By Prof. Rohana Ulluwishewa and Suryamithra Vishwa/DailyFT Harmony Page
The existing education system produces thousands of so-called ‘educated individuals’ every year. How useful are they? How have they changed Sri Lanka for the better? How much of creativity, wisdom, fulfilment and joy have they accrued from the current education system? How much of values such as respecting one another, doing the right thing even when no one is watching and love and kindness have they imbibed from the education system we have today? The answer in two words would be ‘very little’.
The current education system is designed to impart knowledge, skills and technologies that are necessary for students to find jobs, to earn money. It is an education for living. Is this enough?
Even animals have this kind of ‘education’. Animals too ‘educate’ their offspring to give them knowledge and skills that they require to find food and protect themselves from predators. Unlike animals, we, as humans, possess an innate capacity to grow/further evolve and to attain perfectness, to become full human beings. As we grow/further evolve, we become happier, wiser, more compassionate, loving and creative.
This is the purpose of our life as human beings.
Hence, we need an education system which help us to grow/evolve. This is education for life.
We need an education system which gives equal priority to both living and life. A bird requires both wings to fly. In the same way, we require both; education for living and education for life – to achieve the purpose of our life as humans.
On what basis was the current education system founded?
The current modern education system is one that was introduced at the time of British rule when ‘machine like’ thinkers were wanted to run the colonial administration, to fit an ‘industrialised’ age and for this purpose selected knowledge paradigms were introduced.
Existing in the same pattern to date, the current education system of Sri Lanka is aimed at producing individuals to primarily enable them to find ‘good’ employments.
Hence there is a mad scramble for certain jobs – certain positions and this means that the system produces more losers than winners as the number entering the university are very limited.
Overall, what is the proto-type of a youth who we have passing out of school or university? We would have them to be knowledgeable, intelligent, efficient, competitive, hardworking, smart and successful. They are equipped with knowledge, skills and technologies. And often these skills train them to serve within organised structures.
But beyond these structures what are the critical problems the country has faced today?
Let us list some of them:
Flagrant abuse of nature and the resultant human induced climate change and disasters such as floods, landslides and drought.
Man-made disasters such as ethno-religious and communal clashes.
High levels of chemical use in agriculture, causing disastrous health issues.
Increased scarcity of pure drinking water.
Corruption and greed.
The non-grasping of the true spiritual essence of religion or diversity.
Lawlessness or scant regard to the law.
A high level or poverty by one section of society while another miniscule section flaunt their riches.
Disregard for the protection of biodiversity or animal life.
Inhuman ragging in universities to the point that students die due to physical injuries or attempt suicide due to mental torture
Increased depression among schoolchildren and adults
Increased non communicable diseases such as cancer, obesity and diabetes
Let us ask ourselves. Who created these problems? Who are responsible for these problems? Have we thought how these problems will be solved? Is our education system structured to solve these problems?
A deep reflection on these problems reveal that those who created these problems and, are responsible for these problems, are not illiterate villagers. It is the so-called educated people that the existing education system has produced and are still producing who are responsible for bulk of these problems.
We can see that most of the problems we are faced with today are not due to our lack of knowledge, technology and skills, but due to the lack of humanness in those who possess and control knowledge, technology and skills.
Can the existing education system give us what we really need?
Do we have virtues such as kindness, understanding, sharing and caring among the educators, whether at school or university level? Or instead do we have the base qualities of envy, arrogance, selfishness, superiority and pride as the main qualities among educators?
What we all ultimately seek is happiness. Can the existing modern education system make us happy? Are we brimming with joy from grade 1 to 5 to be learning something useful and that we can create for betterment of society? Are we enthusiastic at grade 5 that in 5 years we would have questioned things better, been more creative and come up with even better solutions to solve our country’s problems? Do our young children yearn to go to school or university infused with the idea that the new knowledge they seek will be aimed at serving people and saving their lives, saving trees and protecting water resources, bringing equality for people with new ideas and innovations, bringing justice and understanding? The answer is ‘no’. There is no evidence to prove that our current education system can make people happy or produce happier people. What can be proven is the opposite.
Our general understanding is that so-called educated people, compared to the so-called ‘uneducated’ masses, are more likely to suffer from stress, anxiety, depression, and various other mental disorders.
While it is clear that the level of happiness does not increase with our level of education what is clear is that the current education system makes individuals more self-centred and disconnected from others and the natural world that sustain us. The result is a total disconnectedness resulting finally in chronic unhappiness.
What is the missing part?
Our existing education system may give knowledge and skills to individuals but it does not do enough to guarantee their genuine willingness to use the knowledge and skills for the well-being of the society. Also, because of the rote learning and memorising rampant within the school and university structure, the genuine ‘creation ethos’ is not inculcated, hence innovation and creativity are casualties of the education system along with introspection and humanity.
Therefore, most so-called educated people tend to use their knowledge and skills for their own benefits, rather than for the well-being of society and the natural environment. Their relationship with others/in society and the natural environment that abounds around us, is a kind of ‘get more and give less’, or an exploitative relationship. We can say that this is so because we have moved away from an authentic knowledge seeking method.
One such method that was in existence prior to colonisation – the Gurukula method that was in practice in Sri Lanka and much of South Asia – was based on respect and love between the student and the teacher – education was not a selfish monetary exercise but one that sought to contribute to the betterment of the individual so that arts and sciences that the individual learnt would be used for the good of society. To date there are traditional medicinal doctors who do not accept money for treating patients.
This was the overall attitude of the ancient education system that has seen the construction of complex water preservation methods, protection of trees, and an agricultural system which did not harm either animal or human and there were no ‘pests’, but where all creatures contributed to the food production cycle.
We can then say that the modern education system lacks universal love, connectedness to the oneness of the cosmos – where we are all; the entire eco system; connected – trees, plants, animals and humans. The inner motivator which motivates people to act for the well-being of others is grossly absent in the modern ego centric education system that we are continuing to use. To say that much of the world uses this system is no excuse – there are many countries which have moved away from the industrialisation era type of education system and come up with paradigms that suit the history, geography and priorities of that country and some examples are Finland and Japan.
Early education up to seven years old in Finland, is not formal schooling but in ‘forest schools’ and through outdoor play. Teachers are well-paid. There is less emphasis on formal tests and homework; education is regarded as a lifetime learning mission where the approach is love for knowledge and not for petty competition and career advancement.
Let us turn to Japan and give one example of how public behaviour could give a glimpse of what their education systems would be like. When a natural disaster struck Japan about nine years ago and there was an acute food shortage which had people queuing up at grocery stores to get provisions which were getting scarce by the minute, what was seen was that the Japanese were taking less and less of provisions that each family needed – because they were conscious of the thousands of other people who had the same need and they did not want the provisions to run out.
Early education up to seven years old in Finland, is not formal schooling but in ‘forest schools’ and through outdoor play. Teachers are well-paid. There is less emphasis on formal tests and homework; education is regarded as a lifetime learning mission where the approach is love for knowledge and not for petty competition and career advancement
As we grow spiritually, we experience an increased sense of connection to other human beings and nature, and become happier, wiser, more compassionate and altruistic, more creative and have a wider sense of perspective and live a more authentic life.
This kind of behaviour as described above according to modern science, is called the ‘inner motivator’. It is within us. It is a property of our inner reality or Spirit. Universal love, empathy and kindness is hardwired in our brain. But, it is ‘blocked’ by ‘soft-wired’ self-centeredness, attachments and aversions. It is up to the education system to promote what is naturally within us, to awake us to our true potential as humans and make us use knowledge for the greater well-being and joy of others.
We all have the potential capacity to re-wire our brain to reduce the power of ‘soft-wired’ self-centeredness and align ourselves with the Universal Spirit. Once it is done, universal love within us will gain power to guide our thoughts and actions, or in other words, to motivate us to use our knowledge and skills for the well-being of others.
This process of inner transformation is called spirituality. According to transpersonal psychologists, our ordinary state of consciousness that we call ‘normal’ is ‘limited’ and sub-optimal, and we are yet to realise the full potential that we have inherited as humans. Realising full human potential and becoming who we really are is called attaining ‘psycho-spiritual maturity or spirituality’. ‘This’ should be the goal of all education institutes; to help each human from toddler to adulthood to grow to full humane maturity where each person’s unique talent, skills and knowledge is harnessed and put for the betterment of the people and country!
All religions provide different pathways to attain this goal. There are many non-religious pathways as well. As we grow spiritually, we experience an increased sense of connection to other human beings and nature, and become happier, wiser, more compassionate and altruistic, more creative and have a wider sense of perspective and live a more authentic life.
Evidence suggests that spiritual growth is the ultimate purpose of our life as humans and we are biologically designed to achieve this goal. If we grow spiritually with our age, we are most likely to be happier and healthier. Otherwise, we are likely to suffer. This is how we are biologically designed. This part is missing in the existing education system.
(The featured image at the top shows Japanese schoolboys cleaning their school toilets)
(Rohana Ulluwishewa PhD is a Visiting Professor/Director (Education and External Relations), Center for Spirituality in Sustainable Business Management, Faculty of Management Studies and Commerce, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Sri Lanka. Suryamithra Vishwa is a Sri Lankan who strives to transcend beyond inherited birth identity. She is the founder of the thought movement Earth Life Water Knowledge Trails Lanka and has a keen interest in comparative spirituality and indigenous knowledge.)