By Khalid Jamil Rawat
Traditional concept of education demands from the learners that they should learn by heart the ideas that are not a part of their experience and which they do not understand. Knowledge, according to the philosophy followed by traditional education, develops in three phases. First of all, a learner, who does not understand the meaning of an ideal, is expected to have faith in it. He has to believe that such an ideal truly exists. A learner is expected to have faith in an idea before he can understand or experience it. Thus, the first step involved in the development of knowledge in traditional education is to have a blind faith in what the teacher says.
The second stage is the rational understanding of that idea. This second stage does not appear in the lives of the majority of learners. It means that what one initially believed as truth became the object of understanding, of rational knowledge and is finally comprehended with the help of reason. However, for the majority of students, owing to the fact that they were trained to have a blind faith in what they are now supposed to understand, rational understanding scarcely occurs. Thus, the second stage, which involves a rational understanding of the faith, does not appear in the lives of many learners and they remain fixated at the stage of belief. This absence of understanding causes serious troubles in the society when a mere believer applies knowledge without understanding it.
The third stage of knowledge appears when the one who has seen the idea through the eye of reason becomes able to change the reality accordingly through action. Thus, the third stage is the stage of activity and application, of experiencing ones ideal, and of applying ones knowledge to produce an effect. And, since majority of the learners do not actually understand what they have learned, therefore, their application of knowledge brings undesirable results. This situation is considered as a failure of traditional education that it produces people who have faith but no understanding of their faith.
The reason for a comparative failure of traditional education lies in its method of teaching that is based on stern discipline. In fact, the disciplinary practices used at the traditional school stop the growth of reason in the students. The teachers at the traditional schools think that they cannot teach anything to their students without executing them. They give them punishments, physical punishments, to force them to learn what they are teaching them. Traditional school, in many of its instances does not allow the children to grow to their intellectual potential, in fact, it does not allow to grow them at all in this respect. In order to have traditional education at its best, its teachers should be trained for good pedagogical practices.
How it is possible to make a child remember things that it does not actually understand? In what way a child, who tends to forget things, who does not want to concentrate on a specific object for long, can be asked to listen to a teacher and remember by heart what he has said? The way this question has been answered in the traditional education is like this; compel them to learn and remember their lessons through coercion, through imposing stern discipline on them, through giving them physical punishments. Thus, it is through imposing discipline that a memory is built in the individual. And, it is hoped that through more discipline and coercion an individual can be compelled to see through his reason’s eye, through reflection, what he was initially asked to retain in his memory against his natural tendencies to forget. Thus the futility of this effort is self-evident.
It is through discipline that traditional education inculcates values in the learners and stops the possibilities of growth in their thinking. Scarcely a few people actually reach the level of understanding and the remaining stop at the stage of belief, for, they are stopped from showing any differences of thought through the disciplinary measures taken at the school. Students usually are not allowed to ask questions to inquire into the nature of belief itself. Traditional school opposes doubt and bases itself on a firm belief and does not allow open discussions.
Traditional education asks an individual to remove his or her attention from the particular things and to fix his or her gaze at the ideas that are not given in the immediate experience, environment and surroundings. Plato’s cave allegory furnishes a good example to understand the situation of those who are willing to obey their teachers and those who are not willing to obey and want to persist with their engagements in the routine life. Those who are not obedient are like the cave dwellers, who actually are not willing to break their shackles and bondage. In other words, one who does not try to see the ideal through denying his existence, through denying his engagements in the world, through denying his routine, is to be transformed into a person who is willing to see the truth through compulsion and punishments.
Thus, education becomes a battle of life and death. The ignorant, those who are not willing to obey the dictates of their teachers are to be educated and disciplined. Those who are involved in the activities of life, those who are following their impulses, those who do not understand the seriousness of the matter and do not want to turn away from what they are doing, are the ones who are wrong and following the evil direction. Thus, it is in their interest that their teachers are trying to silence them through discipline.
Traditional education maintains discipline, for, without a coercive discipline no one can sit still and focus on what the teacher is saying. With out being disciplined nobody can detach oneself from ones preoccupations in the world and can learn far-removed ideas. Traditional education, in order to compel students to learn, stops the activities of the learners, of the children whose both mental and physical growth depends upon the activities they perform.
Learning can take place through motivation. In fact, true learning takes place through motivation alone. People seldom learn any thing if they are compelled to learn it. Thus, externally imposed discipline, which is different from the self-imposed discipline that a person adopts to pursue a self-directed goal, is quite harmful for the growth of children.
A child’s natural growth is hampered when it is not allowed to perform activities. A child’s power to learn and know develops when a child is left free to do what it wants to. Thus, a school that tries to discipline a child through stopping a child from doing activities actually tries to stop the growth of a child.
Thus, discipline of this sort aims at a suppression of the actual person to imprint on him a desired prototype. For instance, students in a classroom are asked to sit quietly and listen to what their teacher is saying for hours, even if they want to move from their seats, even if they want to talk to their friends. They are denied the possibilities to relate themselves with their environment and are compelled to pay attention to the teacher’s talk. They are denied to exist as they are and are compelled to become what they are not.
The task of philosophy is to give value. Philosophy evaluates ideas and notions. Thus, the philosophic question that can be raised here is; what is the value of denying this-worldly affiliations, routine existence and normal experience, on a continuous basis for the sake of ideals? The answer is; it is worthless to deny ones existence for an ideal. However, to say that it is worthless to deny ones existence for the knowledge of ideas is not equivalent of saying that ideas are worthless and to know them is of no value. Rather, the method for the teaching of these ideas should be changed.
Ideas are important because we human beings know things as ideas. Our knowledge of the things is the knowledge of the ideas we have of these things. And, it is also true that the knowledge of ideas requires reflection. However, it is not true that one should negate ones normal existence in order to have knowledge. In fact, reflection is a natural attitude and it occurs naturally for human beings. Reflection has its foundations in the natural behavior, and it is not the aim of human existence to become reflective and to deny the world of senses and experience.
Discipline is not essential for teaching how to think and reflect. To think and reflect is a normal activity and it should be taught in a good manner and not in a manner that people may develop an aversion for thinking itself or may become idle passive thinkers who think for denial, transgression and violence. The second thing can happen to the people who become victims of the stern discipline, in whom activities are suppressed to a greater extent. Thus, in this way traditional school at times prepares militants; people who do not relate themselves with the existence and identify themselves with a fanatic ideal.
Although Dewey criticized the Western version of traditional schooling, yet his views are quite in place in the case of Madrasa as well. The meaning of discipline says Dewey, changes with the nature of aims to be pursued at the school. Dewey established a project school to practice his educational philosophy. In a project school, students were expected to be actively involved in their individual and teamwork, therefore, there was no need of their being silent and passive. They moved freely and were expected to discipline themselves according to the task they had to achieve.
Dewey considers a child as a concrete existing reality likely to elude any sort of generalizations. A child can not be considered as a generalized entity. A child cannot be treated En Masse. A child becomes an individual the moment it performs an activity. Thus, for Dewey, children can not be treated in a generalized manner. On the other hand, traditional school, says Dewey, commits the mistake of treating all children in a similar fashion- as mere listeners.
Thus, for Dewey, a child should not be considered as a passive listener. A child should be given the opportunity to perform things actively while living in a group or community. Dewey considers school as a community in which children learn how to work in a cooperative manner, to help each other, to share their resources and experiences with each other and to live with a communal feeling. Thus, the individual child performs meaningful task with its own interest while remaining a part of a healthy community. A child discovers things and knows about them in a habitual environment in a way that is quite natural to it.
Thus, education for Dewey, is a retreat from the traditional notion of education that imposes remote ideals on a child towards a conception that places child itself at the center of educational process. Dewey introduced his project school to achieve these goals. A project school provides the children with the opportunities of joining various occupations in a school organized in the likeness of a healthy community. In such a school grading and examinations are not permitted. Evaluation is based upon the quality of the work produced and members value a piece of work on the basis of the quality it displays.
In his, “My Pedagogical Creed”, Dewey condemns the efforts to regulate a society merely through legislating and formulating laws. He says that such efforts are futile and the only way to assure a balanced community is to provide good education to its members. Thus, Dewey does not approve external discipline and control. Instead of controlling a child’s behavior from without through a coercive discipline, he uses the model of sports in which discipline emerges from within and every body knows the importance of following the rules of the game.
John Dewey suggested problem-solving method for the teaching purpose. Problem solving method involves engaging a learner comprehensively in a task and then to give a break in that experience. The break is usually produced through making the learner face a certain problem in carrying out smoothly the activity he or she was involved in. After facing the problem that almost halts the activity, the learner tries to find out a solution for the problem and to have things as they were before the arrival of the problem. The learner imagines various possible solutions and then chooses the best from among them. And this completes the learning activity.
Thus the subject object relationship, the detached mood of reflection, occurs when a person finds himself in a problem. Thinking teaches him how to find out a way to solve the problem. The ability to reflect in a positive manner is important for human survival. However, this ability is not being taught in the traditional schools in a proper manner. Instead of teaching the art of thinking, the way to think artfully, traditional school, through its bad manner of teaching, denies this most important learning to its students. It teaches so badly that the students turn against thinking and feel that it is bad to think.
Traditional education, in its method, does not follow the spirit of religion either. The true spirit of Islam, says Dr. Iqbal, the famous poet philosopher of the Muslim world, lies in the empirical attitude that asks for the utilization of senses in order to know the world and the creation of the God. Islam actually asks a Muslim to use his senses to know what the reality is. A mere follower of the ideas is of no consequence. This suggests that Islamic teachings ask for a method of teaching that sharpens the senses and the ability to reflect on ones own experience of the world. Thus, an education that does not provide ample chance to expand the horizon of experience is perhaps not in accordance with the dictates of religion itself.
There are people who think that a change in the content of the curriculum can bring about the change. They think if the students are asked to learn Science, Mathematics, English, Social Studies and Computers they will automatically become enlightened. It is true that these subjects are necessary for an individual to learn, yet, nobody thinks that the inclusion of new subjects in the curriculum would become a thrice-multiplied trouble for the child. If not properly understood, the act of increasing the content that a child is expected to learn at the traditional school, cannot bring the desired results.It is not the content of the curriculum that is solely responsible for the plight of traditional schools. Rather, it is the method of teaching and disciplinary measures that are to be challenged. A traditional school, in order to produce healthy and empowered individuals, who can think and act freely, should change its teaching methods and consequently should abandon disciplinary measures that disallow the learner to participate actively in the construction of knowledge. It should not objectify the learner through giving physical punishments to them and all sort of thrashing should be stopped.
Let us consider the case of language learning at the traditional schools. A child is expected to learn five languages. A child is expected to learn its native dialect along with Urdu, English, Arabic and Persian. Is it humanistic to teach so many languages to a child? Especially when it is clearly known that the children cannot possibly learn any of these languages properly with the exception of its mother tongue? Why to engage a person in a futile activity? Is it not a coercion to increase the burden of learning on a child?
Thus, any effort to increase the burden of content to be learned should be well thought out, for, if it results in increasing the tensions and burdens on a child, then, it would not be of any great use. Modern subjects are important, but any further inclusion in the content should be made after a lot of thinking is done on the matter of course burden on the child. Traditional education is not an affair between governments alone, in fact, it is the question of the lives and existence of the millions of children who are being affected by the decisions.