Saturday, March 11, 2017


The educational literature is spewed with words such as "syllabus", "pedagogy", "curriculum". However, there is lack of clarity and sometimes misconceptions on what each means. For instance, pedagogy is loosely used to denote the instructional method in the classroom (chalk-and-talk, powerpoint slides, activity-based learning, etc.). Pedagogy is a much more comprehensive term. Below I quote Prof. Mohanan on what each of these terms means - in the hope that this will give clarity to those interested in education.

a) Syllabus: The GOALS — the outcomes of learning that our educational intervention aims at.

b) Pedagogy: The MEANS — the strategies we use to achieve the goals: this includes learning activities guided by the teacher, in and outside the classroom; textbooks and other learning materials; assessment; policies; and infrastructure.

c) Curriculum: The combination of (a) and (b). Every learning activity has both what
students end up learning (learning outcomes) and how the teacher, textbooks, and
assessment tasks guide them towards those outcomes (pedagogical strategies).

From the above, it is probably clear that pedagogy is composed of not just instructional method, but also the teaching-learning materials, assessment etc.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Education and Goals of Life

26 October, 2016

In a discussion among a closed group of like-minded people on education, Prof. T. R. Neelakantan, put forward two important questions:
1.      What is the role of education in achieving the ultimate goal in life?
2.      Should professional colleges & educational institutions today contribute ultimate goals?
What follows is my response to his questions. I am just documenting it so that I can revisit this for my own references and refining of ideas. 

Attributes of Educatedness and Ultimate Goal

As you have cited and may be aware, there have been several schools of thoughts exist on this question. The Aristotlean and the Budhist hold that the ultimate goal in life is happiness. Thirukural, as you have said, defines the purpose of life as Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha and if I were to understand correctly, it holds Dharma, Artha and Kama as means to Moksha.

Since I am much more familiar with the Budhist philosophy (primarily from the book “The Universe in a Single Atom” by Dalai Lama), let me try to articulate my understanding of the goal of education in light of the ultimate goal (happiness). Happiness, as espoused Budha is not the sensual pleasures but rather an elating and transcended happiness (and is called “sukha”). The Budhist philosophy holds that the path to this happiness is an investigative path adopted by the self. For instance, it encourages one to investigate the cause of suffering. However, before investigating the cause of suffering, one needs to define what is suffering. What is suffering to me might be different from what is suffering to another human. So, a person investigating on the cause of suffering needs to clearly define the boundaries and circumstances under which one would define an instance/feeling to be a suffering. This is not an easy task as you might observe. One needs the ability, not only to construct the definition of suffering, but also the ability to evaluate the definition.

Now consider the below arguments on the definition of liquid. The textbook definition liquid (secondary school text): Liquid is something that takes the shape of the container.  By this definition a heap of sand in a beaker is a liquid. We should now either accept that a heap of sand in a beaker is a liquid or change the definition of liquid (if we agree to the premises of rationality). I think most of us would now want to “refine” the definition. For instance, one may define liquid as something in which the intermolecular distances are farther apart than that in solid. Can we draw a cut-off in the intermolecular distance and say that beyond this value it is a liquid? If we cannot, we must abandon this refinement. One can, in principle, try and consider all such possibilities and counter examples to arrive at a definition of liquid and solid.

In the above arguments, the “meta-learning”, if I may call so, is the process of constructing and evaluating definitions involving identification of counter examples. Secondly, the above is an example of how we can use simple textbook material to teach students the principle of constructing, refining and evaluating definitions. To extend this meta learning to define suffering is beyond the scope and ability of anybody, but the self. However, by repeating the above process of constructing, refining and evaluating definitions (what is species, what is democracy etc.) we can inculcate in students the ability to construct, refine and evaluate definitions. In similar lines, I hold that abilities such as critical thinking (identifying the fallacies in a statement/process), identifying logical contradictions etc., are all the “meta principles” that we could teach students that will help them develop their own meaning and purpose in life.

Slight deviation:
Aside from this, I would like to share with you that the Budhist philosophy and the scientific methodology share some commonalities (again, garnered from the above-said book). One that I would like to state is that both of them have higher precedence for observation followed by experience, reasoning and authority. That is, authority takes the least precedence of all forms learning. Based on discussions with Dr. Ramanathan on the Upanishad/Vedhic methodologies,  I understand that there are significant overlaps.

Should professional education help the purposes in life or not?

I would say, that the term professional education connotates providing/passing on domain knowledge so as to create a “trained” workforce. This is what, in my perspective, the Nation has adopted - whether by force/influence or not, I do not know. If WE define the goal of professional education to just create a trained workforce, obviously, we don’t have to worry about equipping children  to find their own meaning of life.

But I beg to differ and make an earnest request that we don’t restrict ourselves only to create a trained workforce. Let us aim to create educated individuals who can find their own meaning in life and reach whatever they define as their goal in life. The education that we provide should impart the children with the necessary skills and abilities for the purpose defined above.

What are our activities?

The four activities that you have stated are indeed the basic ones. However, I believe there is more. For instance, I may regard contributing to the welfare of other people as one of my activities. Likewise, each may have their own set of activities. How does one decide that X will be one of his/her activities in life? How would (s)he go about achieving it? If I were to regard that contributing to the welfare of other people as one of my activities, I may achieve it through ‘n’ number of ways. How do I choose one over the other? This requires deep analysis supported by evidences and logical reasoning.  

In essence, I earnestly request that we be committed to not only passing on the knowledge to the next generation, but also to equipping the next generation to create their own meaning and purpose in life and providing them with the necessary skills and abilities

Prof. T. R. N’s email:
Part 1:
Does our education help in our activities? Let us analyze our activities first.
It looks to me that we basically do only four activities. All living beings do the following activities: (a) eating (not just by mouth - sense gratification); (b) sleeping; (c) procreating and (d) defending (health insurance - buildings - military).
We may sleep in a nice a/c room on a bed; cows may sleep in shed; dogs may sleep in streets; but activity is ‘sleeping’. Though there is difference in sophistication, activity is ‘sleeping’
Having the sixth sense, are we doing different activities? (What is sixth sense?) Please let me know any activity we do that is not ultimately connected to the above listed basic activities.
I think that ‘self learning, critical thinking, team work, problem solving etc’ are all the intermediate goals (or mile stones) but not ultimate goals. What will you do with ‘self learning, critical thinking, team work, problem solving, etc’? Will you not use them to do these four activities?
Part 2:
Through scriptures (example: திருக்குறள்), I have (you might have also) heard many times that the purposes of life are: Dharma (அறம்), Artha (பொருள்), Kama (இன்பம்) and Moksha (வீடு). The purpose of education must also fall in line with the purpose of life. Wikipedia says the following:
Dharma – includes the religious duties, moral rights and duties of each individual, as well as behaviors that enable social order, right conduct, and those that are virtuous.
Artha – signifies the "means of life", activities and resources that enables one to be in a state one wants to be in. Artha incorporates wealth, career, activity to make a living, financial security and economic prosperity.
Kama – signifies desire, wish, passion, emotions, pleasure of the senses, the aesthetic enjoyment of life, affection, love, without violating dharma (moral responsibility), artha (material prosperity) and one's journey towards moksha (spiritual liberation).
Moksha – signifies emancipation, liberation or release - connotes freedom the cycle of birth and death, or self-knowledge, or self-realization. A few like Sri Nrusimha’s devotee Prahalad did not show interest in the materialistic first three.
Professional/College education should help for all these four purposes or not?

Friday, January 27, 2017


I just cataloged the places I have visited - These include places I visited in childhood and later - those that have remained in my memory either vividly and/or through photos.

The list can be found here

Friday, January 20, 2017


The last three days has seen what I have not seen but only heard of in my life time so far - the solidarity of the student community. The solidarity shown by the student community across the state - with no reported violence - is commendable.
As to the issue of Jallikattu, I find this show in Neeya Naana bringing out various facets very clearly a must exposition for all: