Editorial: August 2010
I am what I am today because of education," said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh while addressing the nation to implement the Right to Education Act. "I want every Indian child-girl and boy-to be so touched by the light of education."
Article 45 of the Constitution stipulates that "the State shall endeavour to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of the Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years." This Directive Principle failed to prod the State to any kind of concrete action. Large sections of two generations grew up in independent India with little or no formal education. After 60 years, with the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, the Directive Principle has been translated into a fundamental right on April 1, 2010. The entitlement to education has become enforceable. The Act offers a framework for ensuring quality education, for creating infrastructure, for making available a sufficient number of trained teachers, and for extending government funding to private schools. The country has entered into a new 'tryst with destiny.' The Act is expected immediately to benefit about 9.2 million children in the age group of 6-14.
Everybody, from the poorest of the poor to the well-off, acknowledges the value of education in the overall development of children. Parents have expectations from the education system, that it should equip their children for gainful employment and economic well being. Free and compulsory education for children should be seen not just as a right, but as a duty. It is the duty of the State, parents and guardians, and the community to ensure that all children of school-going age are in school. The Act provides for the participation of private educational institutions under this scheme: they are to reserve 25% of the seats for the weaker sections of society.
A substantial proportion of the poor children are engaged in agricultural labour, petty trades, house work and sibling care. Many children are bonded to work with an employer, young boys grazing cattle or working in dhabas, girls working in the fields, as domestic help or caring for younger siblings, and children being subjected to early marriage. Education is their only weapon to rid themselves of poverty and social exploitation. Many of these children are formally enrolled in a school, but have either dropped out or have never been there. Dropout rates are very high in the elementary and secondary levels, one of the main reasons for which is poverty. Ending the morally and socially abhorrent practice of child labour must be taken up as a non-negotiable objective.
Some studies indicate that there are other factors that force the children, particularly Dalits, to leave schools abruptly. Discrimination by teachers and fellow students, the open practice of untouchability, denial of access to drinking water and other facilities, refusal of opportunities to participate in sports and social programmes, the reluctance of teachers to help Dalit students in studies, the segregation of Dalits in the mid-day meal arrangements and humiliation inflicted on Dalit students are reasons for Dalit children dropping out of school.
The quality of learning achievement is not always entirely satisfactory even in the case of children who complete elementary education. Traditionally, our education system has emphasised rote learning rather than understanding concepts and logic-driven problem solving. Moreover, we focus on narrow specialisation which is not friendly to innovation.
The right to education goes beyond free and compulsory education to include quality education for all. If the education process lacks quality, children are being denied their right. We are obliged to change our perception of children as passive receivers of knowledge. We have to move beyond the convention of using text books as the basis of examinations. Children have the right to an education that is free from fear, stress and anxiety. Children with disabilities should have barrier-free access.
This involves not only enormous costs, but also tremendous trained manpower. This is essential for ensuring the quality of education. It is also incumbent upon all to improve the working conditions of the teachers and enable them to teach with dignity, giving full expression to their talent and creativity. "The best teacher is not one who crams the most into a pupil, but who gets the most out of one. Education is a process not of stuffing people, like sausage into a casing, but of eliciting from people the potentialities hidden even from themselves." St. John Chrysostom asked, "What greater work is there than training the mind and forming the habits of the young?"
Why have our youngsters turned to drugs in such large numbers? Why are they opting for other states of consciousness, or even suicide? Why are our homes breaking in epidemic proportions? In our high-paced, information-inundated society, "education has produced a vast population able to read, but unable to distinguish what is worth reading." The human mind has gone to such extremes to justify the cynical castigation by Malcolm Muggeridge that we have educated ourselves to imbecility. Oswald Chambers said, "Education and scholarship may enable a man to put things well, but they will never give him insight. Insight comes only from a pure-heartedness in work." "Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful." Though modern man has improved education and is hyperactive, he does not know where to find the wisdom he has lost in knowledge.
The more we learn, the more we realise how little we know. The most important things in life we need to learn are precisely those things that cannot be taught. Material prosperity, success and strength have not made life meaningful. Education teaches us how little man yet knows, how much he has still to learn. Knowledge can only be acquired by hard work. Sir Winston Churchill remarked, "I am always ready to learn, but I do not always like being taught." Nothing that is worth knowing can be taught. One of the tragic lessons of the 20th century is that experts in certain fields draw upon their knowledge to prove virtually anything they want to prove, all along ignoring a unifying truth that gives fair recognition to other disciplines.
Socrates asked, "Whom, then, do I call educated? First, those who control circumstances instead of being mastered by them, those who meet all occasions manfully and act in accordance with intelligent thinking, those who are honourable in all dealings, who treat good-naturedly persons and things that are disagreeable; and furthermore, those who hold their pleasures under control and are not overcome by misfortune; finally, those who are not spoiled by success."
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. But fools despise wisdom and instruction" (Pro.1:7). Without the knowledge and fear of the one true God, the wisdom which affords guidance for the whole of life cannot begin to be acquired. Wisdom begins with the fear of God. Billy Graham said, "Knowledge is horizontal. Wisdom is vertical-it comes down from above." Wisdom is seeing life from God's perspective. "Wisdom comes not from trying to do great things for God, but more from being faithful to the small obscure tasks few people ever see." That is the reason why Reinhold Niebuhr prayed, "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know one from the other."
In denying God, man displays his ignorance and perpetuates his folly. "The fool has said in his heart, there is no God" (Psa.53:1). The words of wisdom in God's Word are of equal benefit to the immature as well as the inexperienced. Everybody, young or old, immature or mature, simple or wise, is offered a distillation of divine and human wisdom, tested and found valid in the lives of wise men. The difference in the condition of the wise and the foolish is in a difference in their attitudes to opportunity and knowledge of the right action. Apart from God, knowledge becomes mere facts-lifeless, barren and meaningless.
Knowledge is a process of piling up facts; wisdom lives in their simplification. Knowledge leads us from the simple to the complex; wisdom leads us from the complex to the simple. Wisdom is the combination of honesty and knowledge applied through experience. Charles Spurgeon remarked, "To know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom." The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook. To know God is to have a vital, personal fellowship with Him daily, and not simply to know about Him (Psa.46:10; Jer.31:34). To know is not simply an accumulation of facts; rather, it is an act of commitment and experience. It is not so much the possessing of knowledge, but being possessed by it. It is an awe and reverence that is tempered by and resulting from an awareness of the love of the Infinite for man.
The Christian is not content to hear the Gospel preached and then to file its saving truth in his heart and mind; he must put it into practice and share it through his every word and deed. Jesus' concern about translating an active hearing into doing and being is vividly reflected in His equating with the wise man who built his house on the rock (Matt.7:24-25).
Wisdom, knowledge, ethics and morality have their beginning and continuation in the fear of the Lord. Quality education should instil these values in children so that the next generation will be different, rid of the social evils that we see all around. Christian homes and schools have a great responsibility in this regard. The need for inspired and inspiring teachers cannot be overemphasised.
Education is not just learning the three R's-reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic. "Education without religion seems rather to make man a more clever devil," said C. S. Lewis. If values are not included in the learning at home and schools, education will only help the illiterate, who earlier used to steal nuts and bolts, to improve his skills and steal the entire track.