An introduction to excellence

Rajul Asthana

The influence of education in grooming people is extremely significant. On the one hand it has moulded responsible world leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Abdul Kalam, Bhagat Singh, Rabindranath Tagore, Dr. Rajendra Pachuri and Mother Teresa. But on the other hand there are several issues:

  • At the level of the individual – purposelessness or disclarity about what to do, disinterest in learning, lack of curiosity, boredom, escape to TV and gaming, self-centeredness and disregard for others, inactive lifestyle, overweight and other health problems, substance abuse and risk-taking, depression, psychological disorders, suicide, stress, insecurity, loneliness.
  • At the level of the family – the all consuming pursuit of money often by any means, peer pressure, competition, shrinking circle of people to be cared for while exploiting everyone/everything beyond it, disconnect from parents and siblings, breaking-up of families, mistrust and insecurity in relationships, divorce, family feuds, incest, legal suits.
  • At the level of the society – teasing, ragging, little engagement with social systems, feeling of mistrust in systems, migration from villages to metros, exploitation of man by man, corrupt governance, growing incidences of violence, terrorism, naxalism, rising communalism, spreading casteism, racial and ethnic struggle, wars between nations, attempts of genocide, fear of biological, nuclear and genetic warfare.
  • At the level of nature – feeling of helplessness, inevitable destruction of nature, non-involvement with nature, cruelty to animals, global warming, water scarcity and pollution, air, soil, noise pollution, resource depletion of minerals and mineral oils, sizeable deforestations, loss of fertility of soil.

Many educational institutions are doing seminal work; education is reaching more people today than ever before. However, more needs to be done, something different, something fundamental. Education must help students find a meaningful direction for their life in addition to developing competence for a profession. Education must reinforce human goals in every student, by ensuring:

  1. Right thinking, i.e., ability to discriminate between superficial and valuable, to work out meaningful goals in line with human aspirations, recognise one’s responsibility and follow through with freedom and courage.
  2. Understanding and feeling of responsibility for mutually fulfilling relationships with other human beings, i.e., behaviour that ensures the continuity of trust, respect for and inclusion of all.
  3. Understanding and committing to a system of mutually enriching work, i.e., ensuring prosperity for human beings and for the rest of nature.

Focus
Like a seed is to a tree, education is to human beings. People develop in the direction provided by their education (shiksha) and the net of their experience (sanskaar). One type of education can lead to self-centric behaviour and nature-depleting work, while the right education could lead to human-centric behaviour and nature-enriching work. It is therefore crucial to ensure an education that helps individuals develop a holistic perspective that can guide their effort into the direction of understanding and fulfillment of human goals. The education needs to be based on universal human values and a pedagogy that encourages exploration and discussion.

An Introduction to Excellence is a one-day programme to introduce the concepts of human excellence through dialogue and interaction. The aim is to facilitate the development of a holistic perspective towards life. Such a holistic perspective forms the basis of value-based living in a natural way, in terms of ethical human conduct, trustful and mutually satisfying human behaviour and mutually enriching interaction with nature.

A programme on excellence was conducted for all 130 teachers of Pallavi Model School, Hyderabad over two days in June 2009. The first day was for 70 primary teachers; the second was for 60 secondary teachers. The principal Ms. Manju Gupta, vice-principal Ms. Simi Nagi, headmistress Ms. Padma Singh and primary incharge Ms. Deepa Arun were among those who enthusiastically attended the workshop. We look forward to Pallavi Model School taking these learnings into action.

The seven specific takeaways of the participants during these two days were:

  1. Happiness is a key human goal. We want continuity of happiness. It can be achieved only by creating happiness for others and by doing that we ensure right feelings in the self, i.e., with right understanding and fulfilling relationships.
  2. Prosperity is a feeling of having more than one requires. We used to think prosperity meant having lots of money, but now we know it means determining what is really required and then having more than that. It also means things are meaningfully utilised and left over things are shared. Excellence is to help the other to come to your level; opposition is to stop the other from reaching your level. Excellence is to understand and to live in harmony, with no contradictions, at all six levels (self, body, family, society, nature and existence) of our being. The discussion on opposition vs. excellence made it clear that excellence is absolute and not relative, i.e., it is possible for all to be in harmony, like in nature, plants and animals are already in harmony. Excellence is the aspiration of all human beings.
  3. Start Stop

  4. Importance of human education. Learning never stops – we learnt so much that we thought we already knew.
  5. Meaning of co-existence. We can readily observe that soil and trees have a symbiotic, mutually enriching relationship. The underlying principle is that everything that exists is related in a mutually enriching manner. It is clear that this principle is natural in all relationships.
  6. Importance of human relationships. Each of the nine feelings/expectations was clearly defined. Trust is a feeling of assurance that the other intends my happiness. We understood the difference between intention and competence. Respect is right evaluation. We will accept others as they are, with no pre-suppositions. Listening is very important. Listening is to understand what the other is saying without judging, which we can do after listening to the whole point.
  7. Natural acceptance is in every human being and it can help to decide what is right. We used to think only a few people can decide and we have to follow, but now we are more confident. We can decide ourself what is right, based on natural acceptance.

The workshop helps focus on what a human being is, what are purposeful human goals and a path to achieve these aims. Embedded in nature, human beings interact at several levels – in the workshop we discuss the role of a responsible human being at the level of individual, family, society and nature.

Simply put, the human goal is the continuity of happiness in every individual, prosperity in every family, fearlessness in society and co-existence in nature. With this clarity, one is able to see the meaning in life and becomes committed to fulfill that meaning. The satisfaction obtained out of the fulfillment of purpose, gives one a feeling of self confidence from within. Individuals need to have this confidence in order to be able to proactively set their own goals. When goals are set proactively, without ‘peer’ pressure the motivation for action comes from within. The rest follows, in terms of commitment and effort leading to fulfillment of purpose.

The workshop is conducted as a dialogue, free from any dogma, value prescriptions or dos and don’ts. Self-exploration also enables them to evaluate their pre-conditioning, present beliefs and be able to differentiate between what is naturally acceptable or intention and what is their current ability or competence, thus setting the stage for developing mutual competence.

According to Dr. Abdul Kalam, “self-knowledge would promote a learning atmosphere, where this whole movement of inquiry into knowledge, into oneself, into the possibility of something beyond knowledge would bring about naturally a psychological revolution. From this comes inevitably a totally different order in human relationship and therefore society as a whole. The intelligent understanding of this process itself can bring about a profound change in the consciousness of mankind”.

In closing, we feel education is still the most significant lever in transforming ours to a humane society.

The author is an independent consultant on Human Values & Ethics, a member of the academic council IIIT – Hyderabad and former global head of Satyam Learning Centre. He can be reached at rajul_asthana@yahoo.co.uk.

What the teachers say

The workshop on excellence for teachers had a different connotation for all who participated in it. For some, it meant achieving perfection, for others it simply meant being outstanding in one’s chosen sphere of work. None however had even the remotest idea that all these ideas and definitions of excellence would change for them after attending the workshop.

With four months gone by since the workshop was held, Teacher Plus decided to quiz some of the teachers who participated about how far their key takeaways from the workshop influenced them, and change, if any, had really happened, consciously or otherwise.

According to the principal, Ms. Manju Gupta, “it was indeed a wonderful workshop and the takeaways have influenced us to think differently. Rajul Asthana has helped the teachers to “raise the bar” (Our theme for this year) through introspection and self-analysis. Personally, I have gained immensely and I am sure the same holds good for all my teachers. These kind of workshops and seminars provide food for thought and help us to rejuvenate and rethink our priorities in life and place them in proper perspective. If our takeaways can help others to think positively, we will definitely feel elated”.

Anjali said the workshop taught her the meaning of prosperity. Being prosperous had nothing to do with wealth, but it had everything to do with the richness in one’s heart. “It made me more introspective, I began to question myself, my responses, and tried hard to bring about behavioural changes in myself and in my dealings with children. I am still trying”

Sunita was forthright and admitted to being impatient with her daughter and in the classroom. “I did not realise that I had everything in terms of possessions. I used to crib for little things. I did not even listen to my daughter’s stories. But the workshop helped me see things in perspective. I understood that having expectations from others meant that I was not satisfied with other people’s attitudes and I wanted them to change. However, now, the workshop was an eye-opener, and I am more accepting of people and more patient with my daughter. It has made me a happier person,”

Shubhra teaches Chemistry and is extremely passionate about the subject. She has keenly resolved to stop buying plastic, to organise herself, but agrees that she has to still fight her biggest enemy, which is her temper. “There are actually six levels which we need to understand and tackle. Yes, the workshop was rich in terms of information. To implement all of these is a continuous process and it is happening.”

An important outcome was that most teachers felt that excellence was not about performance in your work space but about progress — in attitudes, in behaviour, in dealing with parents and children and in relationships with other teachers. The manner in which a teacher saw herself and how others related to her would ultimately extend to the way she handled children.

Mallika Rao felt that this kind of reflection meant spending time with oneself on a daily basis, only then can change happen in small ways. “I don’t judge now. I neither condemn, nor praise and I am consciously trying to see the positive side.”

“I have learnt the power of I” said Priscilla. ‘All along, we were given to understand that ‘We’ is important, but I know now that without ‘I’, there can be no ‘We ’. It is only when each of us contribute, that we can make things better for ourselves”. And she added, “At school, I was a different person, accommodative and understanding, but at home, I was not a nice person to live with. This workshop has given me the courage to contemplate and face certain truths. I used to take Nature for granted, but now, I am keen to conserve it so that I can live more harmoniously.”

Teachers are primarily motivated if they are rewarded by a feeling of accomplishment, self-respect and responsibility and workshops such as these help them to excel, to recharge their batteries and carry forward their goals. Motivation, by itself is psychologically very complex, and involves satisfaction at both external and internal levels. There can be no argument about the fact that it is at the internal level that motivation can bring in the most satisfaction. And for teachers, that ultimate sense of satisfaction comes when they are able to affect students. For them, that is the true yardstick of their personal worth.

Finally, as each teacher, as each individual, works more, loves more, and cares more, there is a greater sense of harmony, and where can all this be nurtured, except in a place called the school.