Friday, May 6, 2016

A Wry Take on Indian Education System byTagore - Hindustan Times 7-5-16

A Wry Take on Indian Education System byTagore  (link-

Looking at his portraits - noble face, intense eyes, hair hanging down to the shoulder, long white beard and, flowing robes reaching the floor- can one imagine Tagore having had a humorous side as well? A reading of his writings show that he did – and quite a lot of it! He was a seer, but not without jollity. Besides being a litterateur, painter, musician, philosopher, he was a great educationist. Since, as he said, he saw education with an eye of an artist, he actually was a visionary and thus, could look upon power play and human foibles with an understanding and a twinkle in the eyes.
            One of the ostensible reasons for Tagore beginning a school was his detestation of the education system. Recollecting the deadening effect on a child’s natural world of the ‘blank stare’ of the classroom walls he satirically wrote- “I was not a creation of the school master - the Government Board of Education was not consulted when I took birth in the world. But was that any reason why they should wreck their vengeance upon me for this oversight of my creator?”  
            Artificiality troubled him. Being a scion of an aristocratic family and devoid of the opportunities of climbing trees and running barefoot during his childhood, he smilingly quipped in the essay- ‘My School’- “I myself was brought up in a cultured home in a town, and as far as my personal behavior goes I have been obliged to act all through my life as if I were born in a world where there are no trees….I have again to confess that I was brought up in a respectable household and my feet from childhood have been carefully saved from all naked contact with the dust.”
            Tagore was against the use of English as a medium of instruction. He felt that it had an irrational spelling and syntax and thus for those in the Eastern world learning it was “as much a feat as fitting an English sword into the scabbard of a scimitar’. He feared the English lessons and he humorously wrote about his English teacher- “He was so inordinately conscientious. He insisted on coming every single evening- there never seemed to be either illness or death in his family. He was so preposterously punctual too. I remember how the fascination for the frightful attracted me every evening to the terrace facing the road; and just at the right moment, his fateful umbrella - for bad weather never presented him from coming, - would appear at the bend of our lane.”

He had a tough time making the teachers see eye to eye with his ideas and his comment in one his essays- "I had in the beginning to struggle very hard with my teachers, not with the students, as very often happens in other schools."- evokes a grin.
 His comment in the short story, ‘The Parrot's training’- “With text-book in the one hand and baton in the other, the pundits gave the poor bird what may fitly be called lessons!” is an acerbic comment on the traditional methods of teaching. On the machine-like teaching in our Universities, he said in the essay- ‘The Centre of Indian Culture’, -“We have our hard flints, which give us disconnected sparks after toilsome blows; and the noise is a great deal more than the light.”
He was for a human-teacher -‘These teachers distribute their diets of mental food, gingerly and from a dignified distance, raising walls of note-books between themselves and their students. This kind of food is neither relished, nor does it give nourishment. It is a famine ration…’

The story, ‘The Parrot's Training’ is a powerful statement mocking at the educational system’s great love for huge and costly paraphernalia. It is about a parrot considered ‘ignorant’ by the king to which he decides to give a ‘sound schooling’. Many elaborate arrangements are made and Tagore wryly comments-‘every creature remotely connected with cage flourished beyond words, excepting only the bird’, and ironically, ‘The method was so stupendous that the bird looked ridiculously unimportant in comparison’. The bird dies as the education progresses in a darkly-comic manner and ends only when - ‘Its throat was already choked with the leaves from the books that it could neither whistle nor whisper.’

All of the above, that Tagore touched upon with his typical wit, irony and, at times, hard satirical outbursts, evoke both a smile and a  serious concern on the system which existed then and, exists now. The system’s tremendous centralized control on what and how everybody is to learn, the trampling of the vernacular by English, the teacher-taught relationship having gone commercial, the out-of-touch-with-reality information being pushed down the throats of the young (my 8 year child’s GK Book has questions on western cartoons and none on Indian litterateurs or agriculture), and, the enormous importance being given to accoutrements is only getting worse. Hope the seer is not only read, but followed as well.

                                                                   Dr Skand Shukla
(The writer’s D.Phil is on Tagore’s Philosophy of Education and he is an Officer of the U.P. Provincial Education Services)

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