Monday 21 June 2021

Education - a Sanskrit proverb

 आचार्यात् पादं आदत्ते पादं शिष्य स्वमेधया ।

पादं सब्रह्मचारिभिः पादं कालक्रमेण च ॥

Aacaaryaat paadam adattE 
paadam shishyasvamEdayaa
paadam sabrahmacaariBhyaH 
paadam kaalakramENa ca

Meaning by word
Aacaaryaat - from the teacher 
paadam - a quarter (1/4)
adattE - is received
shishya - student
svamEdayaa - intellect or motivation
sabrahmacaariBhyaH - from fellow student
kaalakramENa - experience
ca - an

A quarter of one's knowledge or learning is received from the teacher, a quarter from the student's own ability, a quarter from fellow students, a quarter from experience. 

This is a subhaashitam (or bon-mot or proverb) in Sanskrit about education. The word itself (veda or vidya ) is not used in the proverb, but is implied. The word used for student is brahmachaari, which technically means bachelor. In ancient times, ashramas were the schools, and only bachelors were admitted, so the word expresses that cultural artifact. The European world still uses the term Bachelor or Baccalaureate for basic college degrees in arts business technology or science.

I first stumbled upon this proverb in a beginner's book on Sanskrit, given to my Sri Balasubramanian, around 2011 when he started teaching some of us Sanskrit. I pass it on to students whenever I teach them. 

I wish I had known this proverb as a student. I would have spent more time and effort learning from fellow students. I wish this were taught to all the extra hardworking teachers, who will hopefully learn to ease off, and to some happy-go-lucky teachers who wont feel too much guilt. I have noticed that almost all classes of students seem to fall under some sort of normal distribution by talent, desire, effort, diligence, passion, attention, interest etc. Not every teacher is good at explaining every aspect of his or her subject. And students often learn some concept better from a fellow student than a teacher, even an outstanding teacher. As S Muthiah and other historians of Madras have remarked (including, recently, Matt Ridley in his book The Evolution of Everything), this system of fellow students teaching younger students, was formally used in Indian education in the Madras Presidency (before being supplanted by British model of education). This was called Madras System and was introduced in several schools in Scotland by Dr Andrew Bell, who learnt and used it in Madras, India. After Bell's death, the Madras system was replaced by different teaching methods. There is still a Madras College in Scotland, which mentions Dr Andew Bell, but leaves out all mentions of Madras.

This is true whether they are in a classroom setting or in a open-air location like a monument or some public place. Age, gender, social or economic background doesnt seem to matter. 

Related posts

Tamil translation of this poem

School education in Tamilnadu - translation of Jayamohan's essay

Wikipedia has named this the Monitorial System rather than Madras System. Quite similar to how Lavoisier's name was removed from Lavoisier's Law, I suppose