What are schools for?

Wednesday, 31 August 2016 12:30 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


By Farweez Imamudeen The side walk was buzzing with young girls and boys clad in the finest clothes, filling the air with their lively chatter and roars of laughter. It was a typical Saturday afternoon on that street in Kandy. School students attending extra tuition are a familiar sight during weekends. The huge army of adult teens squeezing into the large three story building across the street decorated with small and large colourful posters strewn with a variety of courses, and beautiful faces is a sight to behold. This is the school away from school. Every time I walk past a private education institute that teaches the school curriculum, a simple yet important question pops into my mind.

“What are schools for, then?” With success being defined in strictly material terms – the yardstick of success being the possession of wealth and fame – and education promoted as a promising tool to achieve success the demand for education is naturally soaring. What was once considered a great liability by educators has now turned into an expensive commodity. The reason is ironic yet painfully true. Education has the unrestrained power to gain wealth, power and popularity. Thus modern education has undergone an extreme makeover, for the worse. For one the purpose of education has been twisted beyond recognition. Education is no more expected to create responsible citizens who are innovative, independent and critical. Schools in general have deviated from the original purpose. According to schools the purpose of education is to attain success in life, and successful is a man who is rich, popular or powerful.

Thus when a student is after education for the sole purpose of achieving success he or she will naturally cease to seek and learn as soon as the purpose is met. What’s the point of learning after attaining success if the purpose of education is to attain success? Thus a teacher who seeks to attain success has only one thing in mind; success. Blinded by lust and inspired by desire he darts away at full throttle tearing through ethics, morals and values. He tempts his students with attractive results, like a prophet he predicts test questions beating the rational faculties to submission, taxes the students for his ‘service’, and finally when he becomes rich, when he becomes successful he remains oblivious to the crimes he has committed. Soaking in his crooked glory he fails to comprehend his injustice to the human race. He has no idea what the thoughtless, frozen, irrational materialistic mind he has created is capable of. Alas it’s a vicious cycle. Secondly because of the success mania both parents and students are discouraged from pursuing subjects that have less or no demand in the corporate world yet essential for a sound mind and a healthy society. The likes of philosophy, history, literature, politics and performing arts are gradually diminishing from popular curriculum for they hardly serve the material purpose.

These subjects that are popularly known as arts are essential to understand societies, their evolutions, psychology, culture, sentiments, beliefs, strengths and weaknesses, and without such a basic understanding of the fundamentals how is it ever possible to govern, maintain and develop a state? Do our schools have an effective methodology to inculcate ethics and morals? No, although that is the essence of humanity. A man or woman without morals is like a desert without water. Just like a ruthless desert that consumes everything that comes its way so will a soulless human being devour everything for his selfish gains. A quote by Theodore Roosevelt is worth pondering.

He said ‘To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society’. It is the greatest irony that our school education, instead of being learning oriented is primarily exam oriented. It is for exams we prepare our children and it is through exams we assess their intellect. How wrong is that? Does a test paper contain all the tools that could rightly measure knowledge? Can a random number from 0 to 100 determine the loss or gain of knowledge? What if the child is undergoing severe stress on the day of the test? What if the answer contradicts the marking scheme yet is justified and logical? Finally a rich diversity of human interests is shrunk down to a very limited curriculum.

Despite the fact that human beings by nature have different interests, talents, strengths and weaknesses we arrogantly and ignorantly disregard that simple yet profound truth, and impose on the innocent minds a man-made curriculum. We expect birds to swim and fish to fly. We profess democracy yet interfere with the freedom to choose and the natural rights to be human. We need to acknowledge the fact that every child is a genius, and that in a forced condition no human being is expected to flourish, and that no genius ever became a genius by doing what they hated. Thus our schools should begin to assume responsibility for the failure of our children. When I pass by a tuition institute I no more ask “What are schools for, then?” I only ask, “What are schools for?”