The world over, we lament the state of education. We might observe directly the plight of a generation of young people weighed down by the burden of seemingly meaningless academic curricula and indifferent teaching practices, alongside spiralling aspirations for securing the ‘good life’. One might be provoked to ask, ‘Is this really what education is about?’ We might also piece together our collage of impressions about the socio-political landscape we live in and sense the growing inequities, the lop-sided priorities of decision-makers, and the marginalization of individuals, communities, social groups and even nations. And we may wonder: what does education have to do with all this? Or we might see in our mind’s eye a vision of the impending man-made travails on our home planet, and wonder whether we are sealing our own fate in darkness. We could ask: are there sensibilities and capacities we might yet call forth in the human species that could avert greater disaster and make a new dawn possible? Can education respond to such an unprecedented challenge? And how might this relate to the burden we now habitually impose on young schoolchildren?
This is a journal for teachers, parents, educationists, and anyone else concerned with the issues of our times. It presents the outcomes of a broad range of inquiries that include the everyday acts that go into making the culture of our schools and our lives, as well as the underlying assumptions, dichotomies and attitudes that we might unknowingly harbour in giving structure and sustenance to our educational systems. There are also articles that share specific approaches and practices that have been attempted in various contexts of school education.
In this, the twelfth volume of the Journal, a clear sub-theme that emerges is the role of science in our lives. This is explored from multiple Editorial perspectives. In the first series of articles, Dr. Krishna reflects on the nature of scientific inquiry and the relevance of what he calls the ‘scientific spirit’ in the search for truth or wisdom through self-knowledge. He sees this as a necessary quest, if humankind is to become responsible in holding and utilising the burgeoning and deadly power of scientific discoveries. Shailesh Shirali attempts to evoke the beauty and sense of order that underlie the disciplines of science and mathematics, and exhorts teachers to feel and to share with students the aesthetic qualities and sense of wonder that are intrinsic to these domains. And yet another science teacher, N.J. Krishnan, confesses his occasional feelings of helplessness in the face of hardened attitudes to learning science and mathematics, which come in the way of appreciating science as a‘way of thinking’ with implications well beyond the particular physics courseone might be studying. Kumaraswamy’s practical primer for teachers — withexamples taken from physics — suggests that studying for an examination neednot come in the way of learning a subject well, and shows how a thoughtfulteacher may guide students of various abilities in this process.
With regard to the teaching of school subjects, we find two very different but complementary perspectives presented by two practitioners of environmental education, V. Arun and V. Santaram. One highlights an approach that draws lessons from Krishnamurti’s teachings, while the other suggests a wide range of practical ideas for making the subject meaningful and relevant to students’ lives. Both clearly believe in the seminal importance of this area of the school curriculum for developing students’ sensibilities with regard to contemporary issues.
Many of these articles offer a critique of the current emphasis on rigid syllabi and examination requirements, which have the effect of greatly narrowing the scope of education in schools.
A wider critique of the underpinnings of school curriculum comes in the form of an enquiry into the philosophy of vocational education, by Patrick Foster. He shows the school curriculum to be deeply shaped by dichotomies and a selective valuation of one set of human capacities — the intellectual and literacy-based variety — over others. He finds that this manner of selective valuation towards a university-bound educational track, militates against a holistic education.
Chakravyuha is the metaphor employed by G. Gautama to articulate his poignant picturing of the entrapment experienced by students and teachers alike, once they enter the school system. He is sceptical of the cosmetic reforms and restructuring which schools may periodically undergo and raises questions about the deeply held attitudes that continue to sustain the trap. In a more anecdotal vein, Krishna H. takes us along a journey into his own ruminations on the nature of schooling, teaching and learning, which ends up questioning the limiting identities and boundaries that we perhaps need to transcend.
Outside the purposive frame of schools and their curricula, we have individual inquiries into a range of life concerns. Radhika Neelakantan explores the nature and place of art in our lives; T.M. Krishna engages with the meaning of culture in our lives; and Anya Van Zijll Langhout points to the limitations of the tools of science — in this instance, the social sciences — in understanding the stories of human lives.
In ‘Rules for Living’, Yasmin Jayathirtha shares an inquiry of a different sort, sparked by issues that arose around the framing of a few rules in the context of a small school as well as a residential community. This leads her to uncover the possible value of participation in framing and amending ‘rules’ as a basis for an education in citizenship.
From three very different contexts we have accounts of specific initiatives that are small harbingers of hope. The story of a group of tribal schools in Kaigal Valley, by Sudha Premnath, speaks about the organic development of an educational programme that seeks to sensitively bridge the boundaries between the marginalized world of tribal forest dwellers and the wider socio-economic context of an industrializing world, so that they may seek livelihoods of dignity, while preserving their inborn natural sensibilities. The teachers in these tribal schools are seen as the crucial factor in the success of this venture. And so too it seems with the story of mixed-age group learning in an urban middle school, a pilot venture undertaken by Akhila Seshadri and S. Padmavathy, where a change in the structures of learning is premised on the ability of teachers and students to learn to work together in a non-hierarchical group, where listening, questioning, collaboration are encouraged, together with self-directed learning. And lastly, from a university setting, we have an article by Raji Swaminathan on ‘action research’ in schools. This shows the possibility of teachers educating themselves, and coming upon refreshing insights that can carry their educational work deeper. The common factor in all three cases is ‘the teacher who is also a learner’.
Though these writings emanate largely from a small but diverse group of teachers, parents, former students, and educationists associated with the Krishnamurti schools, such critiques and constructive initiatives are equally relevant to educational questioning and change on a broader scale. For systemic change to happen there needs to be a deep and sustained shift in the nature of educational discourse — in its underlying assumptions and the sociopolitical and human values that govern it. While the larger educational systems impinge on the work of those who may feel the urgency of change, they, in turn, cannot but engage with and attempt to add vitality to the processes of change in the educational discourse.