I started my career as an investment banker. I loved every bit of it. And I was very good at it. It would have been hard for me to imagine that I would do anything else. However 15 years ago, I got into education. I spent the first few years learning and teaching. And then I spent the next few unlearning. And over these years I learnt an important lesson. Our education system is outdated and irrelevant. It’s broken and in some cases even taking us wayward. If that were not so, then the world would have been very different. The larger part of damage to our ecosystem and threat to our very being and essence is coming at the hands of the educated. Through our Life Coach and Mentoring Program we are trying to share some new things that need to be learnt and some old ones that need to be unlearnt. Through the crucible of my own cumulative experiences and failures, let me share the following insights:
Avoid being a parallel line
EE Cummings once said, “To be nobody but yourself in a world that is trying its best day and night to make you somebody else is the hardest battle anyone can fight”. Our social conditioning influences our schooling. This invariably points towards conformity. However, conformity was never nature’s intent. Your biometrics should be enough proof of that. You were always intended to be unique. You are one in seven billion. And you are unique. This is why you are so different even from your own sibling. And yet most schools try and label students and pack and ship them out in neat boxes. Imagine a simplistic school of chimps, zebras, fish and birds. How would you rate the ability of these animals to climb a tree? We were never meant to be similar. Parallel lines have great symmetry. And yet they never cross, remain equidistant and boringly predictable. The day you stop being a parallel line is the day your life will start unraveling.
It all comes down to mind conditioning
Schooling should be about liberating your mind and enhancing the quality of your thinking and hence your life. The larger part of our happiness or the lack of it is a function of our disposition and not our circumstances. However, schools focus entirely on dealing with our outer world, problems and circumstances. There is no attention or effort to point students to their internal world and mind conditioning. Over the years I have realised that the world can be divided into two broad categories of people. Those who live and deal with life through a 'because of' frame of mind. And then there are those who do the same through an 'in spite of' frame of mind. It is easy to guess who is happier in life. If we can simply elect to make our decisions and deal with life through the rubric 'in spite of', then we would be far happier than our current state.
No one can measure zest or heart
It is important to grade and evaluate people. However, no one has the right to label you or lower your self-esteem. Schools were meant to serve their audience not govern them. Grading and creating ranks from an early age detracts and reduces the essence of education for the majority. The simple fact is that no one can ever measure zest or heart. The thing schools ignore largely is potential. And ways to build resilience. It is our die-hard spirit that determines how we negotiate troubled waters. Decimating the confidence of a 10-year-old can have a long lasting impact on their drive and life script. To this limited extent I like the rubric of golf. You work on your own handicap and try to improve that. Even more importantly you can play with better players with lower handicaps and yet come out ahead if you play to your handicap and they don’t.
There is no absolute right or wrong way
Mathematics is a beautiful subject. It deals with certainty and not reality. If there is one big missing piece in our education it is this. That we fail to teach students that there are very few absolutes in life. Schooling should not be like an intellectual tread-stone. Schools would have you believe there is only one right answer. What we need to learn is multiple ways to look at and resolve a problem. And that might finally lead to a better solution. Most things need to be dealt with through the prism of perspective. Now, that is a function of experience, context and relevance. As an example, let me share a simple fact. As I get older I realise that sometimes doing the kinder thing is more important than doing the right thing. What schooling needs is more elements of emotional intelligence to be added in our education.
The purpose of your life is larger than your degree
The one thing that schools do little is pointing you towards the purpose of your life. The purpose of your life is greater than your degree or profession. In some sense schooling has to be holistic. It must allow students to gain perspective that the race is long and the path unknown. Sometimes we will be ahead and sometimes we will fall back. But the person who will emerge the victor is the one who can cope with the blind turns and enjoy the journey. Much of the malaise and stress in our daily life is because this simple fact escapes us. This perspective must start when we are young and be an integral part of our schooling.
It is essential that our schools attract the highest denominator from our society. The only way forward and towards progress is to build relevance, character and perspective. We need to build the edifice of our education on the liberal and yet resolute; on being futuristic and yet rooted; on not merely gaining knowledge but also accepting our ignorance and above all on a holistic charter that allows personal growth to build unique voices and enhance the quality of life.
Neeraj Batra is the co-founder and chairman of OnCourse Vantage and tweets at @batra_neeraj