Isn’t this time of ecological crises a time for active engagement and opportunity for deep involvement, particularly in the field of education, asks Rema Kumar
Yugaantar, a period of transition -a tough phase of movement, shifting and realigning. Many thinkers and philosophers describe the age we are living in as a Yugaantar. What does this mean for us as a species? Don't we need to take stock and review? Or should we just carry on with 'a business as usual' attitude? The industrial era has outlived itself. The signs are there for all to see- in the total disregard for and utter degradation of our delicate biosphere, the inequalities and the injustice, the disconnect and the alienation. The imperative thus is to move towards an ecological era.
So what does it take to lay the foundations for an ecological era? One key area to focus on is education. How should education respond to the needs of an ecological era? What ought to be the purpose of education in such a scenario?
- To question the story of separation from earth, the story of the dominance of our species and rewrite a new story of relatedness.
- To accept that the so called march of progress and development is an illusion and the benefits from it has come at a huge price.
- To realize that we are 'of the earth' and establish a new relationship with the 'living, animate earth.'
- To engage with limitations of reductionist science and technological fixes and move towards a holistic spirit of enquiry which enables people to see the inter-linkages and clue in with the whole picture.
- Affirm that the purpose of education is not to just produce tailor-made work force but to enable people to live wisely and sustainably on earth.
How will this turn-around pan out? What are the processes involved?
“There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” - Rumi
There certainly are hundreds of ways to revere earth and accord her the respect due to her. We just have to collectively rediscover the will for the practice. To begin with what is required is a movement away from celebrating abstract knowledge based, marks oriented curriculum which fosters an ‘object’ relationship with earth and legitimizes competitive acquisitiveness. The curriculum and content will certainly have to have sharper earth centeredness, a subjective relationship and intimate connecting with earth. This would then mean a lot more of being outdoors in nature, hands-on work that is needed for ecological living and collaborative work in small communities.
We would also have to shake off the arrogance/superiority that is part and parcel of formal education system and have the willingness to learn from communities living in close proximity/ intimacy with nature, learn and adopt ways of treading gently on earth. It would also mean valuing their knowledge systems and finding a place in the curriculum for indigenous non text based learning. These people who have their eyes, ears and hands close to earth and whose knowledge systems are based on years of closely observing nature’s rhythms and cycles will need to be heard and listened to. This would enable children to be earth citizens and feel that they are a part of the fabric of life.
More localised, place based schools will need to be fostered that focus on the particular issues of the place-be it food, water, impacts of increasing numbers in human population on a bio region and how to live within the limits of that bio region. Systemic thinking to address particular problems/issues that are ‘live’ in the present context, and search for solutions needs to be a way of life in schools. Specific skill sets required in terms of growing food, conserving water or taking care of tree cover/biodiversity needs to be given prime importance. Thus food literacy, water literacy and forest literacy would be essential for the new age. Real life projects where students engage with ‘real issues’ of their bio region with its complexity and work hands-on with the spirit of holistic enquiry rather than short term, fixing the problem approach.
Earth centric processes
One significant way in which the modern education system has failed is the mistaken, simplistic notion that it instills that we are independent beings who only need to keep a sharp focus on our own endeavours. The fact that a community can be a rich source of learning, discovery and enrichment is missed by many. When confronted with complex, myriad problems, a sense of deep loneliness and helplessness can ensue. Being part of a community can provide a sense of reassurance and ease; and in searching together, truths emerge not only from within but in a dynamic living field of connectedness. The paths then become a natural consequence and walking on them become effortless.
The stories of diverse communities whether they are engaged in issues of safe food, food security, seed autonomy, water security, forest conservation, alternative education, bear testimony to this essential truth. And these could possibly be what is most required in this phase. Schools can be the seeding ground for fostering a sense of true community.
Communities can also nurture processes of collaboration which reinforce the fundamental principle of interdependence rather than competitiveness. Schools can also be spaces which actively celebrate and respect diversity rather than uniformity and enable children to have a sense of identity as members of a large earth community.
What a culture celebrates becomes a way of life in that culture. If consumption is what is celebrated, then role models would also be those who consume conspicuously. Practicing voluntary simplicity, holding in reverence all that we receive so abundantly from earth and celebrating stories of people who do the same needs to be the norm in schools. We need to help children build perspectives which will enabe them to question the given and widely accepted notions of a ‘Good Life’ and connect with ‘Real Heroes’. There is a dire need for exposure to very different and inspiring stories, and role models. This would enable them to see beneath the falsely important, falsely attractive and superficial so as to feel and taste the flavour of deeper and enduring values. There is also a need to go beyond narrow allegiance to your state/country and build perspectives on forging a deeper allegiance to earth.
Is all of this an utopian dream? Now more than ever is the time to ask the question: What is Education for in the context we are in now? The purpose of education as stated so beautifully by David Orr is to “draw out our affinity for life…which would then lead to a kind of awakening of potentials and possibilities that lie largely dormant and unused in the industrial-utilitarian mind.”
The Yugaantar process (the workshops, meetings, conferences and the resource hub) envisions addressing and answering this broad question, and in time enabling communities to awaken the affinity for life that lies dormant in each one of us. As an educator experiencing Yugaantar, was a mixed bag of emotions for me. The stories of hope, strength and resilience we came face to face with during the workshop/conference filled me with hope and determination. The possibility of sharing them with others to inspire, stir into action or to just look at the world in different ways and through different eyes is itself a journey to undertake. The plain truth that so many times fundamentals just get missed for short term gains appals and saddens me everytime. Misplaced priorities of successive governments and administrators and sheer arrogance, or does one call it ignorance, is shocking. The fact that we don’t seem to be learning from our mistakes or taking time for reflection stokes the fire of unrest within.
However this crisis is a time for active engagement and an opportunity for deep involvement, particularly so in the field of education. There is no time to lose, especially so for educators. I see infinite possibilities for re-imagining education, to focus on essentials to enable keener ecological sensibilities. I feel convinced that a brave, wise new generation would emerge, albeit with a lot of painful struggle, who would make decisions keeping in mind the needs/limits of the world we are embedded in. There would be people concerned about eco-system services with the deep understanding that one cannot mess with complex, invisible connections that exist, in the certainty that one can restore them!In time we will then have a citizenry with deep affection and reverence for life and who have the skill set needed to practice it. That certainly would be a strong foundation for an ecological era.
It may seem like an idealist’s dream; but to many co-travellers it seems be the only way forward, the only way out. The only way to ensure, that many different species including the human species continue to thrive on Earth.