Saturday, March 19, 2011

An education that's alive

The ‘living bridges’ of Cherrapunji, North Eastern India are not built, they are grown. They take many centuries of careful guidance to grow in the desired direction. What is started by one member of a family may be finished by another many generations later. The bridge becomes stronger as it grows, some are over 500 years old, and they have been truly tested by rapids and floods with not so much as a scratch. The growing takes time, determination, a strength of character and a vision for its future.

Imagine an education with that sense of purpose.

Education today is not grown. It has already been built, upon a bedrock that the Romans left behind. But is the structure sound? Throughout the centuries, parts of it have been demolished to make way for new builds whilst older, established builds have been reinforced with scaffolding or even extended. But if you look carefully, this bridge has had various smaller bridges running parallel for many ages whose only purpose is to get an elite few to the other side as quickly and as unscathed as possible. The main bridge continues to be the only passage that the majority can use to get across. Their journeys have been the same for many, many years. Some get across whilst others just jump off. Their passage is littered with hurdles that make crossing it cumbersome: testing, standards, requirements, tables, thresholds. These only serve to disadvantage those that struggle along its path.
It’s time to demolish the bridge completely. All of it. We need to have a new sense of purpose. A bridge that grows through our education as we grow, that allows every individual to get to the other side with a sense of purpose. The present-past system of education is no longer useful. It’s tired and educators and learners are tired of it too. The life of this bridge is very close to crashing down and I want to be there when it does.

So what goes in its place?

We start from scratch. Just like the villager in Cherrapunji, we make a simple start but one that will lead to a wondrous end. We create an education system that encourages learning in the right direction not one that’s main purpose is to produce tables. We create one that involves the learner so that they may grow with it during their journey through it. It will not discriminate, nor will it seek to blame. A system that puts the learner first, not the politician seeking a page in history.

The living bridges start their long journeys by been encouraged to grow in one direction but their journeys blossom and are allowed to happen. At no time are they forced to grow quicker, nor are they expected to do so. It takes time for learners to grow in their learning but grow they shall and an education purpose that allows learners to achieve that growth is one that I would be privileged to take part in.