What is More Important in Education? Teaching or Learning?

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

e-mail:  ThePatrika@aol.com

Children often tell their parents about how good or bad this or that teacher is in schools. Parents too tacitly agree when children complain about teachers. Implicit in this is the expectation that a greater responsibility for students’ learning is on the schools and teachers.

But does this tell the whole story?  No is the simple answer. Of course, the school’s ambience and emphasis on academics and the inspiration of teachers to students are important in any learning. Inspiring teachers are known to push many kids to better academic performance. That was certainly the case with me in my high school and college education.  I am sure many would vouch for this in the context of their own education.

But then we also know that even with “dull” teachers in “tough” courses in “bad” schools, some students always perform well in exams.  How to explain this? A verse in an ancient Hindu classic poignantly attempts to answer this very question.

Subhaashitaavali, literally meaning “A Series of Well Said Sayings,” is a compendium of over 3000 verses in Sanskrit. The verses by various poets and wisemen spanning over 12 to 15 centuries were collated five centuries ago by Vallabhadeva, a Kashmiri Brahmin and a Sanskrit pandit (scholar).  In Shubhaashitavali, each verse is complete by itself in its import on topics from the profound to the profane, and everything in between.

Here is one on education, specifically on learning. Students and parents will be helping themselves if they internalize the central message in what follows. Here is the Sanskrit original for people to enjoy:

Subhaashitaavali on EducationIn transliteration,

AchAryAt pAdamAdattE pAdam sishyah svamEdhayA;
sa-brahmaacAribhyah pAdam pAdam kAlakramENa ca.

Here is the translation:

One fourth [of knowledge or learning] is from the teacher;
One fourth from the student’s natural intelligence;
One fourth from [discussions with] classmates;
And one fourth in due course of time.

Note that the emphasis on transmission of skills and knowledge is not on teaching but on learning. The onus for grasping the material taught in classes is on students, and not on the teachers alone. Teachers are obviously important.  But the hard work in understanding the material is to be done by students through attention, focus, curiosity, self-study, and discussions with fellow students.

Also, what students lack in native intelligence they can always offset, partly in any case, by effort, as was the case with me throughout my education, given my unique socioeconomic background.

Students who burn the midnight oil ploughing through difficult subjects such as theoretical physics, organic chemistry, calculus, thermodynamics, anatomy/physiology, biochemistry, grammar, creative writing, etc, and manage to get decent grades can appreciate the import of this pithy Sanskrit verse.  ♦

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