Within just 46 days of having been a mute witness to the strangulation of Mirambika on April 14th, 2015 by Pranjal Jauhar, on May 30th, 2015, after having signed on and submitted papers and affidavits before the AICTE declaring that no school exists / shall exist in the Mirambika building, accepting that no other courses will run alongside the AICTE approved courses from there and while continuing to defend the proposed engineering college in public, the then Secretary and present Chairman of SAES, Dr. Ramesh Bijlani, posted the following article on his blog:
For ease of reference, the said article is reproduced below with our questions and comments in bold italics within brackets.
There is no country in the world that is completely satisfied with the education its children are getting. But that is no excuse for not having a look at the dismal state of education in our country. We talk of value education, but looking around one finds evidence of neither values nor education. The crimes being committed by young people, in school or just out of school, have become commonplace – so much for values. To talk of education, less said the better. The tenth Annual Status of Education Report (ASER 2014) released in January 2015 has shown once more that only about half the students in class five in the country today can at least read a class two text, and only a quarter of them can do a sum on division.
(What value did Dr Bijlani find in Pranjal Jauhar’s 14/4 surreptitious shift of Mirambika from a time tested – meant for integral education purpose – legal space into the residential Ashram premises and later on 1/7 into an under construction – unsafe – not meant for integral education purpose – illegal space? Isn’t putting children into such a space not a crime? How are these actions justified by the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo & the Mother? )
Three Basic Elements
It is said that the quality of the outcome of the teaching-learning process is determined by the quality of the students, of the teachers, and of the curriculum, in that order. This is certainly true of higher education, but in school education, the quality of the students is irrelevant. We get students at a tender age, at which they are all different, but almost each child is a potential genius in one field or the other provided schooling can facilitate two things: one, help the child discover what unique talents it has; and two, help the child bring out the best in whatever field it is talented. To put it simply and bluntly, the quality of the students is a given; schooling should make each child realize its highest potential. That leaves the teachers and the curriculum as the major determinants of the outcome of school education, the teachers being far more important than the curriculum.
The most important qualities of a good schoolteacher are that she should love children, she should love teaching, she should know how to teach, and she should know the subject matter well. She would love children and she would love teaching if she has the aptitude for teaching, and if she has made a conscious choice to become a schoolteacher. She would know how to teach if she has the aptitude for teaching, and to that has been added a good teacher education course – I would not like to call it a ‘teacher training course’, because it is circus animals that are trained, not teachers. She would know the subject matter well if she has chosen those subjects which she has the aptitude for, and if she is intelligent. In short, we need schoolteachers who have the aptitude for teaching, and who are intelligent. Let us see whether these conditions are being fulfilled. If we ask students in Class XII, how many of them dream of becoming schoolteachers one day, hardly any hand goes up. If we ask a hundred students doing B.Ed. or B.El.Ed. courses, how many of them wanted to be schoolteachers when they were in Class XII, not even five hands go up. It does not need rocket science to conclude that the majority of those who are teaching in schools today are doing it neither because they were born teachers nor because of their great love for teaching. Further, they finished school near the bottom of the class, and therefore it may be presumed that they are not very intelligent either.
(Is this his opinion about the Diyas of Mirambika as well?)
Why school teaching is not popular
The simple fact is that teaching in a school is a difficult job, which is not rewarded appropriately. At least one major difficulty, about which something can be done, is the heavy load of correcting homework. If the teacher has to do justice to the correction, and finish it during school hours, her teaching load should be less, which means that the number of teachers should be more. Regarding rewards, what the schoolteacher does for the society, and the love she gets back from her students if she does a good job, are both beyond measurement. But, keeping human weaknesses in mind, what can be measured is also important. A schoolteacher and a college teacher are both teachers. A college teacher does not need a B.Ed. degree, has far fewer periods to teach, and is paid much better than a schoolteacher. This glaring discrepancy needs to be addressed if we want bright students who have an aptitude for teaching to opt for teaching in a school rather than a college. Since a schoolteacher does a more difficult job, and a job more important to the society, she should be paid more than a college teacher. The college teachers should be free to supplement their incomes from research grants. This salary structure would facilitate teachers opting for school or college teaching based primarily on their aptitude, and would improve teaching in schools as well as the research in universities.
(How will the SAES proposed engineering college address this glaring discrepancy? How is the SAES proposed engineering college justified by the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo & the Mother?)
Our school curriculum needs a thorough overhaul of its underlying philosophy, the content, and the tools of teaching as well as those of assessment.
The philosophy of education that Sri Aurobindo and the Mother gave us is popularly called integral education. Integral means total or complete, and here it refers to the totality of the person. The totality of a person is the body, the emotional part of the being, the intellect, and the divine essence, generally called the soul. Integral education not only seeks to optimize the performance of the body, the emotions and intellect, but also aims at taking the child towards the discovery of its divine essence so that the body, mind and intellect work in light of its divine essence. Thus the divine essence is the pivot around which the education of the body, mind and intellect revolve. This might sound like holistic education to which has been added an element of moral or value education. But in integral education, the moral element is not an add-on; it is not a separate subject in the curriculum; instead, it occupies centre-stage. How it is better than adding a subject of moral education is for at least three reasons. First, nobody likes sermonizing, least of all teenagers, who are subjected to it the most. Secondly, the student may know all the expected answers to the questions asked about morals in the exam, and yet may not practice them. Finally, the morals are generally implemented by using the carrot and stick policy: reward good behaviour, and punish deviations from the expected norms. This gives the child the impression that the principal reason for keeping away from evil is to escape punishment. Much of crime thrives exactly for this reason; the amount of crime detected is only a small fraction of the crime that is committed, and the crime that is punished is a still smaller fraction. In integral education, on the other hand, the child is made aware of an in-built reward and punishment system. When a person does the right thing, he feels good – that is the reward. On the other hand, doing something wrong hurts within, the person feels uneasy, and the wrongdoing might continue to haunt him for a long time – that is the punishment. This realization is built formally into the teaching-learning process through stories, discussions of hypothetical situations, and informally through the way the teacher handles various happenings in the class because she is aware of the need for leading the children towards the discovery of the in-built reward and punishment system, which in turn is due to our divine essence. What is commonly called the conscience is largely due to our divine essence.
(Whether the crime of 14/4 surreptitious shift of Mirambika from a time tested – meant for integral education purpose – legal space into a the residential Ashram premises and later on 1/7 into an under construction – unsafe – not meant for integral education purpose – illegal space committed because “the amount of crime detected is only a small fraction of the crime that is committed, and the crime that is punished is a still smaller fraction”? Is SAES undertaking such undetected or unpunished crime justified by the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo & the Mother?)
The importance of going beyond improving the performance of the body and the mind cannot be overemphasized. The body and the mind are mere instruments. To sharpen a knife is good but not sufficient because the same knife may be used either for chopping vegetables or for stabbing somebody. In the same way, being physically fit, emotionally stable and intellectually agile will enable a person to be a good teacher, a good doctor, a good manager, a good scientist, a good farmer or a good carpenter. But a sound mind in a sound body is what a successful terrorist also needs. Therefore, a good system of education would not only improve the performance of the body and the mind but also guide the student towards the proper use of this equipment. And that can be done much better by weaving it in a seamless manner into the teaching-learning process rather than by having moral education as an additional subject.
The content in the school curriculum today is rather heavy. If we have to pay more than lip service to the ideals such as ‘teaching the student to learn how to learn’, ‘teaching the student how to think clearly and logically’, ‘creating motivated life-long learners’, ‘preserving and promoting the curiosity and creativity of the student’, and ‘letting the student discover what s/he is made for’, we have to teach and expect less facts. That makes more sense today than ever before because facts are in any case available to all at the click of a button on the internet. It is the abilities such as looking at information critically, sifting through it efficiently, and organizing it in the mind that are the need of the day.
The tools of teaching also need a thorough revision. Instead of didactic teaching, the methods that need to be introduced in a big way are interactive learning, project-based learning, and problem-based learning.
No matter what changes we introduce in the philosophy, content and the tools of teaching, they will not have much meaning unless the tools of assessment are also harmonized with the new approaches. The students eventually want good grades, and therefore the learning styles of students are governed predominantly by the assessment system. As a witty educationist has remarked, assessment is the tail that wags the dog of education.
One could go on and on with the changes that the curriculum needs, but that is still not the hammer. Even the best of intentions behind changes in the curriculum can be defeated by the teacher in the classroom if the teacher has not been attuned to the new philosophy, and has not been educated in the tools of teaching and assessment that may be used for implementing the new philosophy. And how can one blame the teacher if she was not taught on the basis of the new philosophy, and even her teacher education course was essentially the same as that of her teachers? However, we do need a change, and to get the change that we want we have to begin somewhere. Nothing can change if the agents of change, the schoolteachers, remain unchanged. The place to begin, therefore, is the teacher education courses, B.Ed. and B.El.Ed., that entitle a teacher to teach. One of the welcome changes that the National Council of Teacher Education (NCTE) has finally introduced is to increase the duration of the B.Ed. course from one year to two. The longer duration is necessary, but not sufficient, to bring about a meaningful change in the teacher education courses. The material for the necessary changes is available in plenty with the pockets of excellence existing in the country. But these pockets have not been able to make a dent on mainstream school education because teachers who can duplicate these pockets are too few to meet the requirements of the country. Such teachers are not available because the conventional one-year B.Ed. course does not equip our teachers to handle any radical change. Apart from the experience accumulated by the centres of excellence that are scattered throughout the country, we have excellent guidelines available from recent thinkers such as Sri Aurobindo, Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi, and also cues available from the rest of the world, particularly from countries that have contributed phenomenally to modern science during the last three hundred years. What we need while designing our new teacher education courses is what Sri Aurobindo has called the process of critical assimilation. Critical assimilation means that we first learn and understand all the relevant material irrespective of its source, and then use our critical faculties to choose what we would accept and what we would reject. The important thing is that if we accept something, it should be because we understand it; and if we reject something, that should also be because we understand it.
(If the conventional one-year B.Ed. course does not equip our teachers to handle any radical change such as the one required by the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, why is SAES now proposing a regular college of education together with the engineering college? How can such a college of education coexist with an AICTE approved engineering college? Why can’t Mirambika school coexist with such a college per NCTE guidelines?)
The Sri Aurobindo Education Society (SAES), New Delhi, was inspired by an experiment in school education that the Mother initiated in Puducherry about 75 years ago. The experiment has continued in Delhi for about six decades through our schools, The Mother’s International School and Mirambika Free Progress School. But these, and other centres of excellence in the country, can hope to make a dent on mainstream school education only if adequately equipped teachers are made available in the country through a thoroughly revised revolutionary teacher education course. That is what the SAES is now planning to do by starting its own teacher education institute which would prepare teachers of the future for the award of B.Ed. and B.El.Ed. degrees.
(You say that the Mirambika Free Progress School is a centre of excellence. How can a center of excellence be a failure as claimed by Pranjal Jauhar? If indeed the college of education is your / SAES vision, why did SAES not apply for a college of education instead of the engineering college? Why have you signed on and submitted papers and affidavits before the AICTE declaring that no other courses will run alongside the AICTE approved courses from the Mirambika building?)
For the SAES, a teacher education institute is part of a much broader vision that Sri Aurobindo and the Mother gave us. Briefly, they acknowledged the fact that the problems of human existence such as evil, injustice, misery and suffering will not disappear unless the level of human consciousness on the planet Earth goes up significantly. For this to happen, either we can wait for the slow process of evolution, or we can also contribute to the process by our own efforts, thereby accelerating the process. While it is possible for individuals to raise their consciousness, the level will rise on a global scale only if a sufficiently large number of individuals engage in the effort, thereby generating that critical mass of people that can raise the average level of consciousness perceptibly. This is a futuristic vision, and the best way to give this vision a shape is to make the next generation experience the peace, love and joy that rising in consciousness brings. The best place to provide that experience is the school. To the SAES, equipping schoolteachers with the tools by which they can bring this experience to schoolchildren is part of the ‘Project Consciousness’.
(If indeed “For the SAES, a teacher education institute is part of a much broader vision that Sri Aurobindo and the Mother gave us”, why did SAES discontinue the teacher training institute which was running alongside Mirambika in terms of SAES Secretary Mr. Kashyap’s affidavit submitted with the DDA in 1984? If indeed, “The best place to provide that experience is the school”, why is SAES taking steps to undermine and create circumstances in vain for closing the 34 year old school – Mirambika? Where will the students of your teacher education institute practice the methodology of integral education per the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother? Or is it that SAES has abandoned that philosophy for good or gain? )