As long as we look for reasons not to learn, education will elude us.
Recently my daughter asked me, “How come we never thought about bunking classes at our school?” She observed that it would have been really easy to skip out on some of the extra-curricular sessions, particularly music or craft, which were handled by part-time teachers. The structure and layout of the building also would have made it relatively easier for truant students to go undetected.
This made me stop and wonder why it was that so many students in college routinely look for reasons not to attend class.
“Well,” said her father, “Maybe that’s because you enjoyed the classes, or that you had a good bunch of friends you were happy to be spending time with — in class or outside.”
Hmm, I thought. So did that mean that in college, students did not enjoy their classes? Or that the nature of the peer influence is different? (I admit both are true to a large extent.) But it was also something more than that. It was that the school had fostered a culture of respect for learning spaces of different kinds, a culture where even if a child was bored or uninterested, she/he was never disdainful. All this was done without the usual preachy righteousness that often accompanies the imposition of “discipline” in schools.
Shanta Rameshwar Rao
One person who was had nurtured such a culture was educationist Shanta Rameshwar Rao, who passed away last month. This column has not usually been about people, and even less about institutions. But Mrs. Rameshwar Rao’s influence on the children who spent their childhood in her school has been significant in ways that have transcended those years. Unpacking the nature of this influence tells us something about how attitudes to learning can be built.