― Paulo Freire
Even with many changes here and there, we will not be able to mark distinct changes that have taken place in the structural setting of schools. If we place our own experience of school days vis-à-vis what children are experiencing now, the picture becomes clearer. The school still holds the same connotation, one individual, often not specifically trained, giving lectures from the texts which are already available. We see children stumbling upon the age-old hierarchy of the subjects, and I must add, we ourselves have stumbled upon it. Educationists say that the hierarchy of ‘subjects’ in the modern education system which keeps pure and natural sciences at the top and arts-humanities at the bottom is a reflection of an industry-based society where without doubt, expertise in science can fetch a great carrier. But in the course of erecting the hierarchy in the real world and in the minds of parents and students, we have lost the potential creative energy of the society. The motive of education should not be narrowing down the thought process and forcefully feed the brains huge chunks of ‘right’ answers. We are continuously force-fed ‘right’ answer and are also expected to vomit it in the cleanest possible form. One of the damages caused by the colonial-styled modern Indian education system which nonetheless also serves students the ‘right’ answers is that we let go of the possibility of creative expression. Many succumb to the apparently heavy burdens of pure and natural sciences, some are able to carry the burden but at the cost of losing their own ‘selves’. And we are left with a society obsessed with manufacturing engineers-doctors and not potters and painters. In a realistic sense, what parents will let their children study fine arts, an academic course which does not correspond well in the job market. On the other hand, the education institution at the primary level isn’t producing students who will go for fine arts.
Photo for representation only
In the larger scheme of things, the structure also stops us from wandering. In other words with all the established answers, it kills the zeal of ‘knowing’ altogether. And if we fail to memorize the established answer then we are doomed. Subjects are reduced to something we hate. History, Geography, Maths, Physics, and almost all the other subjects become abstraction coded in incomprehensible language and we are separated from the immense pleasure of knowing. To create a critical discourse around the methods of education in times like now is a difficult task, let alone making reforms but apparently many people are engaged in beautiful endeavours of making whatever changes they can. “Mathematics is not calculation but poetry,” says Arunatpal, a young designer from Kolkata whom I happened to meet by chance. He has worked with a Non-profit Organisation to develop cheap toys to help kids understand mathematics. We all had a hard time with mathematics, there is no denial of that, but what if the process was wrong and it was not us who were incapable? Arunatpal emphasizes that mathematics is more than calculations. And when it is reduced to numbers and innumerable problems with handy formulas, we lose the beauty of it. He has developed few toys which help children to understand and feel mathematics, to understand what numbers really are, and how the numbers are futile and significant at the same time.
Arunatpal engaging with students
Toys include basic things such as wooden sticks, matchsticks, and carom coins. He says toys shouldn’t be something which the kid wants to own, but something which they want to play with and share with friends. Other than introducing numbers and simple mathematical operations, the objective of the toys is to develop a healthy attitude of approaching things from different perspectives, to physically figure out different possibilities and to feel mathematics which is otherwise a difficult abstraction. The toys in an interesting way also break the hierarchical dynamics between the teacher and the student. When they learn from the toys, the teacher is just a facilitator. The games and the playful environment also help children to break free from the fear of making mistakes and to build a confident perception of themselves.
Photo by Roman Mager on Unsplash (For representational use)
We are in dire need of contemplative and sensible society which nurtures creativity and life. And the only way to build a society where people will at least try to understand each other is through non-conventional and experimental education. We haven’t reached any milestone yet, but we can call this project a humble start.
Website of the Non-profit Organization that Arunatpal worked with: https://thoughtshopfoundation.org/
A short report of the project: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1kcTdEo2OYIYhMWYPtGaJXVWD0kCkoA20/view?usp=sharing