The modern education system has been churning out self-centered individuals who have no time for the well-being of the society they live in. Individual aspirations take precedence over the social well being. Success is measured in terms of what “I”achieved rather than what “We” are up to.
This attitude is creating a society where the majority cares very little about the overall well-being of the society and is only worried about “me, mine and myself”. The result is lack of innovation, restriction of knowledge use, chaotic society, failure of democracy, increased corruption, plundering of natural resources, etc.
The Roots of Self-Centrism – Impact on Morals
Look at the kind of typical questions school going kids are asked.
“How much did you score? First rank? Very good.”
“Who comes first in your class? You should strive to come first, this is a very competitive world. Beat everybody in marks.”
“You should win the race.”
Inputs like these guide the kids into believing that the only thing that matters are personal level achievements. Everything else either comes next or doesn’t matter at all. My score, My prize, My marks, My, My, My….
When we make marks and scores the sole reason of education, means are ignored and only ends matter. Students start parroting content in their school books, won’t share notes with others, become selfish, jealous.
Converse about social-centric values – not selfish themes
Just think the impact on those kids if the same questions had been something like this.
“Did you understand what has been taught in the school today?
“Scores or Grades do not matter. All that matters is how much you understand. Can you explain this topic in your own words?“
“Who are the other bright students in your class? Discuss with them and see if they have a better understanding of what you know.”
“Guide other students in your class who find it difficult to understand what you know.”
If we tell this to the kids, then they will learn to share knowledge, discuss with friends, realize the benefits of team work, understand that knowledge grows by sharing information and debating about what they know. And as they grow up, they will look to become part of bigger teams or groups with similar interests and achieve things together.
This will create a society where individual become groups oriented towards social goals, rather than remain individuals focused on selfish goals. There is after all a difference between a single batsman wasting 10 overs in a one day cricket match just to score a century in his name, when the team run rate suffers and puts the entire match at risk for the team.
But we instill self-centrism in our kids which continues to grow even outside the schools. Parents pressurize their kids to learn what parents want, not what the kids are interested in. Music classes, Dance classes, Tuition, Swimming, Karate, Computers, oh my child is so busy, learning so many things – in reality the real talent of the kid never gets revealed.
And also kids stop enjoying what they are doing because of all the pressure and too many activities. Even before they could digest what they learnt in one class, they are already attending the next class!
A Jack of all, Master of None
The other day during my morning walk I heard an elderly person asking a young guy,
“So which company did you join finally?”
“Very good. What is the Salary?”
“blah blah take home, blah blah benefits, blah blah bonus”
“Fantastic, so when are you selling your bike and buying a new car?”
Most probably that bike was what his father bought him when he joined the college. Not sure why one has to buy a car when there is a bike in working condition just because one gets a job. EMIs start eating out into your life here. Nobody ever inquires about,
“What do you do in your job? How does it help the society? So what are your plans to create a better society? Have you started helping others who are in need?”
To hell with rest of the world. Social responsibility doesn’t even cast its shadow in our conversations. And even if it does, it would be like some great favor we did, donate 100 Rupees and boast as if we donated all our wealth. In Mark Twain’s words, “like how a hen who has just laid an egg crackles as if she has laid a dinosaur”.
Society is not another individual – I am an important part of it
And it also reflects in our day to day frustrations when we come across the deformities in the society which we never cared to set right in the first place.
We drive in our imported car on the streets filled with potholes, starts with “Bloody roads”, then becomes “Bloody government”, and even goes as far as “Bloody Indian Roads” !!
“Do not ask what the society did to you. Always keep asking yourself what have you done for your society. For there is no single person or group of persons called society which does not include YOU. But there is a YOU who is a part of this society which you keep blaming. Blaming the society is like blaming yourself in a mirror.”
How am I responsible for a bad road! It is the government’s job.
And who is that government?
More on this later. But just to mention, some time back I remember reading about an elderly person who spent an entire week filling the potholes on the streets of his village. But sorry, we are too educated and dignified to be doing this blue collar work.
I would suggest that all farmers stop selling their crops to the non-farming section of the society, and instead exchange all the different food crops among themselves.
Then we shall wait to hear, “It is not my job to grow crops”. Grow crops or Go hungry. If this happens, then we will end up seeing all the imported car owners running to farms first thing in the morning.
Impact of Self-Centrism on Knowledge
There is a hugely negative psychological impact being made on every student, when parents, teachers, friends, relatives all look only at the scores in their marks sheet, and are not interested in their actual understanding and knowledge about the subject. The only goal of the student has become to score more marks, not to earn more knowledge.
And even teachers are equally guilty in this. I always hated the concept of “important questions”, “mark this for exams”, “this chapter is very important.”. If those were the only important ones, then why on earth did you include the other “unimportant” topics or chapters in the text books?
Learn to earn knowledge, not examination marks
There is nothing like, this is important or that is important in knowledge, especially at such an early stage of learning. This very concept of attributing importance again revolves around the probability of the related questions appearing in the examination paper, again focusing only on marks, not on knowledge.
I also used to hate solving “previous year question papers”. All this creates a false sense of “I know everything” in the minds of students who parrot and score more. This is also the primary reason why most of these students who pass with flying colours in their pre-college education fail miserably in the competitive entrance exams when they approach higher studies. Obviously you cannot parrot solutions to all combinations of problems, or answers to all scenarios.
And at the same time it will be next to impossible at this stage for such students to start understanding subjects instead of parroting them. The net result is a huge wastage of talent. Ever wondered why in spite of churning out such a huge number of engineering graduates, only a fraction of them are said to be employable? Parroting also impacts the communication skills.
Parroting creates unemployable graduates
Only songs and poems, dates and phone numbers are meant to be parroted, not formula. Formula first has to be understood and then remembered, not parroted like a poem. If you do not understand the language, then parroting a poem also becomes as difficult as parroting a math formula. Don’t believe me? Try parroting a Chinese poem.
The more you enjoy, the more you understand, the easier to learn, and the greater the depth of what you know.
In my college days, I have seen my friends mug up entire C++ programs! In the lab examinations, they used to type computer programs from their memory! One friend who was sitting next to me got 100+ compiler errors. He got worried and whispered to me
“Guru, I have typed it all correctly. But still its not compiling!!“
I glanced through his screen and the first thing I observed was that there was a missing closing bracket which was causing the compilation error!
What we need to understand is that, while computer memory is meant to remember, human memory is meant to understand. Computers trying to become humans, humans trying to become computers – not good, not good. Only fools become the tools of their tools.
Even most students who score good in math do not really understand what they are calculating. Once while conducting an interview for fresher engineering graduates, a first class candidate told me that he knew all the different formulas of differentiation and integration. I asked him if he can explain the concept of Limit in Calculus, and all he could parrot was the standard textbook definition of Limit. He didn’t even know what exactly a Limit was, and he had solved numerous problems in Calculus!
Impact of Self-Centrism on Democracy
Democracy runs on the very assumption that individuals vote for a social well being rather than for personal gains. The root idea of democracy is that all citizens strive to make their society a better place. But the moment a self-centered person is the voter, the electorate starts filling with those who vote for individual gains and personal benefits rather than for the collective good of the society. Votes will be cast by taking bribe, on caste and communal lines, and ultimately the institution of democracy suffers.
Many of us don’t even go out and cast our vote! Many feel it is a waste of time. Why? We are interested in personal good, not in public good. As a result, the very fundamental root of the democracy suffers. People start making lame excuses like “all candidates are bad”. Really? Ask them how much they know about each candidate who has stood for the elections. We do so much of research on the Internet, reading reviews, understanding features, etc while buying a new mobile or a camera or a Television. Why don’t we do it when it comes to electing our representatives? Self-centrism.
Bad people come to power because of the good people who do not go out and vote.
Oh come on, we say. My vote doesn’t really matter. How can a single vote bring in a change? Well, small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can definitely transform the world. Democracy fails when every voter ends up thinking, I don’t matter. An ocean is nothing but a collection of those single drops of water. If every drop of water were to think that I don’t matter, then there would be no mighty ocean.
Impact of Self-Centrism in Public Life
When the quality of democratic process suffers, so do all the democratic institutions. How can we expect those who come to power riding on the votes of self-centered individuals to be social centered?
Corruption, scams, power hungry leaders, favoring individuals or particular sections of the society over others, all follow as a result of this self centered democratic electorate. Elected representatives stop representing the interests of their constituencies and instead start amassing wealth, power and doing favors for their inner circles.
Service to the society becomes only symbolic, and in such democracies even if we find a leader who spends a small fraction of his time doing social good, he starts looking like a messiah. Ideally elected representatives are expected to serve and develop the society throughout their tenure.
Democracy ensures that we are ruled by those who are no better than what we deserve.
Impact on Nature
Visit any tourist place and you will see plastics, bottles, papers littered around. If the individuals were educated to care about the society, nature and their surroundings, would they have done this? We have very little concern about nature, but complain about lack of running water in the taps.
Look at the way the educated crowd screams and makes fun of animals at zoos, forest safaris, etc. Look at how much open space we leave around while constructing a new house, how much public space we encroach, and then complain about lack of air and light, water clogging during rains, etc.
One thing which I find personally very irritating is the smell of deodorants during my early morning walks. People should have a sense that others come for a walk to breathe in some fresh air, not their stinking deo+armpit combo.
Look how we DEMAND for more plastic bags at shops even for small items. I have even seen the educated crowd arguing with shop keepers demanding plastic bags even for silly items they purchase, and some argue in English! As if whatever you speak, as long as it is in English, it is always right. Can’t we even carry a single bag of our own?
“I am I plus my surroundings, if I do not preserve the latter, then I do not preserve myself.” – José Ortega y Gasset
Lack of Social Responsibility
Some years back, during a rainy evening when I was on my way back in my motorcycle, while trying to avoid colliding with a rickshaw who came speeding in the wrong direction, I fell down along with my bike. There was little traffic on the street because of the heavy rains, but there were many bystanders, almost all of whom looked like IT professionals, taking shelter at the nearby shops waiting for the rains to subside.
Not a single geek came to my help, they all just kept staring at me as if I had committed a big crime! I got up on my own, and looking at them had one of the best laughs that day, the pain of my minor injuries didn’t even bother me. All the educated crowd!
An year later or so, again on a rainy evening, when I almost got washed away in a drain in front of a tea shop, when I mistook it for a road and stepped in, it was the poor Tea vendor who left his business and came running to help me. The Tea shop boy who probably hadn’t even been to a proper school had a better education nevertheless. Reminded me of a Mark Twain quote.
Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.
Some other educated attributes are, increasing speed when the traffic signal turns Orange, getting ready for a race even before it turns Green, and even better is assuming that traffic signals do not apply if there is no traffic police around. And of course there is this traveling with high beams on in the evenings literally blinding those inside the approaching vehicles, honking like frustrated souls, etc. We care only about ourselves, others, go to hell. When everybody is saying this, well, we are already living in a self-made hell, isn’t it?
I can go on and on, but I will stop here, because it looks like I am missing out the main point of this article which I originally intended to convey.
Dharma – The root of ancient Indian education
Knowledge is of no use, or even more, is dangerous, if it doesn’t have a right purpose. And the right purpose is the greater good of the society. The larger the section benefiting from our knowledge, the better.
This is what the concept of Dharma is about, though partially. In the ancient Indian education system, every student used to be trained to understand and follow the concept of Dharma. Some equate Dharma with religion, while others call it tradition, some come close by saying it is our “duties”, some “nature”, but there is no equivalent word in English for this. It is more of a broad concept, than a simple word.
Dharma is not absolute – it is space and time dependent
Hence there is this term Dharma Sookshma, meaning the ability to know what is my Dharma NOW, or under the present condition, or the wisdom to identify the correct Dharma when there appears to be a conflict of duties.
Every entity in this Universe has its own Dharma, so in this sense Dharma can be said to be the nature of a thing. The Dharma of Sun is to give light and energy, the Dharma of clouds is to rain, the Dharma of a weapon is to kill, the Dharma of a farmer is to grow crops, the Dharma of a Doctor is to treat his patients, the Dharma of a tiger is to hunt its prey, and so on. So Dharma is like their natural properties or actions. In this sense, physics is the Dharma of inanimate objects, Chemistry is the Dharma of chemical world, Biology is the Dharma of living entities, Mathematics is the Dharma of numerals, and so on.
Now we shall see the impact of Dharma in education and how it positively impacts the social life making individuals social centered rather than self-centered. The Dharma of a student is to earn knowledge, the Dharma of a knowledgeable person is to teach and share knowledge, the Dharma of a parent is to protect his children, the Dharma of a king is to protect his subjects, and so on. So as the roles and responsibilities of a person widens, as his scope of power widens, so does his Dharma or his accountability to his present position.
So for a father the Dharma is to protect his family (Grahastha Dharma), but if he is a king at the same time, then his Dharma first is to protect his country (Raja Dharma), family comes next. And for all humans, their most important Dharma is their Dharma as a human being (Manava Dharma) which is above everything else. My responsibility as a human being is bigger than any of my other responsibilities. And the responsibility of a human being is to work for the betterment of life on this planet, not just for other humans, but for the welfare of all life forms and for the preservation of nature on this planet.
Dharma in education and its social importance
Imagine how the students who are taught this concept of Dharma right from their school days would have studied or reacted to the so far above mentioned scenarios. Every person would on his own have an awareness about not to pollute his surroundings, about having to preserve and protect other life forms, to plant more trees, to not waste water and so on.
The ancient Indian concept of worshiping different forms of nature and animals was to imbibe this sense of respect towards nature and other life forms. The concepts like “Tarudevobhava” – Tree is a God, “Anna Brahma” – Food is divine, games like Mokshapath and hundreds of similar ancient Indian thoughts that were at the core of an early education system, would create a true citizen who cares for his surroundings and society.
A sense of social responsibility and a thought process of thinking about the welfare of the society, and directing one’s actions towards the social good will develop making the student social centered. It is to imbibe such great principles in our lives that famous Sanskrit quotes like “Vasudaiva Kutumbakam” – the entire earth is a family, were taught in the ancient Indian education system.
We can make a start to create a better society and to make this planet a better place for all life forms by practicing the concept of social welfare and social well being in our thoughts and actions, and teaching the same to our younger generations. The education system has to be modified on these lines to impart true knowledge and teach social responsibilities to our children rather than make them self-centered parroting machines.
Om Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinaha
Sarve Santu Niraaamayaah |
Sarve Bhadraani Pashyantu
Maa Kashchid-Duhkha-Bhaag-Bhavet |
Om Shaanti Shaanti Shaanti Heem ||
May all be happy, and all be healthy. May all encounter only positive things in their lives and may no one suffer. Let there be peace everywhere.
Thank you for reading. Also read Education in IT era – passion, not memorization