Let us not Forget the Essentials
There are four essentials that we must not forget while restructuring or reforming the educational system. Firstly, we must recognise that the child and his latent potential and his quiet yet persevering soul are to be subserved; we must not build a system that would suffocate or smother that little child.
This essential point is brought out forcefully by Rabindra Nath Tagore in his short story “The Parrot’s Training”. It is so instructive that we may recount it in full.
“Once upon a time there was a bird. It was ignorant. It sang all right, but never recited scriptures. It hopped pretty frequently, but lacked manners.
Said the Raja to himself,“Ignorance is costly in the long run. For fools consume as much food as their betters, and yet give nothing in return.”
He called his nephews to his presence and told them that the bird must have a sound schooling. The pundits were summoned, and at once went to the root of the matter. They decided that the ignorance of birds was due to their natural habit of living in poor nests. Therefore, according to the pundits, the first thing necessary for this bird’s education was a suitable cage. The pundits had their rewards and went home happy.
A golden cage was built with gorgeous decorations. Crowds came to see it from all parts of the world. “Culture, captured and caged!” exclaimed some, in a rapture of ecstasy, and burst into tears. Others remarked,“Even if culture be missed, the cage will remain, to the end, a substantial fact. How fortunate for the bird!”
The goldsmith filled his bag with money and lost no time in sailing homewards.
The pundit sat down to educate the bird. With proper deliberation he took his pinch of snuff, as he said,“Textbooks can never be too many for our purpose!”
The nephews brought together an enormous crowd of scribes. They copied from books, and copied from copies, till the manuscripts were piled up to an unreachable height. Men murmured in amazement,“Oh, the tower of culture, egregiously high! The end of it lost in the clouds!”
The scribes, with light hearts, hurried home, their pockets heavily laden. The nephews were furiously busy keeping the cage in proper trim. As their constant scrubbing and polishing went on, the people said with satisfaction,“This is progress indeed!”
Men were employed in large numbers, and supervisors were still more numerous. These, with their cousins of all different degrees of distance, built a palace for themselves and lived there happily ever after. Whatever may be its other deficiencies, the world is never in want of fault-finders; and they went about saying that every creature remotely connected with the cage flourished beyond words, excepting the bird. When this remark reached the Raja’s ears, he summoned his nephews before him and said,“My dear nephews, what is this that we hear?”
The nephews said in answer,“Sire, let the testimony of the goldsmiths and the pundits, the scribes and the supervisors, be taken, if the truth is to be known. Food is scarce with the fault-finders, and that is why their tongues have gained in sharpness.”
The explanation was so luminously satisfactory that the Raja decorated each one of his nephews with his own rare jewels.
The Raja at length, being desirous of seeing with his own eyes how his Education Department busied itself with the little bird,
made his appearance one day at the great Hall of Learning. From the gate rose the sounds of conch-shells and gongs, horns, bugles and trumpets, cymbals, drums and kettle-drums, tom-toms, tambourines, flutes, fifes, barrel-organs and bagpipes. The pundits began chanting mantras with their topmost voices, while the goldsmiths, scribes, supervisors, and their numberless cousins of all different degrees of distance, loudly raised a round of cheers. The nephews smiled and said,“Sire, what do you think of it all?”
The Raja said,“It does seem so fearfully like a sound principle of Education!”
Mightily pleased, the Raja was about to remount his elephant, when the fault-finder, from behind some bush, cried out,“Maharaja, have you seen the bird?”
“Indeed, I have not!” exclaimed the Raja,“I completely forgot about the bird.”
Turning back, he asked the pundits about the method they had followed in instructing the bird. It was shown to him. He was immensely impressed. The method was so stupendous that the bird looked ridiculously unimportant in comparison. The Raja was satisfied that there was no flaw in the arrangements. As for any complaint from the bird itself, that simply could not be expected. Its throat was so completely choked with the leaves from the books that it could neither whistle nor whisper. It sent a thrill through one’s body to watch the process. This time, while remounting his elephant, the Raja ordered his State Ear puller to give a thorough good pull at both the ears of the fault-finder.
The bird thus crawled on, duly and properly, to the safest verge of insanity. In fact, its progress was satisfactory in the extreme.
Nevertheless, nature occasionally triumphed over training, and when the morning light peeped into the bird’s cage it sometimes fluttered its wings in a reprehensible manner. And, though it is hard to believe, it pitifully pecked at its bars with its feeble beak. “What impertinence!” growled the kotwal. The blacksmith, with his forge and hammer, took his place in the Raja’s Department of Education. Oh, what resounding blows! The iron chain was soon completed, and the bird’s wings were clipped. The Raja’s brothers- in-law looked black, and shook their heads, saying,“These birds not only lack good sense, but also gratitude!”
With textbook in one hand and the baton in the other, the pundits gave the poor bird what may fitly be called lessons! The kotwal was honoured with a title for his watchfulness and the blacksmith for his skill in forging chains.
The bird died.
Nobody had the least notion how long ago this had happened. The fault-finder was the first man to spread the rumour. The Raja called his nephews and asked them,“My dear nephews, what is this that we hear?”
The nephews said,“Sire, the bird’s education has been completed.”
“Does it hop?” the Raja enquired. “Never!” said the nephews.
“Does it fly?” “No.”
“Bring me the bird,”said the Raja. The bird was brought to him, guarded by the kotwal and the sepoys and the sowars. The Raja poked its body with his finger. Only its inner stuffing of book-leaves rustled. Outside the window, the murmur of the spring breeze amongst the newly budded Asoka leaves made the April morning wistful.”
The second essential point to be noted is that the child is like a closed bud that grows slowly or swiftly and opens up its petals and blossoms into its fullness by an innate pressure, aided by sunny atmosphere and environment watched and recreated by the uplifting hand of the teacher.
Even though teaching is a deliberate process, it is essentially a creative activity. Teaching is a conscious art that aims at natural and spontaneous growth of the faculties and capacities of the pupil. Natural growth does not mean wild growth; the teacher is like a gardener who needs to spend all his increasing knowledge and skill endlessly to combine all the helpful factors (external environment and internal resources of the pupil’s actual and potential tendencies and powers) in such a way that there is the resultant experience of spontaneous growth marked by right rhythm and acceleration.
The third essential point to remember is that the contemporary teacher has increasing possibilities of utilising dynamic methods of teaching-learning, and he can thus create or invent a new system of education that is directly relevant to the fundamental needs of today and tomorrow.
We may summarise here some of the models of dynamic methods that have been experimented upon during the last few decades:
In an EXPLORATION PROJECT (EP) the learners try to orientate themselves, individually or in groups, in real environments and, in doing so, make direct contact with the environment and reflect their learning process in addition.
ACTION PROJECTS (AP) include learning situations which are closely coupled with self-regulated practical action in actual situations by using professionally-overlapping reserves of competency and of knowledge.
INDIVIDUALIZED PROGRAMMED INSTRUCTION (IPI) follows instructional model in a manner timed to meet the needs of the individual, mostly with the help of programmed teaching and learning materials.
The INFO BANK (IB) enables learners to make an adjustment between their interest in learning and their style of learning on the one hand and the learning environment on the other.
In the KELLER PLAN (KP), so-called after its author, written texts are divided up into small passages for learning that the learner has to work on in succession. This instructional model is mainly used in various branches of learning in the sphere of the university, particularly when the acquisition of facts and knowledge of concepts is the chief objective.
In the CLARIFYING EDUCATIONAL ENVIRONMENT (CEA) the learner interacts with a didactically prepared and naturally stimulating environment in which he learns so that he takes over in turn the roles of the agent, the patient, the significant other and the generalized other.
The didactic model LEARNING BY TEACHING (LBT) is based on the principle of transferring to the learner all or some of the functions of the teacher, whereby to a certain extent, he acquires qualifications auto-instructionally.
The MULTIMEDIA STUDY CENTRE (MMSC) is an instructional model in so far as it not only contains a combination of different information materials at one place but at the same time it also makes available instruments with the help of which the learner can construct and control his own learning process.
The NETWORK is an instructional model in which a number of locally dispersed learners learn from one another because they inform and consult one another mutually and unselfishly from time to time, about their individual problems relating to an area of operation in which they have an interest.
In the SERIOUS GAME (SG), as well as in the SIMULATION GAME (SIMG), the learner takes over the roles of those responsible for the action and decision in simulated environments. The didactic models of the SG and the SIMG are particularly suitable for those branches of learning in which the ability to act and to decide without running risks (to the learner and to others) is to be taught.
In the WORKSHOP (WS), the learners work like colleagues supported, if necessary, by organizers and advisors, on the solution of real problems with which they are confronted in (professional) practice.
We must, however, not make a fetish of any particular method, but create and recreate methods and means by which the needed help, guidance and learning experience are provided to the pupil.
The fourth essential point that we should underline is that we are living through unusual times and that the contemporary teacher is required to make unusual effort in various directions in order to meet growing demands on him. In particular, he is called upon to widen his horizons and participate in a global endeavour that aims at human survival, which, in turn, demands radical change in the ordinary springs of thought and action.