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Contemporary Education: Dehumanizing or Liberating Factor of Life

A teacher asked a student, “Which is the highest mountain range?” A student replied, “The

Himalayas.” Teacher said, “that's the wrong answer.” “But Madam”, the student in a disgruntled tone answers, “that’s what my mother taught me.” The teacher, with an authoritative voice, chided the student and said, “what the teaches tells you; that's the truth.”

Many of us who come from South Asia would have experienced some sort of teacher-student model of education where student is a tabula rasa on which the teacher inscribes knowledge. In this model students are not supposed to think creatively and go beyond what the teacher teaches. This model of learning is an amalgamation of Aryan, Mughal and British colonial education where an individual of power prescribes the answers to everything. As a result of this learning, many children find their school-going days rather boring and burdensome. Contemporary education in most of the South Asian countries, particularly India, demands a stricter learning style where students have to devote their entire day after school to finish homework and cram the lessons. Unable to accomplish those tasks, students whose report cards do not comply with the standards of excellence are, either reprimanded or compared with other students who are excellent according to the standards of educational centers and families. In India itself every year hundreds of children commit suicide as a result of the fear of either poor performance or high expectancy from family and society. The question remains, why so much fuss about an educational system that is built to make life peaceful, happier and liberating, but tends to become dehumanizing?

On the other hand, many students from around the world whose first language is not English travel to developed nations such as US, UK and Australia for varied educational exposures, find themselves trapped in the matrix of excellence. To excel, one needs to follow its pattern of education with rigorous thinking, reading and analysis. This model of education is in contrast with the above said model. Although the Western model of education intends to bring out the best in everyone with its freedom of thinking and expression of ideas, it fails to appreciate the diversity of students who are skillful in other modes of expressing their thoughts and analysis. For instance, a student whose writing skill is limited by language or any other form, but very skilled in painting, is compelled to write her/his final paper to be accepted and graded according to the system. Meanwhile, what is lost is the very potential of the student who would have used his/her skills to the utmost creative and interpretative learning and understanding. Educational institutions should be open enough to use the students’ skills and allowed to understand, interpret and express academic exercises or realities in the way one wants.

My whole point is not to denigrate or reject the present education system in both Eastern and Western countries, rather to think-out-of-the-box and adapt new available resources at hand for better learning, understanding and expression towards a meaningful life. Those who claim to be progressive and liberative need to rethink themselves within the academic environment, to tap into new resources from students with diverse skills, and to enhance a dynamic aspect of education where, both students and teachers enrich each other symbiotically for a better humanizing academic life.

Reading Jacques Derrida's and Levi Strauss’ use of the term “bricolage” gave me a fresh breath of air in analyzing contemporary education. The term “bricolage”, derived from the French word “bricoler”, literally means “to tinker”, and its English equivalent is “do-it-yourself.” It can be understood as a creation or work made from a variety of available resources. Therefore, it implies that there is no fixed or stable mode of doing things, rather constructing something out of anything available at hand. Although Strauss' and Derrida’s bricolage has lot of philosophical and theoretical overtones, it would be inappropriate to use those theoretical frameworks here due to its limited scope. The task of present day education is, to use the potential of all students in any category without falling into the trap of educational essentialism. Students should not be gauged within the parameter of any system, or try to fit everyone into one system, rather the system should be put to the test, and appropriate tools and techniques available from every resource so as to tap the best in every student or individual. I believe that the concept of bricolage is an unstable and non-essential hybrid tool that can be used to bring out the best in everyone for a liberated life.

Swami Vivekananda once said, “What is education? Is it book-learning? No. Is it diverse knowledge? Not even that. The training by which the current and expression of will are brought under control and become fruitful is called education.” Put differently, education is neither book-learning nor accumulation of knowledge, rather it is the becoming of a human in the midst of all vulnerabilities and rising beyond it with whatever means available for a meaningful life.

Rev. Dr. Godson Jacob is Senior Pastor of Friends Fellowship Church. He can be reached at

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