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An Important Truth About Education You’ve Forgotten (that 5 year olds know)

Nikita, a five year old, asked her mother, “Why do people go to school?” Her mother replied, “So they can learn new things”. Then she asked, “Why do people learn?” Her mother said, “So they can get a good job”.

A lot of us, like young Nikki here have been preparing for a job since before we could even ride a bicycle and more often than not, we do this sitting on our bums trying to comprehend fine print in textbooks.

A small child does not want to sit in the same place for long, so first, parents offer bribes: “Beta, padhai karoge toh chocolate milegi”

Bribes become threats as you grow older:
“Marks itne kam kyun aaye hai? Nalayak ho gaya hai, bas bahar khelta rehta hai. Agli baar B+ laayega toh haath pair thod dugi! Phir dekhte hai kaise khelne jaayega. Ab jaa padhne baith jaa.”

When you show mom your report card and she turns into a dinosaur...

When you show mom your report card and she turns into a dinosaur…

A major misconception parents have is that learning is only done indoors, sitting on the study table with an open book. But that is not the case.  We learn everywhere. This is the truth small kids know but we forget in the reward-punishment system of school.

We are born inherently curious.

In his book Instead of Education, John Holt writes, “The baby who begins to talk, long before he makes any sounds that we hear as words, or even understands words, has learned from sharp observation that the sounds that bigger people make with their mouths affect the other things they do. Their talk makes things happen” He may not know exactly what, or how. But he wants to be a part of that talking group of bigger people, wants to make things happen with his voice. In the same way, walking is not a skill, but an act, with a purpose”

Later, he says “…An old truth goes like this; we learn things by doing them.”


We learn from observations. We learn from experiences. We learn from our mistakes.

Contradictory to what our parents might think, learning is exploratory. We EXPLORE the world of the subject we are interested in. We learn best, when we enter the world of a subject and stumble upon new ideas and concepts – when all our senses: smell, sight, hearing, touch, taste are activated.

A textbook is a manual for times when we get lost, in this strange new world. Reading about Narnia in a book is very different from entering it through an old wardrobe. Which one would you prefer?

In reality, you cannot separate learning from “doing” – which most schools try to do. They make you sit quietly in neat rows while different teachers explain to you concepts about how the world works each day in a monotonous rather than taking you out in the real world and letting you explore it.

The CBSE’s idea of application is….more questions! Also referred to as HOTS question, the only way to get your hands dirty is from an ink stain. Compare this with nursery schools, where we learn things by doing them: coloring cut outs of alphabets, cutting not-so round circles, pasting things and then sprinkling sparkles everywhere! (because sparkles are cool)

Other reforms such as compulsory activities in the CCE program makes exploring a world sound like walking around in chains with a limited view of what you can see, and more often than not, it becomes just another task to do, mostly involving copying content from Wikipedia, and we end up not applying our knowledge.

When did learning become just “studying”? 

I'm always excited about learning...till I see my textbooks.

I’m always excited about learning…till I see my textbooks.

The lesson is here is not to discourage you from reading textbooks. “Padho, par sirf padho mat. Uss knowledge ka kuch karo bhi”

Here’s an idea: the next time you set out to learn a new thing, start with a purpose. Set up a project that you’ll work on as you learn and get better. And by the time you’ve completed the course, you’ll have created something new that didn’t exist before. And that would make you feel pretty damn good about yourself like you used to after a great day in nursery school.

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