By the Moon – Education Today!

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If providing sound knowledge and developing critical thinking capabilities are among the goals of an education system, the answer highlights the miserable failure of the education system prevalent in the Muslim world today.
By Dawood Vaid

Quick question: Who is the first person on Moon? The almost guaranteed answer: Neil Armstrong, of course. The smart students in the class may also know that the spaceship was called Discovery and the launching station was NASA or the colleague was Aldrin ‘Buzz’.

Now let’s re-vist the question to the same class and ask them, ‘Who split the Moon in two?’ Perhaps we would find a few raised hands, most in self-doubt and a lot of puzzle look. A split moon! Adults would find it very unconvincing to answer. However, the apathy of the situation is we live amidst people for whom this question is irrelevant if not incorrect.
The best is yet to come. Who do we blame? The ‘Moon’ of course! Our focus instead of being intrinsic, in a mode of self-regulation, is more extrinsic. We tend to find excuses in the teachers, resources, environment, parents and books. A famous quote attributed to the fourth Caliph Ali bin AbiTalib explains this mysterious phenomenon. Ali was once asked by his people, ‘Why is it that the reigns of Abu-Bakr and Umar were peaceful and tranquil whereas your reign (Ali’s Khalifat) was full of trial and civil war?’ Instead of being apologetic or defensive, Ali gave a fitting reply saying, ‘This is because, the people in the time of Abu-Bakr and Umar were like me (Ali) and the people in my reign are like YOU!’ Remember, we can be a part of the problem whose solution we are seeking. Let’s shift the needle of introspection inwards rather than elsewhere.
If providing sound knowledge and developing critical thinking capabilities are among the goals of an education system, the answer highlights the miserable failure of the education system prevalent in the Muslim world today on both counts. The problem is that we fail to look beyond the ‘textbook rhetoric’, beyond the mundane facts and challenge ourselves. We are satisfied with the ‘answers’ when it is the ‘question’ that should stir us up.
Abraham Lincoln once remarked, “the philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.” We fail to recognize the challenge in our child, when the question that begs to be probed is – was Armstrong the first ever to reach moon or someone has gone beyond well and truly centuries ago. Yes we are referring to the miraculous journey of our Prophet, the Miraj.
Learning is a lifelong adventure. It starts in your mother’s womb, accelerates to high speed in infancy and childhood, and continues through every age, whether you are actively engaged in mastering a new skill, intuitively discovering an unfamiliar place, or just sleeping, which is fundamental to helping you consolidate and hold on to what you’ve learned. You are truly born to learn around the clock. The Prophet of Allah (peace be upon him) said, ‘Seeking knowledge is compulsory upon every Muslim’.[Tirmidhi] But few of us know how we learn, which is the key to learning and studying more effectively. For example, you may be surprised by the following:
People tend to misjudge what they have learned well, what they don’t yet know, and what they do and do not need to practice.
Moments of confusion, frustration, uncertainty, and lack of confidence are part of the process of acquiring new skills and new knowledge.
Humans and animals explore their worlds for the sake of learning, regardless of rewards and punishment connected with success.
It is these questions that we seek to find answers to. Our children are the by-products of three things prevalent in the society:
i. Culture
ii. Education
iii. Family condition
While we cannot overhaul the culture or the family condition, the education that we give can be shaped to bring out a more eager learner, curious and ready to take on the challenges. This can only happen if we amalgamate both the religious knowledge with the contemporary setting.
I end with a more practical study done with first graders. They were probed to the question, ‘What is the Moon made of?’ The answers ranged from cute to serious introspection. Someone answered it is made of the ‘clouds to another quickly adding, ‘it is made of rocks painted white!’
Yet a more serious answer came from this girl who says, ‘It is actually the light of the sun,’ to which a boy questioned, ‘then it should be YELLOW and not WHITE!’
T.S. Eliot, the poet said, “Where is the wisdom we have lost of knowledge?Where is the knowledge we have lost to information?”
Are we taking our children into this zone of curiosity and challenge? Because all said and done, if we fail to do so, we would else have failed in our mission to teach, but would have ended giving them mere information.
(The writer heads Burooj Realization, a non profit Education Dawah. The series aims to create awareness of the upcoming Milky Way Ed Summit 2014, the first ever Islamic conference for Muslim Educators in India, to be held in Chennai. He can be reached at [email protected])