Monday, March 31, 2008

Learning ought to be exhilarating

The empty akshayapatra
Learning is the process of obtaining competence and proficiency, the development of skills, the growth of understanding, and the gradual acquisition of the ability to create ideas and new thought.
A teacher is one who pours generously from his akshayapatra (from Indian mythology: an inexhaustible source) into the empty vessels that - in his view - form the bulk of the student fraternity! This, in a nutshell, was what I had meant to say in my earlier post.
The present piece is for the children - the young people in their impressionable age, with eager faces, and eyes that indicate a craving for more when a small element of fun is mixed with the process of learning. Bubbling with curiosity to learn more, or asking for a greater, and then an even greater challenge, they fall upon these intellectual provocations to their tender brains with sprightly ardour.
Exhilaration comes from within!
While a Mentor can show an eager learner a new way to solve a problem, or offer a demanding student a higher challenge, it is the interest that is aroused in the student that ultimately brings out that feeling of exhilaration.
Imagine the ebullience that Pythagoras experienced when he discovered his famous theorem. The exhilaration must have been instantaneous when the geometrical property dawned on him, as a result of his own efforts through trials and errors.
Visualise Archimedes in the bathtub and his moment of enlightenment that was followed by an act we read of in the popular story of his 'Eureka!' run. He jumped out of his overflowing bath and ran on to the streets of Syracuse screaming 'Eureka!' which, in Greek, means 'I have found it!' He had briefly lost his senses, and he did something he wouldn't otherwise have done. Apocryphal? It might well have been true. True to the extent that the state of California today uses "EUREKA!" as its motto.
The rewards of self-learning
It is when a student seeks a learning opportunity from her own school text, or in a reference encyclopaedia, or on the vast ocean of knowledge called the Internet, or even from the recesses of her infinite cerebral abyss, that she discovers such scope for exhilaration.
Children who come from homes that will not invest in books are a handicapped lot. When schools deny them free access to reference works, and institutions become teaching shops that sell examination success, intellectual tragedy looms near.
As tiny 5- and 6-year olds, most of us have no choice of teacher or school but what our parents or guardians think of as in our best interests. In this lottery, some of us find a teacher, nay, a mentor, who would guide us, sit and read with us, talk to us, stimulate our curiosity, and help us on our course to a process of self-learning. That is when we discover those eureka moments, a flash of ecstasy -- when we find a new way of calculating something in arithmetic, a manner of expressing a thought that is off the beaten path, or a principle in science that mankind hadn't thought of in 10,000 years.

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