ON EXAMINATIONS AND CERTIFICATES
(This is extracted from a talk ON DHARMA given in two parts on the request of the students of Last School. At the conclusion of the first session some time was spent in answering a few of the students’ questions specifically on the subject of certificate education. These questions are listed at the end of this transcript).
There is a question here: “Do you think we need a certificate to find a work in life?”
If you ask the question whether you need to have a certificate to find a work in the life of Auroville, the answer is: “No”. If you are only looking for work in life and you want work in Auroville, Auroville has been created specially, where you can get work without having a certificate. Now, but supposing somebody says, “I do not want to live in Auroville” – it is a matter of choice! – And you ask a question, “Do you need a certificate to live, to find work, in the outside world”, my answer is: unfortunately – and I use the word “unfortunately”– it is most often required, if not always.
There are many people who do not have certificates and they rise to the highest positions. I do not think that Mr. J.R.D. Tata had a certificate. You know Mr. J.R.D. Tata? He was one of the greatest men of India, of the world perhaps. Ms. Indira Gandhi had no certificate and she became the Prime Minister of India. I had one certificate myself called IAS. I renounced; I gave up that certificate. And, when I was again called back in the government, they did not ask me whether I had the certificate of IAS. Simply because I was privileged to work in a system of education which did not give certificates, therefore I was given the highest position of education in the country – only because of that reason. Therefore you might say that it is not inevitable that you should have a certificate to find a work even in the outside life. But unfortunately most often it is needed.
Now, why do I say unfortunately? It is unfortunate because certificate system is joined up with the system of examinations. There is one question here which says: “I am confused about the purpose of examinations, and I would like to know why in Auroville education, exams are not so useful?” Now, this is a very difficult question, but I shall make it as simple as possible. Certificates are unfortunately tied up with examinations. Examinations by themselves are not unfortunate; it is the connection of examination with certificate that is unfortunate. Examinations of a certain kinds alone are tied up with certificates, not all kinds of examinations.
Examination is a constant phenomenon of life. When I came to talk to you, I was under examination. You had put a question to me: “What is Dharma?” And I had to sit in examination by sitting here. I had to find an answer to that question and give you the answer. So, examination basically means, very simple, a situation in which a question is put to you and you are required to answer, that is called examination. Now, such situations exist throughout life. Life is nothing but a series of examinations, and you cannot eliminate them. The only point is what kind of examinations? What situations of examinations, purposes of examinations, the manner of examinations, the contents of examinations? We must ask these questions.
The present examination system is bad because you are asked to sit down for three hours and a question paper comes to you, and you have to answer it as fast as possible because everything has to be done in three hours time. And it only examines your power of memory. How much you have thought, how much you have contemplated… You might have contemplated only for one minute, or you might have contemplated for one full year… People, who examine your papers, only want to see how much you have memorised.
But supposing there is a different kind of examination and a different kind of examiner... You know the famous story of Byron: there was a competition, and the competition was to write about Christ – Jesus Christ. And people were writing papers after papers on Christ within three hours, and Byron, a very great thinker (he was a young man at that time), was thinking, and thinking and thinking and he could not write one sentence. Three hours were about to finish, and the examiner came to take the paper from his hands, saying that now the time is over. And he said: “Wait, wait, just one second”. At the last moment,then he wrote only one line: “Water saw its master and it blushed”. He only wrote one line: “Water saw its master and it blushed”. What a beautiful sentence? You know this is the highest poetry – last time I spoke to you about poetry – poetry gives you the deepest experience, and the most beautiful expression; that is called poetry. Deepest experience expressed in the most beautiful terms is poetry. Beautiful words, rhythmic words. And here was a young man, penning down only one sentence, and imagine the power of the sentence: “Water saw its master and it blushed”. Here was a master; Christ is a master who makes inanimate things animate. Not only animate, makes it blush! Blush means... ‘blush’ is the one experience of the soul. You know, the experience of ‘blush’ is a very important experience of life. When you blush…. Many of us have blushed in our life. When you meet something wonderful and you feel so shy! And you feel thrilled, absolutely thrilled, and you fall in love with so much of intensity, and yet you hide… no? This is the experience when you blush! It is an experience of your deepest soul, when the soul meets another great soul in which you find utter fulfilment; you want to completely merge into it. You find utmost satisfaction, fulfilment, and you feel a little hesitation, because it is so great, so majestic: “I am so little, how can I?” This is what creates a blush! So, he wrote: even water saw the master and it blushed. He is such a Majestic Existence that an inanimate thing became not only animate but became pulsating with the soul. The whole of Christ is given there. What is Christ? This is Christ! He had not read any book in which this was written; there was no memory here.
And the examiner was so good, he was a ‘right’ examiner, he did not look whether he had read the life of Christ, whether he was born in Bethlehem, whether he went here and there, and then ultimately was crucified, nothing of the kind at all. The examiner was so good he did not look for this at all. He only saw that here was a young man, who had grasped Christ as God himself, he had seen God in Christ, because only God can make you blush, really speaking. Even when you see your beloved and you blush, it is because you feel the beloved to be your god, then you blush. And here was a man who wrote in one line, and he got the first prize. Now, such an examination is perfectly good! One should not be confused about examinations, it is good to have examinations, and you should meet examinations with the kind of the spirit with which Byron confronted his examination. But also there must be an examiner like Deepti, who can understand. I know, your teachers are very good teachers, and I know they have got the capacity to examine you properly.
You know, I had an exam in my life. I was asked the question: “What is self–government?” when I was in college in the first year. And I must tell you that that was the one paper about which I had read least, and I was very hesitant – what will I do. In our examination system if you fail in one paper, you fail in all papers. It is a barbaric system. Therefore the examination system is not so good. If you fail in one paper, you fail completely. And this was the one subject about which I had not read much. And I was asked to write on self–government. There were five questions to be answered. I was still an innocent boy of fifteen years and I did not know so much of the regimentation of the examination system. I felt free to write on self–government and I took all the three hours in answering only one question instead of five questions.
And when I came out of the examination hall, somebody told me: “Did you attempt all the questions?” And then I remembered: “My Lord! I took only one question, I took all the three hours, and wrote only one”. So he said: “So you are bound to fail now”.
And I was so afraid. I said: “My Lord! I’ll fail now”. I did not write to my father as to how I had done in my examination. I waited till my examination results came, and lo and behold, I had got 98% marks in this paper. 98%! And what had I written, nothing from my text book. I had written, in answer to self–government, a dialogue between Soul and Nature. This was… you know – I felt so much inspired. At the age of fifteen, I was reading so much literature on soul and things of that kind. I had simply written a dialogue. It was not just an answer of the ordinary kind, in which you write the introduction, and then you development, and then the conclusion and a final résumé and all that. Nothing of the kind which all the teachers teach you – that if you want to have an examination, always start with the introduction, then develop your points, write the elucidation, then come to your conclusion, and in the end you write a résumé. This is called a very good classical answer to a question. I did nothing of the kind. I don’t know what had happened to me in these three hours. I rose completely in answer to self–government and I wrote a dialogue between Soul and Nature, in which Nature wants to bind the Soul, and the Soul wants to be liberated from Nature. And this movement of liberating from Nature is what I called the movement of self–governance. So I said, self–government is the movement of the Soul to liberate itself from Nature. This was my whole answer basically. But I had written it in the form of a dialogue where Nature is trying to capture the Soul and says: “You cannot come out of it” and the Soul says: “No, no, no! I want to come out of you!” It was a dialogue. And three hours I had taken to write this dialogue. And my examiner was like that good examiner. I got a prize in this actually, whereas I had complete diffidence that I would fail now! It is because of this high mark that I really got a very high percentage ultimately in the examination.
So I always feel that examinations by themselves are not bad. You should have examinations, everybody should have examinations. It is wrong to say “no exams”. Not at all, why should you not have examinations? But an examination should be of a different kind, not the present kind of examination. Once I asked this question to the Mother and she had said: “Examinations are and will be”. This was her answer. “Examinations are and will be”. But examinations should be real examinations. That is the first answer: examinations should be real examinations. What does it mean? And she said: “A silly mechanical mind passing examination and that too with flying colours is an absurdity.” And this is what happens at present. Our examinations are of such a nature that a silly mechanical mind writes an answer to an examination and gets flying marks. So Mother said in elucidation of it: “Examinations should be real examinations and should not allow any pretence”. This is the important point. It should really examine. If you really know – it is not a reproduction of memorised things that you write down and say: “Now I know”. Such a question should be put that your real knowledge can alone answer it. Mere memorising will not help you. So Mother said: “Examinations should be real examinations and should not allow pretence.”
Then, she said: “Examination should come to a student only when he is ready for it”. That is another condition, which is very important. At present, examinations are always announced. On such and such a date, examinations will take place, and everybody has to run up: “Prepare, prepare! Memorise, memorise! Read, mug up!” This is completely wrong. Every student should read calmly, quietly, with full understanding. Let him take his own time. When he is ready, he should say to the teacher: “I am now ready, ask me. “And you will find that when you are ready and questions are asked, you will be very happy. It should be a joyous exercise. It happens – when a teacher comes and asks a question, and if you know the answer – how readily you want to answer, you say: “Yes, yes, I want to answer!” So examinations should come to you only when you are ready for it.
Finally Mother said: “Examinations should be given to each individual according to his needs.” Now this is very important – “according to his needs”. And there are many kinds of needs, you know. Examination can be a matter of amusement that may be your need. You know, there are many kinds of games that you like to play, and there are also examination. Many games are only examinations. Even when you are asked to make words out of so many letters which are given to you saying – now fill up the blanks, it is an examination, it is a fun. So examination can be a game, and that may be your need; you may like to bubble with ideas, and you like to have amusement, and you should tell the teacher: “Give an examination: I want to play!” That may be your need. Examination may be also for your own self–knowledge, you want to be sure whether you understood, you may think that you have understood, but you want to be sure that you understood. It is not “pass” or “fail”, not at all. Usually examinations are only to declare whether you have passed or failed – it is barbaric. Not at all, examinations must only give self–assurance. You thought that you knew, now I examine you and now I give you certainty that you really know. And what a tremendous assurance it is! You go forward, immediately you jump into the next step. When you know that you have already learned, you have mastered and you can go forward.
Thirdly, examination may be a stimulation to move forward. Suddenly a teacher comes and says: “Give me the meaning of Dharma.” I am only giving you the example of the present day. It is not to examine you, I know that you do not know the meaning of Dharma, but I am just asking you the question: “Give me the meaning of Dharma.” It is to set you thinking; it is to stimulate; to put questions in your mind so as to incite you, so examination can be given also to stimulate you to learn further.
It is because examinations are not of this kind that we are confused about examinations and there is an unnecessary debate: “Should there be exams or no exams?”, or: “I do not believe in exams”. And somebody else says: “I believe in exams.” These are all useless talks. Main thing is exams are and will be – as Mother said very correctly: “Exams are and will be.” But exams must be real examinations and should not allow you pretence. And exams must come to you when you are ready. And examination must be according with the need of the student.
You fulfil all these conditions and you will find that examination will be absolutely useful under every circumstance. But it will not be a tyranny as it is now. Nobody will like to run away from exams, because it is not given when you are not ready for it. Nobody will say that it is a bugbear, not at all. You will like the teacher to ask you a question because he lifts you up. Because there is one thing which you must remember: every student feels happiness when he makes progress. That is one very important thing. You will never feel happy when you are not making progress.
Once Mother asked me: “Do you know how to judge your students?” I was myself nonplussed because how to judge my students? She knew that I would not be able to answer that question, she was very kind, she was examiner, but a very good examiner. So, she told me: “If you go to your class and you find that your students are happy, then, you judge that they have made progress”. This is a very simple formula given by the Mother to me. You know, when I see these smiling faces here, I feel very happy, because I feel that here is a group of children who are progressing and therefore their faces are filled with smiles. They are really happy. Such should be the condition all the time in our classes, in our examinations, where students don't feel that they are being examined not to find out whether they are up to the mark or not up to the mark. Passing, failing, all these are absolutely nonsensical things. But children should feel, that when they are being questioned there is a helping hand all the time, which does not want to judge but which wants to give happiness. And in the “lifting up” you feel such a tremendous upliftment, such a great joy, that you will like to have again and again the same kind of exercise; you will want to repeat it.
This was the great discovery of Montessori. You have you heard the name of Montessori? She was a great educationist and she said that one of the secrets of education is “repetition”. Now, very often many educationists believe: don’t repeat, because people become bored by repetition – you repeat the same thing, people feel bored. Now Montessori said the opposite, she said: “No, repetition is the one thing children like to do when they have really learned.” You see a child – she has learnt a few sentences. And give a chance to the child and it will like to repeat with great joy, because, it’s not at all a trouble, it’s not boring at all. Because the child had learnt, therefore the child likes to repeat. Similarly if the child has learned and enjoyed upliftment in an exercise, every child wants to repeat it, and says: “Again, and again, and again, and again.” This is the real process of education. This is the real interaction between the child and the teacher – when the teacher is not a judge, is not judging whether you are good, bad. The teacher is your friend, he is himself you – he is so much one with you – and all the time he gives a hand to you and lifts you. Such an exercise gives such a tremendous joy that you want it again and again. So, actually a right system of examination should be that children should say: “Please give exam, please give exam, please give exam!” That is the right system where examination has found its proper place.
Only, now I come to the other question about certificates. Please don’t tie up this examination with certificate; that is ruining our whole examination system, because the whole purpose changes. Certification means what? Gaining work in life, gaining work in life for what, for earning, earning what? So that I can save, why save, so that I can meet a rainy day, so that I have no anxieties. And go on doing it until when, until I die. This is the programme. The whole programme of life is this, as it is given in ordinary existence and this is a horrible system of life. Why has Mother thought of Auroville? It is because she wants humanity to be saved from this horrible condition of life. In “The Dream” she has said: “There should be a site where children do not learn for passing examinations and for getting diplomas and degrees”. But then they learn for what, for development of their faculties. Why? Because it is development of faculties which gives you happiness, as I told you just now. When your faculties develop, then you progress, and when you progress, you feel happy. So education must be for real happiness. That is why I do not like children who want to have certificates – I am not very harsh, there are some children who want certificates and yet I will love them because I know some of the conditions. But normally I would like that children, if they are here, they should regard as a tremendous facility where they can really learn, without the botheration to have examinations of the ordinary kinds, without their being tied to certificates. Certificates tied to your post of life and post of life to your grave – ultimately. This is a whole system of life which goes to death. And which looks only to death, ultimately. This, Mother wants to break.
Therefore I’d like the children of Auroville to study for the sake of progress, to learn the secrets of existence to have mastery. Not that you cannot work, you should work of course! There is no true education which will not enable you to work and work very proficiently and masterfully. Sri Aurobindo has said that true education must have four elements in it: wisdom, heroism, art of harmony and art of skill. Now you tell me: Can any work be done in the world without these four elements? And if you have these four elements you can be sure that you will be able to do any work. If you have learnt the skill, if you know how to harmonise, if you are heroic, and if you have wisdom, tell me which is the work in the world – whether you have certificate or no certificate – which you will not be able to perform? Therefore I would like the children of Auroville to be free from fear. Here is a place where you can be free from fear; you can really spring into the future without ordinary kinds of fears and anxieties. It is education that takes you not to the grave but to life and to eternal life. As Mother said: “Constant education, constant progress and a youth that never ages”. And this is a great possibility which is opened up to us.
I think that there are many other questions from you which we are not answering now, because we shall have another chance to come and talk. All right? We stop here now? Granted? Yes? ... Not yet granted, but... Thank you very much. I feel very pleased. I am very happy to meet you. I am not flattering you – to meet you is to make my soul blush! I feel very, very happy and I thank you immensely. And give me this company of yours whenever I am here with you. Thank you.