Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Education ? Learning ?

Twenty five years ago, she worked in what is today called IT. Except there was lots of I and T was just happening. Huge cumbersome lumbering mainframes were getting loaded on to trucks and going, possibly to meet their maker, and workplaces suddenly started looking airy and "with-it" with the PC decor and associated smart furniture.

The task assigned to her had to do with computerising library functions, and when the first PC's were delivered, everyone waited for the engineer to land up and unpack the stuff. He did. And then he stuck some probes into the electric mains, shook his head, raised his eyebrows, and said the electrical situation was unsatisfactory. There was unacceptable difference of voltage between earth and neutral, they'd have to get a proper earthing done, and there would be no installing of machines till then.

She was basically at a non-academic junior level, and getting an earthing involved writing an application to the erstwhile Head. He convened a meeting of a committee whose actual purpose was to sanction budgets in hundreds of thousands for books. She was asked to attend. An inadvertent seating at the same level as the committee, resulted in someone clearing their throat. She was asked to sit a row behind.

The "experts " deliberated . They would write an earthing request to the concerned superintendent engineer. A day later the erstwhile Head walked into her computer room with the engineer, both shaking their heads; albeit for different reasons.

"This involves a serious bit of deep digging outside the window, where a copper plate will be fitted into the hole. We don't have the manpower, ", said the Engineer, displaying one of his facetious smiles. The erstwhile Head, no technical expert, nodded.

Crestfallen. Then she had an idea.

"How many man days do we need ? Can we ask for student volunteers and reward them with extra book quota for a semester ?" she asked . And was rewarded with a look by the Head that said "Know they place" , and a smirk by the Engineer , and they left.

Another committee meeting. This time she knew her place. And from back there, she informed them about the developments.

"The committee will make its displeasure known ", she was told.

And that, was that.

She was simply asking for infrastructure. For the workplace. For their benefit. It wasn't as if she was going to secretly benefit from the earthing. She wouldn't be able to steal and take it home. And she seethed with anger at this total disregard for work facilities. And so she cribbed to all and sundry and anyone who was willing to hear, and soon ended up writing a letter to a high level academic in the field, whose word officially counted, asking to clarify the logic behind this stupefying attitude of the Institute.

The next day, people in suits accompanied by the errant Engineer came to examine the soil outside. Mind you, none was a soil expert. They walked around a rectangular area, fingers were pointed at places, quite possibly at people, maybe even at her, and the group went off.

A few days later she went to meet the senior academic. To find out if things were getting anywhere. They were. She returned back to the library to see a tall bare chested sinewy person, making markings in the soil, and mobilising for a decent digging morning. That evening , he stood wiping his honest sweat, as the Engineer's people installed the copper plate and connected wires to complete the earthing. The gutless Engineer sent his flunkies to oversee. The Head subsequently eyed her as he would a potentially dangerous entity, capable of causing trouble.

The machines finally did get installed, and functioned. So did she.

And this happened in a place where , per square foot of soil, you probably had more educational qualifications , than anywhere else in the country. Looked like education was more about cornering resources and power, and less about empowering and learning. It was all about exulting in the status, and demeaning those with less of it.

Recently she saw a story about OLPC. (One Laptop Per Child project). They had the same problem in their village. And the entire village, including the ladies and the headman, joined in the digging, even offering prayers and flowers before the electrician installed the earthing.

Children chipped in carrying mud around. Someone made tea for everyone. Some just stood around like anyone would, when some important event was unfolding in your family. The average level of education in the village probably goes out of range on the negative side , in comparison with the aforementioned Institute.

But maybe they actually know what education is meant to be.

Its not about making applications in triplicate and fighting about which chairs to sit on. Its not even about being able to write euphemistically deadly letters. Its not at all about doing IT and programming at fancy institutes. Its certainly not about preening in hierarchies. And lastly, its not even about withholding selfishly, what you learn.

Actually, Einstien, (
Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921. 1879-1955) had the correct idea when he said :

“The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.”

How true.


  1. Lovely narration, Suranga! I'm guessing this is a personal experience?

    I suppose those deprived of education value it the most-they realize its true worth.

    Wonderful quote by Einstein- and very true!

  2. You really hit a note with me on this post. Working in state government for most of my working life, I saw this happen over and over again in the work place. So much money was wasted on nothing and on looking important and throwing ones weight around and the important stuff never got done.
    A woman's judgement was not considered important either in many instances.

  3. I think this is one of my favorite posts. So much truth in the red tape of society and little work while the "powers that be try to keep the power."

    Loved the ending of this story, about the village who worked together, as well as the lady who went against the powers and made accomplishments. That's strength of character!

  4. I am hooked. on my first visit. Great story...great lesson.. makes me wonder how often we all let our education interfere with our learning!!

  5. Thank you everyone for your comments. I guess things are often the same the world over....and each one must be motivated to make the change, or it wont happen.....