Sraddhalu On Education: Child At The Center

Posted by Nisha Srinivasan on Feb 18, 2017
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[Below is a transcript of Sraddhalu's opening remarks, during a dialgoue with Rev. Heng Sure of Gandhi 3.0 retreat.]

I had the privilege of growing up at Shree Aurobindo ashram, in a school that started close to 70 years ago. 

We had no examinations. From kindergarten to college, we had no exams at all and all the classes had about 8-10 students to a teacher. That meant the teacher could interact with you, knew exactly what you knew or did not know and the content of the class was tailored to meet your requirements.  So it did not need exams.

Once the fear and reward mechanism was knocked out, you could bring in the real motivation -- which is the joy of learning.  And this is intentionally stated as the objective.  When the joy of learning becomes your prime motivation, then the teacher’s role becomes secondary. You can even pull them out and a student would still pursue their own education.  Teachers are just there to support you.

The other special characteristic of the school was that the scope of education was just not intellectual development of the left brain intellect but the entire personality, all the faculties of your consciousness, including your physical health and emotional well-being.  Every day we had about two hours of physical training -- gymnastics, athletics, swimming, wrestling, boxing, judo etc – for all the boys and girls.  All these activities cultivated a complete personality development.

When I came out of the ashram for the first time, I was shocked to see the condition of traditional education. It was two worlds apart and that is when I started teacher training programs.  And the first thing I did in the teacher training programs was frame the the current educational system in context.  It is a system that was developed 200 years ago in the midst of the industrial revolution in Europe, where everything was about the industry.  The school itself is a factory, where students are the raw material; teachers are machines for chopping and cutting the raw material to shape it into pre-designed and pre-conceived piece of a cob wheel, in the larger machinery of society.  You are expected to fit in as a doctor, engineer, lawyer.  The whole whole assembly line system is laid out -- class I, class II, class III with a testing system in between to make sure that you are formed the way you are supposed to be. Uniformity crushes individuality, kills creativity and essential humanity itself. 

All of this has been imposed on the world with a gigantic machinery, as the way to do it.  You are not even allowed to think otherwise.  In Japan, for example, parents commit suicide when their children don’t perform well enough. The level of stress is so great – you can see the children’s faces on the day of exams.  They’re dead.  The systems kills them bit by bit, year after year.  And if at all they have an opportunity to blossom, it’s after they complete their education when they enter work life.  But there also we find the same mentality continuing.  It is by design. You have been programmed to be factory workers. In a school uniform, in a school belt, is exactly what you are going to live once you get into a job in the factory. That whole mentality of the industrial age is sufficed in the system and the structure.



The problem today is that we are so deeply set in the mindset of this old thinking that when you try to change the system, people still want to make the change in the context of that mentality, in that way of thinking.  So when we were interacting with the teachers, with the owners of the school, management, bureaucrats in educational department they all say, “Yes, it is all broken, it is not working.  Tell us what to do.”  But when you tell them what to do, they say, “Oh but we can’t do that because of this rule or it won’t work or it isn’t practical.  We’re not sure.  How will you test them?  How will you be sure that they have actually learnt?”

That whole thinking is pervades the whole system, so what I did in the teacher training program is that I said, “Assume everything is against you, including your textbooks.  They are all flawed, they are all reduced to factual informational learning and not about developing your own faculties and creativity.  Then, what can you do in a class room?”

The point that I wanted to makes was that in your classroom, your interaction is yours; irrespective of the limitations, you can make the difference.  So the whole framework of our training program was built around that premise.

I speak this because at the end of the day we are fighting a system that is imposed upon us, which is designed to enslave us. It is designed to.  It is a skill which the colonial masters developed during the colonial rule, to enslave the mind of the person and then make you think that you are free when actually you’re just a puppet in the larger machinery. To decolonise the mind is the much bigger challenge and it is extremely pugnacious the colonising process. You have to go down layers and layers in depth.  

We begin by placing the student in the center, as a conscious soul in evolution. This is our starting point, this is our foundation. Every child is a conscious soul in evolution and as a conscious soul is the spark of the divine.  You already come with a certain intent and purpose and all that you need to express yourself -- like a seed that knows how to become a tree.  The whole framework of education is now turned looking at that and helping your nourishment and your growth.

So in this whole philosophy and psychology of learning and development, there is this very clear framework of looking at each child uniquely.

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