Education: The teacher, student and the transformation.

Emphasis on the “Process” of learning:

Education is a transformative process. Education happens, when there is some one to learn – the student – and some one to teach. There is a famous verse from Upanishad that is often sung both by the students and the teacher at the beginning of each class:

Sahanaa Vavathu Sahanau Bhunakthu; Saha Veeryam Karavavahai

Thejaswinow  Adhitham Astu ; Ma Vidh Visha Vahai.

Aum Shanthi Shanthi Shanthihi.

May the Lord (the Omnipresent) protect us; let us rejoice by sharing what we consume, acquire greater abilities through education and may such learning lead to greater glory. But, let there not be deep seated divisions among us. Peace! Peace! Peace!

The question may be asked: Why do we have a reference to ‘avoidance of deep seated divisions” in the invocation?

            Divisions arise as a result of inalienable allegiance to one point of view or another. Relentless focus on one point of view, with out accommodation of other ideas and thoughts lead to deep seated divisions. But, life is not always Black and White. It is mostly grey and often it becomes a matter of opinions and debates on the divisions or shades of grey! Enquiry on the shades of greay also requires a constant emphasis on the process of learning, enabled by proper tools that contribute to greater clarity  and why the shades  are that way? For one who is truly objective and scientific, the emphasis  will be on the process of inquiry.

Through objective learning, the different points of view will be seen as an outcome of the depth and breadth of our understanding of the subject matter on hand and our methods of reasoning, measurement and analysis. While there could be differences in the data and its interpretation, for a truly scientific community (of students and teachers), there should be no differences on the tools used for analysis and the process of measurement or the anaysis methods!

Indeed, true education is not a precise transmission of data and its pre-ordained interpretation (or opinions). Instead true education always emphasizes on the tools and the process of inquiry. Hence it would appear that through the above invocation, both the students and the teacher are urged to focus on the “process” of learning and not get distracted by mere evidences and their interpretation and the divisions they invariably bring about.

Steps of learning:

Recently, I was listening to a talk on Vedantha(1). In this talk, the education process was described as analogous to crossing the river. Four steps were described for such river crossing. We use this analogy to explain the role of the teacher, student and the transformation through educaton, with some added explanation as noted below:

First step: Teacher points the student towards the direction of the river. The student has to become aware that there is a river to cross and he/she has an expressed interest in crossing the river (desired education). This initiation to the field of study reminds me of the Freshman Seminars in US Universities:

Freshman Honors Seminars program offers freshmen the opportunity to study in small, intellectually stimulating courses taught by distinguished faculty members from throughout the entire University. Seminars introduce freshmen to challenging standards of analysis and argumentation, oral as well as written. They accomplish this through intensive discussion, focused papers, and readings that emphasize critical interpretation.

Second Step: Next the teacher helps the student wet his feet by entering the river. In the beginning, the depth of water that the student reaches may be shallow and just enough to wet the toes, then progressively ankle deep, knee deep and up to the waist, etc. It is the duty of the teacher to be sure that the student is stable and can with stand the river currents. It is also the duty of the teacher to ensure that the student does not get too deep into the water, or into the turbulent swirl, with out adequate preparation to swim well.

Third Step: Now the teacher points to the depths and shallow waters in the river. At some point, because of the ability to deal with the various aspects of the river, the student may feel like the fish in the water – at home with the subject matter and can move about freely – offering beautiful explanations, annotation, summaries, new evidences, etc. on the subject matter.

Fourth Step: For the student, well versed in the subject – comfortable like the fish in the river – there will be a tendency to stay in the river too long or for ever. Such students may offer brilliant explanations on the subject matter, at times extremely nuanced and difficult for others to follow or benefit from! At this stage, the teacher is required to help the student to cross the river and continue his/her journey of life. In other words education is not an end in itself, but a transformed state, which requires putting the education for the better use of the society at large.

            (1) SriRanga Mahathmyam – Audio CD by Velukkudi Krishnan

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10 Responses to Education: The teacher, student and the transformation.

  1. Krishnan says:

    Thank you very much for the article. The Sahana vavatu shloka reminds us the attitude essential to learn. The question/s below might be the topics of other articles from you but it is connected to your article.
    1) What about those (of us) not fortunate to have not found the teacher. If the omnipresent is a part of us – will it not guide us to find what we seek – or what we should seek.
    2) What about the upkeep of education – is education done when the student is comfortable with the water and can navigate it ? How does/should the student ensure upkeep of this knowledge ?
    3) What is the purpose and the process of Satsang ? Does Satsang have a role in the knowledge acquisition process ?


  2. pushpa says:

    It is so apt!! Teacher student relationship is sacred and unparalleled. In India as children we were made very aware of this fact. I just returned from attending a retreat for four days ending in Gurupoornima celebrations. It was such a wonderful experience.


  3. jayanthi rangan says:

    Beautifully expressed. The people in the ‘grey’ zone are the educated minds, the peace makers of the world.


  4. Venu S. Rao says:

    I really appreciated and enjoyed the true meaning of “education”.


  5. Sipractce says:

    Thanks for your comments. I have noted your topics. Will get back to them in my future blogs


  6. Chitra and Murali Krishnaswamy says:

    Well expressed Subbu- and thought provoking. The fourth step is truly a metamorphosis.

    It reminded me of Richard Feynman’s thoughts on scientific inquiry/doubt/social responsibility. Its lengthy but I could not resist it!!!——-

    Through all ages, men have tried to fathom the meaning of life.There have been all different sorts of explanations, The proponents of one answer have looked with horror at the actions of the believers in another. Horror, because from a disagreeing point of view all the great potentialities were being channeled into a false and confining blind alley. … The dream is to find the open channel.

    What, then, is the meaning of it all? What can we say to dispel the mystery of existence ?

    If we take everything into account, not only what the ancients knew, but all of what we know today that they didn’t know, then I think we must frankly admit that we do not know.

    But in admitting this, we have probably found the open channel.

    . . Even then it was clear to socially minded people that the openness of the possibilities was an opportunity, and that doubt and discussion were essential to progress into the unknown. If we want to solve a problem that we have never solved before, we must leave the door to the unknown ajar. …

    It is our responsibility to leave the men of the future with a free hand. In the impetuous youth of humanity, we can make grave errors that can stunt our growth for a long time. This we will do if we, so young and ignorant, say we have the answers now, if we suppress all discussion, all criticism, saying, ‘This is it, boys! Man is saved!’ Thus we can doom man for a long time to the chains of authority, confined to the limits of our present imagination. It has been done so many times before.

    It is our responsibility as scientists, to teach how doubt is not to be feared but welcomed and discussed, and to demand this freedom of thought as our duty to all coming generations.


  7. C. Gopinath says:

    Nice exposition of the teacher-student relationship! It takes two to tango.


  8. Nag says:

    Guru has a special place in our culture next only to the Mother and Father – “Mathru devo bhava; Pithru devo bhava; Acharya devo bhava.”


  9. sipractce says:

    Thank you for sending me this link.
    It sure made me think!
    I attended a lecture recently in which the speaker talked about the differences between a “guru” and a teacher.
    your blog added more insights to the qualities of a true “Guru”.
    If the “guru is amazing and the student is highly receptive, it is hard to leave the river after the 4th stage of learning and go on to apply the knowledge .
    Lucky are those few who may never leave the river!


  10. I really like it blog. Teacher student relationship is sacred and unparalleled. Students and teachers do this in the relationship should be.

    Homework Help for students Research Paper


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