The Parliament in its upcoming winter session will discuss on the proposed second amendment to the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009. The country is also discussing the next education policy which would determine the shape of education for the next decade or so. It is indeed an interesting time to be in for an educationist and perhaps an apprehensive one for parents given the chasm between intent and outcomes.
The debate on the amendment which proposes to do away with the ‘No Detention’ policy has divided the educationists and thinkers into two different groups. One side argues that the policy must continue with more emphasis on responsibilities of teachers and the school liberating the children from the clutches of fearful examinations; the other side argues that the policy has resulted in deteriorating levels of learning in students, particularly in higher classes, and hence must be amended.
Both sides have valid explanations but in this debate, the question on what is the true purpose of education (which ought to be fulfilled through these polices) is forgotten; and, to the surprise of only a few, the discussion on it is invisible in the present discourse.
India and the world have produced some great thinkers who have put forward their own understanding of the purpose of education. Leaving their differences aside, most of them would agree on two basic purposes of education.
First, education should be concerned with the mental, physical and emotional development of the child. It has to progressively play the role of fully developing, nurturing and expanding these three dimensions (mind, body and emotions) that makes a human being, human. In the current scenario, there have been genuine attempts to shift the focus from development of only one sub-dimension of the mind (memory) to the overall development which also includes both physical and emotional dimensions.
However, a lot more still needs to done. For one, there has to be integration between the development of mind, body and emotions unlike the current situation where the three are approached individually. This differentiated approach, instead of solving the problem, only enhances it. Just like the curriculum for effective education needs integration, the dimensions that are targeted to be impacted through education also need to be effectively integrated.
The second purpose is the need to invoke and celebrate curiosity in the children. How much of that has been cultivated today in our system is again doubtful despite the honest efforts that have been taken in this direction.
However, among all this, there is one purpose of education that has lost its meaning and cannot be heard in the present discourse at all; that is: “to identify the intrinsic nature of a child through education”.
The education sector worldwide celebrates that each child is different. Most organisations and individuals are also able to categorically mention how it is so but find their limitations when confronted with the depth of understanding (barring a few who are currently inactive in the current discourse). In this world, there are millions of qualities that human beings collectively have. An individual, however, isn’t born with all of them. He/she only has some qualities which are his/her own, and some possibilities which she can develop further. These qualities and possibilities, in case when they don’t get a window to find and express themselves (through an individual), get subdued and an individual is left with a less meaningful life.
Every child in her formative years has thousands of questions to ask and willingness to explore and experience more. These initial tendencies of a child are reflections of her intrinsic nature and the response to them are the window that an individual’s nature seeks. But these tendencies are throttled today by the very system and polices that were supposed to nurture them.
Dr N Sarvana Kumar, joint secretary of the Ministry of Human Resource and Development (MHRD) recently said that the upcoming education policy will focus on making India’s education system learner-centric instead of teacher-centric. This is a praiseworthy development but one that would plausibly lead to more complications. It raises the following question: Do we really have an adequate understanding of who the “learner” is?
The current definition of a learner/child is derived from what she does; not from who she is and what her intrinsic nature is. This has implications for the much important Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) too, which was brought under RTE Act as an alternative to year-end examinations. As part of CCE, assessments are only about whether the child/learner can read/write, compare, analyse, imagine, work in teams, etc. This, in no way, caters to the intrinsic nature of the learner which actually inspires all of her said actions.
The key, therefore, is to identify the intrinsic nature of the child/learner. The first step in this is to accept its existence within ourselves, as teachers, parents; and introspect how the physical, emotional and mental dimensions are all integrated with the intrinsic nature at the centre of it all. Second step is to make nature-centred policies which would help children identify their intrinsic nature and enable them to grow organically.