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Education: A Beautiful Tree - Part II

Education: A Beautiful Tree - Part II

Publication: www.indiatogether.org
Date: February 2002
URL: http://www.indiatogether.org/education/opinions/btree1.htm

The development paradigm as well as education policies must strive towards empowering multicultural societies, which is possible only by strengthening diversity. Reflections by SIDH, Uttarakhand.

In our work with children, women and men from the villages, and young people who teach in the schools and outside, the Society for Integrated Development of the Himalayas (SIDH) has learnt some important lessons. We have been compelled to address fundamental questions of 'who is education ultimately serving' or 'what is education'. In the course of our training programme in gender sensitisation, there is an exercise we go through. The purpose of the exercise is to sensitise youth towards the gender bias inherent in most advertisements of consumer items. But a spin-off we gained from this exercise was a valuable insight into the mind-set of the youth, their aspirations and also the complete subjugation of the mind-in which modern post- colonial education plays an important role. In this exercise we show an advertisement from a popular Indian magazine in which there are a man and a woman, both Indian but dressed in modern western clothes. We ask the participants to then write down their impressions of these two people in the picture. In the course of 15 training' programmes in which more than 300 youth participated, we have seldom come across anyone who has not used the two words-'educated' and 'civilised'-to describe the models in the picture. Of course, they use other words as well but these two words recur as the most common of the adjectives. When we ask them why they described the models as such, a very interesting and revealing discussion begins. On deconstructing the terms 'civilised' and 'educated', what emerges are two lists' symbolising 'development' and 'progress', on the one hand, and 'backwardness' on the other. All traditional systems of knowledge, and traditional systems be it food, clothes, architecture, medicine, culture and language come under the second category of 'backward' and all that is 'modern' and urban or western, depicts 'civilised behaviour'. It is interesting that during this deconstruction when we start talking of public figures, they too are divided along these very same lines. The urbane and sophisticated politician and the top ranking, elegant: bureaucrats are on one side-that of the 'civilised'-and on the other side are the earthy 'grassroots' politicians and provincial personalities. What is interesting is that honesty and integrity are no criteria for these categories. People known for being corrupt are on both sides. Integrity is inconsequential to 'civilised' behaviour. And this exercise is undertaken not by those who have never been to school but by those who have had at least eight years of formal schooling. Two entirely different perspectives represent the concerns of the community. One belongs to the more exposed, and better off people in the rural community who are demanding the same kind of education that is enjoyed by the privileged classes in the big cities. This demand has given rise to a mushrooming of the so-called English medium schools in rural areas. They are expensive private schools with non-Indian names like St. Xavier's, St. Joseph's Cambridge or Daffodils. The child is required to wear a coat or a tie as a distinguishing symbol. This improves the marketability of these schools among parents, as well as camouflages the poor quality of teaching they offer. Most unfortunately, the children never get to learn the kind of English their parents yearn for. Yet, the number of such schools are increasing every year. The second perspective belongs to a group, comprising mostly of women and people who are considered unprogressive. They regard the present education system as reducing choices instead of increasing them and feel that the 'educated' become alienated from land and traditions, leaving them 'neither here nor there'. This group does not have a dominant voice and is perhaps dwindling to a minority now. It would be interesting here to take note of the World Bank's thinking based mainly on the 'human capital' view of education. Inherent to this view is the belief that 'in many developing countries there are no avenues to learning other than schools. Whereas youngsters in advanced countries can avail themselves of television, libraries, newspapers, neighbours, and educated members of the family, those in developing countries must learn in school or not acquire any human capital at all.' (Solomon: The Quality of Education and Economic Development: A World Bank Symposium, 1986). This view, of course, negates the knowledge of traditional societies and narrows down the definition of learning and education to a very small area, which aligns itself with the human capital view. Contrary to this is the view held from time immemorial that education is that which brings freedom. Perfect freedom lies in perfect harmony of relationships. Thus we in SIDH defined education as that which gives information about the self, society (including friends and family) and the environment and then helps to build a harmonious relationship among these three elements. Only holistic education has the potential of doing this. Diversity, equity and happiness go hand in hand just like disparity and competitiveness go together. Education that builds confidence, which encourages diversity and thus works against competition, can help build a world based on the principle of equity and justice-two principles essential for human happiness. Education is that which empowers and brings happiness to the lives of people. The human capital view can never do this, because it treats people as resource, an instrument in furthering the economy. The rights-based approach to education needs to incorporate this view of education and strongly counter the human capital view of education. Any effort to make education more relevant must look linkages that education has with the way our lives are being shaped. Education cannot be seen in isolation. The link between the education system and the values it imparts and the dominant world-view it promotes needs to be recognised. The dominant view of education is largely responsible for the present paradigm of development, which in turn has created more misery and disparity in the world than ever before, and an environmental crisis of unimaginable proportions. Despite the best efforts of the multilateral donor agencies in the last 50 years the misery in the developing countries has increased in direct proportion to the support given by the developed world. A few examples: In Argentina in 1970 the percentage of people living below the poverty line was 8 per cent. This increased to 13 per cent in 1986 during the 16 years of SAP. In Chile this percentage in the same period increased from 17 to 38 per cent. A review by the IMF of 19 low-income countries which had undergone SAP (structural adjustment programmes) found that their current account deficits averaged 12.3 per cent of GDP before adjustments and were 16.8 per cent in the most recent years and the external debt had grown from 451 per cent of exports to 482 per cent (The Economist, May 7-13 1994). According to the same issue of The Economist "of the $12 b or so which goes every year to buy advice, training and project design, over 90 per cent is spent on foreign consultants". The real harm that is done is the belief created that local resources for management and advice are not available thus grievously undermining the confidence of local people in their own ability. The use of the English language plays a critical part in this. The ethnic majority in every region of the world is excluded by this one act of keeping the language of communication restricted to a foreign language to which only the middle classes now have access. This matter needs to be considered seriously while talking of education, because education is closely linked to the medium of communication that has to do with language. Do we have the means to ever make an average child in a Third World country as competent in English as her counterpart in an English-speaking country, or as her more privileged counterpart in her own country? Can we ever hope to achieve equality by making the English language accessible to all children in the Third World countries? Or is the balance better achieved by strengthening the diversity of languages? The development paradigm as well as education policies must strive towards empowering multicultural societies, which is possible only by strengthening diversity and, as a corollary, by discouraging competition and mono-culturalism. Unless we recognise this connection between education policies and the developmental and economic paradigm we will not be able to address the real issues in education policy.


Society for Integrated Development of the Himalayas

[Republished with permission from Sindhu Naik of India Literacy Project (ILP). This article is the first in a series of two parts adapted from the original published as part of the ILP Partners Conference, July 2001. The paper was presented by Shoban Negi.]

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