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Challenges Before Public Schools











30TH JULY 1997



Challenges Before Public Schools

Challenges Before Public Schools

Challenges Before Public Schools

I feel happy to be here this morning and am grateful for the valuable opportunity to speak to the leaders of the Public Schools in India.

With the unfolding of times, great pressures are being built up on teachers and students, on parents and public, on educational administrators and on those in charge of financial and other resources which are needed for running educational systems. This is an opportune moment to take stock of the situation, and while it is too early to propose solutions, a big effort is needed to analyse the problems in the right perspective and suggest a few lines which can be pursued for proper exploration.

The most important development in the last few years that has taken place in India is that both Central Government and State Governments have declared that increasing burden of financing education has to be borne more and more by non-governmental organisations, by parents and by public in general. The suddenness with which this policy shift has taken place has prevented adequate time to prepare for consequences, and we find, therefore, a kind of dis-orientation among all who are concerned with education.

The grants which are being given by the Government, and which were already insufficient, are tending to fall drastically; public mind is not yet ready to realise the responsibility of the people to sustain and develop education; parents who are accustomed to a certain level of fees and charges, are unable and also unwilling to bear a higher hike in the fee structure; costs of educational materials are rising at a rapid rate; and salary structure is bound to rise higher and higher. On the other hand, pressures of increasing expectations from education demand such high levels of efficiency and expertise that only a high quality of education, which is bound to be extremely costly, can meet. The general economic condition of the country is so precarious that the Government is obliged to ask educational institutions to fend for themselves more and more increasingly; school managements are required, therefore, to turn to donations and to charge higher and higher fees; parents are obliged to resist; and seeking always better quality of education for the children, they are running from place to place in a frenzy; wrong methods in various forms, implicit or explicit, are spreading at various points of educational system; and, above all, government is being pressed by various sectors to devise means and methods by which donations are controlled, fee structure is restrained, and greater control comes to be exercised on all educational institutions.

It is in the background of this scenario that public schools and the challenges which they are facing, have come before us in a sharp focus. Rush for admissions in public schools has reached such peaks of pressure that it has invited Governmental intervention and general hue and cry among the public. The great services rendered by the public schools are, however, not being sufficiently appreciated, and managements of these schools experience extremely difficult choices while balancing their budgets and in providing the kind of education that they are expected to provide not only in answer to the expectations of the parents, but also in answer to the needs of the nation and the needs of aims of excellence.

Challenges Before Public Schools

Challenges Before Public Schools

It is true, by and large, public schools in India have been established with noble aims to enhance educational opportunity in the country, although there are also some who have entered into this field with lesser idealism. And I think that the leaders of the public schools have a legitimate case for the policies which they advocate, and it will be in the interests of everybody if they could prepare a white paper which could be presented to the Government, to parents, and to public in which the services that they are rendering to the country are highlighted, their budget levels are analysed, and the problems and challenges they are facing, both financial and academic, are presented clearly and comprehensively. It is the duty of the country to ensure that the services which the public schools are rendering and which they are expected to render more and more meaningfully on a larger and larger scale are not, in any way, hampered or obstructed.

The academic challenges before the public schools are even greater than the financial challenges. And this aspect is not adequately recognised. These challenges can be summed up under three categories: firstly, it is expected that public schools have to set examples of excellence in regard to objectives and performance. Secondly, they have to undertake a programme of innovations which imply constant adoption of better methodologies, better equipment, and better environment. And, thirdly, they have unbearable responsibility to design education for character development and for enhancing values of Indian culture, ─ and that, too, in a setting where corruption is spreading and where the invasion of alien cultures is becoming more and more pronounced through the powers of communication media, and rapid changes in the life styles all over the world. If public schools fail in meeting these academic challenges, the question is as to which agency the country will turn to. The answer is that we must not allow the failure of public schools. We should all come together to ensure that the managements, principals, and teachers should be so supported that their idealism is kept alive, their enthusiasm is nourished and their efforts are fully supported.

As we look at the wider horizons, three perennial objectives of education have emerged with a special emphasis and which impose themselves on public schools. These objectives can be summarised briefly in these terms: (i) education should encourage and foster the quest for the knowledge of man in the universe, as also the arts and sciences of their relationships; (ii) education should aim at building new bridges between the past and the future; and (iii) education should endeavour to discover and apply increasingly efficient means of the right rhythms of acceleration of human progress.

Under the broad umbrella of these objectives, certain specific goals are required to be promoted. There is, first, the objective of education for the promotion of national integration, international understanding and world peace; secondly, there is the objective of education that caters to the multi-dimensional development; and, finally, education should emphasise development of scientific temper, technical skills and value-oriented education.

In implementing these aims and objectives, public schools are facing problems of innovative methodology. One of the basic capacities which needs to be developed among students is that of adequate linguistic expression. In this connection, there are problems of medium of instruction, and while the demand for high achievements in respect of English occupy a high place in the agenda of the public schools, it is impossible to neglect the fact that the mother tongue of the child is the best medium of instruction. Fortunately, India has been historically a country of linguistic abilities, and people have the knack of picking up several languages. But what is demanded of public schools is not only to develop among the students the knowledge of several languages, but also the achievements of high excellence in linguistic abilities.

Another problem is to cater to creative interests of the children. It is evident that the fullness of personality cannot be attained without the pursuit of arts and crafts, without the pursuit of games and sports, and without the pursuit of skills and abilities that are needed in activities of imagination, human and humane development of relationships, and in management of collective or productive enterprises. One of the central questions is as to how these creative interests are to be accommodated within the framework of a syllabus which is de- signed mainly to centre on subject-oriented and book-oriented educational system.

Challenges Before Public Schools

Challenges Before Public Schools

Another element that makes academic challenges in public schools so very exacting is the new emphasis on varieties of processes of learning. And in this respect I should like to appeal to public schools that they have to play a crucial role by responding to the needs of a programme that emphasises the following elements: (a) firstly, teaching-learning process should be child-centred; (b) the teaching-learning process should allow freedom in respect of pace of progress, selection of subjects and in respect of framing time-tables. Ultimately, freedom has to be so guided that it generates among students a process of self-discipline; (c) physical education should be so designed that it becomes a source of a healthy development of integral personality; (d) in a total process of learning, an emphasis should be laid on learning to learn, learning by doing, learning by practising and, correspondingly, on all the methods that are appropriate to cognition, affection, and conation; (e) finally great emphasis should be laid on self-study, project work, group discussions, community work, activities of adventure and works of manual labour.

Let me also point out that public schools have a great responsibility to develop new models of education that are imperatively demanded on account of several factors such as unprecedented explosion of information and speed of communication, increasing insistence on holism and integrality, closer interaction between humanities, sciences and technologies as also between science and spirituality, pressures of the ideals of learning to be and learning to become, and growing dissatisfaction with present system of lectures, rigid syllabi and unsatisfactory examination system, which, in many ways, counteracts the emphasis on value education. To my mind, this challenge is perhaps most important and most difficult, but it is in fulfilment of this challenge that public schools in our country will find their fullest justification and their own satisfaction as institutions which have the responsibility not only to build children of high character but also to build the nation as a whole.

The new model that has to emerge will have to effect a revolutionary change in the curriculum and contents of education. Today, almost all schools follow a curriculum which was originally designed to arrive at the end of educational process an opening into a few occupations or vocations, particularly those of clerks, lawyers, engineers, medical doctors, businessmen and teachers. Vocational courses have only been recently introduced, even though they have not flourished to any expected degree. Moreover, curricula are so designed that they do not cater to the needs of those who want or are required to leave school system at early stages. Up to class 10, all prescribed subjects are compulsory for everybody. Hence, no child can have a chance of free choice and joy of free learning until the completion of class ten.

Our curriculum is so designed that it encourages learning by snippets. Syllabus for each subject is drawn up almost in isolation from other subjects. Holistic view of knowledge hardly emerges from this process. Ideally, every subject should be studied in the light of the Indian background, even when the scope has to be international and universal. After independence, something has been done in this direction, but much more remains to be done. In fact, some text books manifest no acquaintance with the achievements of India, whether in the ancient period, or in the middle period or even in the present day. We fail to give to our students the true account of the higher, nobler and spiritual concerns of Indian culture in the fear that we shall break the boundaries of secularism. In order to transcend this fear, we need to make a distinction between spirituality and exclusivism of religion. While the latter has to be avoided, the former has to be highlighted; for without spirituality India does not exist.

Moreover, we have not yet considered what every individual, as a human being, needs to study, irrespective of one's specialisation. For example, everyone needs to know essentials about the human body, about emotional and vital being as also about the essentials of how the human mind functions. Everyone needs to know what is rationality and morality, and aesthetic refinement, — for everyone has these elements and everyone has to develop them so as to grow into higher and deeper reaches of psychic and spiritual being. Everyone needs to practise power of concentration and harmonisation of inner and outer life; everyone needs to be a good pupil and a good teacher, and everyone needs to develop the capacity to choose the right aim of life. These and allied subjects need to be woven together in a graded manner so that they are brought to students effectively but in a very flexible manner throughout the living process of growth of character and personality.

Challenges Before Public Schools

Challenges Before Public Schools

I should like to suggest that the principals of the schools who are looked upon as the true leaders of education should come together to think deeply on these important questions and evolve relevant learning-teaching material. Similarly, they should also develop and organise think-tanks on the subject of new methodologies of education which have to play a crucial role in designing new models of education.

An important theme that the public schools in our country should seriously concentrate upon is that of the life styles that are developing among young people of the country. It would be unfair to suggest that public schools have a major responsibility in regard to the development of these life styles, but in many ways they can and do influence them.

Fundamentally, Indian culture is facing an extremely difficult problem because we are unable to deal rightly with the external influence. There is too much of a mechanical imitation, there is too much of subordination and servitude, and we are too inactive or weak, and there is a great danger of our being swallowed up by the invading leviathan. On the one hand, it is impossible to shut out the external influence altogether, and on the other hand, it is perilous to allow this influence to come upon us without being filtered through a right process of assimilation in which the values of Indian culture play the determining and sovereign role. Basically, it is not desirable that we shut out what is blowing upon us from far off shores. Certain amount of acceptance of external influence is inevitable, and if rightly assimilated, it would be considered desirable. For instance, India's acceptance of the form of the novel, the short story, the critical essay, adoption of the discoveries and inventions of modern science, and its method and instrumentation of inductive research, — these can be considered to be quite salutary, and our culture has become much richer by this kind of acceptance and assimilation. There is also no doubt that certain influences, ideas, energies, brought forward with the great living force by the West can awaken and enrich our own cultural activities and cultural being, provided that we succeed in dealing with them with a victorious power and originality, and provided that we can bring them into our characteristic way of being and transform them by its shaping action. For example, such ideas as those of social and political liberty, equality, democracy can be accepted, but not because they are modern or western which is in itself no recommendation, but because they are human, because they present fruitful viewpoints of the spirit, because they are things of the greater importance in the future development of the life of man. At the same time, in the process of assimilation, we must not take these things in the Western forms, but also must go back to whatever corresponds to them, illumines their sense, justifies their highest purport in our spiritual conception of life and existence, and in that light work out their extent, degree, form, relation to other ideas, application. Each thing is to be decided in the light of its proper dharma, in its right measure or importance, its spiritual, intellectual, ethical, aesthetic and dynamic utility.

Challenges Before Public Schools

Challenges Before Public Schools

But all this means that India has to recover its own centre and find its own base, and do whatever it has to do in its own strength and genius.

And this is the central question, which public schools as leaders of education, must ask and institute an exploration in search of a right answer. It is true that many teachers and administrators of public schools are raising that question, but what is necessary is to raise this question in a compelling manner so that teachers and students, as also parents and others, can be involved with serious concern. We must inquire as to what is Indian culture, what it represents to itself and what it represents also to other civilisations of the world, and how to develop its force and light so that India can radiate its own influence upon others, ─ such as what we find exemplified when Swami Vivekananda went to America and Europe and made an impact in showing the imperative relevance of Indian spirituality to the problems that confront the whole humanity. The work started by Swami Vivekananda must continue. We must know not only what India was in the past, but also what India is in its inner recesses of consciousness, how India has developed new treasures of spiritual light in its latest experiments of relating to the synthesis of Spirit and Matter of the East and the West, ─ as exemplified in the life and work of Sri Aurobindo ─ so that we can speak confidently and we can act with confident sense of leadership and yet in the spirit of cooperation with all other civilisations which are invading upon us and which can be made instruments of enrichment instead of enslavement.

A significant part of the cream of the nation is very largely being cultivated in the public schools of India. Most of their students are likely to occupy commanding positions in the coming decades. It is, therefore, imperative that public schools rise to the occasion and give to the young ones, who are under their charge, a vibrating vision of India so that they may be true soldiers of Indian renaissance, while at the same time, they can embrace in them wideness and universality of the entire world.

I am sure that the Seminar of today would like to deliberate on these questions and chalk out a programme of action.

Challenges Before Public Schools

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