Finding a new way
Drastic changes brought about by this pandemic will give the education sector worldwide an opportunity to reinvent a system of learning that has long suffered from stagnation
An unprecedented universal agenda has been ruthlessly imposed on all of humanity, treated as one single entity, no inequalities, differences or diversities acknowledged. Like Noah's Ark, everyone is in the same boat. Was a prolonged global lockdown really possible? Yes, we have all been part of it. We could endure it; we learnt that we have a different world ahead of us. And there is only one planet available so far for all of us. An eminent medical luminary put it in the right perspective: 'Everyone is presumed inflicted with the Coronavirus unless proved otherwise, every surface is a source of contracting the Coronavirus unless proved otherwise.' Things are changing; changing fast and the emergence of a new post-Corona world has begun, it is a new reality. This pandemic has inflicted an unprecedented course correction in the journey of human civilisation. It has rattled practically everyone, everywhere. The learned and wise are busy preparing the road map in their specific areas of activity and expertise; the common man is worried about his livelihood, education of children, their health and happiness. Never before has every family had so much time to be together with each other, know each other; to understand each other and be partners in anticipating the shape of things tomorrow. Apart from intensive family interactions, schools and universities are learning fast the inevitability of delving deep into the digital world. Children are receiving lessons on their mobiles/computers; teachers are busy giving assignments and things are 'moving as expected'. Major issues and challenges are being deliberated upon in a transformed style, not like the pre-Corona days in international gatherings, conferences and seminars but through webinars, Skype and Zoom! People are learning to get acclimatised to new techniques and emerging as lifelong learners, a way of living which was preached all along but rarely put to practice even by academics and scholars who preferred to stick to the 'old is gold' dictum in their teaching and use of textbooks. They have only reluctantly transitioned to textual materials, modules, multi-media packages, open and distance learning.
Recall the global deliberations during the late nineties of the last century when everyone was envisioning what would be the shape of things in the 21st century! UNESCO appointed an independent commission under the chairmanship of Jacques Delores of France to envision the shape of education in the coming century. It came out with an outstanding report — popularly known as the 'Delores Commission Report' — entitled 'Learning the Treasure Within.' The Commission identified four pillars that were identified as foundations of education. It decided to put greater emphasis on one of the four pillars: learning to live together. The post-Corona world must analyse why the Commission accorded it primacy to 'learning to live together' ahead of the other three: learning to know, learning to do and learning to be! In 1972, the dominant theme of the UNESCO Report on education — Edgar Faure Report — was learning to be. But after about 25 years, it was realised; 'But there is a further requirement: the far-reaching changes in the traditional patterns of life require us a better understanding of other people and the world at large; they demand mutual understanding, peaceful interchange and, indeed, harmony — the very things that are most lacking today.' The importance of this vision is obviously far more relevant in the times ahead than some five decades ago when it was put on paper. Clearly, cosmetic changes will not serve the purpose in any sector and certainly not in education. The structure, content and pedagogy would undergo unprecedented transformations to let education deal with new situations arising in personal and professional lives of one and all. Only the basics would survive; the first being education that would have the responsibility of reshaping the new world. The challenge before education is how to reinvent itself to reshape the world of tomorrow. It has to receive inputs from everyone; every sector; every human experience gathered so far; anywhere, by anyone and in any context.
Apart from these well-known and universally accepted four pillars of education, the guiding principles that would make their presence felt in every informed deliberation and formulation not only in education but in every sector of human endeavour and activity would include internalisation of 'learning is the treasure within'! It emerges from what Swami Vivekananda had taught us; 'Education is the manifestation of perfection already in man!' We often talk about lifelong learning — 'yavadjeevait adhiyate viprah' (the wise pursue learning throughout life) — but in our schools and institutions of higher learning, everything is narrowed down to 'prescribed' curriculum, textbooks and exam results. Some may boast of introducing project work/fieldwork but we know — exceptions aside — how these are actually conducted and completed. Some schools rejoice in introducing more books than their competitors! And who suffers?
Who would take the responsibility of analysing the deficiencies, deprivations and neglect of support that has all along decimated the larger part of the institutional infrastructure? Are we nourishing the instinct of curiosity and the ingenuity of creativity in our education systems? Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore had said it so beautifully: "Every child arrives in this world with two boons: the power of ideas and power of imagination." Once these are nourished and nurtured, humanity would flourish to great heights of happiness.
The writer works in education and social cohesion. Views expressed are personal