Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Where the mind is without fear…



Rabindranath Tagore
I bet you must have thought about Rabindranath Tagore when you read the title of this post! If you did not, then you probably did not attend a school in India! I am indeed referring to the famous poem by Rabindranath Tagore from his most famous work 'Gitanjali' published in 1912. This is more a prayer than a poem to me and this has been playing in my mind for the past few days. With my limited memory power, I could only remember the first two lines and the last line (which is what most people remember). Hence, today, I decided to read through the entire poem to see if there is a new meaning in it; if there is a different perspective to the whole poem. The poem was no doubt a vision for the India that Tagore envisioned and it was quite apt during the pre-independence circumstances. Reading through the poem now, I see an even higher degree of relevance of the poem today. I tried looking at it from an education perspective in today’s new digital world and I am amazed at how relevant this poem is even today. Take a look!

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high

One of the most important success factors for life is to not have a fear of failure. If you look at any great achiever, every one of them has tried many things before becoming successful; every one of them has gone through failures before they tasted success. Trials and tribulations are part of life and only they can lead to success. As Edison said after inventing the light bulb – “I did not fail – I just learned 999 ways on how not to make a light bulb!”

However, the Indian education system instills exactly the opposite in every Indian student – a fear of failure. I am amazed at how the fear of failure is religiously taught to every child right since the kindergarten. As a child, most of us are born fearless; we do not mind trying out something new; we try and experiment with anything that ignites our curiosity; we do not know whether it is useful or harmful but we still try it. In short, as children, we are not afraid of failures.

The problem begins when we start schooling! The school and even the family system instills this fear of failure in every one of us; we are afraid of failure in our school exams; we are afraid of failures in entrance examinations; we are afraid of failures in assignments, projects, activities; the list is endless. More than fear of failure, we develop an even worse fear – the fear of being wrong. By admonishing any failure, the education system further alienates us from any creativity. Because you are afraid of failures, you progressively stop doing things differently; you stop trying new things; you inhibit your creativity! As a result, most of us end up as average employees all our life, afraid to take risks and afraid to go that extra mile that can differentiate us from mediocrity to excellence. I am sure many of you can relate to what I am writing about!

Now, the first statement of Tagore’s poem sounds so relevant! As long as our minds are with fear, our heads can never be held high. This is a clarion call to ensure that we do not let our kids go through the same. Encourage them to experiment; let them end in failures; do not punish them or ridicule them; do not force your ideas and thoughts on them; let them develop their own view of the world; let them try and be what THEY want and not what YOU want them to be! India will then definitely be a better place.

Where knowledge is free

Knowledge must be affordable; much better if it is free. Thanks to the internet technologies, the world is increasingly moving towards an open knowledge society. Google and Wikipedia must have educated more people than the combined number of people all the world’s Universities educate. Knowledge is no more measured by the number of books you have read but by the amount of gigabytes of data you have browsed on your computer. We are in the midst of an unprecedented digital revolution and this is just the beginning.

Thanks to advancing mobile technology and the reducing costs, I will not be surprised if 5 to 7 years down the line people learn primarily through mobiles, anytime anywhere. In fact, such a possibility already exists in several developed countries. Several such initiatives are already underway in India too. With so much information and knowledge available in the digital world, Tagore’s vision of knowledge being free is closer to reality than ever before.

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls

The internet and other media technologies have made nation’s borders irrelevant. We are living in a borderless world where exchange of information and knowledge is much easier and faster than ever before. Global research projects that transgress multiple national borders are the order of the day. Student and faculty exchanges across various Universities around the globe happen regularly. Thanks to advancing telecommunication and educational technology, a professor sitting in his house anywhere in the world can address students simultaneously across all 7 continents. Education has truly become global and soon learning too will become universal.

Where words come out from the depth of truth

Free and true knowledge must also lead to greater transparency. Today’s world is obsessed with transparency and demands it from every aspect of public service. In the absence of transparency, we have a Wikileaks to source and publish this information. If such free knowledge and transparency helps in improving processes and public services, then they must be welcomed. Truth, however bitter, must be welcomed and accepted.

The world is undoubtedly worried about the growing number of scandals that have happened due to unethical practices. In response, educational institutions, especially b-schools are taking a deeper look at their curriculum to incorporate better business ethics components. It is not just business schools, but the entire education system across the globe that must delve into its teaching curriculum and methodology to ensure that ethics is not just taught as a drab subject named “Moral Science” or “Business Ethics” but is actively practiced by the students. Only then can ‘words come out from the depth of truth’! 

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection

The word ‘perfection’ reminds me about the 1986 Ron Howard Movie - “Gung Ho”. It is a must-watch movie for business school students and people who work across cultures. The movie vividly portrays the challenges of cross-cultural communication through interactions between a Japanese management and an American work force. One of the highlights of Japanese culture is their willingness and ability to strive for perfection in whatever they produce. They will never give up until they have the perfect product and that is precisely why Japanese products are much superior world over.

It is ideally this level of perfection that Indian educational institutions must strive for. Educational institutions have a direct role to play in nation building. If Indian educational institutions strive tirelessly to shape each student to become a world class product, then excellence becomes a habit and not an exception.

For the younger generation, aiming for perfection must be a skill that must be taught at home and at school. The infamously Indian “chalta hai” attitude will not “chalega anymore”! Work with your kids to teach them perfection in whatever they do. This has to be imbibed right since early childhood if we intend to prepare India to lead the world. 

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit

I recently read a note on the management guru Tom Peters' blog about the inability of Asians to develop creativity in their kids whereas the Americans find it difficult to suppress their child's creativity. He also goes on to mention this as the reason why America has produced so many entrepreneurs and Nobel Prize winners compared to Asia. I am not sure if he includes India in his reference to Asians but I was surely shocked!  Keeping all subjectivity aside, I wondered if there is an iota of truth in his statement.

In India, learning by rote (also called learning by heart, mugging up, memorizing etc.) is a very common practice with schools and children. Even now my Mom ridicules me about my habit of memorizing solutions to Mathematics problems during my school days. Honestly, our school system encouraged rote learning and left very little for application and creativity. 

You disagree? Let me test you!

Answer the following question. You have 30 seconds. You are driving down the road. At a traffic signal, the red light blinks once in every 2 seconds; the yellow light blinks once in every 3 seconds and the green light blinks once in every 5 seconds. The question: In a minute, how many times will they blink together? If you have the answer, post it in the comments section first. Then, come back to read the rest of this post. If you don’t have the answer, continue reading. 

Now let me ask you another question. What is the Lowest Common Multiple (LCM) of 2, 3 and 5?

Between these two questions, I bet most of you answered the second question easily. Some of you may also have realized that the first question and the second question are similar except that the first one is application based whereas the second one is concept based. You may also treat this as a logical googly question: how can all three lights in a traffic signal glow together?

Unfortunately, many graduate students in India can neither solve it right nor figure out the googly in this question. Our schools have taught them the concepts well but have not trained them enough on applications. In other words, they have all learnt something that they neither know how to use nor where to use! This is possibly a reason why many students do not do well in research and business. Research and business, as you would agree, requires enormous amount of application of concepts and that ability is unfortunately missing in many of India’s graduate students.

Institutions must review their curriculum and explore possibilities of incorporating a great deal of application orientation. For the number of PhDs that India produces, we must be developing enormous research insights that can have a phenomenal impact on several sectors. The absence of such an impact only confirms the poor quality of PhD research that is currently underway in Indian Universities. Such a system does not augur well for the development of Indian academia.

Tagore’s statement is a warning bell for educational institutions. Such focus on rote learning without any application orientation across educational institutions will only bury the future generations in the dreary desert sand of dead habits. As parents, we must strive to keep our kids away from rote learning. Allow them to learn by doing and experimenting – you will be doing a great service to future generations.

Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Education must always strive to expand the horizons for every student both in thought and action. Only such an education can lead us to our next freedom – a freedom that will make the whole world a single classroom and every student a global citizen.

Tagore’s words are not just relevant in education. These words will have a strong relevance across all domains, be it business, politics, society or family. In fact, this poem is has eternal relevance. Such is the beauty of this masterpiece! I now see the true meaning of this poem and it will forever be etched in my memory.

What does the poem mean to you? Read it in silence and you will be able to see the relevance.

Where the mind is without fear and the head held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Now, do you relate to the poem? What do you see in it? Let me know!

8 comments:

  1. Awesome article Ganesh. And the problem that you gave was so true. Although I answered the second question and also did think about the googly in the first but yes I did not realise that the first is same as LCM that we study in our 3rd standard!!!!!

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  2. Brilliant post Ganny, we all operate out of fear and ego which starts at the initial development years during early childhood due to an environment of scarcity.The indian educational system and societal norms adds to this conditioning. With the evolution of human consciousness and the hope of world moving from an age of competition to an age of co-opetition, these barriers will get broken.

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  3. Good One Ganesh.. I also learnt about the first thing when i was preparing for CAT. Till then, i was also not sure, how to solve issues. I think the main issue with our education system is overburdening the students with studies and then expecting them to do things creatively.. which is not possible.
    Generally people ask us to do things in a very short span of time (even at work) and then we are expected to come out with somethg creative... the fact about amercian being more creative is so relevant.
    I hope the message written by you reaches to our leaders and they do take initiative to make our system more effective.

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  4. Great blog.
    On a slightly parallel note. I believe the education system is not completely wrong or bad. I think more effort needs to be put into how they cultivate innovation into children's minds. One reason I say that is because the fact that there has been more awards and recognitions elsewhere does not prove there is fundamentally anything wrong with the Indian education system or even Asian. There has always been comparatively lower investment into advanced research is one counter argument. China, Japan, Korea all have somewhat of the same perspective to education like India, but they tend to have higher industrial output and consistent growth in comparison to India -- but on the awards they may not be on par to the western countries you mentioned. And finally, teaching is not a choice for many. Teaching does not compare in terms of compensation to many other jobs. If we can't motivate today's best of minds to teach the young, there is no way we can expect the future minds to be better than today.

    I totally agree with the "give your 100% philosophy". I think we should go a step ahead and say give the best 100% you can, not just any 100%. So we don't end up becoming another China.

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  5. WELL YESTERDAY I WAS GOING THRU THIS POEM WHICH IS TOTAL BULLSHIT writer ji apko kuch kehna hai/.[];].];/];l/];l.;/./\.\;/\; U MOTHERFUCKER U HAV WRITTEN SHIT SALA TU AGAR ABHI JINDA HOTA TO TERA MAA BEHEN KAR DIYE HOTE BEHENCHOD LUND KA BAAL MADARCHOD TERI MAA KI CHOOT BHOSDIKE KABULIWALA KE JHAAT CHAAT JA KE LUND KE BAAL likhna bara aasan hota hai par ratna mushkill CHOOT

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  6. I like the poem you have shared in the end of your entry! It was a real excitement to get familiarized with your works! Thanks so much for doing so!

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