“Education is not merely the teaching of various academic subjects, but the cultivation of total responsibility in the student. One does not realize as an educator that one is bringing into being a new generation. Most schools are only concerned with imparting knowledge. They are not at all concerned with the transformation of man and his daily life, and you – the educator in these schools – need to have this deep concern and the care of this total responsibility.”
Our parents had it very easy. They did not have to ponder, discuss, research, evaulate and what not to decide on a school to send us kids to. Each town or village had a few schools, you applied in one of those, got admission, end of story. Parents who followed what was happening in the schools were a rarity and mostly a source of embarassment for us kids. Their motto was very simple, “If you study well, good for you”. There was no tension about whether you were happy there or not, you just had no choice, period. They had no clue about the various methods of teaching, and I am sure they wouldn’t have bothered even if they knew. They knew the essence of schooling, probably without even realizing it – to prepare you for life.
Today, as we endlessly mull over our choices of schools for our kids, the constant question that nags my mind is are we overdoing it. Education as a subject was something that interested me even before I got married. That was when we started hearing about words liks ‘Montessori Method’, ‘Alternative Education’ etc. Their teaching methods sounded fun, the kids whom I knew jumped up eagerly from their beds on weekday mornings and were depressed during weekends and I was very clear that when I had a kid, this is the kind of school that we would send her to. That was till I heard about the fees that they charge – almost equal to the market price of a Catholic doctor boy (that’s the only market rate that I was aware of at that time, can’t disclose why though 😉 ). To make the long story short, we were, or should I say, our son was lucky enough to get into a Montessori school that didn’t ask us to pawn/pledge/sell whatever we had including us in order to pay their fees. I was hooked by their learning methods, not much pressure on the kids, they learnt things without even realizing it. It was the concepts that were taught, not a few words and numbers by heart. The last 7 years have been a mix of normal and alternative.
We stay close to a well known, 150 year old girls school in Bangalore, so there was no question of where we would send our daughter. One year later, we are in a constant state of confusion as to whether this was a right choice. In the first month of her upper KG, she is expected to learn almost fifty words in English. Knowing how our son was taught, I try to teach her phonetically, and she has started getting the hang of it. I know she’ll start reading on her own pretty soon. In fact,that is what she is most excited about – “I’ll be able to read all the story books on my own” :-). It is the fear factor that I am worried about. First dictation, she just refused to go to school and started howling as if her mother was dead (at least I hope that is how upset she would be, ahem). Till then, we were planning to move our son as well to a normal school , now we are not too sure. In fact, we are wondering whether to move her to his school as well.
Whenever today’s parents worry about these kind of things, our parent’s general comment is,”you guys went to a normal school, did something happen to you?” That is something even I used to think about a lot. The answer has slowly become clear, specially after going for an alumni meeting a few months back. Teaching was a vocation for most of the teachers of that generation. We were lucky enough to have teachers who considered us a part of themselves, they knew the background from which each of us came, there was nothing that escaped their watchful eyes. The scoldings toungues always belied the care and concern in their eyes. They guided us through the most important formative years of ours and what they have taught us outside of the text books have still remained with us. Even though the government schools were considered below par at that time as well, the teachers were of the same genre.
Another interesting thing is that their teaching methods are what is packed and labelled beautifully now as alternative. We did not have the luxury of knowledge at our finger tips then. I do not know how she did it, but I still remember the lessons on Africa that one of my teachers taught us, she ahd collected so much information, we just sat enthralled for hours. And then there was this all time favorite teacher of mine whose History and Geography lessons were like watching movies, she brought the concepts and facts to life through her words.
Is it that we do not have teachers like them any more? I don’t think so. It is just that they come with a cost that most parents cannot afford. If we leave aside the additional facilities and comforts these high end schhools provide, what is the differentiating factor? Without doubt, it is the teachers. Maybe the factor that drives them is an evaluation method that throws you out of the system if you are not effective. The fact remains that the kids that these schools churn out are confident and ready to face the world. Whether their method is based on morals and values is another question and subject for another post altogether.
You could have a school that is centrally air conditioned, a cafeteria where all possible nutritional food is provided, world class sports facilities and anything else that you can think of, but ultimately, if the people associated with this do not have a passion for education, none of this serves any purpose. As the great educator J Kirishnamurthi says, ” One does not realize as an educator that one is bringing into being a new generation”. Unless each and every teacher realizes this, we better guide our children to follow Mark Twain who said,
“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
p.s. for my friends who can read malayalam, here is an article that would restore your faith in government schools – http://www.mathrubhumi.com/mb4eves/online/malayalam/kerala/women/articles/maruvakku-article-150816