Monday, 26 November 2012

Towards a more sustainable education system

Learning by wrote seems to be the only way for our nation of aspiring youth.  Our schools since our British heritage have thought the vast majority of our children to learn their lessons by heart, to copy and regurgitate during exam time.  Our entire educational system is founded on the principle that success at exam is the only yardstick of achievement.  Prestigious colleges and higher education institutions perpetuate this notion with the requirement of passing ever more demanding entrance examinations, favouring and biasing the selection process towards the ability to learn by heart, to have a good memory and regurgitate that knowledge into a exam format answer.
Unfortunately, skills that demand innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship, problem solving and intuition are not best served by wrote learning.  The very skills that are in short supply in an increasingly competitive world, and which are needed to power our growing economy.  Furthermore, our educational system, in favouring memory skills is side-lining a whole range of rich resources that our country desperately needs.

  Inspiration from age old teaching

A recent article in the New Indian Express, by Sumati Mehrishi highlight an age old tradition of Guru-Shishya.  It is a format of teaching and learning that has its root in the Vedic traditions, imparting a wide spectrum of experience-learning with a holistic approach that encompasses the body mind and soul.  It is also based on a learning by wrote principle, but the goal isn't that of exam results but rather the learning in itself, the path that is threaded   The techniques involves repetitive practice of techniques to achieve perfection, but in doing so it encourages the shishya (student-disciple) to discover his own inner aspiration.  This journey of self-discovery, perpetual and with no end, is a labour of growth and evolution, whereby perfection of the art (knowledge) is not a question of technical exactness, but rather of expression through the technique.  The technique becomes a tool for expression of what is inside.  Perfection can be thus redefined as the eloquent use of the technique to give a voice to the soul.   It is ever evolving for the practitioner.  However, it becomes apparent that without mastery of the technique, the language spoken is a poor expression of the inner reality.

Towards a sustainable education

At the heart of the Guru-Shishya is a quest for knowledge, a thirst for comprehension.  The Guru disciplines the student into observing their own reality, and guides them to get an understanding through their own experience.
The teaching techniques employed in our schools is a corrupted version of this ancient tradition.  Our children are no longer guided to understand the world but rather to succeed at exams.  This is partly the fault of the system and partly the lack of inspiration shown by a new generation of teachers that are themselves products of this corrupted system of education.  There is a lot of unlearning to be done.  However, is it possible to source a new direction, can we find renewed inspiration in our ancient tradition?
Our schools need to teach technique rather than facts by wrote.  Learn how to learn so to speak, but unvail your own truths from your path.
Taking a page out of our Guru-Shishya tradiation, we can explore a sustainable education with the following ingredients:
  • Teachers need to inspire students
  • students should have a deep, heartfelt respect for the source of knowledge
  • emphasis on learning rather than facts
  • students should be encouraged to develop a sense of curiosity, self-sustained learning ability
  • encourage questioning and debating.
  • encourage synthesis of knowledge, so that the student expresses their understanding in their own words
  • emphasis on continuous assessment rather than final examination
In the words of the Shishya:
“Any intense, integrated and spiritual sadhana awakens and expands consciousness. The energy from such a practice suffuses the art. The guru gives the vision and the eye to performance and art.”

Thursday, 15 November 2012

New discoveries from Chernobyl disaster

An article in The Hindu paper reports on an amazing research done of soya beans farmed within the vicinity of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.  Although the consequences from the radioactive fall out from the damaged reactor have been gruesome, ongoing studies on nature's adaptation to the unique environment on earth reveals that plants have adopted unique mechanisms to repair and retain its genetic make up.  The article points out to studies of soya beans and how the plant concentrates radioactive metals found in the soil into its shoots, leaving the beans (in this case the seeds of the plant) with relatively lower levels of damaging radioactive material.  In effect the plant shields its seeds' genetic heritage from stored exposure of radiation therefore allowing the seed to preserve the genetic make of the plant and the next generation a fighting chance to retain the original make-up of the species.  The scientist are at a loss as to what are the mechanisms operating this miracle.  It shows that Nature is a lot more intelligent than we previously thought.

It will be interesting to see our level of awareness in a few generation when further analysis of affected nature from the Fukushima disaster in Japan reveal its secrets.  I can foresee interesting applications from such studies in the search for adapting plants for growing food in similar hostile conditions such as in outer space, the surface of the moon and possibly other planets where shielding from the solar radiation is not as effective as the magnetic field of the earth.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Zero waste at home

An interesting article in the Hindu property plus supplement last w.e. caught my eye.

Bangalore based Daily Dump offer a range of composting solutions to recycle your bio-degradable waste at home and use it as manure for your garden or roof-top plants.

Over 60% of home waste can be recycles this way, a small step towards alleviating the garbage problem with landfills filling up with a mix of non-biodegradable waste such as metals and plastics which reduces the efficiency of degrading organic waste.  Segregating our waste is a must for a sustainable future.  Here is an easy way to start.  If you live in Chennai, Kuppa Thotti offers an interesting service to pick up your recyclable trash such as metals, plastics and paper.