Ethics would thus seem to be the medium to seek to resolve questions dealing with human morality — concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime — and its relevance to the time and generation of today. The importance of developing Culturally Competent Individuals today in this globalized village environment is the success mantra. One cannot initiate this process in the years of formal education as the imbibing of qualities like empathy, interpersonal skills, problem solving and decision-making can be done as life skills education and training the young impressionable minds is easier. This knowledge and acceptance is a continuous process which cannot be initiated in the final years of formal education.
Schools and junior colleges can have a marked impact on students as teaching about different cultures can help students interact with people in a more cooperative spirit and respectful manner. Schools/junior colleges can continuously prod the students on by concerted efforts at role play/dramatization of stories or novels that depict culture and simulation sessions, library sessions groupwise, Skype conversations with students of different culture. Bringing about cultural sensitization through subjects like Social Sciences and Languages works wonders manifold.
During the Independence Day celebrations at our Junior College, it had to be seen to be believed that with just about 3-4 days of practice with teachers and a competitive edge the young girls of Standards XI/XII came up with such innovative concepts of depicting and dancing with patriotic fervour, an ennobling experience when one sees so much of explosive cultural lapses in this WhatsApp and internet era.
At the junior college at J. N. Tata Parsi Girls’ High School & Junior College, we have a confluence, literally of young impressionable girls coming together from different backgrounds and religions but when one witnesses the combined efforts and team spirit within days of their admission it gives a reassuring feeling that the future rests in good hands. We just have to have a focused vision for their progress and not a peripheral one involving just the curriculum aspect, not just exam information, rather building up and transmitting human values and transformation of the human personality.
An example of a curriculum that has GEMS woven through cultural awareness into all disciplines very effectively is the International Baccalaureate. Central to the International Baccalaureate programme is the philosophy of creating an understanding of both home and world cultures. The mother tongue language is mandatory and so is a foreign language. Woven into the fabric of the language programme are translated works of writers from other cultural backgrounds, which encourage students to explore social issues that arise in different countries. All disciplines are designed to explore the home country locale, history, business world, politics as well as of other countries and cultures. At the core of the programme is the IB philosophy which aims at nurturing “… active, compassionate lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.” In an age of conflict and separatism this philosophy has great value.
There should be an activity at least twice a month which revolves around important values like respect for elders, responsibility and spirit of independence. Through moral stories, clippings on notice boards, role play, recitation, skit, bhajans, drama, exhibition, recollections from Stone Age through towards the Vision for 2022, students are made to learn what is meaningful and important to become good human being. This is what would constitute meaningful and progressive education. Here, it would be apt to quote Dan Rather, “… the dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called truth.”
The spirituality is inherent and can be developed by constant exposure to stories and scriptures of all religions being read and participation in the hymn and scripture recital competitions apart from debates and regular exposure through clippings from YouTube about various religions and what they teach. We have regular sessions at our Junior College about events and participation giving platform to different students in inter-collegiate events to promote teamwork and good values. In the Gita Jayanti competitions, where religious tolerance is a focus, all our students (girls) excitedly participate in ‘shlok’ recital, Gita pathan, rangoli making, painting, dance with religious and patriotic fervour and skit on a theme with a social message because I personally believe that if the light of understanding has shone upon my little pupils’ mind then, behold, all things are changed… the future would be in safe hands.
Creativity is the struggle for improvement. Everyone forms their own estimate of themselves and that basic estimate goes far towards determining what they become. You can be more than what you believe you are. All belief helps to make your belief come true. Belief stimulates the power within. (Norman Vincent Peale: Stay Alive All Your Life)
Then it goes without saying that we have to instill that confidence and the urge in our youngsters to believe in themselves and the goodness and positivity that comes from good thoughts, good words, good deeds; the three basic tenets which are the foundation of Zoroastrianism. Readers are Leaders and the students today have to be apprised of the fact that by reading books from different genres is the only way to sensitizing oneself and an in-depth knowledge can then be stored in the mind’s eye for recollection and quote as an occasion arises, at an opportune moment. What goes about comes around. Being spiritual does not mean renouncing the materialistic world and doing penance. It means living a life well. Knowledge is power and that one can go from darkness to light through education which helps to enlighten the mind. One may feel morally alive and ethically bankrupt if the realm of in-depth study is found bereft and devoid of good values. The imagination of the youngsters needs to be polished and good values, ethics, morals and spirituality awakened.
On a concluding note I would say enough of debate on the what and how of education and the Do’s and Don’ts for educators en masse. What is actually the need of the hour is to let the educators speak about how each has utilized the platform given to them by way of their position and share their success stories because I was inspired to read what Alexander the Great had been quoted as saying, “I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacher for living well” — a truly Polished GEMS example. Let us determine to polish GEMS with our share of effort without expecting results and awards.