Is direction over-rated?

When I’m in Rajasthan (India), I spend my time teaching 8-Day Academy back-to-back and the remaining time is spent visiting schools and colleges in Fatehpur Shekhavati and nearby villages and towns. Unintentionally, I find myself becoming a spokesperson/rolemodel for girls’ education (especially in an Islamic society). But if you look deeper, even boys feel the same. These children look at me as the product of education and for that, I feel proud and humbled.

When I was in Sikar, I visited a school called ‘Excellence Girls School’ which is the brainchild of Wahid Chouhan. It’s quite interesting to know more about the school. Chouhan belongs to a conservative, Muslims family (and society!) and at the age of 7, he moved to Mumbai. He is based there since then. Many years later, when he came to Sikar and was very saddened by the lack of girls’ education. His dream is to provide free education to girls for 20 years! And he has already completed 14 years of that promise. Goal is to educate an entire generation for free (primary, secondary and tertiary education) and to have these girls as ambassadors of change. His school is a beautiful six-storey building–everything from uniform, books, stationery is provided for free. Around 1,000 girls are studying here and I had the opportunity to talk to them in January 2010.

Most of these girls are the first-ever female member of their families to step into a school. Which brings me to the point of this post: it is increasingly common for me to meet these young people and I ask them questions to understand their mindset. Here’s a typical conversation (not only with girls of this school but with most kids I meet in rural areas):

Me: Why do you come to school?

Student: To study

Me: What do you want to do after you finish school?

Student: I want to study.

Me: What do you want to study?

Student: Erm, I just want to…study. Anything.

Me: But…what is our goal in life? What are you studying for?

Student: <shy smile> I don’t know.

We are so engrossed in many technical aspects of why education system is failing and what needs to be done on many different levels but we’re facing a fundamental issue here: what is the point of education when it fails to inspire us and give us a direction? Why are these students studying? Who will guide them? Most of the teachers in rural area are very young. For example: there are schools with teachers as young as 15 years who are teaching and SOME are simultaneously studying ‘privately’ (correspondence–not Internet-based though).

Am I over-rating this need for direction? Personally, I have a problem with it. What is the point of simply studying like a puppet without knowing where this education can take us? Just because it seems to be the norm, does not mean we should accept it. Interestingly, this isn’t exclusive to rural areas. Most of us go through the education like blind rats in urban areas too–that’s what I did! But are we forever going to function on trial-and-error?

At the risk of slightly deviating but remaining in the same vein, to me, this is similar to the concept of inspiration. After tweeting a friend about this and since I have a rural tongue, I have to make my opinions known. As TEDx spreads, I find the word ‘inspiration’ sound like ‘bailout’. What are you inspiring people for? Do we always have to know? Or do we first get inspired…and then figure it out somehow?

So, is direction over-rated?


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