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Sri. Pawan Gupta talking to teachers

Samanvaya along with the State Science & Technology Centre had organized for a talk and interaction between Sri. Pawan Gupta, SIDH, Mussoorie and state government teachers at the Periyar Planetarium on the 24th February 2009. 

Pawan Gupta was on a visit to Samanvaya for discussing possible areas of joint work and collaboration. 

The following report is thanks to Smt. Chitra Nagesh who has kindly put down her recollection and sent to us. The programme was coordinated by Smt. Subha Bharadwaj:

Shri. Pawan Kumar Gupta from SIDH (Society for Integrated Development of the Himalayas), gave a talk on ‘Ideas and Myths about education’ as part of Science Week celebrations under the auspices of TN Science and Technology Centre on 24th, February 2009. This talk was organized by Samanvaya along with  the TNSTC.

From the moment he started with a brief glimpse about himself and his work till the end when he gave a call to the teachers present to look at education differently and make a paradigm shift in their approach to the learners, he adopted a direct and simple style of communication.

He presented the significant drawback of the present educational system- how it is being completely unrelated to real life and life needs - supported by Gandhiji’s views. He pointed out how Gandhiji highlighted the wide gap between the Indian way of life and society on the one hand and the English education of the colonial period on the other. The present system of education is an Indian is a variation of the later and so the content of learning is far removed from daily life of an ordinary Indian. The language spoken at home cannot help the child to communicate in school for the language followed in school is so different. One need not dress the same way as everyone else to school because one does not do so at  home either. Similarly, the value system in the society has no relevance in school. This was Gandhiji’s observation of the earlier system and it seems to hold good today as well.

Education – meant to instill self confidence in the learner.
The purpose of real education is to nurture and enhance the self confidence of the child. On the contrary, the present system puzzles the child and the child is torn between two sets of values and loses his sense of identity and pride in that identity. Pawanji shared his experience in managing a rural school where to highlight his point on the loss of traditional values and the lack of self confidence. He remembered the time when parents complained that going to school had spoiled the children and said that the children who lent a helping hand either in the household work or the work in the field earlier (before going to school) refused to do so after attending school. With more interaction with the local community and observation, Shri. Pawan Gupta realised the need to work in close association with the community and to be responsive to its requirements.

Are text books providing the right information?
He made some interesting observations based on their earlier study of text books published by different state Governments which call for immediate measures.
He told the audience about the statement (in an English textbook) which described Sarojini Naidu as a ‘clever girl as she could write poems in English when she was only five years old'. The unspoken view communicated to the child here was that knowledge of English is a prerequisite for cleverness.

There are quite a few instances when the text books depict urban areas as clean and symbol of development and the rural scenes often depict lack of cleanliness and show backwardness. Pawanji said that this will create a false value system and erode the self confidence of the children. Children in turn feel insecure and inferior while relating to the familiar local customs and the values therein.

Learning and Understanding
Pawanji laid great emphasis on knowing the difference between learning and understanding so that the teacher can be clear about how and why a particular concept has to be taught. Learning is by doing and practising which results in mastery of skills whereas, understanding leads to knowledge enhancement. This is where, he said that they try to inject philosophy (not the Western kind but the Indian approach to ‘Darshan’) in every subject and arouse the curiosity of the learner to find the truth.

The role of text books
Text books are only a means to acquire knowledge and it should suit the individual needs and level of understanding of the learner. That brings out the obvious conclusion that rigidly structured text books cannot cater to the variations in individual needs. Attuned to the community in which it works, SIDH does not follow text books; the curriculum is built around the physical environment, rituals etc, of the area.
Asking the students about the use of certain herbs brings some distinctive tradition specific to particular families which almost always have some interesting anecdote connected to earlier generation. (This can be used to highlight the need to study History). When children realise the significance of such knowledge, they will feel proud about their grandmother or grandfather who possess such information. With such examples, Pawan Gupta brought out the difference between education and literacy. The child can appreciate the knowledge of his/her elders and need not feel bad about their illiteracy. This challenges the false value system imbibed in the modern education system.

Learning of values
He shared an interesting exercise done with the children to appreciate the importance of speaking truth. He said that they never told the children not to tell lies but asked them whether they have told lies. Putting the children at ease, they got to know that fear of punishment, shame or the urge to be appreciated, prompt the children to lie. When the contemplative exercise continued, the children were able to arrive at the conclusion that telling lies may bring immediate gains but in the long run, there is no such gain and they have to face repercussions of telling lies.

Response to the speech
As an obvious response to a talk that presented a different paradigm, the teachers present did not come forward to particularly ask any question. However, one could make out that Pawanji’s ideas teased their brain and their set ideas of what makes up teaching got a jolt. One of them wondered how we can think of experimenting when we have to train the students for examinations and there is a well defined syllabus to cover before certain date. Pawanji pointed out that a beginning though small has to be made by the teachers and they should come out of the present mind set.

Let us hope that a change occurs in the way teachers look at learning and they truly understand the ‘why’ of teaching a particular subject.


Shyam said…
This was a very thought-provoking presentation indeed. I teach at a deemed university and am increasingly concerned as a citizen of the most ancient of surviving civilizations that schools are alienating our children in a number of ways. Pawanji is very right in pointing some of these out-starting with the perceived objectives of learning to the methods adopted. Man-making is totally substituted by money-making. Literature is unimportant in the curriculum since it does not assure you a one lakh job; certain games are important because professionals there make millions. There are any number of such anecdotes one comes across everyday. I think the point Pawanji made about self-respect and a legitimate sense of pride about whatever we are as a society and a nation is very well taken and should be incorporated at the outset in any learning organization be it a school or a university.
Syama Sundar Tallury,