Thoughts on the eve of 65th independence day
Just as the first term of this academic year comes to an end the school is retreating to quietude! The students are spread over the campus experiencing different thrilling and adventurous activities as part of a camp organised by our school. Teachers are preparing for the end of term meeting with parents in which nature of growth and development of the students during the first term is shared and discussed with them. Parents are explained what kind of guidance at home would benefit the children and what kind of indulgence during vacations would make the task of school difficult later on!
Is it possible to design schools and societies to revive the ability to be satisfied and be joyful with a little of the little things of life? Our attitude towards life, and such abilities, will hold the key to the fate of us, the Homo sapiens on the Planet Earth!
These days, many of the parents of our children understand the feedback given by the teachers in the proper perspective. Some of our esteemed parents have even begun to share the larger view that education has a much subtler intent and right education can enable children to learn about life in a joyous and fulfilling manner continuously. Many of them share that a school emphasising upon a few short term objectives of education may apparently maximise achievement in some dimensions but may not provide the wherewithal to live purposefully and happily over a lifetime.
Very soon the children left for their homes with parents and guardians. A school seems to be quite a different place when the children and teachers are not present! The enjoyable cacophony of children moves away to their homes paving the way for the ambience to speak a quieter language! Absence of children creates a vacuum in the place but there is gain of a different kind too. The quietness regenerates the environs. The flora and fauna seem to become livelier or so it seems because our relationship with them regains intensity. The place gets awash with silence and the fragrance of naturalness is palpable - making the observer ecstatic! The observer is absorbed and lost in the expansiveness of silence!
Silence educates! Only silence educates.
I felt the need to meet a friend in Dehra Dun silently. The trip to New Delhi was extended to enable this. It was improvised further to meet other distinguished people. A friend is one who is available to us and here was one waiting with his little son to receive me past midnight at New Delhi airport. The affection and warmth extended by him and his family to me has always been touching. Although I have received his kindness so often I didn’t know that he could also give boons! He arranged for me to meet a teacher who had profound influence upon me since my college days. In our conversation with my friend, I was recalling the quality of silence that one of our college teacher had around him always. He would enter the classroom with seventy students noiselessly. As he enters the classroom, students become attentive and there was no need for him to call for this at all. Out of his silence the next lesson of electronic circuit analysis emanates. As the blackboard is beautified with the clear letters and diagrams communicating the subject, there is hardly any explanation, talk or discussion. Lecture was absent altogether! Communication was through the quietude of the person and the beautifully inscribed words and diagrams on the board. The phrases, sentences, equations and diagrams on the board were so lucid and simply written that they would explain clearly and eloquently even the most intricate concepts and formulae. Retrospectively, I feel the subject percolated into the minds of the students and understanding of the concepts emerged so spontaneously. The grace and dignity of the teacher would flow into me. The effect of this influence is being felt with increasing intensity by me for the last decade and more!
This teacher was prevailed upon to head the technological institution in the national capital which he now serves. One could see the simple, quiet and inconspicuous manner in which he was discharging such a responsibility. His attire remains as simple as it was three decades ago, perhaps it has improved with the vest peeping out of the sleeve of his half shirt! The shade and colour of the shirt remained as simple as it used to be earlier on. A teacher is one who is not in a hurry. He is with his students! He makes and creates time to be with the student. Being creates being! The evening function was well organised. Teachers and guests from different schools participated in it. The function might motivate and energise some of the awardees to contribute better. After the function my friend drops me at the railway station for proceeding to the town with many unique educational institutions, viz. Dehra Dun.
In his inimitably affectionate style Bhaisaheb received me at the railway station and we walked down to his home only about a furlong away. We reach home and begin to talk. The tea served by Bhabiji provided us the requisite nostalgia, stimulation and the ambience! She enlivened our contribution by her witty remarks. A chartered accountant with an impeccable record of ethical standards, Bhaisaheb took to teaching in schools nearly a decade back. Given his professional experience and his natural proclivity for organising and managing, he had to take up the leadership role of a school sooner than he perhaps wanted to. With a quick and penetrative mind he grasps matters quickly and does not hesitate to express himself forthrightly and clearly. He acknowledges that there could be inadequacies in one’s view or perception. He expresses himself in a candid manner to one and all, even if it will be difficult for the other to receive it. To keep organisation effective and efficient at all times is one of his chief concerns of his. He is clear that organisational good is paramount and towards this end he works tirelessly and devotedly. During this visit of mine, the affectionate side of Bhaisaheb was much more palpable. We spent two days together. He narrated a few significant professional challenges and experiences of his. He also gave me a glimpse of the people from whom he learnt. This gave me an insight about how he developed the clarity of intent and seriousness of purpose he is now imbued with. Clear understanding of problems and design of effective methods to address them have been his strengths always and I got a closer view of the underlying processes.
He arranged for us to meet other interesting educators. One of the people I was introduced to was over the telephone. He is a legendary educator and widely respected person in the field of school education. He joined a school as the head just as I was graduating from it in the year 1978! The fame of a good person travels faster than him. The advance information available to students like me developed in me adoration for our then incumbent Principal. I heard more about him since the time I joined schools. I got to speak to him over telephone and his simplicity, earnestness and accessibility were so palpably real. I have been as a student of his without having seen him but in a generous manner I was urged to speak as a colleague! I explained that it will not be possible for me to do so. He understood and respected my perspective. After I gave him a glimpse of our school he assured his guidance to our school at all times, including a visit by him early next year! “I am at your command,” he said! His gentle and authentic words moved me and with moist eyes I was in touch with him throughout our conversation. Tears welled into my eyes a few times. The lady teachers we met were energetic and passionate about their work in school. They formed the leadership team of one of the most respected boarding schools of the country for girls. They were professional without becoming formal and were accessible. The non-professional, personal and emotional touch which makes teachers accessible to students was unmistakably present. To me professional life in schools would be characterised by the urge to understand and carry out functions effectively, in an orderly and efficient manner but the driving force being passion and emotion. We are contributing to the growth and development of school children who require care and understanding. Hence, emotions have to be very much included in our relationships and in our educational processes. I see more and more clearly presently that how sensitive the emotional side of a school is will determine how good it is. As one gets more and more involved in schools one begins to understand the nature of children and therefore the nature of adults, including oneself. This tendency has the potential of leading an educator into asking questions about what life and the world are all about. The learning kind of educator will turn inwards in the normal and natural course. The best educators have been seers of the world and its mankind!
Steering a school during difficult times and remaining dynamic even when it is a steady, stable and well respected is an achievement of the lady Principal we were with. I was observing the care with which she received us and how attentively she was listening to us. She was speaking with confidence that perhaps emerges from an understanding of the first principles of one’s work. She clearly had immense understanding and appreciation of the ways and challenges of schools. I asked her what she perceives to be the single most important function of the head of a school. She thoughtfully, and somewhat reflectively, replied that faculty development is very important. Her statement further clarified my understanding of the issue and I requested her for help in this area. She most generously and graciously offered all help to our school. Three of our faculty members will spend about a week in their school to learn from the extraordinary teachers that they are! The clarity and confidence of the Chief Executive of a good and successful company cannot be doubted, especially when the person was able to steer and manage a company for a long period of time. Having graduated from one of the most respected boarding schools of the country, he was on the board of the same school. When the school was going through a rough patch he was urged to take charge of the school. He readily accepted the challenge and turned it around over a period of time. Acknowledged to be the person who set an example of what effective organisation of a good boarding school is, he steadfastly turned his alma mater into a sound institution. It has been one of the most respected and exemplary boarding schools of the country for several years now. In spite of his advanced age he was listening carefully to the entire discussion of ours. With alacrity and alertness he observed that schools of different kinds, with a wide range of facilities and sound infrastructure, are coming up in different parts of the country. Do the older residential schools need to respond to this phenomenon and if so how? He wanted to know what steps are being taken in Orchid International School to improve the number of student enrolled. We discussed the matter from different perspectives. The question of whether Orchid International School is a part of the older schools or is it a new one did not occur to me while we were discussing the matter.
Learning and education are eternal and educators are timeless and precious. Educators do not identify with schools and are devoted to the purpose of education. It is a clear perception of the purpose of education which keeps them steadfast and tenacious. It is this perception alone which guards them from being governed by the short term objectives of education and enables them to work for the long term and larger welfare individuals who are inextricably woven into the fabric of the society and determine its texture. It’s only the wise and simple people like our esteemed Professor living in Nagpur who can evoke such a deep sense of reverence from a vast range of students and teachers. The precision and standards of quality inherent in such people is unerring! Excellence and quality are simply writ over their word and act. Perhaps these are the hallmarks of the greatest teachers. The best qualities become so intrinsic to the nature of extraordinary people that students and people around them cannot escape their influence. Isn’t education about children and students living in the presence of extraordinary people?
Professor requested me to ring him up after landing in Nagpur so that he could pick me up within ten minutes and that is what happened! Soon after we reached home we were served filtered coffee by maam. It was touching to note that my arrival was eagerly awaited and careful preparation was made for it. A tooth surgery was postponed due to my arrival. Within a short while Sir asked me to give him the dirty clothes for being washed. I was shocked at this affectionate request because never earlier did anyone, barring at home, make such an offer within such a short while after arrival and that too during my first ever visit. I treated the request as an instruction and took the clothes to the washing machine and Sir organised the rest. I kept a watch so that putting up the clothes for drying is not done by Sir! I was permitted by him to do this after being guided how the stick is to be used for slipping the hangar onto the drying rod which was quite high up in the balcony. I learnt the skill quickly and completed the task. The wet towel was thrown onto the rod for drying in a disorderly fashion by me. I had a lurking feeling that Sir would notice it. I felt uncomfortable, if not guilty, when Sir walked out of our conversation quietly and spread out the towel evenly. Best teachers don’t point out; they set the correct their pupils by example! The extraordinary people don’t have to compromise with quality because quality is natural for them. Quality is of high quality only when it is effortless! While serving Shrikhand, Maam mentioned to me that Sir had prepared it for me. It tasted much better then what I had tasted ever before! Best teachers have no expectations from their students. It is for the students to internalise what is exemplified by their teachers and be available to their students in turn without being in a hurry!
Most of the seers and saints have been seriously concerned with school education as part of their affectionate to redeem man and to create a harmonious society. Statesmen and leaders have also been concerned about it for the same reasons. The father of our nation has also spoken and worked on school education and presented an alternative paradigm. In the 1930s he expressed the need for nai taleem - new education. He proposed a new educational paradigm which educates children to live in a holistic and harmonious manner using the minimum resources drawn from the local surroundings.
An educationist associated with the institutions guided by Mahatma’s concepts at Wardha works with a few schools of Nasik to provide a different kind of educational exposure to the middle school students of those schools. Last year, he had kindly arranged a couple of workshops on “nature science” for our middle school children too. During these four day workshops our children learnt and experienced science through study of some aspects of nature and by being in close proximity with nature. Through discussions about science they were made aware of the larger problems of society including the ill effects of uninhibited consumerism, adverse impact of plastics upon the environment and the adverse impact of the incoming urban life style on our society and environment. Our school children became more sensitive to the problems faced by our world due to the workshops.
This friend arranged for us to get a glimpse of the endeavour undertaken by a group of serious minded persons in the different institutions at Wardha by accompanying us there. We were introduced to the concept of sustainable development as propounded by Mahatma Gandhi decades back and the value of which is increasingly being recognised presently. Two members of the leadership team of Anand Niketan, which is part of Nai Taleem Samiti, spoke about what school education based on crafts and other activities means. We were taken around the school and briefly explained the different teaching learning processes adopted in the classes. The school extends from nursery to the middle school and is attended by a couple of hundred day scholars. The educational contexts and learning spaces have been designed with minute care and equipped accordingly. The intent of learning is evident from the approach. About twenty classrooms are available for children of about four to twelve years of age. This provides ample number of specifically designed learning centres to the children.
The simple manner in which the little ones of primary school cleaned their utensils by dipping them in two rows each of three tubs of soap water and clean water progressively spoke volumes about what they were learning and how they were learning. They are being schooled to be self reliant and self dependent right from the start and right from the first principles through experience. At the “higher end” the children are learning subjects and crafts like English, Mathematics, spinning, painting, singing, dancing and a host of other subjects and activities. The visit to Wardha was an exposure to a different and surely more enjoyable educational paradigm for children - one that can educate us to live harmoniously with ourselves and with one another. Improving self understanding and exposing children to basic life skills, in a local context, is surely the beginning of a better understanding of internationalism. Profound ideas from different quarters should meet and merge so that better and more influential ideas which can come about so that mankind could be influenced better.
It is imperative that the man to be, the child, is educated to see the present challenges present more acutely. This might enable him to be a more sensitive person. Many schools seem to consider that children must be “educated” to be aggressively competitive so that the objectives of profession and career are not jeopardised. What the gains are due to this approach and whether they are gains at all is not questioned? It may be possible for the child to be sensitised to perceive and experience the simplest aspects of life so that they taste the first principles of life. This might bring back values like contentment and generosity to our lives naturally. The association of our school with the group at Wardha is hoped to be an important step in our attempt to make school community to observe the simplicity and mysteries of the world.
Meeting teachers who explore the first principles of education and life is refreshing. Good teachers expose us to the joys of learning. A learner is blessed!