Pleasures and Perils of Planning

Pleasures and Perils of Planning

Foresight is one of the few uniquely human traits. This ability to predict future developments is what lets us pre-empt challenges and plan in advance for things as they will be. Prediction and planning is an intuitive craft, something we too often fail to respect in the designing of education, but it is not a science, a fact we too often forget.

My father was recently talking about the ritual of buying a basket of mangoes during the season when he was a kid. In a large joint-family of dozens of people, buying a basket made sense, but that basket involved a lot of planning. Mangoes are packaged in hay, as physical protection and also as an organic tempering to keep the mangoes fresh while preventing them from ripening too soon. The consumption of the fruit was also planned into the packing, with ready to eat pieces on the top layer, less ripe fruit underneath and the most raw ones at the bottom of the stack, all packed in hay.

Families with larger houses would store the cache of mangoes in a dry and dark attic to increase their longevity, airing them out in layers of hay as in the basket. In the hot and humid weather that is prevalent in much of India, this prevented rot, and additional measures would be taken to keep away insects and bugs. Leaves of Neem (Azadirachta indica) were very likely spread among the fruit, as they are today to protect stored grain and other food stuff from pests.

All this preparation and planning was ingenious, considering it used minimal physical resources and ensured a steady supply of well-preserved and freshly-ripened mangoes over a month or two. Planning, very literally, bore fruit. This required a lot of foresight and understanding, the very same kind that allows educators to plan out the learning process of children and have all the materials and steps along the way ready for consumption, and protected from decay in learning minds. This planning not just works well but is an essential component of any organised basic education that is to be effective. Basic reading, writing and numerical skills would barely be imparted without such foresight.

The other side of the equation, is that metaphors, models and paradigms should never be taken too seriously. A basket of mangoes might be a great model to consider while planning the teaching of a specific skill like reading, but a complete education is not a basket of mangoes.

There is a great variety of fruits in the world, and with every season things change and new ones appear. Your well-planned basket of mangoes unfortunately ensures that you are not likely to try many other fruit while that basket lingers.

Don’t want any fruit today? Doesn’t matter, we have mangoes to finish; Here, have one. Want to buy an apple today? But there are so many mangoes going to waste that we spent so much time, money and effort preserving; Here, have one. What do you mean old spoilt mangoes are bad for you? Do you know how hard it was to get this basket? Here, have three!

Things change. The world and what we understand of it is constantly changing. Yet, organised education is often still stuffing that old basket of mangoes down our throats. Planning is an essential tool for effective teaching and education, but we often are so heavily invested in our plans that education becomes impervious to changes and new realisations that are happening as we speak. The imparting of skill and knowledge without flexibility is not education, it is indoctrination, and that is something no one should plan for.