The main elements of the western education system are: one, there must be institutional learning – within the school, within the college. Learning within the institution is legitimate – authentic. Learning outside is not authentic because I don’t know what you have learnt. So there is a stamp of authority on learning that is expected in the education system in the West.
Second: we must give you that kind of knowledge which is important for running industries. You shouldn’t know enough of Science. You should be able to operate the machines – you should be able to read the instructions about the machines. Because the beginning (of mass education) was in the industrial society and mechanization was taking place, it was supposed to serve the cause of the industrialists and the capitalists.
Third, there must be (strict) gradation. You are first in the elementary school. Then you go to the secondary school. Then you go to higher secondary, then college and things like that. The fourth element is that we must certify what you have learnt. It is not good enough for you to learn and go away. You may have learnt what may work – but that will not do. We will certify what you have learnt. And the certification will be in terms of grades, marks, divisions etc. so that the society – those who are going to employ you need not assess your employability – your capability. We take the responsibility – in the western education system – to certify for all those who need your services or would like to use you.
And finally, of course, this is the underlying philosophy – there should be no subversion. There should be people who should accept our society, our authority. They should become good citizens, which means follow whatever the state orders. They should become good members of society – which means they should restrict themselves to the status quo, should not raise questions and should not rebel.
Also – another very important element – mass education. Everybody has to be educated. And therefore there should be what I call – and others also call it – conveyor belt model of education. You go from one class to the other. Those who do not do well fall out. In an industry, when you are producing a bulb, or anything – anything which is defective falls out of the belt. Only good things go. So you are not bothered. You are not dealing with human beings – not trying to develop human beings. You are trying to develop commodities that will suit your production system. So it is a conveyor belt model that is going on. Therefore this whole hierarchy is there, where you have to pass or fail – you have to do well to be able to fit into that.
So these are the major elements of the western education system. And unfortunately, we have adopted them.
Now – What is progressive education? And why can’t the current education system be progressive? Progressive education is where you value the child herself or himself. The child is an individual. She has her own pace of learning – her own style of learning, her own mode of learning. Every child is different.
But what does the current system say? All children must be, at a particular age, in a particular class. They must learn the same thing, through the same textbook, with the same teacher. So while Psychology and all the related sciences of education –behavioral sciences – clearly say that every individual is unique and different, this western education system clearly does away with the whole differential and makes them homogeneous creatures to be treated in the same manner.
It is as bad as saying that there is a doctor who will have all the patients sitting together and says all right, I am treating all of you – I am giving you this (same) medicine. It is as ridiculous. Unfortunately, we are so engrossed in the system that this ridiculousness does not appear to us.
Secondly, when we value human beings, we not only value their learning pace, but we value them as holistic human beings – not only a learning human being; not only one whose mind is to be developed. Even in so-called ‘education’ aims, we talk about how we will develop a total personality. But does the western education system really develop the whole personality? What does it do to develop my social state? What does it do to develop my emotional life – my ability to love you and be loved; my ability to take care of people, my ability to empathize with all those who are in difficulty and be with them?
The western education system does not do anything at all. Since it is confined to the textbooks and classrooms, neither the social skills, nor the emotional control or emotional development takes place – nor values. In democracy, we keep on saying we want liberty, equality, fraternity, equality of the individual and things like that. Where does it come in the western education system? They all flaunt it. They want to put it as a cover. But inside, we only have learning of certain subjects and disciplines – not even the unity of knowledge.
The progressive movement believes that human beings can learn at their own pace. They are creative children; give them space for their creativity. Promote their questioning ability, promote their ability to think on their own, act on their own, and take risks if required. The progressive movement wants that the children should really be able to deal with the world at their own terms. Children are human beings dealing with the world on their own terms. But the current system wants that children should learn to deal with the world on their terms – not on the terms of the children.
So a progressive movement cannot, at any time, be consistent with the system. It is only a marginal, nominal space that it gets within this larger system. And we feel satisfied. Because I am a progressive educationist, I might be able to do this in some schools, and I will be very happy. I will say oh! I have done this great wonder. All my friends who are here – they have been doing great things in their small areas. But when you go to the system, the system remains the same system that is producing homogenized human beings or homogenized workers for the current economic system, rather than good, empathetic, loving, caring human beings.