In this fast changing world, the ability to do away with unconscious beliefs, false assumptions, values, and practices not only in educational institutions but at home, workplaces, and subsequently in the larger community has now been considered an essential skill of the 21st century. However, the concept of ‘unlearning’ which means discarding a bad habit, false or outdated information, or practice is fairly new to most.
In this regard, American writer Alvin Toffler has rightly expressed, “The illiterate of the future are not those who cannot read or write but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”
Contrary to his statement, if we consider the National Literacy Mission (NLM) of the 80s in India, the literacy song ‘Padhna Likhna Seekho’ (learn to read and write) written by theatre activist, Safdar Hashmi was the rallying cry of NLM during those years. The song was repeatedly broadcasted on Doordarshan and became much popular all over the country. It is said that the song was inspired by Bertolt Brecht’s composition for the adapted play of Maxim Gorky’s ‘The Mother’ and the lyrics of the song encouraged the poor laborers to become literate by learning to read and write, so that they may understand the causes of their conditions and bring a better change to their lives filled with disadvantages and backwardness.
The world has gone through a sea change in the last 4-5 decades and accordingly, the concept of literacy has been changed. ‘Unlearning’ the outdated syllabus which does not provide any pragmatic solutions in real life beyond schools and colleges has to be the first step. The purpose of education also needs to be changed in the present age where the world is becoming a global village and the borders are becoming virtually non-existent. Life skills, innovation, and the ability to adapt in fast-changing times should be given priority over the limited criteria of determining the performance of a student only through their memory and marks.
An average person spends around 20 years in education. Except for a few individuals, the remaining majority when they finish education, leave these schools and colleges to walk around and function in society with a deep sense, hard-coded into their brains, of comparison and competition with the next person.
It is true that competition is required where the most qualified candidates are to be cherry-picked from the vast majority and utilized in the respective fields of administration, IT, engineering, military, medical science, etc. The selected individuals will function as the wheels and levers to run this massive machinery called a nation. In order to assemble a vehicle, a mechanic would obviously look for the best parts. This ambition taught to children and the psychology to beat the next person so that they can become cogs in the system only prepares them to further join the rat race in the future. This leaves them without a chance to unlearn what is not needed and stay emotionally stunted forever.
Mystics as well as social critics have pointed out that only a few can shake off this competitive mindset after they leave these institutions. With concepts deeply ingrained in their minds such as one going ahead as superior and the other lagging behind as inferior in terms of their ability to reach from point A to B, the brainwashed students come out with a fear imprinted in their sub-consciousness i.e., the fear of being found wanting and not being good enough and the worst of all — the fear of appearing less in comparison to others.
When people come to gatherings or workplaces bringing along the competitive mindset, every small conversation, action, and activity can become a psychological duel.
It has been pointed out that competition and comparison hammered into the minds of young students are also the root cause of superiority and inferiority complexes which many people suffer without even realising all throughout their lives. The rat race is really not a physical one but about higher and lower statuses, one’s self-image in terms of salary and position in comparison to colleagues and friends, etc.
We all need some introspection to unlearn and undo these damages and come up with a better approach with respect to education and general social conduct in many spheres of life.
(The views expressed are personal)