Sunday, 6 October 2013

Food for thought: Education can save our world

I recently watched several very insightful and educational videos on interviews and talks with a Buddhist master, Master Jing Kong 净空法师. One particular topic is the importance and power of education. Having extensively studied Chinese history, as well as the history of other religions, the Master concluded that the tumultuous state of our world today is the result of lack of education, or rather, correct education. 

Historically, religious practices, Confucius way of life are guidelines teaching people how to be ideal humans. In one of the important texts that people have to recite and learn, 三字经, the first line goes something like this 'the true nature of all human is of love and kindness' (人之初,性本善). That is the basis of education, and the basis of education is to nurture this true nature of human being. In later lines of that text, it goes on to say that human 'nature' changes depending on their environment, therefore it is of utmost importance that humans are educated. Educated in this sense does not mean academic education, but rather, human education. 

What I found really interesting but made so much sense, was that traditional Chinese education always begins with teaching people the way of life. It is all about respecting our parents, teachers, elderly, our peers and even the environment. From young age, children are taught these morals. How? The only and most effective way was through the parents and teachers themselves setting examples. For instance, parents will respect grandparents - even those that are deceased, through paying respect by kneeling, bowing, praying in front of their ancestors' memorial signs. If parents themselves pay respect to their elders, naturally the children will follow suit. Furthermore, the parents will also pay respect to the teachers, bowing and thanking them for their service. If parents show respect to the teachers, naturally the children will also respect the teachers. And if parents put so much faith in the teachers, naturally the teachers will do their best in educating the children. 

Another very interesting and logical thing is that only when the students have proven themselves as moral humans are they allowed to proceed to study other subjects. 

In Western countries of course, religion plays a big role in educating people. Again, religion acts as a guideline to life.

Nowadays, education has turned upside down and religion are increasingly being shunned.  Parents often have to listen to their children. Some parents are even abused by their children! Parents have lost faith in teachers, and teachers have lost sense of their jobs. Traditionally, parents would thank the teachers for punishing their children as they are educating them. But nowadays teachers are not allowed to punish the students. And what is education about these days? Right from primary through to the highest level of tertiary education, isn't it about pushing your competitiveness, teaching you what the best way to make money is? Isn't it about cramming you with as much 'knowledge' as possible - language, maths, science, history, art, etc. just so one day you can find a job? Isn't it mostly about how to stand out as an individual, rather than how to work with others as a whole to make society a better place? And what more, the media plays such an enormous role in influencing people. Celebrities that are supposed to be role models are themselves confused. And what do we learn from the media? Movies and games teach us how to kill, celebrities teach us about divorce, the media teaches us about materialism. The media promotes that sort of fake ideal life so much. Everyone wants to be rich and live a luxurious life. Because of that, look at society today - divorce rates, suicide rates, killing rates are at an all time high. People have lost that sense of humanity and morality.

If you take a look at the people around you, as I certainly have, most people are just going through life blindly. A lot of my friends that have graduated felt lost. What are they supposed to do now that they've finished studying? Find a job. Why? To pay back their student loans. What job do they want? Any. Whatever they can get their hands on. Are they happy? Well, yes, because they have a job and they get paid. Are they truly happy? Not sure. Are they doing something meaningful to society? If you think about economics, maybe, if you think about morals and nurturing humanity, hmm... only a rare few are. People today have lost that sense of purpose in life. Their only concerns in life are to find a job and find a good boyfriend/girlfriend. 

Something else that really said a lot about our ancestors, the ancient Chinese people is their extremely far-sightedness. Today, the farthest most of us think about is probably the next few years. Even me, what I always thought about was what I should study and how I should plan for my career. Now I know that is pretty selfish. Ancient Chinese people think about the next generations. They think about how their actions will impact generations to come. One example is 诸葛亮, Zhu Ge Liang, a genius scholar who invented many weapons and tools for the war. However, just before he died, he destroyed all of them. Why? It is because he knew that if those inventions fell into the wrong hands, that would mean disaster. He was considerate of his future generations. Do people think about that today? Not really. There are new advancements in the technology of weaponry everyday. Have the inventors any idea what it would cost the world? No. Because if they did, they wouldn't have invented them in the first place. And in fact that is severely irresponsible. 

So, how crucial is education to human society? How important are parents to their children? How essential it is to nurture humanity and morality right from a young age? And if you go back to that saying 'the true nature of all humans is of love and kindness', then even the most evil human being is loving deep down inside. It was just the lack of education to nurture their true nature that resulted in their mistakes. So, education can truly save the world. Education is the only thing that can save the world. And we all can definitely play a part in healing our extremely bruised and battered world, starting from nurturing our own humanity and morality, then extending it to others. - For the sake of our children, and their children, and the many generations to come.

For anyone that is interested in watching the talk (though it is only in Mandarin >.<): 
This video is the first of a series. 

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