THE GOLDEN CAGE OF SCHOOLING AND THE CHILD”S FREE QUEST
A gifted poet – philosopher Rabindranath Tagore made a path breaking experiment on education. His critique of the dominant mode of learning that confines the child to the four walls of the classroom, and denies her childhood with a heavy baggage of books and information continues to inspire us. Here we invoke an important essay of Tagore. A young seeker has engaged with Tagore, and articulated her reflections on education
When learning becomes only a matter of memorizing facts it loses all its wonder and excitement. The competitive nature of contemporary living puts children under the constant pressure of being successful, of being at the top and more than anything else of being better than the others. Moreover, the present educational arrangement employs a very mechanical and narrow mechanism for evaluating progress that is through an examination. This in its pure essence tests only a child’s mental capacity to rote facts , and then reproduces these within a designated time.
What comes out of such a system then is only a fear filled psyche that does not allow a child to relate to what is being taught to him as anything more than mere information which he has to memorize and then reproduce in the examination. The child gradually understands that the better he memorizes the more appreciated he will be. In other words, his interest, his inclination towards the subject, his quest to learn something new are altogether secondary to the need to leave the rest behind and score the highest marks. Amidst such a setup grows up a child who looks at the world around himself only through the prism of competition, where each individual is in a hurry to leave the rest behind and climb on the highest position of success,; the child learns that restlessness is natural; he learns that to survive he must win and for winning all means are justified.
The child enters school with wonder in his eyes and inquisitiveness in his heart. He leaves no opportunity to ask questions, to experiment and to explore but by the time his education is about to be completed, that sense of wonder and excitement gets replaced by skepticism and mistrust. When the child steps outside home for the first time and enters the vicinity of the school, he falls and stands up again on his own, he makes friends and develops relationships, he learns to take care of himself and in doing all these things he develops gradually into a distinct adult.
In these critical years that shape us, values of mutual trust, group work, team spirit and a sense of co-operation and sharing are fundamental, as these values when inculcated deeply make us better human beings. But ironically, the education system today shapes us into very self-oriented individuals, who are primarily concerned about their own futures and more about being ahead of the others. Thus marks begin to define how worthy we are, how much talent we hold and finally if we are a gift or a curse to the society. Our parents and friends accompanied by popular culture and the media constantly judge us on our performance in competitive exams .The better we score the higher our intellectual/potential worth and the lesser we score, the more we are seen as a disgrace to society! Thus when our idea of ourselves lies in something so mundane as an exam score, we are bound to develop suicidal tendencies when we fail to reach the expected targets and those who are able to crack the exam and to earn for themselves the honor, no longer find their feet on the ground and begin to see themselves as more intelligent or more talented. This way of determining a person’s worth is not only shallow and problematic but also commits the very grave mistake of undermining the various types of intelligences possible, Thus a child may not be able to solve twenty arithmetic puzzles in a matter of sixty minutes but she may be able to listen to sounds in nature and compose a melody on her own, likewise a child may not be able to remember the four concrete reasons for the downfall of the Mughal Empire ,but he may be able to work in the garden and make many flowers bloom! Now, such children would not be able to score too well in the examination, but does that mean that they are not talented or intelligent?
At this juncture Rabindranath Tagore’s story The Parrot’s Tale gains new relevance. This is a simple yet insightful story about a king who looks at a free parrot in the sky and feels the urgent need to educate and civilize it; so he orders that a golden cage be made for the parrot and the most learned people in the kingdom teach it. Scholars from near and far make their efforts to teach the parrot, stuffing its mouth with pages from books after books imparting as much knowledge as possible! Encaged and robbed of its most cherished asset- its freedom, bombarded with facts, the parrot ultimately dies.
(‘The bird was bought in. With it came the administrator, the guards, and the horsemen. The king felt the bird. It didn’t open its mouth and didn’t utter a word. Only the pages of books, stuffed inside its stomach, raised a ruffling sound. Outside, where the gentle south wind and the blossoming woods were heralding spring, the young green leaves, filled the sky with a deep and heavy sighs.’
Rabindranath Tagore, The Parrot’s Tale)
The story is an impactful satire on the present education system. Where our children like the parrot in the tale have all the available means, smart boards and tablets, world class amenities and all modern facilities, they have the biggest libraries and the most updated laboratories – all they don’t have is the freedom to explore themselves, to learn for the happiness it gives, to relate to the world without a sense of competition, and to find a space for themselves to understand what interests them the most. And without the freedom, all else becomes like the golden cage, which no matter how exquisite, remains a cage!
The need of the hour is to allow our children to reimagine a space that is accommodative rather than exclusivist, to make them aware of the innumerable ways in which people can discover themselves in the world and to show them that all of us are endowed with immense possibilities, and we only need an ambience that allows us to discover our potential. When our children learn in an environment that allows them to grow freely, and when facilitators and guardians allow a child to learn for knowing rather than for showing, education becomes truly illuminating.