On the occasion of Teacher’s Day, I would like to share a classic story that I adapted from the Nobel prize winning poet Rabindranath Tagore, in which he warned us of the dangers of McEducation almost 80 years ago. In ‘The Parrot’s Training’ , we are told of a golden cage that is built to imprison the wild and uncivilized parrot so that she can be properly educated by the king’s pundits. In addition to the 3Rs, she should also learn who is ‘the boss’ as well as be familiar with all the latest global brands.
First, the teachers tried stuffing the bird with pages of the official textbooks. That did not work. Then a UNICEF project came with all kinds of child-friendly and joyful techniques for the girl-child parrot. They also taught the parrot about child rights. No improvement. Then the World Bank gave a loan to the king (with austerity conditionalities of course) to build a bigger cage with a nicer toliet. Still, no difference. Then the OECD came with the PISA standardized tests and new a national policy white paper was written. Harvard researchers were invited to conduct studies on the parrot’s brain and multiple intelligences. Nothing worked. Then Apple gave it an iPad, a free high speed wifi connection, and links to Khan Academy. She even got her own facebook page. But the parrot was not allowed to leave the cage despite her obvious distress. In fact, she was scolded for being ungrateful and impertinent. Then she was given mindfulness training. No luck. Finally, anti-depressants drugs were prescribed. As the parrot was overstuffed with information and tormented by the pressure of competition, she internalized her label as a ‘slow learner’ and ‘failure’, and lost confidence in her gift of flight. One day the cage was accidently left open but she was afraid to venture out. She was diagnosed with NDD (nature deficit disorder). The parrot became totally dependent on the cage. Her dreams were reduced to being a rat in the rat-race. A deep loss of purpose ensued. Slowly her spirit withered away. In the end, a lot of people made a lot of money on the parrot’s education, everyone benefited except the parrot.
The time has come to more deeply understand the nature of the cage and its impact on each of us and our communities in both the South and the North – beyond what the World Bank economists tell us. It is important for teachers around the world to crack open and re-examine our definitions of progress, success, happiness and to look at how our imaginations for creative social action have been colonized by the cage.
We also need to question the assumption that, if we keep adding more and more bells and whistles onto the cage, we can actually fix or reform its fundamental nature as an institution built for control and domination.
– Manish Jain, Shikshantar Andolan