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THE CULTURAL DIMENSION OF EDUCATION

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My Experiments with Education

D. Patnaik

As a village without food is of no use, a well without water is useless, offering of ghee to ash without fire is futile, similarly offering a gift to an uneducated brahmana is unproductive.

Experiments with Paintings and Plays

After my graduation in painting from the Indian Art School, Calcutta, I joined as an art teacher in a high school in Keonjhar Garh, the capital of Keonjhar, a feudal state in Orissa, in 1946. My becoming an artist was natural, but my becoming an art teacher in a high school was accidental. What has the art teacher to teach? A few drawings of fruits and foliage on the blackboard, which the students copy in their drawing books. The teacher guides the students to draw and colour some flowers and foliage from nature, no correction work, no preparation of lessons; enough time, sufficient leisure.

Teaching of painting in school has limited scope. In a week each class is allotted only two periods, each period of 45 minutes’ duration. Besides copying they get the chance to draw from memory. By copying they learn to handle pencil, develop the sense of measurement through the eyes, not by using instruments, and develop a sense of proportion. Memory drawings help their memories to develop. When they are asked to draw from memory their brains start working. Their favourite and familiar objects appear before their mind’s eye. A hut, a tree, a road leading to the hut. The sun rising behind a mountain, etc., are familiar subjects. As they grow in age, subjects of action, like working people, people carrying wood, ladies carrying water jars, grazing animals, occupy their minds. When they grow still more they draw multiple figures like markets, dance, snake-charmers, street singers and beggars. For this they get no encouragement from their parents. A good essay from memory fetches more appreciation than a painting from memory. One fetches marks, the other does not, though both need exercise of mind.

I encouraged the students who took an interest in painting by collecting their work and selecting and exhibiting it in the reading room. I prepared albums with their best paintings and named the collection Rupa-Ranga. These albums got a place in the reading room along with newspapers and magazines. Thus they were encouraged to paint more.

I took charge of the school garden. I wanted that there should be flowers. In the drawing period students used to go to the garden to draw and paint flowers in their drawing books. Thereby they came to love flowers and the garden too.

Forty years ago there was no hue and cry about ecology. In Orissa students observe two festivals, Ganesh Chaturthi and Vasant Panchami. They decorate the entrance gate and the puja platform with flowers and foliage. Generally mango leaves are suitable for the decoration. Vasant Panchami comes in early spring, and that is the time when mango trees bear flowers. The students out of ignorance collect budding twigs in plenty. I forbade them to do that sort of foolish act. I told them how they destroyed the mangoes by spoiling the mango flowers. I taught them to decorate using paper and cloth, not leaves. At that time there were a few schools; now their number has increased manifold. If the students are not checked from destructive practices, how can we save the fruit-producing trees from devastation? Our teachers should educate our students in this light.

Along with drawing and painting there was provision for teaching crafts such as carpentry, sewing and book-binding. I added clay modelling. Students selected subjects according to their taste. The handicrafts period gave pleasure to the students after boring bookish study. They enjoyed it when they created something out of wood, clay, cloth or paper. They understood the dignity of labour. If they take any one of the crafts as a hobby in their life, they may relax after the fatigue of mental work.

Many students took pleasure in clay modelling. I taught them to make human heads and figures. I started making images of Lord Ganesh and Mother Sarasvati. They joined me, and some of them learnt to prepare idols independently. They could get both money and appreciation. A student in those days, now a doctor of medicine, told me how the craft training helps him even today to relax. Another student, now a horticulture officer, said how his taste for gardening developed from his schooldays. Another student, now a handicraft superviser, remembered his schooldays when he learnt image-making, and how that training helped him in his career.

I found no teacher discussing subjects pertaining to students’ development and character building. There was no discussion even of our great men, who had certain values and ideals. After school hours teachers exhaust their remaining energy in privately teaching those students who can afford to pay. They do not get time either to prepare lessons for the next day or to collect any new things for the students. I have never heard a teacher suggesting a good book to students from which they would learn things to build their character or enhance their knowledge.

A school makes a name by producing students who secure high marks in a Board Examination. Its fame depends on the number of students who pass the examinations. In this result-oriented formal teaching, where is the place for moral teaching? A student is recognised as good or bad from the marks he or she obtains, not from his or her character, which is not so transparent.

I do not know why the idea of building character in children keeps bothering me. I want students to be obedient to their parents and teachers. They should be kind to the poor, sympathetic to the needy; they should not adopt unfair means to pass examinations, should not cheat others, should not be selfish, should mind the development of their villagers, should love their motherland, and learn many other good things.

I started a weekly literary meet named Sahitya Sabha. Students who had an inclination for literature joined. I invited teachers to contribute articles, poems, stories, etc. That ran well. Some students got the encouragement to express their thoughts through literature. I was successful in publishing a biannual school magazine, Vikash. The selected articles, read in the Sahitya Sabha, got a place in it.

Then I started a dramatics club for students. There were certain occasions in school, like Sarasvati Puja, Ganesh Puja, prize distribution, where students gave entertainment programmes, like a few songs, recitals, one or two dances, some caricatures. I experimented with staging plays in place of a variety show.

In my one-act or two-act plays I wanted to demonstrate the teacher at his or her best. Stories of great men often inspire children’s imagination. So I presented a play about Gopabandhu Das, the most beloved leader of Orissa. To me no such man of high character had ever been born in Orissa. His service to the poor and his sacrifice for the country remain matchless.

My second play was ‘Master’. This was a teacher who wanted to do some reform work in a village, united like-minded young men of the village and advanced with his mission. People who were exploiting the villagers stood in his way. The teacher went on a hunger strike, and at last won the heart of the village people. I wanted to give the example of a sincere teacher who won not only the hearts of his pupils but of the people of the entire village.

Then came ‘Ankura’ (seedling), with much fun and frolic, to the stage. Children join the school with their own samskaras. Here they get the incentive from the teachers to grow their inner aptitudes. The teacher encourages the students to go on their own way and suggests that they be honest and sincere in their thinking and action. After passing from school and college, some become leaders, some artists, some scientists, some actors, some poets, some pleaders, some musclemen. In their own fields of work they do not forget their teachers’ words or guru-mantra for the betterment of the people and the country. Even the muscleman saves weak people from the clutches of the wicked whenever he gets a chance.

In ‘Achhuan’ (untouchable), a veteran Gandhian tries to change the minds of the people of his village towards untouchability. He faces many obstacles; still he persists and fights alone till his death.

In this way I wrote ten plays to educate the school students. The child is always active. In education we are not dealing with passive material which we can mould to our purpose as a modeller moulds clay. We deal with active, volitional, purposive entities, each of which must develop along his own particular line. We can but guide the child.

The more friendly the relationship between teacher and pupil, the greater the potential for suggestion. If we wish our pupils to accept suggestions from us and to imitate us we have to love them and cause them to love us.

Let me narrate my experience. In Keonjhar Garh, in the month of Kartik (Oct.-Nov.) every year, a public function is arranged. An open-air theatre (yatra) is performed at night. The drama takes place on a raised square platform. The audience sit around it. One side of it is occupied by orchestra artists. Those who sit on the orchestra side do not get a clear view of the actors. People from the town and rural areas assemble there to watch the theatre for four to five hours. The students of the local high school generally sit in a group. The day when this incident occurred, students getting no other side vacant, occupied the seats on the orchestra side. They demanded the shifting of the orchestra group to the other side. The management refused their demand. As a result, when the music started the students shouted in protest and made the music stop. After some time again the music started and again the students started shouting. That nuisance continued for half an hour. The audience got bored. Neither party wanted to submit. I was watching the state of affairs silently with the audience. At last, hesitantly, I stood up and shouting at the top of my voice said, "Boys, just behave, you are school students, don’t be selfish. If you want to sit in group, sit there. Alternatively you all can be accommodated if you sit singly or in small groups at convenient places." To my joy they chose the second, and many dignitaries in the crowd accommodated them without hesitation.

The child takes moral attitudes from its parents and teachers. In a public function I met the District Magistrate, who had come to preside. We were talking with each other when his child, a student of class X, came and occupied a seat next to him. There was still time for the commencement of the function. He called the child and instructed him in a very lovely manner. First he directed him to do pranam to me, as I happened to be his teacher; and secondly he told him to go and sit on the mat spread before the dais where other students were sitting. He told him that the seats arranged on the dais were for the teachers and other dignitaries. The child calmly left and joined the students on the mat. I appreciated this way of teaching proper behaviour to children.

Experiments with Children’s Literature

After working in Orissa for eleven years, I left the school and joined the Faculty of Fine Arts in Banaras Hindu University, in 1957. It was altogether a different atmosphere. There were no children, only grown-ups.

Here my writing took a different turn. I switched over to children’s literature. I am no educationist, I have little knowledge of child psychology, but I ventured to write literature for children. I had been successful in writing children’s drama, and now I started writing stories.

Whenever we call a man or woman we address him or her with an prefix or suffix to his or her name, like Ramu Chacha, Sita Bhabi, Bhaiya Gopal, Beta Kanheya, and so on. We do not address a blind man as ‘O Blind’ or any man with a dark complexion, ‘O Kale’. We teach children to call even a servant ‘Bhaiya’.

In my story ‘Their New House’ I have tried to give this sense. A girl and a boy, Tuan and Tuin, invited a dog to live with them and guard them from wild animals. They did not know where the dog lived. They met a squirrel and Tuan called her to know about the dog. He said:

With a band of white

and a band of black

on your back

Where do you run

O ugly creature?

stop and hark.

The squirrel did not care to stop and went on his way. Tuin said, "No, that is not the way to call somebody. Let me call and see". She called out:

O lady of the wood

How sweet and bright

You look with the gown

Black and white.

Please stop and see.

We want thee.

The squirrel stopped to hear them. Another day they went to invite the peacock to live with them and protect them from snakes. Tuan addressed him:

O, Peacock you hear,

What a slender neck you bear.

Snakes are there

Where we live.

Your help we want,

Come and give.

The peacock did not care to respond. Tuin then called:

O king of dancers,

How well you dance.

Snakes will flee

If you come once.

Have pity and try

otherwise we die.

The peacock became very glad with Tuin’s words and assured them that it would come.

Let us take the story Gotia Thila Pila, ‘There Was a Boy’. There was a child who always wanted to play, neveratt ended to his lessons, and became naughty and obstinate. One day he got the chance to meet the young of some animals in the jungle. He called them to play. They refused to play, saying that that was not the time for play. They said they were not playing then. What the boy thought to be play was not play. They said, ‘This is how we learn, learn to collect food, learn to defend ourselves from the attack of enemies, so we learn high jump, long jump, climbing, swimming, running. Don’t you learn?’ The boy came back disappointed. He felt hungry, found covered pots with marks over them: ‘eat’ written on one and ‘no’ on the other. He could not read, so did not touch them. One of the young animals asked him to read and to open the correct pot. The boy opened the wrong one and put himself to trouble. He came back, and from that day joined his friends and gave mind to lessons.

These are for children of the age group 5-8. For the age group 9-14 I tried to give some idea of vice and virtue, patriotism, self-sacrifice, etc.

In Satya Bara Sata Papa, ‘The Banyan Tree of the Age of Honesty and Seven Sinners’, there is a very big and old banyan tree in a village. Nobody knows its age. Some say it is of Satya Yuga, some say of Treta, some say of Dvapara and some say of Kali. Everybody tells a story to strengthen his hypothetical statement. When that tree is decaying and facing death, the villagers, being worried about the tree, start enquiring about the cause of the decay. They ask a philanthropist, a poet, a philosopher, a fakir, a sadhu, a wizard and an editor of a newspaper, and also approach the government. All say that a sinner has touched the tree and that that has made the tree die. Each one gives his own concept of sin and sinner. An ungrateful man, a greedy fellow, an exploiter of poor labourers, a corrupt public worker, a destroyer of communal harmony, a traitor to society and a man who extracts more milk from the cow, depriving the calf of its share are the sinners, they says. Each man named one sinner.

In my book Phula Gachhati Mara Mara ‘The Dying Flower Plant’ I want to show how corruption strides from top to the bottom. There was a king who ruled his state well. His subjects were happy and content. One day he felt something wrong with the people. They seemed unhappy and discontented. The king summoned his officers and ordered them to find out the cause of the change. Wise men, experts in social science, philosophers, thinkers, economists were invited to give their views. But nobody’s verdict could satisfy the king. The courtiers, out of disgust, brought before the king a man, who by his outward appearance looked mad but whose eyes were glittering. Sometimes he smiled and sometimes looked grave. He was uttering some words which were barely audible and ambiguous. But his look created nervousness in others’ minds. The king and his men could catch only a few words he uttered:

For the sake of your child

You left the cows wild

And the flower plant died.

Neither the king nor his wise men could make anything of those words. Then the king went to an old lady who had once saved him by giving him shelter. She heard everything from the king and said, "O king, that man refers to you. You perhaps did something in favour of your son or near and dear ones, breaking the law of the land. Your officers followed in your footsteps, the common men then followed them. You lost the moral courage to check them and the result is before you". The king asked how could she know this from a few broken words of the mad man. She said, "We have one old story to make us conscious of our duty. There was a housewife whose responsibility it was to supply food to the cowherd in time so he would look after the cows. One day her baby cried, and forgetting her duty she went to it. As a result, the cowherd did not watch the cows and the cows destroyed the plant". The king then corrected himself and his officials.

I wrote poems with the hope that they would change the minds of children and they would become kind to animals. I do not know how far my voice will reach. If it reaches them, will the children act on them? If my stories move their hearts, when they will get the power of speech will they try to eradicate the cruel and inhuman activities now prevailing in society?

The bane of our educational system is that it is elitist and class-biased. At the same time it is unrelated to ground reality. As moral/ethical instruction and precept has no place in the educational curiculum, it develops a parasitic culture. Being divorced from ground reality, it produces swarms of ill-educated degree-holders who are mindless and directionless.

Who will give direction to these directionless students? A good teacher is always ready to take the risk of guiding such students.

 

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