Friday, December 19, 2014

Amartya Sen - Classical Education Tradition of India

The moment was here. Amartya Sen was called on stage to deliver the opening address at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2014. 

He humbly described how it was his privilege to be speaking at this festival. He titled his speech, ‘A wish a day for my country for seven days’. He presented his speech as a dialogue between him and a goddess who had given him seven wishes. He put forward his thoughts on Media, Politics, Healthcare, Legal Structure and Social Issues. But what stood out for me were his thoughts on education in the country. Here are a few points I noted down:-

Dying Culture of Learning 

He described how in India, Classical Education in the language, arts and music was being ignored. Most bright students all over the country are encourage to take up Science and Technology and look down on Humanities. He believed this had to change. He also spoke about why it was so important for young people to start reading from a young age.

Amartya Sen's Childhood

There was another afternoon session by the economist and Nobel Laureate, Professor Amartya Sen titled ‘Choices and Freedom’ that day. He described the workings and consequences of democracy, human freedoms and human rights in the context of his own life and learning.

I was always fascinated by an in depth analysis of the lives of the people that have fared really well in their professional lives. Biographies are a great resource, but listening to the individual speak in front of you is a resource like no other.

What was Professor Sen's Childhood Like?

Amartya Sen described how Math and Sanskrit were his favorite subjects as a child. His grandfather had written one of the most successful English books on Hinduism.  Yet religion was not forced on Amartya Sen, When young Amartya questioned his religious inclinations, his grandfather gave him ancient book on a culture of atheism like the Charvakas written by Madhavacharya.

He described his love for Maths and why a less numerical math was needed today because the math that is used to understand social issues is different from general maths.

Importance of Humanities

He re-iterated his point on the importance of Humanities. He corrected the general misconception of careers in humanities leading to poor wages. He spoke about the example of a company where the General Manager did History and the engineers worked under him. He came to a conclusion that all fields must be given equal respect.

How are education systems designed?

When I heard the above two people make these comments, it further strengthened my belief in how the education system was designed in the wrong way. Growing up we are always told, we can do whatever we want when we grow up. But political and economic structures of our local environments often decide the careers many students opt for. This is unfortunate because every student is intelligent in a different way.

What if you want to become a Historian?
In India for instance, lots of students are encouraged to take up science and engineering as career options. The students that are interested in other fields like commerce and humanities have to really build up a case to convince their parents that it is a viable option. Many of them fail in this endeavor.

Albert Einstein once said, ‘That if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, the fish will live its whole life thinking it is a fool.’ Educational Institutes and Society in general often encourage students to take up the economically relevant career at that point of time.

This is the wrong approach, because things are changing so fast, that certain jobs will not even last in the future. If we think that we can treat the human being like  a machine and engineer his growth process we are wrong. This is because a new machine will soon be invented that can automate the process or task of this human being.

The debate does not only come down to the matter of more emphasis on classical education. It comes down to the general idea of giving more respect to the diversity of intelligences present in a classroom or work environment. Every individual is intelligent in a different kind of way and we must create systems that encourage these unique intelligences to flourish.

There can be a chef, a writer, a micro biologist and a footballer in the same classroom. We need a system that can accommodate all their needs, or we need no system at all.

A classroom with multiple intelligences are appreciate. A classroom we must work towards.

Let us Learn Together
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