Public Education Can Save Our Country

Public education is broken. I wanted to grab your attention with something much more impactful. But the way I see it, what has more impact than the absolute and simple truth? Our public education system is broken and it has been for a long time.

Some of us believe it is the responsibility of our elected officials. Others think our communities can fix it. Parental involvement is the answer for many. “If only we had more funding” is another cry. They are all right.

Of course, the debate continues about No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Remember, this is the measure which was passed in January 2002 during the Bush Administration. It requires states test all students in certain subjects every year to be sure they are prepared for college. I don’t believe the problem is entirely about NCLB; it’s about public education in general. However, this initiative has had such an impact, mentioning one practically begs a mention of the other.

NCLB was supposed to fill in the gaps of public education. It was likely intended to do just as it says…leave no child behind. The goal is admirable, but the execution has a detrimental effect on how children are taught. We tried to solve the problem with one sweeping measure. There is no one answer and no one entity with the complete solution.

The reason I see the problem of public education in the United States as a national issue, and not an individual, family, group, regional, or even state issue, is very simple. Let me use myself as an example. I am not an educator or a student. I do not have a child in the public school system, or any school system. But I am a citizen of this country and have a vested interest in its present well-being and hope for its future. So, it is my problem. It is our problem.

We all know the future of this country and our place in the world depends on our children. How they fare and compete on the world’s stage depends on their access to quality education. That is why I am so afraid.

We are not preparing our children to compete. We are not teaching them to think. We are not teaching them to react. We are not teaching them to create. We are not teaching them at all. We are preparing them for tests. We are filling them with facts, having them regurgitate them at the appropriate time, in the appropriate format to attain the appropriate score.

Creativity, individuality, and inventiveness are practically discouraged. If a child shows too much individuality in the way she learns, acts, or interacts, she is considered inappropriate. She is relegated to a special class, isolated, or even worse, medicated.

We live in an age of entrepreneurs and innovators. The time has passed when we stay on a job at a factory for 25-30 years or even in a corporate cubicle for that long. We are not training our children to be innovative in the workplace, or to build businesses like the type built by the entrepreneurs and solopreneurs that are the backbone of my own industry, virtual business assistance.

The Public Education Network’s (PEN) National Survey of Public Opinion lists 10 key findings in its Survey of Public Opinion about our responsibility for our educational system. Top among those were:

1. Education continues to be a top national priority, even in the midst of war and concern about the economy, joblessness, and healthcare.

2. Americans want funding for public education protected from budget cuts, and they want to see more public investment in education.

3. The jury is still out on No Child Left Behind. [1]

What does this tell us about what we need to do to fix our broken system?

We have to stop making education a mere campaign promise and make it a policy priority for our elected officials. Any official who does not fulfill his promises to improve public education, especially our national officials, should not be re-elected.

Realize quality education comes at a cost. We must be willing to pay our teachers a competitive wage so that we can attract the best and brightest…or provide tax and other benefits to supplement their salaries. Be open to studying tenure and pay for performance as options for teachers. Even if these are not the best or only options for improvement, let’s at least consider them and be open to new, inventive options.

Consider a moratorium on NCLB, nationally, or on the state or local levels. This measure affects too many of our children to continue with so many unsure of the long-term consequences. If a moratorium is not practical, at least reconsider the amount of funding for the program so that schools are able to place more focus on traditional or creative teaching methods as well.

The results of the 2008 National Poll and the Civic Index for Quality Public Education conducted by the PEN shows that over 63 per cent of us do not think public officials are held accountable for the status of public education. Four in 10, nationally, and over one third of local respondents think our schools are declining. [2]

We have an election coming up on November 2, 2010. Let’s not forget education when we go to the polls. We can save the future of our country.

[1] 2004 NATIONAL SURVEY OF PUBLIC OPINION Learn. Vote. Act. The Public’s Responsibility for Public Education

[2] Public Education Network, Community Accountability for Quality Schools, Results of the 2008 National Poll and the Civic Indexor Quality Public Education

Education – A Top Priority of Life

Each fall, school buses begin to roll and school bells start ringing. The beginning of another school year is once again upon us. This should be an exciting time for students. Their love of learning, the joy of spending time with friends, and the many benefits of this intellectual environment are great motivators. But, these are not the kind of students or parents for whom this article is written. That would be preaching to the choir.

In today’s complex, technological world, everyone needs a strong education to stay gamefully employed and achieve economic stability. To compete, one must be educated. Gone are the days when one could drop out of school and make a living. Yet, in many parts of this country that offers free educational opportunities, we still face double-digit dropout rates. It’s a sad picture that must change.

Parents play a pivotal role. They must emphasize the benefits and need for a good education. They must provide an environment that encourages learning. The process starts at birth and is best begun by example. Their actions should include reading to children and showing them the joy of learning. Their actions should nourish the natural tendency we all have to learn new things. Their actions should make the home a place where learning never stops.

The unfortunate truth is that too many parents don’t care. Young children are absent from school because parents are too lazy to get up and dress them. These children go to school unfed because fixing breakfast is too much of an effort. The home environment is negative and lacks encouragement towards excellence. There is no appreciation for the value learning brings to one’s life and the doors of opportunity it opens. There seems to be a perpetual push towards ignorance.

When I served on the school board, my most discouraging moments were when I saw a child walking the streets during school hours or late at night during the school week. These pictures are still daily occurrences in many communities. Their elimination would bring great joy to my heart. Today’s school dropouts are tomorrow’s societal burdens. They will not compete in the job markets. They are more likely to become the next generation of criminals.

Education should be the top priority in every family. Education should be the top priority in every community of this great nation and not a lip-service activity. That is the only way to break the cycle of poverty and dependence on government subsidy for a livelihood. Personal pride accompanies development of our mind. Discouragement accompanies ignorance.

My wish is for all students to have a safe, productive, and insightful school year. My wish is for zero dropouts. My wish is for parents to be encouragers and disciplinarians who insist on learning being part of the life of their child. My wish is to break the chains of poverty and educational deficiencies that bind people to a life of mediocrity.

Perhaps those of you who read this article will accept the challenge to make a difference in the life a child this school year. Encourage them to value a strong education. I can think of no greater commitment!

Higher Technical Education: Distinctiveness of Humanities, Indian English, and ESP

I am grateful to the organizing committee for thinking about me and inviting me to deliver a guest lecture on distinctiveness of Humanities and social sciences in higher technical education. I feel rather uneasy and highly septic, as I stand here with no pretensions of a high-brow professor or specialist whose discourse goes overhead. I speak to you as a practicing teacher of English language skills, especially for science and technology, and Indian English writing, especially poetry, with interest in what concerns us in the Humanities division, which, unfortunately, enjoys little academic respect in the over-all scheme of things in almost every technical institution.

Maybe, a conference like this augurs well for friends in the department of Humanities & Social Sciences, as they seek to explore interdisciplinarity, which indeed expands the scope of teaching and research. But I must provide a perspective to my several remarks that ensue from my reflections on the quality of intellectual activity in most technical institutions vis-a-vis the negligible support for scholarship in the Humanities, perhaps with the belief that the humanities are not ‘real subjects’ or that these have no bearing on learning of technical subjects, or these bring no demonstrable economic benefit.

The discipline has declined more perceptibly with, to quote Nannerl O. Keohane, “the creation of increasingly specialized disciplines and rewards for faculty members for advancing knowledge in those areas.” We have a marginalized status in technical institutions even if we may have been playing a crucial role as teachers of languages and letters. I don’t want to dwell on them here. But, we should be aware of the ground reality.

Yes, study in humanities is not always a matter of communicating ‘new findings’ or proposing a ‘new theory’. It is rather ‘cultivating understanding’ or thinking critically about some profound questions of human life; it is often the expression of the deepened understanding, which some individual has acquired, through reading, discussion and reflection, on a topic which has been ‘known’ for a long time. To me, practices in arts and humanities elevate consciousness, refine susceptibilities in various directions, create deeper awareness, and enable us to respond critically and independently to the ‘brave new world’ we live in. Arts and humanities alone can help us to explore what it means to be human, and sustain “the heart and soul of our civilization.” Perhaps, it’s the usefulness of humanities which is acknowledged by inviting me to speak to a distinguished audience like this.

I intend to divide my brief into two parts: I would reflect on technical institutions as schools of higher learning; and then, I would say something about the business of English language teaching, which is my prime professional concern. Yet, much will remain unsaid, for I am aware of the controversies I may be raising.

I strongly feel most university level technical institutions in India, like the general ones, have failed in promoting or upholding healthy intellectual attitudes and values, and academic culture and tradition, expected of a university, just as, it’s painful for me to observe, the culture has been virtually dismal in the case of studies in arts and humanities in the last four decades. The dullness and sameness has marginalized both creative and critical performance, or the standards handed down to us have become obsolete, or we have fallen into an abyss of unbecoming elitism, or we have become used to a cornucopia of pleasures formerly denied us: I won’t comment. But an opportunity, such as this, is necessarily not to offer any authoritative judgments but to reflect on, or to provide insights into, issues that concern intellectuals at the top of university teaching hierarchy. Should I say ‘non-university’? for I fear most of the faculty do not want to move beyond the parochial confines of narrow exclusivity. It’s the age of specialization they say, and discourage diversity, tolerance and inclusivity: they do not strive for intellectual mobility and change of attitude; we, as seniors, too, have not tried to reach out, or explore!

As a university, we are not oriented to the transformation of our social order, nor are we obligated to act as a moral deterrent in inhibiting the growth of selfish motivation. We think of education in terms of laboratory or industrial practices in mineral and mining sectors, energy, electronics, engineering, computer application, environment, management, law, health sciences, life sciences, and all that, but hardly care for ‘producing’ fully competent and spiritually mature human beings. We do not pay attention to the growth of individual creativity and to an intuitive understanding of individual purpose. We do not bother to educate with, to quote Rabindranath Tagore, the “knowledge of spiritual meaning of existence” which is also the ethical and moral meaning. We have been, unfortunately, bogged down in schemes that inculcate a habit of the mind which indulges in seeking only better opportunities to survive, or higher pay packages.

I’m afraid for too long we have practiced the “how to” of life and neglected the “why”. I believe it is comparatively easy to learn how to accomplish certain material tasks, but much more difficult to learn “what for”. If our educational system has failed over the years, it is because we have never come into a working knowledge of our humanity. We have gained incredible amount of technical knowledge, perhaps more than enough to resolve many problems with which mankind is presently faced, but we have never tried to reflect on how to apply it constructively and successfully for the good of all, with a sense of human dignity.

Some of us rightly worry about the general lack of mutual respect for the rights and feelings of others, the tendency to be suspicious of the unknown, the tendency to take liberty with the sanctity of the individual person, and complain about the general lack of character and integrity, despite higher education. I see our failure in communicating with the spiritual insight which is marked by a balance between individual desires and social demands; I see our failure in creating the awareness of the world of values and principle of the spiritual oneness underlying the great variety found in the world. I see our failure in the humanity being torn apart by intolerance and fundamentalism, the suicidal urge for self-destruction. I see our failure in the rising ethnic, linguistic and religious tensions that now belie the scientific, technological and enlightened euphoria of the sixties.

We seem to have lost a sense of obligation toward creating a good, tolerant, forward-looking society. Thanks to the role of money in democratic processes and institutionalization of corruption at all levels, people have lost faith in politicians, bureaucrats and government. The invasion of governance by the criminal-politician-bureaucrat nexus has done the country greatest harm than the shift of power following the wave of globalization, multinational capitalism, corporate economy, politics of war on terror, environmental concerns, human rights and all that. There is a reshaping of self, values and norms with dominance of the Western discourse in critical reasoning and reflection through perils and delights of growth and change; through survival skills vis-à-vis emigration, sex, parenthood, and age; through re-visiting past and present with vested awareness; through political orthodoxy in the name of democracy, religious fanaticism, casteist dominance, and repression of the liberals and the simple; and through the new processes of fossilization of the pre-colonial/colonial/post-colonial that renders many of us in the profession irrelevant. I wonder if we are not terribly dislocated in our small world.

Let me not digress any further. Ladies and Gentlemen, every university is a school of higher education, but how high is high? If we are only interested in technical education for the sake of developing professional ability or skill in some area of life, then we are talking about a vocational school or polytechnic, and not a true university. Unfortunately, most universities (and technical institutions) have been vying with each other to become professional schools, not committed to the teaching of better morality, higher philosophy, universal order or universal culture. They are not producing morally and ethically conscious good citizens. I am afraid all one can expect from the present priorities in the so called higher education is survival, pursuit of money, and power.

When science is transformed into technology, it becomes a form of power. And, as history would testify, power is the power for good and for evil. The technological culture we live in pervades and shapes our lives. The computer and internet culture, electronic gadgets, microwave, fridge, mobile phones, antibiotics, contraceptives and several such devices have been more than new means. Our sense of vulnerability has been changing fast. The new consumerist culture has taken away what was earlier meaningful and rich experiences of life.

We in the Humanities & Social sciences department need to debate the multifaceted reality that modern technology offers-not only its devices and infrastructure which are its material manifestation but also skills and organization, attitudes and culture, perhaps constructively and contextually. Thinking through technology should make possible for us to develop and contribute to humanities philosophy of science and engineering just as different visions may be possible to discuss through social philosophy of technology. Researchers in the West have already been talking about technology as liberator, technology as threat, and technology as instrument of power. Our lives and ideas have thus changed and will continue to change. In fact, every field has been changing rapidly these days. The discipline (HSS) needs to incorporate their study, especially as media such as internet and social networking have already modified and redefined human relationship and identities everywhere and at all levels.

Then, there is the emergence of what has been called ‘knowledge society’. The growth or creation of knowledge society that we have been talking about since the beginning of this century presupposes our capacity for idea generation. But if knowledge is not made freely available to all who seek it, how can one promote humanity or make it power for a liberal democratic society. Moreover, as scientific and technical knowledge spreads or becomes more powerful, it would become more problematic for the scientific community to assume moral responsibility for the use and abuse of scientific knowledge. To mitigate this challenge, one needs an education not so much in science but in humanities. When scientists say they want to live up to their social responsibilities, what they seem to mean is that they want more power than they have; it means they want to run things, to take charge. They should not end up ‘doing politics’ in the name of improving the world or society. Let them be interested in themselves, in facing the task of their own self-improvement, and learning how to think about their own responsibilities in a more serious and reflective way, their own moral education.

As a faculty in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences in one of the leading technical universities in the country, what I think the scientific and engineering community has to face up to is its own self-education, its own social education. Our budding engineers and scientists have to explore answers to such basic questions as: what is a good society? How do we go about achieving it? How do we-what do we-learn from history? What do we learn from political philosophers of the past? Or, why scientists think and speak the way they do? They cannot neglect this kind of educational enquiry in technical education because there is more and more to know as the fields proliferate. Which means, the department of Humanities and Social Sciences should equip them with the basics that helps them demonstrate understanding in and across the major disciplines: scientific understanding, technical understanding, mathematical understanding, historical understanding, artistic/humanistic understanding, cross-cultural understanding, and understanding of moral and political philosophy, and philosophy of science etc. There is need for providing new unfamiliar concepts and examples to promote such understanding which will later enable them to take enormous decisions vis-à-vis the complexity of the world science and technology has brought about.

With the present consciousness, accept it or not, we, in educational establishments, have perpetuated living with a world in upheaval, and in some cases, have even shown a preference for it. But, with a higher order of awareness that approaches intuitive levels of understanding (something arts, culture and humanistic studies essentially seek to develop), we should be better able to look at an issue from many different dimensions, and rationalize how we ought to live in the future “as complete citizens who can think for themselves, criticize traditions, and understand the significance of another person’s sufferings and achievements,” to quote Martha Nusbaum from her book Not for Profit.

A technical university needs to provide for education which also elevates the consciousness and extends the power of the soul; that is, we need to shift a part of the current educational priorities from the intellect to the heart, and from scientific and technical thinking to soul cognition. The end and aim of a university, be it technical or general, is the perfection of man, striving to evolve the consciousness in tune with the universe.

The education we ‘sell’ needs to be re-tuned towards creativity, innovation, and respect for fundamental freedom; our policies and curiculums should help in strengthening the culture and values of a global society which is characterized by multiculturalism, intercultural interactions, mutual respect, tolerance, dignity and respect for values, and consciousness of ourselves as one human race, human rights and global responsibility for change in attitudes. We must, at every level, strive for a balance between the traditional attitudes and the need for a modern multi-cultural society.

I believe most of the new technical institutions can maintain their distinctiveness by seriously opening to the diversity of our times, by sharing freely with students representing the diversity of our larger society, culture, and future needs. The enclave approach which seeks to shut out or at least seriously limit the diverse socio-cultural needs and understanding may not help any more to maintain distinctiveness of the institution.

I also worry about the system’s unwillingness to nurture the ethos and sensibility that sustains a university spirit even as, according to the current govt. policies, an institution of higher learning is expected to run as a business enterprise which in days to come, will modify, perhaps irreversibly, our attitudes to teaching and research, our notions of knowledge, our administrative practices, and our relationship with the state and society. We need to make a move from the concerns of the immediate present to the future and visualize a different typology of cultural, linguistic and educational problems against the backdrop of a very fluctuating socio-political climate and pressures of all types.

As part of the language and literature teaching fraternity for over 38 years and working in a specialized university, I know how significant Humanities teaching is to hone the mind, critical thinking and communication skills. I am tempted to quote Erwin Griswold (of the Harvard Law School): “You go to a great school not so much for knowledge as for arts or habits; for the art of expression, for the art of entering quickly into another person’s thoughts, for the art of assuming at a moment’s notice a new intellectual position, for the habit of submitting to censure and refutation, for the art of indicating assent or dissent in graduated terms, for the habit of regarding minute points of accuracy, for the art of working out what is possible in a given time; for taste, for discrimination, for mental courage, and mental soberness.”

Now, let me talk about the business of English Language Teaching. I say ‘business’ because it has developed into a multi-million dollars commercial enterprise outside the native bases. We too, have an opportunity to capitalize on it in our own way, if we can. We can reach out to people in over 70 countries where English is one of the main languages.

The global diffusion of the language has now taken an interesting turn: the ratio between the native speakers of English (in countries like the U.K., the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) and the non-native speakers (in countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Singapore, Ghana, Kenya, Malaysia, Nigeria, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, Zambia, Philippines etc where English is used along with the mother tongue) is almost 40: 60, and it has expanded fast to other countries (like China, Japan, Egypt, Indonesia, Korea, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, Taiwan, the Gulf Countries, and the countries of the erstwhile Eastern Bloc). It is virtually a native language in South Africa, Jamaica and West Indies. Its acculturation, its international functional range, and the diverse forms of literary creativity it is accommodating are historically unprecedented.

As Braj B. Kachru notes, the situation today is such that the native speakers have an insignificant role in the global spread and teaching of English; they seem to have lost the exclusive prerogative to control its norms of use or standardization; in fact, if current statistics are any indication, they have become a minority.

This sociolinguistic fact and its implications have not yet been fully recognized by most linguists, ELT practitioners, ESPists, administrators, language policy planners, and college and university teachers in India. What we need now are new paradigms and perspectives for linguistic and pedagogical research and for understanding the linguistic creativity, including the scientific and technical writing, in multilingual situations across cultures.

You will appreciate the English we all speak is not like the English the native speakers of the language speak. We don’t need to. The yardsticks of the British or American native speakers, or their standards as reflected in GRE, TOEFL or IELTS etc, or their kind of tongue twisting, are simply damaging to the interests of non-native speakers. We have to develop our own standards, instead of teaching to sound like Londoners or North Americans. Pronunciation must be comprehensible and not detract from the understanding of a message. But for this nobody needs to speak the so called standardized English that makes inter- and intranational communication difficult. David Crystal too appreciates this reality and favours local taste of English in India and elsewhere.

Our Indianness is clearly reflected in the pronunciation of certain vowels and consonant, in the stressing of words, in the rhythm and pauses, in the vocabulary and lexical acculturation, discourse patterning, code mixing, usages, grammatical deviations etc. The prolonged linguistic and cultural contact of English in various states of the Indian union has given it a unique character which deserves serious academic exploration. It has acquired a considerable functional range and depth, and it is preposterous to expect that the language would not be ‘shaped’ or ‘moulded’ according to the local needs or remain unaffected by the influences of local languages and literatures, cultures and users. It is, in fact, the result of such deep-rooted local functions, that we have now an institutionalized model of English for intranational uses. The way India’s multilingualism and ethnic pluralism have added to the complexity of Indian English, apart from ‘mixing’ words, phrases, clauses and idioms from the Indian Language into English, and in ‘switching’ from one language to another, perhaps to express the speaker’s ‘identity’ or linguistic ‘belonging’, the role of ‘native speaker’– the British or American– as become peripheral, as Kachru rightly asserts, unless he or she understands the local cultures and cultural presuppositions.

I am not very much concerned with the literary perspective of Indian English here, even if I have been actively associated with Indian English literary practices for over thirty five years. I am professionally interested in the language use and usage of Indian writers, and scholars and researchers of science and technology, the localized educated variety they have developed to communicate indigenous innovations. You can appreciate this if you have noticed development of local registers for agriculture, for the legal system, for entertainment industry, for Environment, and so on. The publications of Indian practitioners of science and technology have certain discourse features which are unique to Indian English, but not examined.

I suspect Indian English is not yet recognized as an important area of research for ‘English for specific purposes’ (ESP) that we teach. [It is also, however, very sad that though ESP as an approach is now firmly established, it still has fewer supporters in India, possibly because nobody wants any changes in the conventional teaching-learning practices?] Having been in the forefront of ESP movement in the country for over twenty five years, I am aware of the localized linguistic innovations in the huge output of Indian researchers, some of which has the potential for serving effectively and successfully as pedagogical texts or teaching materials. But it is unfortunate the English teaching academia are slow to recognize the pragmatic contexts–the importance of intranational uses of English and according to local needs – and continue to stick to the external norms of English. It’s more regrettable that the conceptual and applied research on ESP in the West has avoided addressing issues which are vital for understanding the use of English across cultures.

The way ESP has turned international, teachers and researchers in Applied Languages in our country need to explore: what accommodation a native speaker of English may have to make for participation in communication with those who use a local (or non-native) variety of English; what determines communicative performances or pragmatic success of English in its international uses; what insights we have gained by research on intelligibility and comprehensibility concerning international and intranational uses of English; and what attitudinal and linguistic adjustments are desirable for effective teaching of ESP based on a non-native English, like Indian English. These are a few basic questions, not convenient to Western ESP enthusiasts.

I have noticed in the Western ESP in general, and science and technology in particular, a strong bias towards ethno-centricism in approach and neglect of intranational motivation for the uses of English. It is not possible to practice ESP effectively unless we respect, what John Swales call, “local knowledge” and “localized pragmatic needs”. After all, we use the language as a tool and we cannot ignore the localized innovations that have “code-related” and “context-related” dimensions. We ought to view non-native innovations in ESP as positive and consider them as part of the pragmatic needs of the users. It is the attitudinal change that I plead for!

Teaching of ESP in a university in the second language situation like ours is largely a “collaborative sense-making” with the class. When I say this, I am pointing to the interactive nature of formal instruction, which, in terms of actual language use, is essentially Indian in tone, tenor and style. I am also referring to the need for understanding the dichotomy between the rhetoric of EST teaching and the practice enacted in the classroom from the viewpoint of adult learners, and language skills development and competence in the Indian social setting. We need to evolve a dynamic model of ‘communicative teaching’ of ESP which seeks to develop (i)linguistic competence (Accuracy), (ii)pragmatic competence (Fluency), and (iii) sociolinguistic competence (Appropriacy), without ignoring interrelated aspects of local practice, research and theory and at the same time emphasizes language awareness, which is a significant concept in ELT, in that it covers implicit, explicit, and interactive knowledge about language and provides for a critical awareness of language and literature practices that are shaped by, and shape, sociocultural relationships, professional relationship, and relationship of power. The approach can also facilitate cross-cultural comparisons and contrasts, and promote genre-based studies (i.e. how language works to mean, how different strategies can be used, how meaning is constructed), basic to ESP, in that it truly develops individual’s performance competence.

Friends, I have hopped from one point to another, perhaps jumbled up, in my zeal to draw your attention to several aspects of English, Indian English and ESP that have wider and deeper implications. They touch attitudinal chords of English language users, teachers and administrators too. Teaching of English, both language and literature, today is not only academically challenging but also opens new refreshing avenues for applied research. This is because of the spread and changing status of English, which has grown from a native, second, and foreign language to become an international language of commerce science and technology, spoken among more non-natives than natives in the process of their professional pursuits or everyday lives. I have also placed certain facts of science and technology education in the context of Humanities before you, raised issues, expressed my view, and now it is for the profession to accept, reject or explore their implications. Thank you.

Copyright:
Professor R.K.Singh
Head, Dept of Humanities & Social Sciences
Indian School of Mines
Dhanbad 826004 India

[This is the Text of my specially invited Lecture at SRM University’s International Conference on ‘Role and Responsibilities of Humanities and Social Sciences in Technical Education’ on 17 March 2011]

On What Education Should Do

When I refer to education, what I’m talking about is more than just what schools do. That is just one part of it. I’m expanding education to include how a culture, a society, or a country educates the newer generations on the culture itself. Schools, as we know them now, teach reading, writing, arithmetic, history and science. In universities we learn logic, philosophy, etc. How a society educates its young not only defines its identity but also the way it defines itself for the future. If a society recognizes the importance of education to its existence, then it will make sure to place education high on its list of priorities. Unfortunately, that has not been the case in the United States. Other priorities have been distractions, and this has robbed several generations, of an education that should be worthy of free society, and a country like ours.

I have always been more of a pro-process education vs. content education thinker, and have felt that the first and foremost goal of schooling should be focusing everything on teaching the child the skills to teach himself. It is not at the expense of the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic. It’s simply filtering everything through that goal.

The learning centers we have are the parents (family), the schools, religion, and later the external world (without supervision). The parents give us our first glimpse of the world and our first impressions of it. The schools begin the socialization process along side the religion which presumably deals with spiritual and ethical values. Then we are grown up, and expected to go out into the “external world” and not only survive, but be contributing members as well. This is where it’s determined whether a society has been successful or not in teaching its younger generations.

What parents can do is initially set the stage and create the best possible foundation for the child to enter the society via the school system. They can first instill that all-important perception that the world is a trust-able place (and also identify the parameters of that trust). They can also encourage curiosity, imagination, and the ability to observe what is going on around them, assess risk all of which will enable the child to make better choices.

All these things are positive things but the one that is most important is instilling in children the gradual ability to be independent of their parents. The parents should want their children to grow to be independent, so they can feel comfortable that their children will survive and do well when they are no longer around.

Schools can do other things too. They introduce the child to his first social group situation. But they can also include skills like anger management and further the development of risk assessment as part of the child’s growing cognitive abilities. They have the potential for greater cultural education, skills such as logic and ethics in addition to the basic reading, writing, arithmetic skills, at a much earlier age than is now considered possible through schooling.

Religion or Spiritual institutions, can also teach morality, ethics and things related to the spirit.

One subset to all this is Sex Education. What happens in real life is that the parents are split about wanting the schools to teach it, at least within certain parameters. Religion doesn’t really teach anything about sex except to abstain until marriage. When the schools attempt to teach it, the parents get more ambivalent about what the parameters should be, while religion insists that the schools should only be involved in teaching abstinence. So my conclusion is that the parents should be the ones who have the ultimate responsibility, and should put aside their embarrassment and discuss it with their children, or else they will learn it from the external world without any supervision.

The US government should put education high on the priority list, because if they don’t, future generations will not be able to compete with those that have been educated in other countries and are more equipped to compete in the world market. My approach is simple: focus more on education, because the future survival of our culture depends on it.