In the year 1979, Pink Floyd, the famous British rock band, rocked the music world with their iconic track – Another Brick in the Wall, which was a scathing critique of the rigid and oppressive education system.
In the year 1901, Tagore founded Shantiniketan with the intent of going beyond the limitations of conventional education, and interestingly, way back, around 1803, William Blake, the English Romantic poet, visionary and mystic, wrote:
“…. Thank God I never was sent to School. To be Flogg’d into following the Stile of a Fool.”
The line that joins Blake, Tagore and Floyd is the oppressive impact that formalised education has on students.
Formalised education has a long history; however, from a modern formal education perspective, its growth began with the industrial revolution, which impacted the entire globe, and a strong need was felt to structure and standardise education to meet the industrial demands.
In the pursuit of inventing machines, man has successfully managed to mechanise humans. When laws mandated compulsory education for children, factors like attendance, curriculum, and examinations became standardised, and that was the beginning of the rat race. The journey from man to machine to rats is indeed something we took in our strides, and in this ‘madding crowd’s ignoble strife’ somewhere, the purpose of education, which according to Swami Vivekananda, ‘is the manifestation of the perfection already in man,’ was lost.
Long back in the early 19 century, Blake waxed eloquently on the restrictive education system that he considered a detriment to the natural blossoming of human creativity and spirituality. He severely criticised the overemphasis of reason over imagination. In his revolutionary work, ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,’ he argued for the importance of integrating reason and imagination for a holistic understanding of self and the world at large.
In the early 20 century Tagore, through the establishment of Shantiniketan, envisioned a world of learning that would foster learning through a harmonious connection with nature, diverse cultures, individuality and freedom. It was the vision of a world where
…. Knowledge is free…. Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habits….and the mind is led forward into ever-widening thought and action.’
Tagore, in this poem, uses the wall metaphor to indicate fragmentation, a metaphor also found in Floyd’s song that conveys the separation of the individual from the possibilities that make a human a human.
With the passage of years, competition became the buzzword. And as competition gradually replaced the spirit of competence, generation after generation looked forward to the quantification of quality and progress or the success nestled within the confines of a rectangular piece of paper called a degree.
Can a degree denote or connote the holistic growth of a human being? This is the Hamletian question that we educators need to ask ourselves. The situation has reached such a state that stress among young adults is culminating in depression and suicides.
The time has arrived for educators to relook at and rethink the ways in which we are imparting education. Thanks to the NEP, which has emphasised the importance of ability, skill, and value-oriented courses to be incorporated into the curriculum. The fact that the NEP insists on value-added courses presupposes the lack of values, and how students are encouraged to inculcate values in their lives speaks volumes.
Both the problem and solution rest with us – the educators: do we create a space for the young learners to explore their possibilities, or do we manufacture ‘another brick in the wall?’
About the Author
Dr Srabani Basu is the Head of Department of Department of Literature and Languages at SRM University-AP.