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Learning for life?

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Dec. 25th, 2007 | 12:48 pm

I have been dipping into a wonderful book called Education and Peace by Jane Sahi. It is based on the Marjorie Sykes Memorial Lecture delivered by the author in 1998, and is published by Akshar Mudra, Pune.


Jane is influenced by the ideas of Gandhi, Tagore and Rudolf Steiner. She runs the Sita School in Silvepura village on the outskirts of Bangalore. Her book addresses something that deeply concerns me – the fact that students are exposed to an overdose of information but are blissfully unaware of how their learning is to be used in daily living. She uses two stories to illustrate her point. I quote from the book:


Excerpt 1

The kind of learning that is unrelated to practical life is illustrated in Mulla Nasruddin’s humorous story of the Grammarian and the Ferryman which tells of their journey across a river. The scholar was sitting comfortably in the ferry boat while the ferryman was exerting much energy to steer the boat safely across the choppy waters of a river. The scholar inquired whether the ferryman was a learned man, and if he knew the rudiments of grammar or not. The ferryman informed him that he was a simple man and had no such knowledge. The grammarian responded scornfully saying, “Well, my dear fellow, half of your life is wasted.” The ferryman continued his strenuous work in silence, until they reached about midstream, and the deepest part of the river. The ferryman then asked the scholar whether he knew how to swim or not, to which the grammarian disdainfully replied that he did not. The ferryman then said, “Well, my dear fellow, the whole of your life is wasted. The boat has sprung a leak, and we are about to sink.”


Excerpt 2

The perils of a disconnected learning and teaching are well illustrated in a variation of the Panchatantra story which goes as follows:


There were four learned men. One day they decided to go deep into the forest with the idea that there they would prove their great learning. It was a kind of testing. On the way one of the four found by chance the thigh bone of a tiger. Eagerly he picked it up, and proceeded with great skill and uttering of mantras to construct the skeleton of a life-size tiger. Whereupon, another of the four scholars, not to be outdone by his friend, put flesh and skin on the framework of the tiger to make him look more real. The stripes appeared with a flourish. Tail, whiskers, claws, and lolling tongue were all placed in a most lifelike way, until at last a stationary, but ferocious looking tiger stood before them. The man looked with pride at his handiwork.


One more of their number stepped forward. He, however, belittled his friend’s achievement saying that he had the greater power, for he had the knowledge to make the tiger breathe and live. The fourth of the four men was, naturally, alarmed and interrupted the man’s boasting, assuring him that it was unnecessary to prove his great learning by such a dangerous and foolhardy experiment. The third man was by now totally engrossed in the prospect of showing his superior skills. He refused to listen to what he dismissed as foolishness. While the third scholar chanted more and more incantations, and his friends gazed on admiringly, the fourth man climbed high up in a nearby tree, and there, from a safe distance, watched the spectacle with a healthy mixture of fear and wonder.


Suddenly, the motionless tiger changed to a snarling, growling, hungry tiger, and before the three worthy scholars could escape, he pounced upon them and with a few deft strokes of his sharp claws, killed them all. The fourth man watched as one by one the three men were greedily devoured until nothing was left of his friends, the philosopher, the artist and the scientist, but their bags of books which the tiger disdained to touch or taste. Nervously, the sole survivor of the unhappy party, descended from the tree, and returned to the town, and organized the rituals to commemorate the early demise of the three renowned scholars.




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