The 4Hs of education

There are five basic problems with India’s current education system:

  1. It only focuses on providing students with an education so that they can get jobs and make money.
  2. It gives students skills to only be successful in urban centers. In India, this approach neglects the fact that roughly 70% of Indians still live in villages!
  3. It actively persuades students to move away from local knowledge to uphold universal benchmarks. Most often, the local knowledge that is available to students has formed over many years of trial and error, and has evolved with the land and the people. To replace this historical, evolved, culturally-competent knowledge base with universal benchmarks established by state and national governments is highly impractical.
  4. It makes students feel that their local knowledge is inferior to the education provided in schools.
  5. It promotes competition among students where self interest is valued more than general good.

In India, the Right to Education Act is hailed as a step towards ending illiteracy. But, if being literate means going through the current education system, then I am not sure if being literate is beneficial. In the current education system, we are pegged against our peers and must compete, thus, making us feel insecure about our abilities. We are taught to view our communities in economic ways only, where each member provides us with certain services. We are taught to view nature as resources to be used rather than a living entity to be conserved. It appears that the more literate we become in the current education system, the farther we get away from understanding ourselves, our communities and nature.

I think we need to expand our approach to education so that it combines a sound understanding of students with their socioeconomic, cultural and natural surroundings. Education should help students build a connection with self, their community and nature. For me, one of the goals of education is to make students understand the difference between their need and their greed. And, when their need is not provided, to make an effort to attain it, and when their greed is exacerbated, to have the capacity to control it. Understanding the difference between need and greed is rooted in a deep connection with self, community and nature: Only when one is insecure about self, unsure about the community and distant from nature does one begin to convert their greed into their need.

A few months back I attended a talk by Satish Kumar—educator, activist, Gandhian. Prior to the talk, we had some time to chat about education. He said education is that which focuses on the 4Hs: Home, Heart, Hand, and Head. I think this is an excellent way to sum-up education and potentially a viable means to change our current education system.

Home refers to land, nature and people. Education should teach students to coexist peacefully and sustainably, and to not lose connection with their home. Heart refers to love, courage, discipline and wisdom. Education should teach students to exercise these values and to use them to build a secure connection with self. Hand refers to the importance of daily labor. Education should teach students to engage in daily labor to help their communities, to become active citizens. Head refers to rationality and discernment. Education should teach students to logically study, assess and construct problems and to vocalize their thoughts in a coherent way.

Just as a car does not move without all four wheels, the 4 Hs must act together to provide holistic education. For rationality without wisdom is self-interest; courage without discernment is foolishness; cultivating land without discipline is exploitation; love without labor is expressionless.

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About Ranjodh Singh
I'm currently an Ally in the Public Allies New York Apprenticeship (www.publicallies.org). Through the apprenticeship, I'm partnered with NYCRx (www.nyxrc.org), a nonprofit organization that improves the health of New Yorkers using public health interventions. I'm excited to continue serving, but doing so closer to health and medicine. I'm also enjoying NYC, which I find to be an enriching environment.

3 Responses to The 4Hs of education

  1. Hey Ranjodh,

    Very valuable post. Thanks for sharing. I really like the first part where you explain issues in current education system, especially 2nd and 3rd.
    Your special attention to differential Greed and Need is worth a thought…I think that is so very true.
    The idea of 4H is also interestingly articulated by Mr. Satish Kumar but the problem is it just an idea. Noone knows how do we impart those skills/values ..hence while it remains a good to read but hard to act …Did he mention anything about how one transfer these 4H to students ?

  2. Hi Shashi Ji,

    Thank you for the comment. Satish Kumar Ji didn’t explain how to put the 4Hs into action. Our conversation was short. Here are my un-thought thoughts on the matter 🙂

    (a) Think locally. The more the students engage in their local surroundings the more they’ll understand them. The more they;ll understand them, the more likely they’ll want to cherish them and not feel insecure about them. When students feel insecure about their local surroundings (i.e. thinking their culture is inferior), they begin looking at outside influences to replace them. We can’t expect this understanding of local understandings to occur naturally. With so many influencing factors these days, this understanding needs to be facilitated. (b) and (c) below are just two ways to do this.

    (b) Get students into nature. As a species, I think we’ve lost our connection with nature. But, nature hasn’t lost its connections with us. We are constantly reminded that we are under the influence of natural forces that are not under our control (think of the tsunami that hit Japan). Thinking that we have no control over nature is a scary thought, so we, for the past 300 years or so, have tried to ‘conquer’ nature (think of the deep space, deep sea, deep jungle expeditions). This approach to nature as a ‘thing’ to be ‘conquered’ has naturally seeped into how we educate our students. Nature is not something to be conquered. Rather, it’s something to co-exist peacefully with. To promote this among students, focus on having students interact with agriculture, animals, plants, flowers, insects and anything else in nature. The more time students spend in nature the stronger their connection with it will be.

    (c) Get students into the community. Two things to focus on in the community: the arts and community service. The local arts (theater, music, dance, etc.) are rich expressions of a lineage of culture and history and thus it is important that students partake in them. Service is really a two way street that goes outward into the world and expresses itself through kindness, and goes inward and expresses itself through introspection. So, it is important that service be linked with guided self-reflection. It’s the latter that’ll help students view service as not something to be done ‘once a while,’ but rather something that becomes a part of their daily lifestyle. The more the students are concerned with the welfare of others, the more they’ll in return feel loved and happy and genuinely care about the members of the their community.

    (d) View education as a process of self-realization. What I mean by this is that the values embodied in the 4Hs can’t be transferred from one to another. Instead, they must be awakened from within. I think (a), (b) and (c) can help in the process. Use the 4Hs as a venue to build character and promote love, compassion, trust, kindness, warmth and courage.

    (e) Most importantly, if an educator wants to awaken the above sentiments and values in the students, they’ll have to lead by example. The educator has to remember that the medium is the message; the medium being the person who is teaching and the way that person is teaching. Meaning, one educates more by being than by teaching. So, start thinking locally, get your hands into nature, practice the arts, do selfless community service and kindle the love and compassion within. Only then can these things happen in students. As Tagore said, “Only a burning candle can light another.”

    I was in Spiti for the second part of June doing workshops with school children. I was thinking of ways to do the above and came up with a simple activity: building stone towers (see picture in article). Since we were in Spiti, there was no shortage of rocks and the students were free to build how ever they wanted and with whomever they wanted. Through this activity, students engaged their local surroundings and got into nature (and not some plastic toy-set). They also got into their community of students and helped one another build. The students saw how passionate and enthusiastic I was about the activity so they approached the activity with creativity and energy. It was a lot of fun 🙂

    Let me know if any points are unclear and I’d be happy to discuss further.

    love,
    ranjodh

  3. Pingback: 9 essential skills we should learn or re-learn « Look, Listen and Learn

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