Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What's Wrong with Western Education?: 2

I wrote a note on Western Education yesterday. The immediate context was this film - Schooling The World - which puts many of the issues to the fore. While I mentioned two distinct objections to Western Education, its association with decline of the traditional societies and ways of life and the recognition of the imposition of a power structure implicit in such education, the film's argument is essentially that it is not one or the other, and the destruction of the ways of life is indeed because of the imposition of the power structures.

In a way, I do what the film is against - try spreading Western education. However, I don't think if I stop taking Western university courses to India and elsewhere, and choose to take courses from the universities in India instead, anyone will be better off. Because the 'Western' is no longer just where the system of education comes from, but a way of thinking, deeply embedded in universities in India as well. The points made by Carol Black, the Director of the film, that such education results in

"– The separation of children from nature.
– The separation of children from family and community.
– The enforcement of a sedentary lifestyle.
– The fragmentation of knowledge into “subjects.”
– An emphasis on text-based rather than experience-based learning.
– An emphasis on competition and ranking, which inevitably leads to some children being labeled as “failures.”

All of them will hold true regardless of which university we may choose to take the courses from. 

Yet, these objections also reveal another issue about 'Western Education'. Experience-based Learning is now a well established norm in western education, yet it is not in Westernised Education. This is an important distinction, because the 'Western Education' as delivered in developing nations is usually different in context and content than it will be when it is delivered in the West. One reason for this difference is the power structure, the very fact that it is being imposed on an alien culture and by that very act, proclaiming a superiority on what's native. The other reason perhaps is that Westernised Education is practiced with a limited aim - to produce a power elite in these societies and lately to produce an army of Westernised consumers - rather than spreading the knowledge and enabling thinking.

The other broad question that may arise out of this debate is 'Western Education as opposed to what?' Once we accept the broad definition of Western Education as not the education coming from Western institutions but all education based on Western value systems and performed in the developing societies with a narrow aim of maintaining power structures and enabling consumers, we have incorporated all forms of mainstream education into this definition. Anything 'formal' which needs financial and intellectual sponsorship from the elite and regulatory approval, is western or westernised in that sense - there is absolutely no escape. 

While this is a rather depressing prospect, one may also note that 'Western' education, in this sense, does not reside within the structure but in the context of engagement with education. One can't lead a crusade on subjects-based view of the world (rather than wholesomeness of knowledge) or dislocation from nature and society without questioning the objective of education itself and exploring the values and motivations that lie underneath.  



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