believe they are not. Integrity is a sense of wholeness, a sense of being in rhythm with your environment and your own self, and this is fully achieved only through understanding and addressing fear. An individual lacking integrity, in thought or in action, is so because he has the fear of a consequence or implication of that thought or action — and he lets that fear drive him. When fear becomes the driver of your action or thought, your sense of wholeness with yourself and your environment diminishes.
Integrity is paramount to be effective, and I wish to take it from being a concept of moral science to becoming the main guiding principle of action and thought. But integrity by itself is not enough. My broader objective is to enable individuals to understand fear and to act through this understanding. It is not about inculcating “fearlessness”, which, as a concept, makes little sense (one can never eliminate fear completely, only realise it). It is about knowing that fear exists, that it keeps re-appearing and that actions have to be taken despite its existence and persistence, and not be driven by it. The education of fear should begin early on, in small children, right when it starts manifesting itself, rather than “post hoc” at a stage when acting through fear has become ingrained.
What then must drive action? A lot of good ingredients are needed for this, but I believe that the gist of it lies in, what I call, the ability to make powerful decisions. To act, a person has to first decide to act and the inability of most individuals to act powerfully comes from their inability to decide powerfully. I define a powerful decision as one that essentially sets you free from regret and resentment. In economic terms, it is a decision for which the act of taking the decision has negligible opportunity cost: the value you derive from deciding is significantly greater than the value you attach to any alternative you have forgone, post the decision.
The ability to make powerful decisions encapsulates a lot of qualities required for effective action. It captures integrity, without which knowing what to act on and what not, your preferences, priorities, constraints and your values, fully well is not possible. (Decisions without integrity do not relieve you from regret.) It captures being in touch with your intuition which, in turn, requires attention and the quality of joyful awareness we discussed above. It captures responsibility: when you decide without resentment and regret, you take full responsibility of your decision (and its consequences), you are faithful to it and you enjoy the process of acting out of it. Powerful decision-making captures the ability to make decisions individually as well as in groups, through negotiation and consensus, and deciding in groups is critical for creating broader impact through action.
To summarise: I want to enable individuals to understand and tackle fear; through this understanding I want them to practice integrity, and through the understanding of fear and the practice of integrity, I want them to become capable of making powerful decisions in each and every aspect of their lives.
This goal of mine lies in the metaphysical realm. I’m deeply inspired by E.F. Schumacher (the author of small is beautiful) and his views on incorporating metaphysical ideas in education, and I strongly believe that cultivation of skills and values, as is necessary for education, should go hand in hand with efforts to realize the self and inquiries into consciousness. I believe that such metaphysical ideas enable individuals to better deal with their emotions, and empowers them to develop skills like awareness and communication and to tackle fear more effectively (which, in turn, increases directedness and creates effective action).
I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details. — Albert Einstein
I don’t claim to fully know the “self” or “consciousness” myself; self-realisation is an ongoing exercise for me, too. But I do believe that the self is bigger than the individual and the individual’s mind, in particular, and that there is greater connectedness amongst human beings and between human beings and the environment than is physically determinable, emotionally palpable or scientifically verifiable. I believe in the supremacy of consciousness, as the primary source of our mental and physical energy, and the possibility that the consciousness of humans (and of living beings, at large) is a singular, universal force from which all of physical and experiential reality takes form.
In practical terms, I advocate the idea of “thinking time” and “meditation time” being built into school and workplace schedules. This is gradually happening in today’s world but I still feel that the required emphasis on metaphysical inquiry, in schools and elsewhere, is lacking. The benefits of metaphysical inquiry are tremendous: through such inquiry, developing genuine, limitless compassion for other beings becomes possible, our ability to sustain a state of joyful awareness goes up, our strengths get amplified, our egocentricity diminishes and our comfort to work with fear increases. All of these are qualities essential for maximising effectiveness and achieving peace for the whole of life on the planet.
This note is intended to be a part of others I plan to write on education. My first task is to clarify the “what” and the “why” of education, which I have initiated here. The “how” of education, as I define it here, is more complex, and I plan to develop that in the time to come. Much of what I believe and have written above is inspired by writings of J Krishnamurthi, E.F. Schumacher, M.K. Gandhi, Eckhart Tolle and Marva Collins, all of whom have written beautifully on the purpose of education and have been educators themselves. I continue to read and be inspired by their writings.