Knowledge is dead, the school serves the living

School education is meant to equip students with life skills by enhancing their capabilities and making them future-ready

May 26, 2019 12:05 am | Updated 12:05 am IST

The season of celebrating success and the successors to the erstwhile toppers in school education is here. While the scholars have analysed the “grand celebration”, I modestly share a nostalgic take on the same and revisit the corridors of my school and law school in furtherance of highlighting the true objective of school education.

Educated in a public school in the small town of Bokaro, schooling for us was all about course subjects, co- and extra-curricular activities, not necessarily in that order. I recall a visiting drama instructor in our school assembly once saying that there is nothing “co” and “extra” about such activities. I was so amused by this statement.

In Class 12, when my family suggested that contesting the school elections could be detrimental to my board examinations, I recall the support from one of my teachers who cleared all my doubts by posing just two simple questions, “What do you want to do?” and “If you think you can do it, why don’t you do it?” (As it happened, I won the school elections and it was one of the best experiences ever.)

Clearly, the emphasis was on holistic education, a phrase that resounds often within school premises, not just in assemblies but in practice. However, I recollect my English teacher starting a new chapter (On Education, an excerpt of a speech by Einstein on the tercentenary of higher education in America) by saying it may not interest us as it was not a story but that it would be immensely beneficial to us.

In the speech, Einstein expounds the functions of school education and highlights the dangers in recognising schools simply as transferors of the maximum quantity of knowledge from one generation to another.

Therefore the question, if the school is not a net transferor of knowledge, what is the purpose of a school? Well, most of my education was completed in school but if knowledge is “dead” and the immediate source of my daily bread is my specialised education of law, then what did the school “teach” me and what is this education I am proud of?

Interestingly, I found the answer to these questions only after graduating from school. In my opinion, the school as the first formal institution may introduce us to the world of languages, numbers and sciences; however, in its core role, it harnesses us with capabilities and know-how, which aid us with the

knack of finding solutions to existing and future problems. So, while handling complex legal moot problems, I applied this approach including imagination to dissect issues into smaller parts, studying it individually, effectively communicating my case before the court. In fact, the effective use of head, heart and hand in learning, which were the bulwark of our school education, now resonate in our professional lives.

Thus, the role of the school is more of an enabler in development of problem-solving individuals for the benefit of community rather than the net producer of problem-solving individuals in the community.

After graduating from school, I have had the opportunity to study various specialised knowledge themes including law, economics and sociology, and I must admit, even in light of the zeal and benefits involved in pursuing these specialised studies, the significance of the generic education provided by schools can never be undervalued.

I would like to highlight the relevance of school education from another perspective in the post-modern world of the Internet. With the far-reaching Internet, learning is surely a less daunting task than it was earlier, given the paucity of reading material. The Internet has immensely improved the accessibility, affordability and quality of learning, spanning geographical boundaries. I myself enjoy this gift of the Internet to watch lectures from global institutions. However, it is my argument that even in the age of digital connectivity, the core function of schools can never be understated as though the Internet may answer all our “what is…” questions, the capability to understand the subtle nuances that lie beneath the “whys and hows” is harnessed by schools with an interactive and analytical approach from a young age. This analytical approach aids young minds in answering complex questions of the future.

Additionally, schools develop young minds into free-thinking individuals in their own right. At a time when technology is replacing routine skilled jobs, for example, analysing the relevance of learning to develop capabilities, an individual exercise and capacity, an institutional initiative is all the more pertinent. Hoping, amid the loud trumpets of celebration, the essence of school education is not lost.

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