SERENE STRENGTH

The Role of Education and Learning in the Making of a Person of Substance

 

In a world that is characterized by change, education has somehow managed to elude the grasp of this constant. However, the information revolution has ushered in an era of unprecedented re-design and forced us to question the way we think about education . For thinkers, planners, educationists, parents, guardians and the entire society, it is time to forge a new educational outcome in tune with the times to help our learners to thrive in the future.

This book proposes that education must focus on fostering persons of substance with Serene Strength. The author explores the concept of Serene Strength and person of substance and illustrates their inextricable relationship to education. The book concludes that knowledge is becoming obsolete faster than one can remember and it is imperative to acquire skills, processes and watermarks through an active, life-long learning process that is geared towards actualizing one’s potential.

 

REVIEWS


‘Education is like a tasting menu’ writes Arun Kapur the former Vasant Valley School director and presently Director of the Royal Academy in Paro, Bhutan, in his latest book, Serene Strength. Though it’s ostensibly about ‘the role of education’ actually it’s not. It’s more about the ‘serene strength’ that exudes from ‘persons of substance’, a concept that the author explores and illustrates by defining their inseparable relationship to education.

For this reason, the book is most relevant for each one of us – just plain middle-class folk, business professionals, teachers and students, experts in skilling and knowledge dissemination, IT geeks and education regulators. It spells out many of the keys to good education and learning in a world that is fast changing due to digitization. It’s also relevant to the debate and reform that is on-going in India with the recent announcement of the National Education Policy (NEP) that seeks to ensure a new quality education system.

The author provides a very personalized account of his own journey in education where he argues that the real purpose is to find that ‘inner voice’. Finding and listening to that voice is what leads to becoming a person of substance and thus acquire ‘serene strength’. That is the true purpose of education. This message comes through clear and strong. And it’s not a one-time schooling but rather a lifelong learning following a code of being.

The author defines what a person of substance is (having integrity rigour and resilience) and how the right type of education produces that being. It is similar to what Buddhism teaches us. We must be ‘active’ learners not ‘passive’ – there is a joy and fulfilment in that. Of course, life will throw many an impediment at us. Overcoming them makes us resilient and persons of substance because in facing these perils we will also find much opportunity.

As in his earlier works, the author talks of and explains the ‘five areas of development curriculum’ that education must impart. This is a holistic approach to learning that strives to break down the silos in education and ensures the development of a learner in all Five areas of Development – Cerebral, Emotional, Physical, Social and Spiritual. This concept has received worldwide acclaim and has also been chosen as an integral innovation that will shape the future of education. And rightly so, because if we follow these five areas we will become ‘persons of substance’.

Talking about the future, the author rightly observes that it’s going to be all about technology including AI, machine learning and algorithms that will run faster and quicker than any human intervention can. As the author correctly points out, all these technologies are great, but they have an inherent bias that we as human beings need to understand, discuss and address. We must ensure that technology remains ‘human centric’ because otherwise what is the purpose of humanity itself. For that we need ‘serene strength’.

All in all, this book is not just an eye-opener but one that tackles many of the questions of humanity head on. As advised in the book, ‘The key to serene strength is being able to listen to your own inner guru’. We must therefore be educated and not just schooled. That teaches us about life and not just a silo called education.

– Dr. Alwyn Didar Singh, Former Secretary General, FICCI & Former Secretary, Government of India


 

Today’ sausage factory education has mostly turned out shiny GPA trophies, but the thinking process has somehow got lost on its way. I used to believe that this was mostly in the left-brain driven professions. But today one notices creative professions like arts, architecture or design too suffer from that.

A large part of Arts has become more like manufactured art, where the focus is not so much about creativity + context to the current environment addressing issues in the public domain. Instead, it is mostly skill-driven education, targeting success based on price, churning out numbers, visibility in predictable showings or the sufferings of white cube gallery syndrome. Or Architecture, where the gloss finish is the success of the profession, but no context or sensitivity towards the fragile resources, sustainability or the impact on end-users.

In the design profession, design thinking is mostly driven by corporate/market forces and least regard is given to understanding the larger responsibility towards the consumer/society or the waste culture. While one can understand the bigger picture does need collective responsibility, involves public policy, consumer awareness, local laws and liability/responsibility but this also boils down to the practitioners of these various professions lacking that ‘cross-pollination’ while back at school/education.

At the end of the day, one is getting educated for the society we live in. If we turn out thinkers at each level (no matter how poor/rich resourced that school is) there will be a culture of that collective practice, feeding on responsibility and most importantly ethics of that profession.

So as part of my series on TREE OF LIFE, I want to talk to you about somebody who is an educationist, but away from the conventional approach towards literacy. And champions on what he terms as ‘Cross-Pollination’.

The inspiring individual who many of us know is Arun Kapur. And as he puts it, ‘Take a moment to look at the world around you today. What do you see? Do the challenges, opportunities and pathways around you fit nicely into predefined packages or silos? Can we move forward as individuals, communities and societies by considering only one aspect of our life? If not, then why is it that we direct children to learn in silos? Why are we not encouraging cross-pollination of ideas and processes in our schools? Being an expert in a particular field or area of study is important but to unfetter its potential, one needs to sow its principles in and borrow ideas from other areas as well. What triggers the initial insight varies from one person to the other.’

Arun’s thought process has evolved over four decades, building learning environments for children from diverse backgrounds, income groups, urban and rural settings, students with special needs and children who don’t necessarily fit into the formal education system.

I have had a chance to read his new book Serene Strength- The Role of Education and Learning in the Making of a Person of Substance (available on Amazon)

Cause we all know that conventional education hasn’t exactly fixed the planet’s issues or what the entire human race is battling in regards to the environment, sustaining humanism or even personal issues such as mental health.

Arun is a visionary and an inspiration for folks like me who are working with children on the larger picture of how does one fit into the uncertain world of tomorrow. Because it’s not going to be your education or degree, but how you inspire individuals to play the part as a collective of the human race.

(The series My Facebook TREE OF LIFE is enriched with some great friendships, acquaintances and professional associations, they are about integrity, dedication and these are inspiring individuals who have found their path of passion)

Samar Singh Jodha, Photographer & Installation Artist

#MyTreeOfLife
#RedBalloonGlobal
#SamarJodha


 

Serene Strength is a compelling read, transforming the way we think about education as a lifelong goal to build persons of substance. This book encapsulates seemingly simple ideas in a captivating way, stimulating conversations about reforming an education system from three centuries ago to suit a world that is evolving faster than our minds can interpret.

In today’s world, viewing education to simply be a means to memorize information is redundant with the amount of information available with the click of a button on the internet. Instead, students need the skills to effectively utilize the vast array of information to become what the author describes to be a ‘person of substance’.

The book explains the current education system as learning in silos, where subjects are learned separated from each other in a unidimensional method, which is very common in Bhutan. In my own experience, I have observed that despite teachers being knowledgeable in the subjects they teach, they discourage students to think outside the silos and promote interdisciplinary ideas due to the inhibitions posed by the assessment structure in the Bhutanese education system. Summative assessments such as exams not only restrict growth but affect students’ confidence and mental health which stifles their curiosity for learning.

Allowing an interdisciplinary approach to learning in school prepares for a multidimensional viewpoint towards life in creating persons of substance. Complex theories that are applicable in real life such as economics, politics and philosophy are so interconnected that it would help children understand the world better.

It is impossible to ignore the impact of technology in modern times, but despite their benefits, technology itself will not solve all our problems. This book explores the great possibilities of how technology can change the way we learn and the various methods of learning such as robots in schools in Japan or online learning platforms such as Khan Academy.

This book emphasizes on improving the versatility of learning, not limiting it to the classroom model. However, we should not completely disregard the classroom model. There are important social aspects of learning with a teacher and other students that develop children’s social skills which are also crucial in creating persons of substance. In Bhutan especially with limited resources and budget, a realistic goal is to change the content and the way that children are taught. I think there should be more cohesiveness and contributions from students but we shouldn’t make the current system obsolete as it has its own merits. It is not difficult or unrealistic to stop learning in silos and changing textbooks, updating them to be more relevant and cohesive – not filled with information but questions that enable multidimensional thinking

Not only is it important for students to become persons of substance, it is important for teachers to become persons of substance too. The book highlights the problems with the way teachers are viewed in our part of the world, with little respect and not seen as a commendable career choice. The author also highlights the improvement of teacher training. The more respectable and attractive teaching is seen to be, the more persons of substance would desire to become an educator.

This idea of rethinking education to allow people to actualize their potential and providing a space where students can develop their own code and identity is crucial to development of character, especially at an impressionable age. Just as how the small plant in the author’s office grew into a large fruit bearing tree when placed in the right environment with proper input, our education system can enable children to thrive once there is multidimensional learning, technology and substantial teachers.

The ideas shared in this book are relevant beyond the field of education and I recommend this book not only to educators, but to everyone that is interested in the future of education and ultimately our country.

Selma Choden, Student


After all my years of grappling with issues of education I cannot help but get this feeling when I read Arun Kapur’s marvelous book Serene Strength that he has already been there and done it all. I have known him personally from my college days and thus I claim some degree of first-hand familiarity with his activities in the realm of education. The book embodies the actions and thoughts of a man steeped in liberal thought stemming from experiments performed very much along the lines of our Mimansa school of philosophy which asserts so emphatically that knowledge without action is meaningless. Often, when I have watched Arun Kapur in action, I am reminded of Haridrumat of the Chandogya Upanishad. The hundreds, nay, thousands of his pupils will heartily attest to my assertion.

The insights and viewpoints of Serene Strength are based on years of the practice emanating from an enlightened personal philosophy that has given form and substance to the meaning and purpose of education. However, the culmination, in many ways of Arun’s ideas, though long in the making, occurred only when he created the Royal Academy in Bhutan. In so many ways I can see that Serene Strength is a distillation of a lifetime of learning and practice with the final touches stemming from the realization in its fullest sense of that marvelous institution – The Royal Academy. Of course, the journey began with his experiences at the Doon School as a teacher and then in a significant manner when he was the founder-principal-director of one of India’s finest schools – The Vasant Valley School.

If a seeker educationist were to wish to learn from a single source about the many pathways and needs that she must consider to truly grasp the meaning and purpose of education this is the book. In addition, if she were required to do this whilst keeping a balance between high-end liberal thinking and enlightened practice then she must turn to Serene Strength as a constant source book and companion. There is almost no realm of thought and endeavour related to education that Arun Kapur does not dwell upon. For instance, I have always held the view that the sole meaning of education is to allow a person to recognize her purpose in life or as Arun quotes me in his Preface,’ the purpose of education is to discover the drumbeat of one’s soul and then march in harmony with that drumbeat. Then and only then will that individual mature into a person of substance i.e. an individual of serene strength’. The book is about the pathway to such serene strength. Arun covers almost all that I believe is vital to secure that pathway. He dwells on the many ingredients with almost sage-like wisdom. There is much emphasis on the necessity to be a lifelong learner. I am reminded of Ghalib who said that “jaanaa ki kuch na jaanaa, wah bhi ek umra mein”. In translation, all it says is that, “I have realized that I have realized nothing and that realization has taken a lifetime to dawn.”

The book as I have said earlier, leaves nothing of substance and is rich with illustrations and insights. From characterizing a person of substance to the discussions on curriculum and technology and artificial intelligence it is all there. My favourite chapter is the one on apprenticeships and work. This opens our mind to the importance of the use of our hands and also to reflect or even meditate. Gandhiji used to say that in education what you do with your hands shall enter your heart.

All in all, the book is a must read not just for educationists but for anyone who wishes to seek a path in life to self-realization through reflection.

Dinesh Singh, Former Vice Chancellor of University of Delhi

Paperback is available at Full Circle bookstore, New Delhi and on their website and on Amazon India along with the Kindle version.