Once I was teaching a senior class a poem of Stephen Spender about the inadequacy of current educational programmes for slum children.
It suddenly appeared to me that the poet was not advocating a new educational programme or policy or a new syllabus for them. What he is trying to show is the divorce between the classroom and the reality outside the classroom. What the slum children learn in the classroom has no relevance with their life, and therefore has no utility. Then why do we build up such billion dollar systems which has no practical utility?
Swami therefore says ‘Education is for life, not for a living’. The current purpose of schools and universities is to teach some skills to the students that they can earn a livelihood. These skills do not equip a boy or girl to tackle the many questions and problems they face in life. Living a life is more important than acquiring the means to exist. All our creative years are spent in learning how to support the body while the mind and soul are kept starving. Education does not help us to relate to the purpose and problems of life, such as anger, hate, greed, violence, dogma, loneliness, relationships etc. We learn no skills to face them when they are upon us.
There is no syllabus to teach us how to tackle the mind. Even the most skilled person does not know how to face upsets in life calmly and positively. Boys and girls are not taught the value of life; not taught to think and contemplate, to see beyond what they see, hear beyond what they hear, to be more than what they think they are. Aren’t these skills more important than leaning to multiply the means of living? Isn’t it equally, if not more, important to feel joy when you see a flower, to feel revolted when a neighbour’s son or daughter is kidnapped, feel outraged when in the name of religion people indulge in exterminating whole communities, and feel elevated face to face with someone donating a kidney to save a friend? Does our education teach us how to relate to the world without and within us? Why does the gospel of living that our billion-dollar education machines churn out so assiduously have no answer to the fear, the insecurity, the anger that our society experiences more and more every day? Isn’t it because our education programmes simply has no programmes to tackle them?
Swami asks us to pick our highlighting pen and underscore LIFE, not LIVING. He does not stop there. He gives us the end goal too; The end of education is Character. Character is maturity to distinguish between now and ever, between the individual and the universal, between myself and my neighbour. In fact, it is to understand that there is hardly any difference. Life in all its manifestation is one. Does education as we envisage today teach us this unity? Does it teach us the humility of knowledge? TS Eliot questioned the whole edifice of education when he asked, “Where is the knowledge lost in information?” And is it surprising that Swami repeated endlessly true education in transformation, not information?