At the outset these two words would to appear to have little in common. However, the entire schooling system depends on comparison. Assessments that teachers make of children are comparative. Parents, students and teachers are acutely aware of the position in class. This is considered so important that applicants to universities abroad have to provide this information in addition to marks obtained in exams. The fact that one is more gifted than another in a certain avocation at a certain time is not difficult to accept and acknowledge. It is also logically clear that being better in a subject or skill does not make a better human being.

Most thinking people would surely agree that comparison is destructive and certainly should have no place in education. Some others would say that while it is unwholesome it cannot be entirely avoided; how else would you know how the child fares in a class? Yet others may strongly advocate comparisons as the source from where one betters oneself, as one may in competition.

Let us leave these perspectives alone for the moment. They have been argued ad nauseum. Let us look at a facet of comparison which is the backbone of education and life and see where we are located.

The notion of betterment appears to be buried very deep in human consciousness. To see how deep, one only needs to watch one's response to somebody who says'I do not care to be better'. We feel like ridiculing this unfortunate person, we feel angry or even experience pity. We may even feel strongly that this must be corrected. There is little doubt that we all believe in improvement of the self. This is afact of life for most of us.

Where do the roots of this lie?When a child is born and grows up, laughing and playing, everyone is delighted. Each child has its own idosyncrasies, but each child is also beautiful. However, this lasts only a short period. Soon one begins to look at the neighbour's child like one watches the neighbour's house or property. And of course, all children must go to school to study and be educated. This is the way of the world. We are afraid if someone suggests that children can be sent to school late or that they need not go to school. Those who have not been to school are considered either illiterate or backward. Therefore we have to send our children to school - just like everyone else. This is a critical juncture. The child and the parent have entered the arenaof common beliefs and accepted notions.

From now on, in every conceivable way, the child will be told that what he cannot do is more important than what he can do. The child will learn that what he does not know is also more important than what he does. Being able to recognize the alphabet is the first step of the invisible ladder. Being able to read words is the second. And soon one is climbing an infinite ladder, much like the beanstalk that Jack started climbing. Once this process begins one has to keep moving. There is an ocean of knowledge to be attained. We learn to acknowledge this fact in humility, by saying that we have to learn more. And having climbed very high above the clouds one will have to scramble down to earth and cut the ladder so that the giant won't gobble one up. But how did we and our parents forget that every child learnt to talk and walk without these being consideredas steps on a ladder?

What does self improvement mean? Does it mean being kinder, less angry, less selfish, more godly? Or aoes it simply mean acquiring more than what one had yesterday? More money, property, knowledge, beauty? Is not a notion of a step by step movement buried under this? I have some money today, it can be measured; I need more money, I do something to get more money. I know I am selfish and I understand logically that I must be less selfish or not at all selfish. I attempt to make the same kind of effort to achieve this end. How do I measure selfishness? How does one measure anger, hatred, jealousy, sorrow? Is the problem, therefore, that these cannot be measured but have to be understood in a totally different way?Thus there appear to be two facets of human existence: the measurable and therefore improvable and that whichcannot be measured or improved.

Accepting the notion of improvement means accepting comparison. It also means that desire is justified. My neighbour has abigger car, better handwriting, better manners. To want to be like him is of courseright and humble. Whatever one is or onecan do is not good enough. This means one isdeeply trained to see oneself as moving orimproving, however illusory this may be. This notion is passed on from generation togeneration most effectively.

One may proceed to ask what purpose the notion of self-improvement serves, if any? If one has to constantly live with the feeling that one must improve, it must be a pretty empty and painful life and, like in the myth of Sisyphus, one would be toiling only to find oneself back at the foot of the mountain after each step.

Is it that the notion of improvement pennits one to meet the emptiness of where one is?If this is so, each one of us can continue to be as we are and yet believe that we are improving. Or is it that we do not want to face the fact that in this area there is no such thing as improvement? After all selfishness cannot be measured, or anger improved. Unfortunately we do not see that any denial of this fact is violence. Is there any way of accepting and living with the actuality of the things we want to improve - anger, jealousy, timidity, smallness, hatred?

Is there a way of observing and understanding anger and hatred without a reference point, without comparing it with something else? Actually there is no way in which I can grade my anger or sorrow. Is apprehending without a reference of the actual the big difference? Also, can we communicate with each other without any comparison whatsoever? If not, we are thrown back into the realms of comparison and measurement. One whole area of human existence remains inadequately understood and poorly lived with.

In our search for the right kind of education is it not therefore vital to pay attention to this aspect of human living? Could this not be the mandate for educators? This calls for a drastic rethinking of the ways in which we are currently bringing up out children. It would mean questioning the value ofliving by example, exhortation, role models and so on. It would also mean examining the use of psychological control, the place of habit and training in educating children. For this to happen, educators must be convinced of the futility of comparison. Certainly, holding fast to the bastions of the measurable is not going to take us further.