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What is Education?

The four pillars of the educational system are: Learning -to know, to do, to be and to live together. 

Do you agree with these four pillars ? Like Charles Lamb, I love to lose myself in other men’s minds . So, before I share my views, I would like to recall the thoughts of some of the greatest thinkers of the world. They stress on the goal, purpose and different aspects of education. We can imbibe relevant ones to reinforce our insights on education.

In ancient India, the goal of education was directed to the “Pursuit of Truth” that is God. Swami Vivekananda said specifically that it is, character formation, increasing the strength of mind, and the expansion of the intellect.

Mahatma Gandhi regarded character building as the task of education. “All round drawing out of the best in child and man body mind and spirit”. Dr APJ Abdul Kalam writes, “The most important part of education is to inculcate in students the spirit “WE CAN DO IT”.

Confucius identified it as “Wellbeing of the family” while Aristotle said, “The purpose of education is the cultivation of Magnanimity”. Froebel thought, “Education is the process by which a child makes its internal external”. Maria Montessori said, “Early childhood education is the key to the betterment of the society”.

John Dewey opined, “Education is the development of all those capacities in the individual. Thomas Arnold desired it as “Humbleness of mind”. Einstein points out “Strong striving for morality”.

Herbert Spencer requests to educate one to be a man, a woman. Rousseau said, “Education should prepare the way for reason by proper exercise of the senses”. Pestalozzi clarified, “Education is the natural harmonious and progressive development”.

John Milton wanted a complete and generous education to perform justly, skillfully, magnanimously. In Abraham Lincoln’s letter to the Headmaster he tells how his son should be treated, guided and taught. We can add many more……….

Although they vary in their views on education most of them agree on betterment of the society, character formation and development of good qualities. One element most commonly emphasized is not just acquiring knowledge but how one relates to people and to the society.

I have realized that education is not a capsule, an injection  or filling a pail. It is not just accumulation of information, as many presume. It is the progressive adaptation of each one to a life in harmony. Our priority in education should be to teach our students on happy, peaceful co- existence. We teachers and parents have a major role in assisting the child in this harmonious multifaceted adaptation.

The most crucial service sector is education. Principals, Teachers and Parents have a great mission to ignite the minds of the young. We are bound by our profession to make them aware of the possibilities in the world around them. We should be able to reach out to the students to enrich themselves with knowledge. Above all let us develop in them empathy with warmth and affection to their fellow beings .

It is good and relevant to consider what should be our views on education in the present scenario. Is the recent educational policy of the government in accordance with the points mentioned above? Will it be possible for all of us in collaboration with the government to define, prioritize and implement the purpose of education? My last question is…..

Shouldn’t the education we impart foster the essential leap from ” I know” … to… “I care” ?

If you can Talk, you can Speak.

“Stand up to be seen, Speak up to be heard, Shut up to the appreciated.”

Aren’t we the most valuable resources on earth blessed with the power of speech? We can share our ideas, feelings and thoughts. Many love to hear us speak. It poises our self-esteem, self-confidence. Doesn’t a good speaker   influence, change the lives of many?

Stage-fright and stuttering are two obstacles.  In the Bible we read how Moses requests God to send someone else to lead Israel since he is not fluent, is slow of speech and tongue.  Many great leaders like Joe Biden the President elect of USA stuttered during school days and struggled to overcome this shortcoming.

You need to plan, prepare by choosing the topic, outlining the Content, organizing the matter with relevant stories, anecdotes and humour.   Timing the speech aptly depending   the kind of audience comes next. Since we are going to   deliver a speech,  writing, memorizing or reading bring in boredom. To speak sensibly, knowledgeably, convincingly and spontaneously we need to prepare.

Persevering practice will keep our listeners spell bound.  Demosthenes the great orator was laughed out of the forum of Athens for his slobbering, panting attempts. He worked on his tongue, his vocal cords, gestures and his cadence.   He put pebbles under his tongue and enunciated over the roaring surf. Two of my old students who stammered are outstanding doctors and orators today.  Practice helps to speak expressively, eloquently, earnestly and effectively.

Go up to the platform with confidence, a beautiful smile, friendly attitude, poise and self-control. Get closer to the audience, keep eye contact, be natural and flexible. Use simple language and win over the coughers, pen clickers, and photographers. Please personalize and not plagiarize. Never be a talking head.     

Use appropriate gestures, modulate your voice and pause appropriately.  Your speeches should touch the finer sentiments. The audience might forget what you had said but remember what you made them feel.

Tell what you are going to tell; tell what you have to tell and tell what you have told. Winston Churchill who came to address a commencement ceremony went up to the mike gazed at the audience and shouted, “NEVER GIVE UP”. He made his speech memorable by three words and left.

Brevity is the soul of wit. Gettysburg address of Abraham Lincoln is the shortest presidential address with 246 words and the greatest message on democracy.

Be cautious! All eyes and ears assess your movement, looks, poise, clarity, vocabulary, language, communication skill, sequence of thought, facial and vocal expressions and the conclusion. Your ending should be sharp as a cliff; no winding down.

 “I know you believe that you understand what you think I said; but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant” is prominently displayed at Pentagon.   The speaker’s success depends in making the audience listen, comprehend what the speaker thinks, says and means.   

Umpteen occasions arise for leaders, executives, heads of educational institutions to address their subordinates and the public. Let every word speak.

Shouldn’t our children be guided to speak politely, patiently and prudently for themselves, their parents, the country, the poor, the oppressed, the down trodden and the marginalized…..?

Our Children, a Gift Par Excellence!

A happy child is ‘Nation’s Pride’.   Children are precious assets and nation builders. Their future depends on us and ours in turn on them.

Isn’t a baby in a house a wellspring of pleasure, a messenger of peace and love; a resting place of innocence on earth; a link between angels and men?

Sad to say, after a few years of upbringing, sometimes a few become a perennial source of pain, forerunners of discord or a cause for warfare in the family. Some parents complain that they are fed up with them.  

Scientists and psychologists assert that a human fetus lives an emotional life from six months on. We agree education begins in the womb and ends in the tomb.  If so, isn’t a child’s mind a tabula rasa (a clean slate) a powerful sensitive mike that can pick up the feeblest vibrations; a living computer that can register, save and retrieve in future all the data stored in the memory?

Writer Dorothy Law Holtz appeals to let our children grow with tolerance, encouragement, praise, fairness, security, approval and acceptance. They will learn to be patient and confident, appreciative and just, to have faith in, liking for themselves and find love in the world. Conversely, if they live with criticism, hostility, ridicule and shame they learn to condemn, to fight and to feel guilty.

Isn’t our bounden duty to work and live for their welfare?  We have a major role to play for the growth and blossoming of their character. Let them grow with a sense of belonging to their family and society, the country and the world.  

Shall we say a word of encouragement which instils confidence in them; congratulate when they do things well, get good marks or excel in the co-curricular activities? A smile or a pat, a kind word or a gesture of approval will go a long way in their personal growth. A harsh word or punishment kills initiative.

Shall we be sensitive enough to see the positive qualities, achievements and appreciate; be broadminded and generous to be tolerant in their mistakes and failures?

Aren’t our children the most defenseless at home and at school? Aren’t they easily suspected, prejudiced, hurt, when let down, misunderstood, mistrusted; when their honesty is questioned and when punished without sufficient reasons?  Let the innocent smile of our children last till the end of their lives.

Daniel Webster reminds us that if we work on marble it will perish; brass, time will deface it; rear temples, it will crumble to dust. But if we work on human minds, imbue in them principles with just fear of god and love of their fellow men, we engrave on these tablets something which brightens to all eternity.

A child’s appeal is- If you touch me soft and gentle, if you look at me and smile at me; if you listen to me and then talk to me; I shall grow, really grow.

Notwithstanding our age, Happy Children’s day to you all.

Search and Serve

Man’s sojourn in this world can be epitomized in these two words. All living things are in search of one thing or the other. There is no respite in this respect. It is carried on ceaselessly from birth to death.  Our innocently ignorant inquisitive mind has been in search of many things during childhood. As we grew up, priorities changed based on the seven ages of man ; but the search is still on.

The search for sustenance is common to all. The search for survival and security is evident everywhere. We differ in our searches based on our age, beliefs and priorities. There are people who are in pursuit of knowledge, job, love, congenial harmony, quietude, name and fame, power and pelf, truth, peace, prosperity… Search for happiness is universal, many are still searching for God.

Buddha the enlightened one and Mahavira the conqueror searched for years through prayer and penance. Their quest was to be free from the cycle of birth and rebirth. The Bible exhorts us to seek the kingdom of God and everything else will follow. In the Vedanta we read, that man in his ignorance searches for knowledge and bliss in this materialistic world. The scientists, inventors, discoverers are busy in their fields of research.

Is it irrelevant if we ask ourselves what we do search for as businessmen, teachers, principals, administers, politicians, ….? What are our objectives? Are they mainly for personal gratification?

SERVICE: Leo Tolstoy’s “What men live by’ tells clearly about service based on love. Work is worship and serving relates to service. We do service to our families, neighborhood, the institutions, the nation, in various capacities with different dispositions and interest. We are intrinsically interlinked through service though we are not aware of it.

We have scriptures that sanctify our service. Whatever you do to the least of your brethren you do unto God. Through our search and service, we can make this world a heaven reframing the old adage, “Hell is where you are and heaven is where you will be”. Whatever be our profession or office, are we not rendering service?

It is in giving that we receive, serving that we are served. Where there is service, there is love, where there is love, there is God and that  is heaven. Every man lives not through care of himself but by love. There is no higher religion than human service. Warm service sanctifies our relationship.

As teachers, the greatest service is not to share our riches but to reveal to each student his own. This will be the crowning glory of all human beings. Let us do all the good we can, by all the means , in all the ways , in all the places, at all the times , to all the people and as long as we can.

Kudos to all those teachers, officials, doctors, nurses, national, international social and health workers who search and serve the needy during these difficult times.

Shouldn’t ‘What we live by’ be for mercy, compassion and love?

The Teacher – The Taught – Who should be educated first?

The barbaric act of 16th December 2012 and the aftermath, reverberated anguish and anger all over the country and abroad for many months. The young brave woman died; our nation mourned. The criminals were arrested.  There was a hue and cry over making stringent rules. All debated on life imprisonment, capital punishment or castration. Laws were passed, the verdict was given. The punishment was meted out. We shouldn’t forget the fact that one of the accused who inflicted maximum brutality was a juvenile aged a few months less than the victim.

A newspaper reported that more than two hundred were raped in the year 2019. Of late the cases like the Hathras gang rape  are repeated day after day. Investigations are carried out. Promises are made by the authorities that all steps would be taken. But  there is no end for the atrocities carried out. We read sex scandals of exploitation, molestation, or rape even in educational institutions.  Every day the media has enough and more breaking news, of burning alive, political murders, communal violence, smuggling and rampant scams from different businessmen and politicians. It is disheartening to note that the students we teach get addicted to drinking, smoking, drugs and pornography even during the school days.

We teach nationalism, patriotism, equality, fraternity and secularism. We take pride in our unity in diversity. We have moral science classes and value education, celebrations, debates  to inculcate  tolerance, peaceful coexistence, universal brotherhood. We teach the pledge, “India is my country and all Indians are my brothers and sisters…”   Students from Kindergarten to Std. XII repeat after the leader. These words reverberate the walls of the educational institutions almost every day. We make them respect the national flag and sing the national anthem with gusto. Are these just a lip service or just a show?

How many of our students relive the pledge they take and follow it. In some parts of our country we celebrate Raksha Bandhan a sacred thread of protection embellished with the love of a sister for her brother, the notion of harmonious cohabitation. Do these noble values permeate into their minds and hearts? 

Aren’t we educators, committed to our duty teaching the teens about sex, the pledge they take and the tenets that they have to imbibe?  Shouldn’t they develop a mindset for what is right, what is true, what is acceptable? The educational institutions should never be just examination orientated teaching shops but foster the essential leap from I know to.. I care.

Teachers are known as the unacknowledged law makers of the world. Who should be educated first, the teacher or the taught?  

‘It is not the prisoners that need reformation, it is the prisons’- Oscar Wilde

What is a school?

Does my question sound funny? All of us know what a school is from the time we were initiated to learning or education.  I do agree with you but can we define what it is?

Is it just a building or some buildings with classrooms, labs, play grounds with amenities for indoor and outdoor games, where   teachers teach and children learn?  

Shall we say that it is a place where children learn to speak, read, write, calculate, study, play, sing, dance, draw, perform and participate in activities that develop their physical, intellectual and histrionic talents?  Others might supplement:  the teachers teach different languages, subjects, guide the students, prepare them for the public exams. We conduct different competitions, organize many functions, assessments and inculcate moral values.  The students learn and experience rudiments of life and survival.

John Holt defines: “School is a place where all children grow; not just in size, not even in knowledge: but in Curiosity, Courage, Independence, Resourcefulness, Resilience, Patience, Competence and Understanding.”

Moreover, I ask myself, shouldn’t it be a Shanthiniketan where there is life in the open air, freedom of mind, joyous fellowship between human beings with natural surroundings and free scope for expression of a child’s inborn talents?

The school is like a waterfall where one can sit or stand, stare at or observe the rapidly flowing water from an elevation or cliff and continue the process. We observe the water gushing down the slopes in torrents and rolling or pouring down with mist and the spray.  Aren’t we mesmerized and spell bound by such a sight? Every moment is passing, every split second moves on, there is no boredom, no repetition, everything is alive. It is also like sitting at a seashore and watching the waves, the feel of the spray, the rise and fall of the dashing and the dancing of the waves.

I compare School to an El Dorado for the teacher and the taught abounding in gems of optimism, exposure and experience to augment their knowledge, qualities and abilities. Each teacher with varied subject knowledge and talents, guides the students to an El Dorado where they will be able to pick up pearls for their lives. A place for them to perceive, conceive, believe and achieve.

How nice it would be if the schools are like water falls for all the students wherein each day, they are enthralled with all that is happening from the time they enter till they leave the school, when learning becomes enjoyable and memorable. It depends primarily with each one of us, the Principal and the teaching and non-teaching staff.

Let us decide what is our priority. It would be great if the governments, managements, parents, teachers and students understand what a school is so that what we impart to the future citizens is carried out in the best way possible.

Know Yourself Dear Teachers

Matha, Pitha Guru, Govind. (Father, Mother, Teacher, God) You are elevated to a position next to God. You are the Guru – the dispeller of darkness. You are leading the way and lighting a candle.  You consume yourself to give light to others. You are a Spiritual Teacher – in whose presence darkness disappears. You are a Sanyasi – a non-competitor in the society, one who is not after wealth, power, fame or position.

You are like a Catalyst that accelerates, enhances the all-round development of the child. You are a Gardener who nurtures, helps, protects, supports the growth of a child. You are a Philosopher, a Guide to the child’s own self-discovery of his talents and the world of knowledge.

You are a friend who shares with your students the treasures of your mind. You are a hero, a role model and embodiment of all good qualities. 

You are an unknown soldier who keeps watch along the borders of darkness and makes the attack on the trenches of ignorance and folly.  You are patient in your duty, you strive to conquer the evil powers which are the enemies of youth.

You are a Sculptor / an Artist, who does not create but only unfolds- chisels out ignorance. You visualize angels, poets, engineers, scientists, politicians, doctors, lawyers, inventors and people of different walks of life.  Unlike Michael Angelo or Leonardo da Vinci  you chisel out live masterpieces from these living marbles.

You impart knowledge combined with information, you develop skills, you make them pandits with deep insight in each subject, awaken wisdom in leading your students from darkness to light.

You are a lamp lighter: John Ruskin was standing and watching a lamp lighter who went with a torch in hand from one lamp to another. While the lamp lighter moved, he left behind him a line of lights brightly burning while he himself was not clearly visible.  Ruskin said, “You can trace his course by the light that he leaves burning” What a beautiful comparison!

You can and the world can trace your course by the light that you leave burning in your life time.

As an outstanding teacher you are leaving Padamudras like the Pandavas leaving footprints on the sands of time. Be proud and Happy to be a Teacher.

The Art of Listening

Doesn’t every good conversation begin with good listening?

‘All of you please stop talking and listen. Be attentive to what I say. Listen to what I am going to tell you.’….. We teachers repeatedly say sentences like these to make the students listen. The paradox is: We want them to listen but none of us teach how to listen.

In our educational system, we spend years teaching and training the three “R”s ( Reading, Writing, Arithmetic). We also guide them in other curricular and co curricular activities. But we have rarely given a class or training on developing listening skill.  Man’s inability to comprehend fast, to develop a photographic memory and to communicate well is the result of his failure to listen effectively. Like every conversation, every learning begins with the art of listening.

“I only wish, I could find an institution that teaches people how to listen. After all, a good manager needs to listen at least as much as he needs to talk. Too many people fail to realize that real communication goes in both directions”- Lee Iacocca

Listening is the most neglected art, courtesy and necessity today says Fr. E. H. McGrath S.J. an acclaimed expert and trainer /consultant in human development.

The process of learning is LSRW (Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing). Learning begins with listening. Shouldn’t we give priority in helping our students to attain mastery over this art?   

It is easy to listen to an outstanding teacher who keeps his students spellbound by his command over the language, communication skill, method of teaching. But to listen to all teachers in all the classes is really challenging and strenuous for most of the students.

Hearing is not listening. I heard someone does not make any sense unless it is clear of ‘who said it and what has been said’. “What I hear, I forget, What I see I remember, What I do I know/ understand, said Confucius. To listen effectively, one should have concentration or self-control of the mind. ‘All eyes and ears’ remind us to be active listeners.

When Lok Manya Tilak was questioned by his teacher, for not taking down the notes, his reply was, “Sir, I remember verbatim everything you have dictated. Why should I take down notes?” The teacher was awestruck and praised him when he answered word by word the next day.

Should we be good listeners? “The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people” said Woodrow Wilson. The ears of the Teachers, Principals should ring with the voices of the students, and parents. Fleming reminds us the request of a child; “If you touch me soft and gentle, if you look at me and smile at me, if you listen to me and then talk to me, I will grow, really grow…”  

All of us need to listen at least as much as we need to talk. Only a good listener can be a great leader, speaker, an exceptional teacher or an outstanding principal.

Listening is courtesy: When friends, parents, teachers or students, employer or the employee speak it is politeness to listen.

Listening is a necessity: It is applicable to all whatever may be our position, profession because no one talks, teaches without a purpose. For a student especially it is a necessity.

To whom do we confide our problems and worries? The best listener is your best student, trusted friend, guide or counsellor. The best listener is an embodiment of all qualities . He /She could be your grandparents, parents, uncles or aunts, husbands or wives for that matter. No wonder the outstanding Doctors, Psychiatrists, Counselors, Advisors thrive in their profession since they are excellent listeners.

Shouldn’t we be good listeners and make the learning process easier for students by giving constant listening practice and training?

Your worth as the Head Teacher/Principal

The institution where you work may be a public or a private one. You are appointed based on your seniority, qualification and experience, abilities, dedication to the job, leadership qualities or the trust the management has in you. Even if all these do not count, once you have taken up this post, you should realize your worth.   A currency note however crushed, torn, dirtied it may be, as long as the number is visible, it has its value. Each Principal or Head teacher should know one’s value while adorning this enviable, rewarding pivotal role.

You are and should be the best and outstanding teacher to decorate this coveted post. You are an administrator dealing with all correspondence related to the educational department, syllabus, books, examinations etc. You are in charge of the academics and all activities connected with teaching and the learning process. You have to look after the discipline of the school with the cooperation of the staff.  

You have to do the staff management along with the selection, training, guidance and supervision. You are the decision maker, a counsellor, guide, motivator, inspirer, role model, coordinator, problem solver and a mediator. You have interpersonal, informational and communicator roles. You have to do the liaison work with the management, government, parents and the staff. Some of you may be burdened with the finance too.

You should realize with all humility that you are the key person and your leadership counts; your decisions have a great influence on everyone. Your words, actions are bound to have powerful consequences. Thus, your leadership, advice and guidance are of utmost significance.

If a teacher’s word is considered like the scriptural truth, what about the words of a principal. Your words and actions have greater impact. They are going to shape, influence or motivate teachers, students, parents and the authorities.  The amount and extent of motivation or inspiration depends on your personality, leadership and ability.  You are going to touch the minds, hearts and personality of thousands of people with whom you come into contact. This realization should forge you ahead with greater enthusiasm in your service. You should be happy and proud to have the privilege to contribute to the society, country and the world at large.

If we don’t know your worth and value, do not expect someone else to calculate it for you.

Leadership Through Education

The leadership training is initiated from the Kindergarten while pinning a class leader badge in a child’s uniform. It is a matter of pride for the child and parents. Years role by and they are groomed to be leaders in social, cultural, educational, political and religious domains. The present scenario in different parts of the country and the world is distressing since many leaders are corrupt, fanatic, fascist or inhuman. They fail to bring in peace, prosperity and peaceful co-existence in and among communities and countries.

The best leaders know the way, show the way, go the way or lead the way. A good leader thinks and plans ahead, organizes, directs and controls. S/he with good knowledge, takes apt decisions, motivates, coordinates with consistency of purpose and have a great yearning to learn. They are honest, dedicated and sympathetic. Leadership counts for all countries, institutions, business concerns ….. If it is so, How should the Head Teachers and Principals be in educational institutions where the rudiments of leadership are taught? How should we mould the future leaders?

In the book titled ‘Management thoughts’ by Promod Batra and Vijay Batra we read ‘lessons from the animal world’- The qualities and abilities to be imbibed from some animals for good leadership.

Be a LION- Strength and courage are the main qualities of a lion. With good knowledge about the job, exposure and self-confidence, one can be as fearless as a lion. It is the lack of knowledge and abilities that make one diffident and inefficient.

Be hardworking as a DONKEY. Be ready to work at all circumstances as a dependable worker without any complaints. One shouldn’t be a workaholic or a slave. If one loves a job, he need not work all his life time. “I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun.” Thomas Alva Edison

Next animal is a synonym for faithfulness, sacrifice, obedience, gratitude and what not? Like a DOG we should be faithful to the master, organization, institution, to the country, to all the people who put their trust  in us. Be grateful -“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child,” says Shakespeare in the play King Lear.

Be watchful and alert like a CRANE. Alert or vigilant to seize every opportunity when it is floating by for the benefit of all concerned. Be patient enough to wait and be ready to act.

He or she should have a strong vision and focus like an EAGLE, ready to rise up to the occasion and to launch an action when the opportunity arises.

Next is an Elephant. An ELEPHANT never forgets. Big head to store ideas. Big attentive ears and small yet powerful eyes. Like RABBITS develop keen sense of hearing, smell and sight. They listen and act. Always Keep your ears up.

Dear Teachers, Head teachers, Principals, if we develop these qualities and abilities, there is a big community of students, parents and the public who will be augmented by our presence and our example. More than the animals, we must be good thinking empathetic people.

We should be the best leaders to lead the education of the future. The educational institutions should be the training grounds for the best leaders of every country.

We must be silent before we listen. We must listen before we can learn. We must learn before we can prepare. We must prepare before we serve. We must serve before we can lead.

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