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Thursday, January 20

Language and Education - I

If one has to name one skill of human race that has enabled it to survive and prosper on earth, it will have to be the ability to build up on top of existing knowledge. And if we stretch the point a bit more, even the evolution of life is dependent on this very ability. The difference is that before the evolution of primates, this ability was mainly hidden in the genes, completely in the hands of nature, something called Natural Selection. But as the evolution happened and the brain size increased, species started to use this ability consciously and then came man and devised language.
Normally when we talk about language, we think of it as a medium to communicate information. But language also enables us to store information. The capability to store information protects against the attrition of knowledge and allows the coming generations to build on top of what has already been done.
And this is one of the aims of education that the champions of creativity sometimes completely forget. It is good to have creative, innovative people but for pushing the frontiers and for filling the details, we also need people who are knowledgeable.
Consider the example of Mathematics. A large number of people never get interested in this queen of sciences because they have to suffer a bad teacher early on in the education. But this doesn't undermine the importance of education. The amount of mathematics that has already been done and is being generated everyday is enormous. The probability of one person mastering all the 3 main branches of mathematics had become negligible in the beginning of this century and currently the situation is that mathematician as a profession name is nothing more than a crude generalization. Now a days we have professions like algebraic topologists, functional analysts and so on. Now before you can start making any significant contribution to the mathematics, you have to study a lot and that requires many of the habits that education, and I mean "regular classroom education" imparts us. It can be a matter of debate that had Ramanujam got proper school training what would have happened to him but we are all aware of the problems he had to face because of lack of it. He discovered a large part of work done by Europeans in the last 200 years and then started building on top of that. Had he been able to pick all that up in a proper training, he might have proved to be much more productive.
The idea is that education saves us from reinventing the wheel. Inventing it might be a fun and most innovative thing to do but not very useful !!

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