EGYPT – The Land that Speaks in the Language of Silence
The last few weeks have been a wonderful reminder of the difference between being a tourist and being a traveller. Moving across the ancient and sacred land of Egypt, I have been a traveller. Travelling is not really in seeing and doing, but instead in being, and as such a rare opportunity that requires the right people to come together at the right time. To truly be a traveller, one must be ready in body and in mind, willing to open up to the land, its people and its experiences; and then the land and its people must open their hearts to you. It’s a strange chemical reaction, a spiritual drama that allows for an unpredictable story. The Ecoversities Gathering and the Yatra (travel) afterwards has been such a story.
The Ecoversities Gathering brings together each year some of the most daring and imaginative educators from around the world. Educators who are attempting to redefine the very word I have just used to refer to us; trying with all our might, and with a smile, to imagine a new society and ecology that has a chance to survive the neoliberal onslaught. For the six days of the gathering we live in such a society of shared values of liberation and love. It is not inundated in meaningless speeches and dress codes and business cards, but rather engages through a sharing of stories, practices and emotions. Life is slow, and the learning is fast. There is not enough time, and yet there is always more time. The 2022 Gathering hosted by Sara, Samy, Yousef and the HajMoulein Farm Community in the deserts of Siwa has been an experience that is very hard to talk about or write about. It is a lived experience, and I can only do a poor job of using words to express them. I apologize in advance.
The Gathering received educators and learners (both embodied in all of us) from all over Asia, Africa, the Americas and parts of Europe. Many languages were spoken, many translations happened. The principle at heart is inclusion, and not simply as a checkbox that corporations have to use, but as an intent that we share together. The responsibility of the gathering was shared by all the gatherers, and this includes the cooking, doing dishes, cleaning toilets, organising the space, taking care of the animals and making the environment that we wish to share with ourselves and others. Volunteers were called to sign up for tasks each morning and many times, I saw more hands than the requirement. How amazing this is! A counterculture of the economic world where we usually dislike doing things for others or even for common good. This little world in the desert was different, and did not carry the burdens of the transactional world.
Anyone is welcome to tell a story or host a session. Want to be buried in the sand? Want to discuss feminism? Want to understand your anger? Sure! All kinds of explorations were possible and happened. We heard war stories, love stories, stories of death, of birth and rebirth of a new world emerging slowly under the sands of time. There’s hugs if you need them. Or a Namaste if you do not like touch. A pat on your back if you have always wanted one. There’s honour and respect, not for the position you hold or the work you do, but for the sacredness of the humanity that resides within you. There is love for your presence and appreciation for your thoughts. There is space for all, the young, the old, the child, and however you imagine your outer and inner beings to be.
After a soulful and emotional six days of the gathering, and the tremendous beauty that Siwa has to offer through its hot springs, salt lakes, old temples and structures, we started off the Learning Journey or Yatra. Aptly named El-Rehla (the Journey), 22 of us started traversing the country. We of course had big plans of things to see and do, and projects to visit. But we were also committed to ensure space and time for ourselves to slowly connect with each other (and sometimes disconnect with our usual realities back home). In Marsa Matrouh, our first stop, we shared stories in pairs walking along the Ageeba Beach that eases into the Mediterranean Sea with bright turquoise waters. We moved on then to the busy Corniche of Alexandria staying in a very old and charming Greek apartment overlooking the shores. The sunset at the El-Max village is something out of a dream. The colossal library is hard to miss. The city is really fast, but we were on a different timezone altogether. After Alexandria we stopped in Cairo, visiting Ci-las, a wonderful project started by my newfound brother and friend Karim. It is heartening to see the role of liberal studies in liberation and the on-going struggle as a human society. The final part of the Yatra took us to Fayoum where we stayed in the astonishing Tunis Village (again, a place made of dreams). A swim in the lake in the middle of the desert was the perfect ending to the Yatra. The fact that the lake cannot be seen unless you really get close was the summary message of our journey in Egypt. In order to get a glimpse of the country, you must really get close. And is it not true for every place, and every person we meet?
I have told you the places. It is impossible to recount or describe the conversations. I don’t think I even remember everything. Memory, in the conventional sense, I think, was not the most important aspect of this journey. We must look at memory differently, maybe in the way the sands look at time – in infiniteness and abundance. The conversations, the visits and the interactions, you may not remember them, but they certainly change you. They affect you in the smallest and yet the biggest ways, in part and as a whole. I return physically tired, but mentally recharged, with a myriad of connections not defined by transactional partnerships but instead bound in the fine and strong strings of love.
If you are reading this, and are feeling that you missed out something, you really don’t have to worry. Yatras happen many times in a year, and many local gatherings too. May not be the same place, or the same people, but I can assure you that it will be magic. Gift yourself a learning journey the next time you see one, and keep an eye on the Indian Multiversities Alliance and the Ecoversities Alliance pages
If a child is unable to sleep,then their parents often use the threat “sleep at once or masterji (teacher) will come”. This shows how ingrained education, schooling, teaching, etc are in the minds of the parents. From the day a child is born, the parents start thinking about their future and where and what they will study. Going to a traditional school is ofcourse the first thought.It is indeed ironic because children have to be literally dragged out of their beds to school. In fact many parents take loans, some face financial distress in funding school/college education of their children. They think that the child will learn something worthwhile and lead a happy-successful life, but after 14-15 years of education they find the child has not developed any real-world life skills. I spent 14-15 years in utter boredom by attending various classes of uninteresting subjects through school and colleges. The period of my life where the neurons of mind had to be developed, I had to develop the muscles of my hand by taking notes in those boring classes. A couple of days ago I was talking to a 7th standard student and in his words “We are totally fed up with our teachers in the school. They never let us have any fun and make us write notes all day long. We go to school to just write and write and write. On top of that, if we don’t write the same thing in the exam, word by word, we will fail the exam.”
The existing education system has propagated the values of memory and recalling systems of the human brain the most. The other requirements like thinking and social abilities, creativity, curiosity etc are almost non-existent. The very things which will help the children
to survive and thrive in the world are not developed. The classroom model of education was developed in the 19th century when the industrial revolution started. The factories needed workers and clerks who would just follow orders and do their repetitive tasks without any
questions. The 21st century is no longer the same. World has changed a lot in these 200 years. But our education system remains the same.
We now live in an interconnected world. Information is available to everyone at a click of a button. Hence, we require a new education system in this changed world. Following are the requirements of the new system which should be fulfilled.
- Exclusive focus to be given to individuals.
- The learners should have the choice to decide what, how and how much they want to learn.
- Empathy with fellow human beings, living beings and the environment should be at core of it.
- The learning process should be engaging, experiential and fun filled.
- There should be hands-on activities for almost all the things to be learnt.
- The learning and its usefulness in the real world should be made clear to the learners.
There can be various ways of fulfilling the above requirements for a new education system. One can go to an alternative education model. Others could get home schooled. Some may want to restructure the existing schools. We just need to make sure the learners learn to think, learn by themselves, ask questions and find answers and connect with the community. The problem posed by the current education system is widespread across the world. Innumerable number of people have identified these problems and attempted to solve them. Some noteworthy solutions one can find are Shikshantar, Auroville, Shantiniketan, Project DEFY, Summerhill School and so on. These organisations are working to provide a proper
learning environment to the people from marginalised communities. Even though we set a new system we must be careful enough to not make it rigid. There should be enough flexibility to accommodate the changes which come from time to time. Bringing an overhaul in the education system has to start with overhauling of our minds. We have to unlearn first and then move on to learn again.
About The author
Nishant Kumar is a computer engineer by degree and a maker enthusiast and community builder by heart. He can be seen learning and helping others learn new things anytime. He has been facilitating learning sessions for tech and design topics. If not working, he can be seen enjoying music or roaming in nature.
STUDENTS NEVER FAILED, SCHOOLS DID
It is no surprise that we’re witnessing one of the biggest turnovers of what defines human value and its methods or perception of ‘educating’ in history, for all that stood for schooling (information holding and dissemination) is smoothly being taken over by memory chips and the internet. Existing school and college systems are largely at stake of losing all relevance, as collaborative capacities, run for initiatives or instant thought becomes far more valuable than degrees. And as our digital seconds tick, we are closer than ever to realise the futility of the mindless competition and egocentric ideas of ‘success’ our colonised minds have so long adhered to. To such an extent, that we feel completely lost and miserable without a given goal or a checkpoint, probably a hangover of the slavery under the British rule.
Not that we’ve completely gotten out of it, or that the numbness of an enslaved mind has left us, but we surely have started questioning our ideas of ‘success’ and ‘necessities’.
Experimentations and re-evaluations in education, at least in India, have been ages old. But for relatability and a counter colonial narrative, we can go back to 1920’s; when a resourceful and acknowledged figure (in the world of literature and otherwise) tired with the factory model of classroom schooling, decided to have classes under open skies and banyan trees, with complete interdisciplinary courses which continue till date. And no wonder it brought out few of the most diverse and acknowledged minds in the world of cinema to the world of economics. Rabindranath Tagore, thus, can be taken as one of the foremost examples of those in India who pioneered experiential learning, with symbiosis and self-realisation as core values, countering the absurd idea of British schooling (which were no more than prisons training ‘well behaved’ clerical slaves).
There were several others including Mahatma Gandhi (idea of swaraj), Sri Aurobindo (Auroville) who have tried to, and to certain extent have, successfully established spaces and ideas of exploratory and experimental schooling, and a human society where growth and thought are driving factors. It is a mind-boggling phenomenon, however, to see ‘globalisation’ cause such an impact, that even after seventy years, people are still being sold mono-cultured and linear ideas of success, where it is an imaginary ladder to climb, while ensuring that others are left behind. And the only way to climb that ladder is with an IIT certificate, without which one might as well imagine a deadbeat existence. If we care to reimagine the world, we must look beyond the usual faces of success, the famous CEOs and Billionaires and Investment Bankers, and find new ones that have succeeded in life differently.
Jail University, Udaipur
The inmates here, at the Central Jail of Udaipur, try to explore activities which are close to their hearts, discovering a sense of freedom during their time in prison. This includes a variety of things, from permaculture to theatre to painting, through a wonderful program called Jail University. One of the faculty-inmates for the program, began his journey at the jail six years ago, when according to him he, along with his father and grandfather, was falsely accused of a crime and sent into prison. Following an intensely difficult phase and getting a lifelong sentence, on the verge of giving up, he found painting to be his companion and guide through the program. From intricate drawings for drawing books to painting murals on walls, he found his calling. Took him nine months to master his craft, and some amount of resilient faith to start passing it on to twenty other inmates, who plan to continue it professionally when they get out. This program aims at shifting the societal outlook of imprisonment, punishment and crime to a more inclusive process of lifelong learning and a journey of finding one’s true calling.
HIAL (Himalayan Institute of Alternatives, Ladakh) and SECMOL
The name of Sonam Wangchulk rings a familiar bell after the popularity of how the success rate of matriculation results in Ladakh’s villages took a sharp increase within a decade of introducing SECMOL (Students Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh). A program introduced after he worked together with the government and villagers into making the school curriculum more relatable and inclusive of local culture. For those still struggling to cope up, he introduced this alternate school, HIAL, which takes learning to its core, making it fun, hands-on and experimental. From agriculture to eco-friendly buildings to starting campus radio or newspapers, this place could be a live example of what a community of solution builders, rejected by the generic schooling systems could accomplish, given an inclusive space. For more specific examples, we could consider two of the learners who had earlier failed their matriculations repeatedly four to five times. One went to become a top journalist and later education minister, while another a renowned filmmaker with multiple awards. Thus, the examples of those rejected by conventional institutions blooming at the chance of necessary and adequate spaces are endless.
JP Nagar Nook, Bangalore
Another such story which can’t go unmentioned would be that of Niah, and her ongoing journey of exploration and self-directed learning, from JP Nagar nook. For those unfamiliar with nooks, these are physical self-learning spaces within communities, where learners of all ages and genders can come together, explore and learn through projects of their choice. Niah, left her school after 12th and got married early, to a household where she wasn’t allowed to do much outside household work. She discovered the nook while coming to drop off her sons, only to find out she equally belonged to this space. A space without any teacher, a strict code of conduct or exam, one where you could simply be. Laptops and the internet opened a whole new world for her; she started learning English and the possibility of exposure immensely boosted her confidence. She is still figuring out how to use her newly acquired skills but is glad to have found a voice and not be constricted in the household anymore.
There are endless examples of such journeys, where young and creative minds, rejected by social structures of schooling and education, have flourished the moment they have found enough space to ‘grow’ and to ‘be’. From Albert Einstein to Thomas Edison to Leonardo Da Vinci, we could keep looking at known figures who made a positive shift in the course of humanity but were seriously rejected by their schools and teachers.
That brings us to a very basic question – Can a student or person ever be a ‘failure’? Or is it the school which fails when it labels its student as ‘failure’?
In fact, what kind of a society is evolved, if it’s idea of nurturing is based on exclusion? It is like choosing the plant which is already in full growth and bloom, and providing it with more food and water, taking credit for its growth. No wonder the gap between the richest and poorest, economically, and culturally, has only been ever increasing. No wonder linear ideas of growth and success are devouring all possibilities of diverse thought and solutions, with every bit of human essence left in them. We’ve already lost touch with most of our cultural roots and the mind-boggling diversity they held, their crafts and knowledge, mostly vilified by schooling systems.
Since we are at the verge of a major crisis which is ecological, economical, educational, societal and political, it is a good time to think about taking a small pause; rethink our ideas of success, growth and happiness and ask ourselves, ‘if everything around us appears to be ‘garbage’ or ‘failures’, who or what has really ‘failed’ ?
Then, we can hold up these existing stories, which took the courage of going beyond the norms, giving curiosity, imagination and the human ‘being’ a chance; and use them to inspire enough such stories and spaces, that they fill up this existing void of neglect and rampant rejection.
For what use is a school of, if it doesn’t know how to include and create enough space, for each to grow?
About the author
Archisman is an explorer and storyteller with special interest in the impact of visual design and architecture in everyday life. He likes painting walls, listening to teatime stories and working with organisations or communities aiming for a more conscious, symbiotic future.
“There can be no contentment for any of us when there are children, millions of children, who do not receive an education that provides them with dignity and honor and allows them to live their lives to the full.”
– Nelson Mandela
As a society, we all consider education as a tool of empowerment, growth and development for the communities and nation as a whole. School, colleges and universities as an agent of education are seen as the ‘great equalizer’ of income, wealth and historical inequalities or injustice between different communities, poor and rich, men and women. Education has become the ultimate solution to all of the problems in our societies. Through the right based approach, education has become the priority of many governments, civil societies and NGOs. The present education system promises so many things; reducing poverty, gender equality, social or inter-generational mobilities, skilled workers etc. It also promises to solve various problems like unequal access to different institutions, climate change, etc.
School Education is not Important! Know Why
For centuries School Education has been granted the status of utmost good, the most benevolent task for humanity – to educate its children to continue the world. It is undeniable that children do grow to become the future of society, of humanity and of the planet. However, what are the parameters that we are setting for ourselves and for this education? What lens are we willing to use to measure the worthiness of the placement of the modern education system at the pinnacle of human good?
Seven Sins of Modern Education
The word ‘education’ rings different bells for different age groups of people. And if one cares to ask those who are getting educated , one thing that would be clear is – it’s definitely not an enjoyable process. Maybe that’s one of the factors that have contributed to a generation of frustration and compulsiveness, feeding on mass produced opinions and judgement, losing everything that is human. What was to be an exploration leading to evolution, growth and mindful symbiosis has merely become a painful training process to yield lifeless consumers who can be put under formulae, assessed and controlled, thus becoming forever dependent on an external entity.
So as an organisation working towards building conscious spaces for self sustainable community learning, where learning is fun and empathy is more than a moral science topic, we consider it an immediate responsibility to uncover the face of existing education system and call out the sins it has committed on the human essence, one by one.
How Schools Lead to Death of Innovation
If you design a system with certain features to do certain things, don’t be surprised if it does it.
Large-scale public education did not exist before the 19th century, and it only came into existence with the purpose of supplying human labor for the industries that were coming up. Hence it is based on the principles of industrialism and conformity. So, are the rosters, ringing of the bells and uniforms, glaringly similar to a factory setup. Over the years with the exploding population and growing demand, the education system started inflating, so the governments all around strangled the same systems with standardized testing, which increased the competition and added a layer of horse blinders on both the teachers and the students, just to churn out the best results out of a misleading system.
Today we demand creativity and innovation in every aspect of our modern world, and these expectations have been backtracked and reached the schooling system. Today schools are expected to nurture creativity among children and lectures on innovation are given in every business management school. Well, in defense of schools these expectations are just unfair. Schools aren’t designed to nurture creativity, it was designed with the exact opposite values of compulsion, competition, monoculturization, and decontextualization of humans from their own environment.
Creativity in simple words can be defined as having new ideas of value. And when one acts upon these ideas to create something, we call it innovation. Creativity and innovation, like any other skill comes with practice, it’s a habit that one builds over the years to look at things differently, to think more often of different possibilities, by gaining knowledge from interdisciplinary fields, and by trying to build these different ideas into reality.
Schools not only do not nurture these skill sets, but restrict every strand of these muscles to grow within individuals by not giving them the space to think differently. Every student is supposed to study the exact same syllabus whether they like it or not, with the parents and teachers holding a hierarchy of subjects, where mathematics & sciences are on top, followed by languages & social studies and at the end comes humanities. On top of that, Individuals in schools are not allowed to make mistakes, as the one making mistakes is punished, shamed or asked to buckle up and perform in the manner that is expected by the education system.
In my personal experience of being and working with children, I have seen that children are already creative by themselves, they are not afraid to try out new things, they carry their own worldviews, and are wanting to create things that they would like to see for themselves. As Picasso once said – “Every child is an artist, the problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” Schools play a fair share in causing this problem by restricting every individual from carving out a life for themselves as they might want to and by adding the weight of shame and fear which people carry all their lives. Well, sometimes the solution to the problem is not causing it and trying something different.
About the author
Muzamil approaches life with zest and with an innate need to explore different ideas. His beloved subject is himself and the people around him. Driven by freedom of choice he is working with Project DEFY, as a creator of self-designed learning spaces in different communities locally & internationally.
2019: End of year Note
2019 has come to an end, and it has been an enriching experience for the DEFY team. We hope 2019 brought you joy, learning and strength, just as it did for us. We started 2019 with some hefty goals that we set out for ourselves. Many of those we have been able to achieve, and some that were just slightly beyond our grasp. This year has taught us many things, chief among which have been reliance – trusting each other to do our best, resilience – driving gracefully through all the brick-walls that obstruct our dreams and rebooting – standing up every time we fall down.
The DEFY team expanded rapidly this year, almost like a dream that I personally almost prevented myself from seeing. A growing team had teething challenges, with new dependencies, big learning curves and finding individual identities within the collective one. I feel very proud of how we have been able to help each other find our own individual meaning for working at DEFY. A growing team also meant that we had to choose whether to go by the book or write our own ways of working together. We chose mostly the latter, decided to create our own work culture which, according to the popular opinion in the Team, feels different from all other places they have been a part of. We are proud not only of the work we do, but how we do it.
We also created this year the concept of Nook Hubs. Many of you may have seen updates from our pilot Nook Hub in Rwanda, that we created together with Dream Village. Nook Hubs are our way to decentralise DEFY itself. Each Nook Hub would become capable of running its own show in the geographical region, customised by the needs, interests and challenges locally. The Nooks in Rwanda will be created by people from Rwanda, and with the same hope we are creating new Nook Hubs in some more new geographies. You will hear about them soon.
Of course, it wasn’t all peaches in 2019. We designed a fantastic fellowship program – DARE (Design a Revolutionary Education). However, we underestimated the work it would take to gather resources for it. For those who are unaware of DARE, it is a fellowship for those who are frustrated with their own experiences with education and wish to challenge it by creating new ideas and alternatives. With a growing and learning team, improving processes and existing projects, we simply did not have the bandwidth to make DARE a reality in 2019. We hope however, it will happen in 2020. As aspirational as we are, we also hope to start another new program from DEFY in 2020 – r.a.g.e or Research on Alternative Global Education is an attempt at creating a community based research method and space, where some of the most complicated questions around education will be worked upon.
So much more is happening at DEFY that it is almost impossible to cover in one newsletter. We hope to begin Open Houses for community discussions at our Office in Bangalore. We do this already internally, but we hope to open it up for everyone and convert our Office into a Learning Environment.
Before I end my piece, I have the most important job to do, and that is to thank all of you. DEFY’s journey has not been easy. It has been full of disappointments, failures and mistakes, as one can expect from a founder who had no experience or plans to create an organisation. But we could survive and thrive because of our many advisors, well-wishers and critics. Your suggestions, support and questions have made the difference. We hope we can continue to count on your support and love in the coming years, as make new strides and new mistakes.
We wish you a happy season of rest, rejoice and love.
Unmasking the Myth of Schooling: Part Three
Unmasking the Myth of Schooling: Part Three
What are the consequences of a model of education which, as we have discovered in the first two parts of the blog, ignores most other ways of knowing-thinking-feeling-being? The penultimate part of ‘Unmasking the Myth of Schooling’ looks into how minorities are being further marginalised and students are being actively de-skilled.
A central element of modern education is that is relegates all experiences, knowledges and ways of life outside the world of mass-consumerism and capitalism to a place of non-existence. This is particularly visible when we look at the depiction of Adivasis and their lifeworlds: “the representation of Adivasi in stereotypical negative terms as ‘backward’ people, outside the pale of progress, has meant that elementary education has only reinforced stereotypes and further marked the Adivasi in discriminatory terms (Veerbhadranaika et al. 2012, quoted in Ramachandran, 2018, p102). As Ramachandran further notes, “another site of alienation is the content of our textbooks, which give primary importance to urban-centred subjects and do not weave in the histories and cultures of the tribal people of India” (ibid.).
This stereotyping and marginalisation of Adivasis and their lifeworlds in the curriculum and in textbooks then continues in the schools themselves in both physical and psychological forms, where minorities, particularly Adivasis but also Dalits and others are continuously discriminated against by teachers and their upper-caste classmates, thus reinforcing rather than challenging and equalising the unequal societal structures. This results in what Sherpa and Rai (2016, p168) term as an in-built “Academic Brahmanism,” “the indication of a broader systemic discrimination faced by students coming from particular social background in their day-to-day academic life.”
Another aspect of the marginalisation of lifeworlds outside the consumerist ideology is that ironically, while children are supposed to learn how to become a ‘productive part’ of the world market, they are strongly discouraged and prevented from finding out about what’s going on in their own backyard, leading to an ever bigger disconnect with nature and a careless attitude on the exploitation of local, natural resources. As Manshi Asher (2018) puts it, “we talk highly of how the young today are so ‘aware’ about the environment because they learnt a chapter or even a class on ‘Environment education’ in school. We forget that when the real connections with nature, their own community, stand broken, what will the youth fight for?” What we can see today undoubtedly is that parallel to an ever-increasing access to education, we face ever-more, and not less, issues of environmental degradation. In this sense, turning away from modern education also is “about accepting [that] the ‘educated class’ have been the key promoters of the ‘extractivist’ and ‘utilitarian’ way of life which have harmed nature the most” (Asher, 2018).
Accompanying this alienation from nature is the marginalization of any kind of manual labour in most school curricula as well as the later focus on learning specific, highly specialized tasks rather than whole processes. Instead of seeing and understanding entire processes, and the causes and effects of and between these, children today merely see final products devoid of any inner value and meaning. As Jain (nd) thus argues,
students around the world are actively being de-skilled (particularly those from artisan, healing and farming backgrounds) and are being taught to despise and devalue physical labor – since labor is considered as non-intellectual work. (…) For the first 23 years of their lives, students are not encouraged to be meaningfully involved in productive activities related to their basic needs or their community’s needs which would encourage them to understand deep inter-connections or a sense of right relationship/limits vis a vis their natural resources (Jain, nd).
Schooling is also eroding any deep connections and ties that exist among and between human beings that might be utilised to overcome the hierarchy, injustice and inequality of the existing system in favour of other, new visions of a meaningful life based on cooperation, togetherness, mutual aid and solidarity. By keeping children in their most formative years locked in separate and enclosed concrete buildings and rooms for a good part of the day, five to six days a week (not included in this is preparation/ learning time, going for tuition classes, doing extra work/assignments, detention, homework, etc.), grouped together only with children of their same age, and most often of a similar socio-economic background, against which they need to compete for grades and other rewards by learning about people and things with usually no connection and relevance to their lives whatsoever, “school disconnects, as it was charged to do. (…) Children are divided from their families, their traditions, their communities, their religions, their natural allies – other children – their interests and on ad infinitum. They are (…) disconnected from the experiences of risk-taking and adventure in which the grand discoveries of history have been fashioned; young men and women emerge from school unable to do much of anything (…)” (Gatto, 2012, p149).
Paradoxically, then, the ‘skills’ increasingly taught in schools are not conceptualised as the means or basics required to independently create, build, enhance and expand one’s livelihood options, but they are seen as (and dictated by) current and always changing market demands that ‘help’ an individual to integrate him- or herself in the highly specialised, exploitative and uneven division of labour. Put differently, they contribute to a further de-skilling of people by making them even more dependent on the market and the acquiring of a range of narrow technical skills which might become obsolete again in no time.
This chasm is also reflected in the sea change from India’s formerly thriving, indigenous and informal education systems (for example the Gurukul education system) in the form of traditional apprenticeships which “often overlaps with socialisation processes” (Singh, 2013, p97) that help the apprentices to become skilled, independent human beings, to the introduction of formal, vocational training by the British colonisers. This new training and education “ceased to be a preparation for life; instead it came to be seen as a means to achieve the necessary qualification to earn a living in white-collar government jobs” (ibid.).
Written by Dr. Christoph Neusiedl
Unmasking the Myth of Schooling: Part Two
Unmasking the Myth of Schooling: Part Two
How did the broad idea of education get reduced to a tool – as argued in the first part of this blog series – to ‘produce’ consumer-citizens that keep the market economy going, and what exactly does this look like? The second part of the blog illustrates this by looking in more detail into the now widely promoted and pushed ‘human capital’ approach to education.
The World Bank provides one of the most evident, but by far not the only, examples of the global agenda of Development actors to establish Education programmes as serving almost exclusively the (consumption) needs of the global market. Accordingly, the World Bank’s Education Strategy 2020, adopted in 2011 as one of the most recent and influential education policy-shaping tools, reflects the Bank’s “obsessive attachment to human capital theory” (Fine and Rose, 2003, p156), which “stresses education as a cause of economic growth and increased income” (Spring, 2018, p305):
Investments in quality education lead to more rapid and sustainable economic growth and development. Educated individuals are more employable, able to earn higher wages, cope better with economic shocks, and produce healthier children. (…) Learning for All means ensuring that all children and youth – not just the most privileged or the smartest – not only can go to school but also acquire the knowledge and skills they need to lead healthy, productive lives and secure meaningful employment” (World Bank, 2011, foreword).
This obsession with human capital finds its continuation in the current World Bank’s ‘Human Capital Project’ (HCP), which ultimately “should deliver progress toward a world in which all children (…) are able to enter the job market as healthy, skilled, and productive adults” (World Bank, 2018). Dr. Nandini Chatterjee of Delhi-based UNESCO MGIEP further describes the World Bank’s human capital approach as follows: “You acquire skills so that you can enhance the abilities of the human being in improving or contributing to financial capital. So technology, technical skills, which will allow you to make more money, catering to whatever the different requirements of the world are, is what has been the focus” (2017, own interview; emphasis added).
This shows that the human capital approach to education has a very particular idea of what makes a meaningful life, rooted firmly within the consumerist model of market society: “Human capital education promises students higher incomes that can be used to purchase more and more products” (Spring, 2018, p305). Schooling aims to transform independent, capable human beings into incapable, (market-)dependent consumers who keep the consumerist market economy going while, at the same time, reinforcing a consumerist way of life that is destroying nature and life on earth.
Put succinctly, a meaningful life is reduced to and equated with being able to perpetually consume goods and products. Today, people are more and more deprived of their skills to produce things on their own on one side, while on the other side they are more and more pressured and exploited in the workplace, assigned to complete meaningless, repetitive and often useless tasks. This is what anthropologist David Graeber calls ‘bullshit jobs’:
Bullshit jobs are ones where the person doing them secretly believes that if the job (or even sometimes the entire industry) were to disappear, it would make no difference — or perhaps, as in the case of say telemarketers, lobbyists, or many corporate law firms, the world would be a better place. And that’s not all: think of all the people doing real work in support of bullshit jobs, cleaning their office buildings, doing security or pest control for them, looking after the psychological and social damage done to human beings by people all working too hard on nothing. I’m sure we could easily eliminate half the work we’re doing and that would have major positive effects on everything from art and culture to climate change (Graeber, 2018).
In a world full of bullshit jobs, it is therefore the task of the media-education-advertising complex to establish consumerism as a way of life which “captures the fantasy world of people with brand names and fashions that promise personal transformation, the vicarious thrill of imagining the glamorous lives of media celebrities, and the promise of escape from hard work through packaged travel and cruises to an envisioned paradise” (Spring, 2018, p306).
Ultimately, at the centre of schooling stands the belief that there is only one, the modern, individualist, consumerist, capitalist, way of life that is worthwhile and meaningful – just have a look at any school textbook, no matter in which country you are, and see which jobs and ways of life they feature and portray as desirable. This belief is of course what keeps the neoliberal-capitalist economy and, overall, the hierarchical order of ‘democratic’ market society, running. Accordingly, “we live in a culture that is based on the illusion – and schooling is central to the creation and perpetuation of this illusion – that happiness lies outside of us, and specifically in the hands of those who have power [i.e., money]” (Jensen, 2004, p6).
In turn, all other ways of life that diverge from the consumerist ideology are portrayed as an aberration, a deficiency that needs to be corrected and obliterated. This is why in today’s common-sense logic of schooling, farmers, peasants, indigenous people, forest dwellers, and anyone and everyone else pursuing other ways of life outside market society, usually the ones which are closer connected to nature and based on living in harmony with rather than exploiting nature, are seen as ‘uneducated’ and in need of education to finally be able to live their lives in meaningful ways as consumer-citizens.
In the third part of the blog series, we will look more closely into how modern education marginalises these alternative ways of life and what the consequences of this are.
Written by Dr. Christoph Neusiedl