So, what kind of human being do you want your child to be?

Jan 13 2014, 17:11 IST
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The uncomfortable truth of the matter is that the education system as we generally know it has broken. Reuters The uncomfortable truth of the matter is that the education system as we generally know it has broken. Reuters
SummaryEvery child is in fact pure, perfect and free

The uncomfortable truth of the matter is that the education system as we generally know it has broken. Many parents know it. Most teachers know it. Only the politicians seem to be lagging behind. It is time they caught up.

Seven out of the 10 jobs today’s young people at school in India and the UK will get when they leave university have not yet been invented. So what is the point in drilling them purely on academic matters? What are they going to need to not only survive, but drive forward and make the difference to the world that most of them want to do?

Curiously, our sages of old, especially from India, have always had the answer. We are now learning what it means in practice. Some of us are trying to make the education we offer practically reflect a new reality; that schooling needs to be at least as much about building good character as it does about delivering high academic progress.

Swami Vivekananda has always been one of my heroes. His vision that in the heart of every pupil is a “divine being” awaiting release and fulfilment is extraordinarily reflected in the Platonic philosophical vision that beauty and goodness is innate in all. Every child is in fact pure, perfect and free. A real education must release this potential brilliance.

As a Headmaster for 10 years I sought to build an educational environment where the virtues of courage, temperance, justice and wisdom could find real meaning in the lives of young people. And now, as Principal of ASIS, which represents 12 of Britain’s top Boarding Schools I am trying to do the same. That is why ASIS schools are putting up 7 Crores in scholarships to invite children from India to join us.

Courage shows itself in the ability to speak the truth and to say what you think, fearlessly. Those who can learn to speak – preferably without notes – will naturally lead; those who cannot speak will follow.

Temperance is an old-fashioned concept. Swami Vivekananda talked about it as ‘measure’ or moderation. I like to think of it as learning how to overcome selfishness; how to care for those around you and how to provide real service. “Take care of the service and the profits will look after themselves,” is an old business maxim, and one that youngsters setting out in the world need to hear.

Justice is an intriguing topic to try to teach young people about. It really means learning how to “do your duty”. The teacher who does not turn up in the classroom well prepared, is rendering an “injustice” to his or her pupils. The magistrate who does not listen to the evidence before passing judgement is rendering an “injustice”. To live justly ( and every one likes a ‘just’ and ‘honest’ person, especially an employer) is to live well. Corruption is rife in modern society, and the ‘just’ man or woman will not go there.

Finally, there is wisdom. This is where the most radical change in education needs to take place. With the advent of ‘Google-Knowledge’, pretty much every fact can be found at the touch of the ‘search-key’. But who can understand human nature? Who can know whether a person is lying or not? Who can know whether the business risk is worth it or not? This takes wisdom, what I call wise decision-making. Too few schools are helping pupils distinguish between old-fashioned fact-based knowledge and wise discernment, based on principles and intuitive understanding.

Just on two years ago, I was asked to visit northern Iraq to talk to the Kurdish government there about the future of education. I saw for myself that nearly every state sponsored school had a teaching staff directed to getting their pupils to pass academically-driven examinations. The curriculum had no philosophy, no opportunity for quiet reflection on the important issues of life, no values-based subject discussion or dialogue. It was as barren as the surrounding desert.

I would suggest that all countries should look to see whether their curriculums are any better; whether their teachers are equipped to open the emotional centre of the human being, which is essential inmanaging society in the years ahead? The OECD- PISA scores may say something about a country’s educational progress; but it is like measuring the health of a person by just looking at his brain. He has many more centres than that, and they need nourishing too.

The question I always ask parents is: what kind of human being do you want your child to be? And when I spell out the vision of what a human being is capable of – drawing on Plato and Swami Vivekananda as inspirations – they almost always agree. And I suspect the same response in India.

In late January and early February I shall be offering an eight centre Lecture Tour, discussing a new vision for education. Unashamedly, I am drawing on the concept of the Dalai Lama, who told a meeting I was attending:

“What the world needs is an education in warm-heartedness!”

“Yes,” I inwardly declared. “But what does it mean?”

I have been working on a model and shall be presenting it to audiences during my lecture tour. It is both innovative and traditional. I hope it will resound in people’s hearts when they hear it; if it does, it stands the chance of working because it will be true.

By David Boddy, Principal, Anglo Schools International Services

NOTE: The views expressed are those of the author

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