The science of living… in a changing world

Lalitha Sundaram

“The only thing that is constant is change” is a perceptive quote attributed to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus who lived around 500 BC in, what is today, Turkey. Perceptive because it would be more than 2500 years before ordinary citizens could understand the truth of this statement.

It was not until 1970 that author Alvin Toffler coined the term ‘Future Shock’ and wrote a very popular book of the same title. He defined the term “future shock” as the psychological state of individuals and entire societies when they realize that society is changing at an ever-increasing pace. A feeling as if the rug is being pulled from under one’s feet! Today, we are living in an age of digitalization where many deep changes are happening at a very fast pace.

The changing society
One area of change is the role of men and women in society and in managing a family. Bonds of patriarchy are loosening slowly and steadily. Women are not only getting better educated, they are also becoming wage earners in increasing numbers. Men are being compelled to share in larger measure the responsibilities of managing a home and looking after the well-being of the members of the family. The popularity of movies like The Great Indian Kitchen (Malayalam), cutting across languages and geographical regions is an example of this change.

Role of schools
In all societies, schools have been vested with the responsibility of imparting society’s accumulated knowledge and culture. For several thousand years, changes in society were slow. The sum total of knowledge was fairly static. Hence, it was enough for schools to impart this knowledge of the past to students. But in an era of rapid change, this role of imparting knowledge needs to be re-examined, both by society and by its schools.

Schools are expected to educate students today for a productive and empowered life in a society a few decades from now. Currently the change is so rapid that any prediction of future beyond a few years has become futile.

We do not know what the nature of the economy will be, the job opportunities and knowledge that will be needed to qualify for those jobs. But it is certain that men will have to share more of the responsibilities of raising a family and provide physical, emotional and financial support. This at a time when their own careers and earning capacities are becoming shaky.

In such a scenario a good education system needs to educate boys and girls in the art and science of looking after the holistic wellness of the family. How can schools fulfil this role?

The role of home science
One of the best ways of doing this is by tweaking the curriculum which right now goes under the subject “Home Science” or “Home Economics” to suit the needs of education today. If the name “home science” only conjures images of cooking, we can even rename the subject as “Science of Living”.

In the primary classes, this can replace general science. In higher classes, it can be an additional topic in their science and social science curricula.

Limitations of the present general science
The current general science curriculum covers mostly basic aspects of physics, chemistry and biology taught in terms of biographies, inventions and discoveries of scientists. It completely leaves out the principles of physics, chemistry and biology embedded in our homes and which we are intimately familiar with.

The general science curriculum, currently does not deal with many other vital aspects of living. Let us look at some essential topics which need to be included.

The role of food needs to be understood in greater depth apart from nutrition, the right kind of food that is essential for our well-being. There should be a balance between eating for health and eating for taste! Many “home remedies” are being re-discovered today as secrets for a healthy living. Children should be aware of at least some of them, so that the tendency to swallow pills and visit the doctor for even minor ailments can be reduced.

Our wellness also depends on the psychological and social conditions that prevail at home. This is also affected by the way we spend our leisure time. It is a well-established truth that one of the most important reasons for a child’s ability to learn is the support and motivation that he/she receives from the family. This support need not be “acting like a teacher” at home but creating a conducive environment at home for learning.

The design of our homes and that of appliances and furniture that we use are based on simple principles of physics and aesthetics. The kitchen is actually a physics and chemistry laboratory. Principles of biological wellness cover many aspects of the food we eat, the way we cook, our lifestyle, the kind of clothes we wear and the ventilation of our homes.

Our homes are getting smaller in size. We need to design our furniture, storage facilities, etc., so that they can be neatly arranged in a smaller space. Each of us needs to become a Marie Kondo (the globally known Japanese organizing consultant, author and TV show host)!

Financial literacy is another aspect of living. Understanding about income, expenditure, the need to budget our expenses, the difference between capital and revenue expenses, the relation between savings and expenditure are all aspects of financial literacy.

In terms of aesthetic education, schools mainly teach performing arts like music, dance, painting, drama, etc. Aspects like aesthetic living can be dealt with in terms of the design of our clothes, arrangement of furniture in our homes, etc.

Bringing up children is an important aspect of life. We now know that the most significant part of brain growth happens in children by the age of five. We need to provide a nurturing and learning environment to children to ensure that they grow to their full potential.

The habit of reading leads to the skill of self-learning which is important for the future. Almost all persons who are regular readers, attribute their interest in reading to their home environment. Good learning needs good habits for learning. This again is best inculcated at home.

One of the major impediments to reading and conversation is the prevalence of social and entertainment media. Only the home can train students in self-regulation with respect to using digital devices.

The importance of reading also needs to be emphasized throughout school education. Schools need to make students aware of the rapidly changing world, that the only way to be empowered in such a world is through continuous learning and that reading is the most effective way for this. The cultivation of reading habits should be an important part of a school’s core academic programme.

These changes will ensure that both boys and girls are exposed to various vital issues of “living well” and “wellness”.

The author has a degree in Home Science and more than 30 years teaching experience in pre-primary and primary schools. She can be reached at

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