What is Education? How Did We Perceive It Being Students Ourselves?
Being toppers throughout school and colleges and now being scientists ourselves, this definition of education from Albert Einstein truly makes sense when we look back – “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learnt in school.” We can’t remember being told this when we used to struggle to keep our minds quiet before every exam as a child, as a teen, even as youth. That time education meant to us what all we could remember out of our text books. To us, valuable was that information which we could reproduce during exams; we have most certainly mastered the accurate art of vomiting in the exams what all we learnt in school, college and university. That process was not easy and not at all charming, we must agree. Worry, anxiety, stress were an integrated part of learning and we can’t remember how long the wonder of learning something new had survived; soon enough it used to get covered by the heavy loads of assignments and upcoming exams to perform better than the rest!
Education: Was it Joyful or Painful?
When the new topics were discussed the wonder about learning was unfathomable. We remember being avid learners, we used to read each book from each subject way before our school teachers or tutors at home would touch upon. In fact a peculiar tendency, specially I (Banani) had, was to read any book from the end, as I was always curious about what’s the ultimate at any point. We read not only class books, help books but even solved question papers from the bank of all schools available before exams. Being so dedicated and available and interested to study, we still had this fear in us about the end results, which never let us enjoy the subjects in its pure bliss. After many years, now that we teach, we can’t miss but to see the same reflection in the other students as well. Either they are very willing to learn and end up stressing about performance pressure or they lose interest on the way as they feel they are not so good to live up to the expectation of parents and teachers, in the competition. Either way the joy of learning diminishes and it ends up being a painful process.
Teaching: Charming and Effortless? Or Stressful?
Same can happen when we stand on the other side of the table. We, as children, used to think of teachers as Gods! They knew everything! As we grew up and started college, this idea came time to time that there might be certain things which they also didn’t know. When we joined PhD we became more aware about the realm of the unknown; there is so much to learn and so little we all know. Even though my professors knew so much more than us, they themselves shared how little that was compared to the vastness of this infinite universe. We are all learning! We realise as much as we are interested; as much as we are capable of holding. The secrets of the universe are revealed to us either through pre-documented wisdom or we might even get lucky to be the first ones to experience and document those fresh revelations! Scientists (or sages) of the past, present and future will continue to understand and pass on that “little bite of wisdom” learnt at a time for the generations to come.
What is Better to Encourage: Right Answer or Right Question?
As a student in school and college in India we always knew that to excel, we have to be prepared with the right answer. However when we went abroad for higher studies, for the first time we found out that not only answering what is already known is appreciated; what is way more encouraged is to ask the right question – which can reveal a bigger chunk of the unknown! This tradition, we brought back and encouraged our students to ask the right question! Asking the right question can be extremely intimidating at times. Here, even a stupid question we entertain; not only to break the fear of asking. In fact we call a question stupid when either it’s obvious or it’s absurd. But many a times we have seen from so called “absurd questions” many deep secrets of universe or life are unraveled. So we have integrated this deeply in our teaching methods. In fact it’s well established that teaching is the fastest way for learning. We teachers learn the most not only how to deliver the information; but how to make it more experiential and how it can sink in deeper and can be implemented in the next level of challenges given to students. Most importantly as teachers, we learn to care and uplift a young heart to blossom to its full potential. All roads don’t end up in IITs or Medical Colleges. Interests can be manifold and possibilities are infinite!
Learning from Mistakes
Learning is incomplete if we ignore to learn from the mistakes. Be it for solving problems of math or science or in life. Students and teachers, we both learn from our mistakes. If a mistake happens, the most useless emotion that shows up is “GUILT”. As students, many of us spent maximum time in this place, which we would have regretted till now, had we not got the message from our spiritual master Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who said in one of the Q & A session when a student asked him, “How can we overcome guilt?” He said “Just wake up! And see the mistakes as mistakes! Not your mistake or their mistake! It will immediately take you out of that guilt mode and put you back in action.” From passive (guilt) to active (present) mode comes when we get in touch with the wisdom imparted to us. And wiser are those, who are sensitive and sensible enough, not to make the same mistakes performed by others and which led to suffering. Ignorant are those who get drawn by the short-term joy and perform the same mistake in spite of knowing it’s not going to take them anywhere good, and still don’t have the awareness not to resist it. The best lesson we learnt as PhD students from Gurudev was not to make the same mistake again – then we stop growing. Growth happens when we learn from one mistake and move on; not to be afraid to make mistakes. Those who are afraid to make mistakes never learn and grow.
Education – Making Us Value-less or Value-based?
It was the time when we were about to finish our PhD; when I (Banani) got lucky to attend my first advance meditation program in USA. It was amazing but I was struggling to express my feelings in words when the teacher asked us to share our experiences. Out of many who shared their experiences was one young man, who stood up and shared in such simple yet profound words; it felt he was telling the exact feelings that I went through during last couple of days – and I had absolutely no idea how to express them. I was so touched, I went up to him to thank him and I asked him his whereabouts. I was amazed and shocked at the same time to hear that he was a construction worker from a neighbouring state. All the pride and prejudice I had carried till that point about being educated in the best university etc. shattered like a glass wall with a big bang in my mind.
In one moment the universe, with the grace of the master, revealed to me that true education is not the grades on my transcript; nor the gold medals which are collecting dusts; it’s the wisdom built within. And each human being is so precious and we can learn from each other irrespective of their background and degree. That humbling experience I carry in my heart forever since then, which really has enabled me not only to share knowledge with the students but to impart the values that I have been bestowed with and simultaneously learn the best practices from different religions, cultures, race, age and professional backgrounds.
Deepening the Roots to Broaden Our Vision
The goal of education is to have the awareness which is all inclusive; which leads to the best response beyond personal ignorance. Observing the knowledge flow through us and everyone around gives us an experience of the very happening nature of the universe, which came to us after we learnt how to meditate. That truly integrated all these wonderful aspects of education in our being. Being lucky to have received the best education of the East and the West would have remained incomplete without meditation, as per our experience. Otherwise even the best education could have become the biggest burden. Education with meditation is like the salt in water – dissolved, harmonised, keeping the humbleness co-existent with wisdom. Else ego can take us easily to the trip of “I know it all” which is the beginning of a journey towards “ignorance”. Only those who really have access to this profound wisdom can perhaps tell how little compared to that is being revealed to a simpleton. Meditation on the other hand, keeps the mind sanitized from the ego and can soak in wisdom without feeling full. According to Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Ji, “Innocence with intelligence is the ultimate combination”. If our smile is lost at any cost that’s the biggest loss. No degree, no salary, no fame, no pleasure can compensate for that. True education can only put that lost smile back on our face which situations tend to rob away while growing up in this busy pace of lifestyle. We thus need a reform which will deepen the roots and broaden our vision.