What do we unlearn when we actually learn?

The author shares his views on "education" in the present day, voicing his thoughts on the changes that need to be brought about to ensure that learning "supports individual creativity, cultural diversity, economic justice, and a sustainable relationship with the environment".

Today, there is a huge debate going on between various educationalists about 'whether schools are the panacea of the educational inequity and our problems’ and I have to admit that until a few months ago I was convinced that it was. May be it is the way that schools are branded that makes us believe that education is the only path which can lead us to prosperity. Although the educationists question this, it is not that they don’t think that the education is important. Rather, they are questioning the current education system, taking into consideration the pedagogy right from ab-initio, and questioning whether it is serving its purpose and whether it is somehow making us unlearn more than we are able to learn’.

The education system dictates a linear path i.e. you go to school, you do hard work, you go to college and finally you get a good job and then..well, you just keep walking down this path. On the other hand, if you look at any successful person, you  realize that life was never linear for them. This begs the question..why do we teach our children for 20 yrs to act in a linear manner?

Education has been proclaimed as the ‘Ultimate way to prosperity’ but today there are millions who are graduates but remain unemployed. Somehow they seem to have lost one of the most important skills of human beings - the act of survival. For centuries, human beings have been known to make their own way and make it through the toughest of conditions. But today, most of the young graduates know only the one skill they have trained for.  Many have lost touch with their own culture and the work of their ancestors (like handloom, agriculture etc.) and getting an 'education' has raised their expectations while the reality has not kept up.

The linear path of education has become so steep that today around 17 million college graduates ( in USA) are working in sectors which do not require a college degree. Wouldn’t it have been more useful had they invested their time in learning more skills? And are we doing the right thing by making everything so linear and putting everyone through the same production lines? When did it become about ‘our society needing only one kind of professional’ and when did we start to assume that humans can be made in the same fashion as a production line, irrespective of their individuality?

Today, every society in the world is trying to change it's public education? But why? Two reasons pop up as the biggest issues:

1.Economics of providing education to everyone

2. Cultural Identity.

People have started realizing that while we are learning, we are also unlearning the old traditions, old cultures and old languages. It is often said that ‘There is no future without the History’, so we need to ensure that while we learn and grow, we don't lose our culture and our history,

Also, it feels like it’s not only the students who are unlearning. Today, when a child doesn’t learn we label him ADHD. When a student doesn’t sit without fidgeting in class we label him ADHD. Don’t you think there is some flaw in this conception?  Before this 'Attention deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Epidemic' children used to learn by playing, by interactions. By labeling them ADHD we are forcing them to conform, we are giving them medicine to behave a certain way.

So, today the need of the hour is to unlearn rather than learn. We have to take the time to reflect on how the meaning of education has changed and admit that we have done  something that needs to be changed. We could inculcate a Buddhist’s ‘Beginner’s Mind’ – an attitude of openness, questioning, and listening, without an attitude of expertise that entitles us to prescribe solutions for other people, and we can learn the nuances of education from other societies and understand how our own current system is failing to support creativity and diversity.  

How can we re-imagine learning in a way that supports individual creativity, cultural diversity, economic justice, and a sustainable relationship with the environment?

Some quotes that I would like to end with:

“It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom.”  – Albert Einstein

“Education...makes a straight-cut ditch of a free, meandering brook.” – Henry David Thoreau

“Real freedom will come only when we free ourselves of the domination of Western education, Western culture, and the Western way of living.” – Mahatma Gandhi


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2. Watch Ken Robinson talk on ‘Changing Educational Paradigms

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