Emphasis on the “Process” of learning:
Education is a transformative process. Education happens, when there is some one to learn – the student – and some one to teach. There is a famous verse from Upanishad that is often sung both by the students and the teacher at the beginning of each class:
Sahanaa Vavathu Sahanau Bhunakthu; Saha Veeryam Karavavahai
Thejaswinow Adhitham Astu ; Ma Vidh Visha Vahai.
Aum Shanthi Shanthi Shanthihi.
May the Lord (the Omnipresent) protect us; let us rejoice by sharing what we consume, acquire greater abilities through education and may such learning lead to greater glory. But, let there not be deep seated divisions among us. Peace! Peace! Peace!
The question may be asked: Why do we have a reference to ‘avoidance of deep seated divisions” in the invocation?
Divisions arise as a result of inalienable allegiance to one point of view or another. Relentless focus on one point of view, with out accommodation of other ideas and thoughts lead to deep seated divisions. But, life is not always Black and White. It is mostly grey and often it becomes a matter of opinions and debates on the divisions or shades of grey! Enquiry on the shades of greay also requires a constant emphasis on the process of learning, enabled by proper tools that contribute to greater clarity and why the shades are that way? For one who is truly objective and scientific, the emphasis will be on the process of inquiry.
Through objective learning, the different points of view will be seen as an outcome of the depth and breadth of our understanding of the subject matter on hand and our methods of reasoning, measurement and analysis. While there could be differences in the data and its interpretation, for a truly scientific community (of students and teachers), there should be no differences on the tools used for analysis and the process of measurement or the anaysis methods!
Indeed, true education is not a precise transmission of data and its pre-ordained interpretation (or opinions). Instead true education always emphasizes on the tools and the process of inquiry. Hence it would appear that through the above invocation, both the students and the teacher are urged to focus on the “process” of learning and not get distracted by mere evidences and their interpretation and the divisions they invariably bring about.
Steps of learning:
Recently, I was listening to a talk on Vedantha(1). In this talk, the education process was described as analogous to crossing the river. Four steps were described for such river crossing. We use this analogy to explain the role of the teacher, student and the transformation through educaton, with some added explanation as noted below:
First step: Teacher points the student towards the direction of the river. The student has to become aware that there is a river to cross and he/she has an expressed interest in crossing the river (desired education). This initiation to the field of study reminds me of the Freshman Seminars in US Universities:
Freshman Honors Seminars program offers freshmen the opportunity to study in small, intellectually stimulating courses taught by distinguished faculty members from throughout the entire University. Seminars introduce freshmen to challenging standards of analysis and argumentation, oral as well as written. They accomplish this through intensive discussion, focused papers, and readings that emphasize critical interpretation.
Second Step: Next the teacher helps the student wet his feet by entering the river. In the beginning, the depth of water that the student reaches may be shallow and just enough to wet the toes, then progressively ankle deep, knee deep and up to the waist, etc. It is the duty of the teacher to be sure that the student is stable and can with stand the river currents. It is also the duty of the teacher to ensure that the student does not get too deep into the water, or into the turbulent swirl, with out adequate preparation to swim well.
Third Step: Now the teacher points to the depths and shallow waters in the river. At some point, because of the ability to deal with the various aspects of the river, the student may feel like the fish in the water – at home with the subject matter and can move about freely – offering beautiful explanations, annotation, summaries, new evidences, etc. on the subject matter.
Fourth Step: For the student, well versed in the subject – comfortable like the fish in the river – there will be a tendency to stay in the river too long or for ever. Such students may offer brilliant explanations on the subject matter, at times extremely nuanced and difficult for others to follow or benefit from! At this stage, the teacher is required to help the student to cross the river and continue his/her journey of life. In other words education is not an end in itself, but a transformed state, which requires putting the education for the better use of the society at large.
(1) SriRanga Mahathmyam – Audio CD by Velukkudi Krishnan