For the most part, the Changchun Friends website is not very active and has been superseded by the Tencent "Wechat" app by the local expat community. This website is maintained sporadically, people may still join and membership is still open, but if you are a spammer, stay away. The archived information here is still useful, but some may be out of date. There are plans to make it more useful for static information in the future. If anyone needs information about Changchun or China, you may post a message and it probably will get a response but not immediately.
I am copying below part of an article written by a headmaster in Australia on what education is. Comments gratefully received
The Upanishadic Model
What is education? The teacher on one side, pupil on the other side, knowledge between, discourse joining them.
Taittiriya Upanishad, Ten Principle Upanishads2
The above quote sets out all the necessary factors in education: teacher, student, curriculum (knowledge) and teaching technique (discourse). Let us consider them in turn.
To teach virtue one must know virtue. The company and character of the teacher is of primary significance in the development of the child. A true teacher is not merely someone with a technical qualification. A teacher needs warmth as well as competence, love as well as intelligence and passion as well as efficiency.
Bureaucratic red tape, paperwork, regulations, minutely detailed reporting and documented outcomes, is moving the teacher along the scale towards the status of a paid functionary with technical skills whose performance can be objectively judged with a series of tick boxes. In fact, while a teacher undoubtedly has to get the students to a known destination within a certain timescale, at the same time they should love them, sacrifice for them and create a warm, intelligent classroom atmosphere.
In order to learn anything a pupil has to be receptive to the knowledge the teacher has to impart. And to be receptive there has to be love and respect and, perhaps, a little awe. Fortunately young children have an innate predisposition to this. They have a natural faith in their teacher which shows itself in admiration and emulation. If, for example, they hear of brave people they want to become brave. Therefore they must be in the company of men and women of good character. They will pick up their teacher’s traits by a subtle, emotional interchange. It is not so much what the teacher says but what they do and, more importantly, who they are, which most influences the child, and the younger the child the greater the impact of the teacher’s character on the child’s heart and mind.
Up to the age five years old children learn through love and play. Even lessons about family rules and so on can best be communicated as if it were a game.
Plato says that children should be cured of fear by the age of three and self-will by the age of six. Fear, he says, is overcome by the love of those who care for the child and also, interestingly, by regular, gentle movement, so he prescribes carrying the children with you as you go about your activities. Self-will, as he terms it, is cured by avoiding too much pleasure and too much pain, and by requiring the child to conform to external discipline both at home and school.
After five a child needs this discipline if he or she is to grow into a good, civilised and cultured adult. Nothing worthwhile can be achieved without effort, and discipline is a key element of effort. The word is used here in the sense of guided behaviour within acceptable norms, as a form of discipleship, where a child, through love and admiration, follows the fine example of its father, mother or teacher.
Up to the age of ten the child is full of faith and trust and he or she learns the basics by heart and follows the teacher out of simple admiration. And they can use their remarkable facility for memorisation to assimilate basic principles.
If this faculty for memorising is efficiently harnessed the child could, by ten, have a fund of stored knowledge – times tables, rules of punctuation and grammar, historical facts, poetry, and also the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes and so on – which will be a rich capital for life. And they will also have a firm basis for the next shift in schooling when, at the age of ten, their world opens up and they begin to apply reason. It is immeasurably easier to ensure a firm, full and propitious development of mental strength if, in the stage up to ten, the child has had good materials, good company of fine teachers and that they have enjoyed their schooling.
This development of mental strength from the age of ten means learning to reason with the principles laid down earlier. At this stage they naturally want to put their knowledge into practice, and to deepen their understanding through intelligent discussion. Their emotional world also expands. So they need to devise and conduct scientific experiments, find their way through the countryside with a map, and construct a closely reasoned argument.
They can also expand their ability to serve others and deepen their understanding of the plight of the needy. And a resolve to contribute to the betterment of humanity can begin to take practical shape. It is from ten onwards that expanded, subtle considerations become natural. But this new ability to reason and feel needs to be based on solid input under ten, and it needs to be nurtured and guided lest it turn into cynicism and scepticism.
The first introduction of a subject to children is important. Particularly when very young the child’s mind, meeting something for the first time, will shape itself to the delight or distaste felt at this first meeting. Such a moulding is not irreversible, of course, but it is much easier for an effective long-term education if the child’s first experience of school is enjoyable and interesting.
What should we teach? Reading, Writing and Arithmetic certainly. Add a little science, some history and geography, a touch of citizenship, a taste of a foreign language and perhaps a little drawing and music. Let them kick a soccer ball or swing a bat occasionally and voila! you have the well-educated primary school child.
But has our child been nourished and educated on all levels? A key element of mental training is to learn to focus the attention on one thing at a time and to resist external and internal distractions. The mind can be active, jumpy, chatty and noisy so giving children a few simple techniques to achieve mental stillness like pausing briefly and quietly between activities, regularly connecting with the senses, working with quiet attention and good posture and even meditation, are all part of the education of the mind.
And what of emotional education? What of immersing the children in beauty, and giving them a sense of virtue, of right and wrong and of encouraging them to live by what they know to be true? All schools try to imbue values such as tolerance and compassion into the children. Children also need to know that beauty, truth and justice exist and, through rational and rigorous enquiry, can be known, experienced and taught to others. Emotional education also means surrounding a child with the finest products of human intelligence, reason and feeling.
The spiritual dimension of education has a two-fold aspect. The outer aspect connects with Spirit as transcendental, glorious and universal, and relates to Spirit through prayer, worship, awe and devotion. The inner aspect connects through contemplation, meditation and study, and relates to Spirit as pure being, an unchanging inner consciousness and a Supreme Self. All major religions lay down pathways to the discovery of both the outer, transcendent presence and the inner being. Communicating this to children not only gives them a connection to the major cultural forces working through history, but also gives a sense of grandeur, and of a guiding presence in the universe.
The fourth and final aspect of the upanishadic model is discourse or teaching method. The effective teacher delivers knowledge through lively presentation, guiding the children in self-discovery, repetition and practice, the use of incentives, modelling. The knowledge needs to be delivered in a reasonable sequence building from low to high skill levels, the children’s interest, engagement and speed of assimilation being key guiding factors. The stimulating and inspiring classroom engenders a life-time love of the subject and equips the child to assimilate the teacher’s offerings and also to explore further afield. And, if the emotional and spiritual dimensions get equal air time, it is also character building. To do all of this any competent teacher needs, themselves, to be studying and learning.
A human is a being which exists on four levels: physical, mental emotional and spiritual. In childhood each of these levels is in a receptive, malleable condition. Just as children need nourishing physical food every day to ensure health and growth, so they need healthy nourishing food for the mind, heart and spirit every day. This is real education. And it will result in a productive responsible accomplished adult ready to take their place in society.
Any views on this anyone?
I think a meeting to discuss the purpose of education is bubbling up in my mind!
Good idea - maybe we can ask Marcella if she would like to host a final meeting?