The disruption of education in Covid times has caused serious concern, and there are well-justified calls for urgent corrective action. Along with this, however, there is compelling reason to give much more thought to where exactly business-as-usual education systems are taking us and to what extent, if at all, these are capable of contributing to the creation of a better, justice-based and compassionate world.
For the sake of clarity, and at the risk of some oversimplification, let us consider two very different situations and systems.
In the first situation there is a completely primitive society, with absolutely no literacy and formal education. However a tradition of valued oral communication , at inter-generational and same generation level exists, which emphasizes a value system based on the simple principle that no one should intentionally harm any other human being , or any other form of life. As a result all people learn to more or less follow this principle.
In the second situation in a rich city in a developed country the most expensive and advanced educational systems exist, supported by the latest and most sophisticated technology and the presence of the most scholarly teachers. However the values of the kind mentioned above are neglected and emphasis is mainly on more scholarship, the more specialized the better. Scholarship based on information , knowledge, innovation and invention is rewarded, while nothing is found wrong in using this knowledge only or mainly for advancement of career and completely selfish pursuits, even if these involve exploitation and plunder of others.
Now if one has to choose between these two, very emphatically and without any hesitation my choice will be for the first situation and its education system as being much better for creating a just and compassionate world, a world where there is less distress and more happiness.
The reason for giving this example is that today there are very serious questions regarding whether with all the stated improvements and technological aids in education, it is contributing to a better, more just and compassionate society. Many scholars pass with high attainments from the most prestigious educational institutions, only to compete for and then join the higher ranks of the most exploitative systems. In societies boasting fast, big advances in education, there is often an increase of discriminative attitudes and prejudices, even of hatred and violence towards those with other identities. In highly educated societies, decisions regarding the most cruel attacks on other, much weaker societies, are taken, resulting in the most painful death of several hundred thousand persons, with majority support, with the leadership role among attackers being performed by some of the most prized products of the most famous educational institutions, with no credible evidence of the attacked society posing any threat to the attacker society.
So such educational achievements have no meaning from the point of view of the creation of a just society or a better society. On the other hand if most students leaving a school have a clear and firm belief in the equality of all human beings, in not intentionally causing any harm to any human being or any form of life and in working with cooperation with each other rather than trying to dominate others, then their contribution to the creation of a better world is assured and the school which prepared them for this rightly deserves our thanks and congratulations. Instead what we see all too often is encouragement of unfair, fierce and tension-generating competition to get ahead of each other, to get focused on narrow career and self-enrichment goals without caring about the higher aim of creating a better, just and more compassionate society.
Clearly aims and orientation of education must change drastically if education is to contribute significantly to the creation of a better, justice and compassion-based society.
Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His latest books include Man over Machine and Planet in Peril.