Thursday March 21, 2019

The key to new learning : Keep your cup empty

Relax, kick off our shoes, take a deep breath, shut up and listen...

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Source: Wikimedia commons
By Parthak Prodhan, MD
A professor from the nearby university hears about Nan-in, a famous Japanese Zen master from the Meiji era. One day the professor finally decides to make a trip to Nan-in’s village and listen to his words on Zen.

As per tradition, Nan-in receives his guest and goes on to first serves tea. The master quietly pours tea into his visitors cup. However, Nan-in continues to pour tea to the brim, and much more. The professor watches the overflow and he just could no longer restrain himself. “It is full. No more will go in!” the professor blurts out. Nan-in relies “Ah- ha. That is the exact question! When you have come to learn, is your cup empty or full? Like this cup, you may be full of your own opinions and ideas. If full, unfortunately, I cannot teach you anything. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?” This Zen story puts forth a simple but profound message.

It is always the perceptual limitations of our own mind that prevent us from seeing the truth. “All the powers in the universe are already ours. It is we who have put our hands before our eyes and cry that it is dark.” -Swami Vivekananda, one of the most influential spiritual leader in Hinduism once said. One will have to unlearn all our preconceived notions and prejudices before one can learn anew.

Related: How Japan worships Goddess of Learning

This becomes ever so important in today’s world as we transition from the linear growth to an exponential growth of human knowledge. The “Knowledge Doubling Curve” indicates that until 1900, human knowledge doubled approximately every century and by the end of World War II knowledge was doubling every 25 years. With this explosion in information  it is predicted that the “internet of things” will lead to the doubling of knowledge every 12 hours. The Internet is currently estimated to be 5 million terabytes of which Google has indexed roughly 200 TB or just 0.004% of its total size and several billion petabytes of data storage would be needed to index the entire human brain!! Unfortunately, much of the information one learns in college will be obsolete in just a few years.

So, as the story implies, the key to new learning is to open ourselves to the endless possibilities. Intellectual curiosity is the secret sauce and ingredient for this glorious future. “The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day. ” Albert Einstein advised the youth.

As Epictetus, the Greek Stoic philosopher rightly said “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Furthermore, the fact that our optic nerve is 30 times thicker than our auditory nerve is an invitation for a multi-sensory mode of learning.

So, we may have to just relax, kick off our shoes, take a deep breath, shut up and listen, as we open our minds to the endless future possibilities.

Parthak is a board certified doctor (Pediatric critical care)  and teaches at University of Arkansas, Little Rock, USA.

Next Story

The Unconventional Way of Learning: Textbooks Come Alive in Gujarat’s Schools

Outdated teaching methods, lack of interest among students and teachers, and gender discrimination were some of the common problems.

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Outdated teaching methods, lack of interest among students and teachers, and gender discrimination were some of the common problems. Pixabay

 In a small school near Bhuj in Gujarat, a group of class five students sit attentively in class, their eyes glued to an LCD screen. The opened science books on their laps have come alive on the screen before them, as an animated character explains the nuances of the chapter in their native language, Gujarati. Efficient learning, experts say, happens when students enjoy the experience, and in hundreds of schools across Gujarat, digitised school textbooks are opening up children’s minds like never before.

Learning Delight, the hand that is turning the wheel of change in 10,000 government schools, mostly in rural and semi-urban areas across the state, has been digitising the state curriculum since 2011, and has the approval of the Gujarat Council of Educational Research and Training (GCERT). The idea is simple: use technology to aid classroom teaching to make the learning process more engaging, more efficient – and definitely more fun.

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This led the two to use technology and design, an e-learning tool that would aid classroom teaching.. Pixabay

So much so, that in a survey done in 350 schools where they have a presence, Parinita Gohil, co-founder of Learning Delight, said, “The dropout rate among children studying between Class 1 and Class 8 has come down by 6-7 per cent in the past five years.”

It all started a decade back when two friends, Harshal Gohil and Vandan Kamdar, who were doing their MBA, realised that there was a huge gap in education between schools in different settings. Outdated teaching methods, lack of interest among students and teachers, and gender discrimination were some of the common problems. This led the two to use technology and design, an e-learning tool that would aid classroom teaching.

“Harshal and Vandan began with a survey in five schools. Here they found that although there was no dearth in infrastructure – the schools had computers – there was scepticism about using them,” Parinita Gohil, who is married to Harshal Gohil, told IANS. The resistance mainly arose because “most teachers were not comfortable with the English language, were scared of using the computer, and apprehensive if the computers would replace their role”.

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There has, however, been an exception in this digitisation process – the language textbooks, be it English, Hindi, or Gujarati, have been left out. Pixabay

Therefore, the offline computer software that they developed was designed in such a way that a teacher’s presence was necessary in the class. The medium of instruction was Gujarati. “So be it any subject – science, math, social studies – the content was digitised in a way that through animation, riddles, puzzles, and stories textbook learning is made more interactive and fun,” Parinita Gohil said. The experts who designed the digitised content also had teachers on board.

Also Read: Goa Acknowledges Drop in Tourist Arrivals

There has, however, been an exception in this digitisation process – the language textbooks, be it English, Hindi, or Gujarati, have been left out. “We don’t want children to leave reading their books. So, while we have digitised the grammar lessons, language textbooks have been left as they are,” she said.

Next in the pipeline is a mobile phone app being developed with a similar software and a foray into Rajasthan, for which software has been developed in Hindi and in tandem with the Rajasthan state education board. (IANS)