The need for reviving liberal education

The need for reviving liberal education

HOLISTIC APPROACH Every individual is unique and their intelligence and abilities are far more complex than his or her score in standardised tests.We need a wholesome educational approach to tap into their real talent, says PR Krishnan Koushik

A common conversation: Hello! What are you currently studying? I just passed out of 10th standard, sir. Oh that’s good. What is your percentage? I am sorry, it is 60 per cent. Oh it is ok, what is your percentage of marks in science and mathematics? You must have been privy to such conversations in your life too.

It seems, currently, no other subjects, apart from science and mathematics, matter. When did our education syllabi become just about science and maths?

Can we afford to ignore other subjects? Is studying English, social sciences and other languages a waste of time? A number of such questions pop up in our mind when we see people giving more prominence to certain subjects. But in the wake of marketing a subject, are we leading the whole mass into the ditch?  

A similar paradoxical situation arises when we look for prospective candidates for a job. We place high emphasis on communication skills, knowledge of English, interpersonal skills, general knowledge and so on.

Moreover, you must have observed that a large mass of students, who get into streams of other people’s choices, land up nowhere. This is because of the lack of poor general knowledge and language skills. By the time they realise the importance of such skills, they would have crossed an important developmental age and will be struggling to find a good job. 

Are they necessary?
But the basic question in everybody’s mind is why should we study subjects like literature, language and social sciences? The truth is, literature is the study of life. By studying literature, we learn what it means to be human. Literature also teaches us about how powerful language can be. By studying the use of language in literature, we learn how to use the subtleties of the language to our advantage. So, literature helps us in shaping and moulding our character. 

By studying social sciences, we gain immense knowledge about our people. This would help us to improve our society. When we study the social sciences, we are studying how people put their societies together and we are looking at the impacts of their decisions about how their societies should be run. By studying these things, we are becoming better informed about how societies should be put together and the intricacies involve in them.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Science without arts is a blunder.” True that. Ultimate aim of man in this world is to explore the world around us to lead a peaceful and contented life. Unfortunately, majority of us have not realised that to be in peace, we need to explore ourselves. 

In the wake of science and technology, it seems we have forgotten human relations. The latest trend is to teach such skills in schools or even professional colleges. Why, in earlier days, such skills were picked up subconsciously, right in our homes. But sadly, the fast-changing world has led to mushrooming of nuclear families and the isolation of such skills. But the major point to be noted here is that with a proper syllabi and an effective educator, anybody can learn these skills. While we readily learn these as a core paper, we forget to imbibe them in our day-to-day life.

Schooling should not simply transform students into future workers or citizens. The Swiss humanitarian, Johann Pestalozzi and the American transcendentalists, Thoreau, Emerson and Alcott, the founder of ‘Progressive’ education – Francis Parker and John Dewey and pioneers such as Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner opine that education should develop physical, psychological, emotional, moral and spiritual dimensions of a growing child. A holistic way of thinking seeks to encompass and integrate multiple layers of meaning and experience, rather than defining human possibilities narrowly. They reinforced the fact that every individual is unique and their intelligence and abilities are far more complex than his or her score on standardised tests.

A reverent experience
Holistic education is based on the premise that each person finds identity, meaning, and purpose in life through connections to the community, to the natural world, and to spiritual values such as compassion and peace. Holistic education aims to call forth from people an intrinsic reverence for life and a passionate love of learning. This is done, not through an academic “curriculum” that condenses the world into instructional packages, but through direct engagement with the environment. Holistic education nurtures a sense of wonder. 

Maria, for example, spoke of “cosmic” education: help the person feel part of the wholeness of the universe, and learning will naturally be enchanted and inviting. There is no one best way to accomplish this goal, there are many paths of learning and the holistic educator values them all; what is appropriate for some children and adults, in some situations, in some historical and social contexts, may not be best for others. The art of holistic education lies in its responsiveness to the diverse learning styles and needs of evolving human beings.

This attitude toward teaching and learning inspires many home-schooling families as well as educators in public and alternative schools. While few public schools are entirely committed to holistic principles, many teachers try hard to put these ideas into practise. By fostering collaboration rather than competition in classrooms, teachers help young people feel connected.

By using real-life experiences, current events, the dramatic arts and other lively sources of knowledge in place of textbook information, teachers can kindle the love of learning. By encouraging reflection and questioning rather than passive memorisation of “facts,” teachers keep alive the “flame of intelligence”, that is so much more than abstract problem-solving skills.

By accommodating differences and refusing to label children, for example, as “learning disabled” or “hyperactive,” teachers bring out the unique gifts contained within each child’s spirit. A parent or educator interested in learning more about holistic education can read the books and journals in this emerging field that have appeared since the 1980s, as well as classic writings by Maria, Rudolf and Krishnamurti. It is also useful to become somewhat familiar with the more general holistic literature (for example, work by Theodore Roszak, Fritjof Capra, Charlene Spretnak, Ken Wilber). There are separate bodies of literature on spirituality in education, eco-literacy, multiple intelligences, whole language, and cooperative learning that address more specific aspects of holistic education.

Being educators of the modern times, we need to take a long, hard look into our existing, regressive system and reform it into one that hones and appreciates every child’s talent.

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