It has been seventy years since I bade farewell to my schooling (1902). I've now analyzed my life through these seventy years and I have learned two lessons from it:
1) The planning of the lessons and the methods using which students were taught were good back in the past; there were no faults back then.
2) To get the most out of studying a topic, the manner in which the student understands must have consistency and should be devoid of loopholes.
I believe that the above points are important to be understood in today’s context.
While making haste to showcase our patriotism, the indictment of the British education system during the reign of the Congress government was very common back in those days. Even today, the practise of pointing fingers at them and transferring all blames on their governance is not an uncommon trait in our people. Our politicians objected for a while, by saying - “All that the British wanted was clerical staff. The universities and colleges that they have established are nothing but factories that produce clerks. The British didn’t intend for us (Indians) to be anything more than a clerk; hence, their education set up was directed towards achieving that motive. They feared that any more education would empower Indians to prosper and become their equals. There were many faults in their education system.” The British stomped on our regional languages. This has been the sole reason that has handicapped our public speakers – they cannot even in their native tongue and hence they stick to English while giving their presentations and speeches. I have heard these kinds of arguments a couple of times now, especially while pursuing political debates with my friends. I, however, cannot accept this line of argument to the slightest extent.
Back then, the two most prolific formulae for an effective education were-
1) The three Rs- Reading, (W)riting, (A)rithmetic.
(Reading, writing and calculation are an integral part of education)
2) Something of everything and everything of something.
(A brief introduction to all subjects: Mastery in a single most understood subject.)
This is what I mean by ‘liberal education’ - an education system that gives the most information and understanding out of a subject.
These formulae were being implemented in every country in those days. They were already implemented and practiced in England, while in India these were in traditionally in vogue from times immemorial.
Reading, writing and arithmatic are things that everyone needs in their education. Who dares to say that one doesn’t need them? If someone wishes to attain mastery in a subject, won’t he need these skills? The three R's are the foundations to any branch of learning.
The fault in the system that we have today is in these three R's - the system ignores certain aspects and those must be fixed. Accurate pronunciation of the individual syllables; writing the syllables with appropriate spacing such that the reader can understand the written text; solving ‘market mathematics’ with ease, in less time and with accuracy. This used to be called mind-math in the past.
It is my understanding that the three elements listed above are on the decline today. For higher education, the second formula is applicable – expertise in one field with an introduction to several other branches of learning. Back in those days, a person who pursued FA or BA had to choose a main-stream – Mathematics, Literature or History and along with this came Chemistry, Biology, National History and some amount of literature. The subsidiary subjects were compulsory.
Venkatanaranappa was a professor of Physics. Yet, he knew the history of ancient Greece and Rome quite well. He also taught physiology at times. I have written about Ramadasappa elsewhere – he was a history teacher. However, he was well versed with the prominent classical poets. Thus, in those days, the educated knew a little of everything that was necessary for their daily lives. Along with this blend of different branches of learning, they would gain expertise in their chosen field and this sharpened their intellect.
Today, a student claims to be an expert in Physics and he won’t know who Bhīṣma is. He wouldn’t have heard of Julius Caesar. He would have no clue about Shelly. Today’s education system is just a heap of broken and incomplete pieces.
Nourishment and Goodness
There are two ways in which a hungry person can sate his hunger - the first would be to sit on the floor and have the food served to him by his mother, wife, sister-in-law or another relative. The second would be to buy sweets from a local sweet shop, a vada from another shop and bread from another store and thereby fill his stomach.
By taking to the second path, his stomach would certainly get filled but it will not nourish him. He will suffer from indigestion. The food will not make him stronger by giving him the required nutrients. I feel that the education reformers of our country should contemplate upon this. Instead of consuming twenty things that cannot be properly digested by the body, it is better to consume only five foods that would be well assimilated.
Systematic education in schools and colleges will certainly nourish a person well. On the other hand, if he tries to place a foot here, jump over to the other place momentarily and hop on elsewhere, there will be no wholesomeness in his education – his understanding will be filled with fault lines. An analogy can be seen in our teeth - if our teeth are close to each other without any gaps between them, then the entire framework of the teeth is strong. However, if there gaps in-between the teeth, the dental strength wouldn’t be great and the teeth won’t last long.
There have been many gaps in my education, because of which my grammar and acumen with chandas are weak. Thus, I cannot speak with confidence on these subjects. I have doubts here and there. It is unfortunate that I never got to have systematic education.
There is a reason behind me telling this. My friends praise me saying that I became a scholar without studying. None should take this statement at its face value. True scholarship does not emanate this way. I am like any other man with lazy bones on the pavement. I have filled my stomach by feasting upon the remnants of dishes thrown out of the windows from different houses. This isn’t the way of systematically acquiring scholarship. Students of today’s generation should keep this in mind. They should read the texts prescribed for their classes and must put in regular efforts. One must get promoted from one class to the next only if he has shown the calibre. The student must not study merely for the sake of numbers, but acquire knowledge with a genuine quest – only then can the wealth of knowledge in our country can find any kind of prosperity.
This the English translation of the twenty-sixth essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 8) – Sankirna Smrutisamputa