Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Terry Pratchett on education

Over the weekend, I found myself re-reading parts of Hogfather, a novel by one of my favorite writers, Terry Pratchett. It is an excellent book, if you enjoy comic yet meaningful fantasy fiction. This post isn’t about Terry Pratchett, but about a striking, intelligent comment on education in the book.
Now working as a governess and teaching and looking after children, Susan, an important character in the book, recalls her childhood and upbringing and realizes:

It had been a good education, too. But it had only been later that she’d realized that it had been an education in, well, education. It meant that if ever anyone needed to calculate the volume of a cone, then they could confidently call on Susan Sto-Helit. Anyone at a loss to recall the campaigns of General Tacticus or the square root of 27.4 would not find her wanting. If you needed someone who could talk about household items and things to buy in the shops in five languages, then Susan was at the head of the queue. Education had been easy.

Learning things had been harder.
Susan’s education is of the affluent kind. But, as Terry Pratchett observes, even with plenty of resources, education can suffer from basic, nearly intangible mistakes.

In India, schools would be lucky to have problems at this level though. In the government schools that EFF is targeting, there is at present too much dependence on textbooks of average quality, too much focus on studying for the annual examinations, and there is practically no focus on the actual learning.

You could say that most school-level education in India is focused on just helping students survive the system of education itself, and not on learning things.

With its potential for effectively combining learning with exposure (to the world, to people, to means of communication, to just about everything), we hope that the Education For Free program will help a number of schools eventually rise to a level where they tackle higher level problems regarding the concept of education, its purpose, and the like.

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