Sculptors of the soul

by | Feb 15, 2023

Life has its own way of cheering you up. As you grow older, age shows up on your energy levels, the futility of striving for good things stares at you, a feeling of resignation looms large, and then something surprising happens to cheer you up, as if a ‘gift’ has been delivered without any occasion. I received such an invite to address 200 children from the best of the schools in India, Dubai, and Singapore, assembled at the iconic Hyderabad Public School in a keynote address at the concluding event of a five-day camp called The Round Square, organized as part of their centenary celebrations. 

I have been living in Hyderabad since early 1982 and had passed by the Hyderabad Public School spaced away from the road by a huge playground fenced by big old trees hundreds of times, glancing at the majestic building, but had never entered inside. I grew up in a lower middle-class setup and never enamored myself by the things that are meant for the elite – including institutions like clubs, hotels, and public schools. Of course, now my grandson studies at Hyderabad Public School and would be a part of the elite upon growing up, God willing. 

The Round Square is an international network of schools. German educator Kurt Hahn (1886-1974) founded it in the late 1960s; it started in a round-shaped building in a square area at Gordonstoun in Scotland, from where it derived its name, and then six schools networked to follow Kurt Hahn’s educational concepts. Their network has grown to have 230 schools across 50 countries since then. There are 60+ Round Square schools in India, which encourage students to go beyond academic excellence and strive for personal development and responsibility through service, challenge, adventure, and international understanding.

I was mentored by legendary Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, and it was only natural that I invoked his memory in my speech. Dr Kalam was passionate about interacting with children and made it his mission to visit as many schools as he could. There is no data, but my ballpark estimate is that 20 million children had seen and heard Dr Kalam in their schools. No other leader in the world had done it before him or after him. So, while interacting with the students, I invoked his memory and imagined what he would have said on this occasion about the cultivation of gratitude and patience in life. Sabr and Shukr are like the two wings of a bird to fly over this world full of suffering, as Buddha called it. I exhorted children to feel thankful for whatever they already had and to cultivate patience without getting agitated for all that they wished to have in their lives. 

Hyderabad Public School has a great tradition. Satya Nadella, Shantanu Narayen, T K Kurien, and Harsha Bhogle studied here. Three students later became Chief Ministers, and many became Union Ministers. I wondered what if the Prime Minister of post-2050 India was sitting there that day. And why not a girl? When I said it, there were loud cheers and I have no words to describe the positive energy that was palpable in the way children were conducting themselves – sitting attentively, walking buoyantly, and making eye contact while interacting.  

Good schools are essential in society.  American social reformer Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) famously said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults.” A lot has been done in independent India in this direction. There are good schools in every town and primary education has reached most of the 600,000 Indian villages.  

In the Round Square schools, six ideals are fostered among the students – International Understanding, Democracy, Environmental Stewardship, Adventure, Leadership, and Service – making an acronym of IDEALS. The principal, a dual Master of Sanskrit and English, from Agra in Uttar Pradesh, personified the education of New India – anchored in a 5 millennia-old civilization and aspiring to lead the world in the 21st century. Listening to him – a baritone voice, flowing like a symphony – was indeed surreal. 

Why is good education for children important? Three fundamentals come to my mind – social skills, personal growth, and the expansion of consciousness. Every child is conditioned by his family atmosphere and, unless exposed to other children, runs the risk of growing up as a dysfunctional adult in the society. In schools, children learn to interact socially with others outside of their family and the wider community. By interacting with children of different backgrounds, genders, and beliefs only one can be free from risky prejudices. 

Education instils discipline, which aids in a child’s ability to maintain concentration. The foundation for prospects for future growth is laid by children’s education. The periods of teaching different subjects, intervals for biological breaks and food, assembly, sports, music, arts, and above all, the cultivation of civility, prepare a child to become a competent and productive adult. Educational programs today are made that way. Children can develop emotional and mental fortitude through schooling, which benefits them in their later lives.

Perhaps the most important fundamental is the expansion of consciousness. By raising the consciousness of their students to the next level, good teachers indeed act like sculptures of the soul. Swami Vivekananda has said, “We are magicians waving magic wands and creating scenes before us at will. We are the spider in his huge web, who can go on the varied strands wheresoever he desires. The spider is now only conscious of the spot where he is, but he will in time become conscious of the whole web. We are now conscious only where the body is, we can use only one brain; but when we reach ultra-consciousness, we know all, we can use all brains.” (Complete Works v. 7 p. 15)

Once the consciousness of a child is expanded – from the confinement of “I” and “mine” to “we” and “ours” – the behaviour of the child is automatically changed for rest of his life. Hyderabad Public School is doing it – enthusiastically and effectively I must add – and it was evident that evening. In the book You Are Born to Blossom, where Dr Kalam gave me an opportunity to co-author, he writes, “The management of knowledge must move out of the realm of the individual into the networked groups.” (Chapter 7). I could see this truth shining through The Round Square

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14 Comments

  1. Dear Sir, Thank you for yet another masterpiece blog on education and all round growth of children. Since i come from a village background, I understand the difficulty of village educated student steps into the institutions of Higher studies. Places like Hyderabad Public school, attention is paid to all the aspects of all-round growth of the child. Where as a village student doesn’t get inputs for the development of his personality in all dimensions. Since information technology has developed so much, I am hopeful that the village students also will get adequate exposure for personality development and recent advancements thro Webinars, tele-classes (Video) and social media.
    The other aspect, which is causing lopsided growth of the child is the mad competition and coaching classes. They are running like factories and the whole aim is to get 99% plus marks and crack the examinations. Thank you once again for an educationg blog on education and growth sir.

  2. Wonderful perspective on education, Prof Tiwariji !

    Your emphasis on good teachers as sculptors of student soul encourages education system to go beyond academic excellence!!

  3. Sir, excellent and timely article. There is a buzz around 21st Century’s first education policy in India. Ancient scholars like Charaka and Susruta, Aryabhata, Bhaskaracharya, Chanakya, Madhava, Patanjali, Panini and Thiruvalluvar are now rightly remembered. But there is great inertia against change, and even suspicion in the mind of many people.

    It is important that our education system becomes flexible and hard separations between subjects, curricular and extracurricular activities are removed, promoting multi-disciplinary education. How do we encourage conceptual understanding, critical thinking, and ethical values, is a great task that only teachers in the classes can accomplish.

  4. Wonderful piece of writing. Expanding the consciousness is indeed the key. Very rightly said.

    These days schools are changing but not in the ways that actually improve learning. Some parents just want a babysitter; they don’t want to be partners in educating their kids.Some teachers just want a job that lets them have the same schedule as their own kids..Some communities just want to keep teenagers off the streets.Some mayors just want their schools to look good so they can attract businesses to their tax base.

    All of these things are inter-related. If you pull one corner of the system, somebody pulls harder in the opposite direction. In the middle, the kids lose.

  5. Sir, Excellent message. Quality all-round education in schools is the only way a society flourish. No other progress – wealth, strength, tradition – is useful of people are not educated.

    रूपयौवनसंपन्ना विशाल कुलसम्भवाः ।
    विद्याहीना न शोभन्ते निर्गन्धा इव किंशुकाः ॥

    No matter how handsome a person may be, no matter how full of youth he may be or how high he may be born in a family, but if he has not received education, even after loaded with all these advantages, he remains without grace. Like a flower without fragrance is useless, and for its excellent fragrance even the ugly Tesu flower (किंशुक) is sought. Similarly, a person’s worth is due to his knowledge, not by form or youth. Therefore, the biggest priority in life should be to earn knowledge.

  6. Respected Sir, Thank you for sharing important blog on school system.
    I feel our Gurukul system was more effective than these schools with foreign philosophy. Also these are elite schools and difficult to get admissions. In Bihar, supple-30 coaching centre are teaching poor students free of cost and helping them to get in IITs which is more relevant than these highly expensive schools. I am not sure if any poor student can get admission in round square group of schools. However, its really good that they are encouraging students to go beyond academic excellence and strive for personal development and responsibility through service, challenge, adventure, and international understanding. If any parent can afford, they should give opportunity to their children to study in these elite schools rather than investing in other things in their life.

  7. Respected Sir, Pranam. I fully agree with you and we must keep that child always awake to make life better.
    Namah Shivay!

  8. It has always been exciting to read the Blogs by Shri Arun Tiwari jee. He is a gifted person to us in this era. I always wonder how one person can possess every knowledge by himself as Tiwari jee. I always feel blessed to have his company and blessings. I put bullet points below for that I could not resist myself from this Blog, we must remember ourselves when moving forward in our life and understanding:-

    *Sabr and Shukr are like the two wings of a bird to fly over this world full of suffering, as Buddha called it.

    *American social reformer Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) famously said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults.”

    *Every child is conditioned by his family atmosphere and, unless exposed to other children, runs the risk of growing up as a dysfunctional adult in society.

    *In schools, children learn to interact socially with others outside of their family and the wider community. By interacting with children of different backgrounds, genders, and beliefs only one can be free from risky prejudices.

  9. Very pleasant read Sri Arunji. Interaction with children is always so energizing and when we come across impactful initiatives shaping the future, its all the more rewarding. As Dr Kalam, you are amazingly good with children as well and have so well experienced you connect so well even with teens. Was happy to learn about The Round Square too.

    Wish more and more modern institutions take the accountability of shaping the future of our nation, not just by creating the best leaders but also the leaders with a difference who strive to make the world a better place, every bit by bit, every minute by minute.

  10. Reading this took me to good old times when I relished Dr Kalam’s infectious enthusiasm, especially around kids. I’m delighted beyond measure to know you had the opportunity to address some best minds from the best schools. Only during such times of reflection do we tend to soak in the magnitude of people who mentored us, shaped our lives for the better.

    I salute your effort and wish you well as you continue living your legacy besides advocating Dr Kalam’s ideals to create a strong India with governance in the right hands. I agree that it is in a good school that a child becomes the person she/he would be, engaged with the society. Dr Kalam’s inspirational vision as a force for self-reliance, peace and prosperity will remain India’s greatest source of power for years to come.

    Just as Dr Kalam envisioned, let’s exploit all available resources to educate, enlighten and empower rural kids. When each one of us yearn to serve humanity’s cause, every small step is a giant leap. Helping any one of those kids can help us all.

  11. Thank you Arun ji, very important subject “Education’” for nation building. The point on shift from I/me to We/ ours with education is significant. The higher education institutions have to focus on this.

  12. Good schools are essential to the society. Apart from teaching the skills, it goes far beyond the 3R’s. It gives the students a sense of confidence and belonging to the society, instills the spirit of togetherness and very delicately sculpts the young minds to become a contributor to the society. Without the schools and good teachers the students would grow into walking ‘books’.
    As always with your articles, I enjoyed reading the same.
    Best wishes to all…. and let us all welcome the change in the season.

  13. Beautiful piece on good education and its impact!

    I am reminded of a similar type of school in East Africa. Ntare School (Uganda) has raised leaders in the region, including two reigning presidents (Rwanda President Paul Kagame & Uganda President Museveni). I was blessed to attend Ntare School as well. these are progressive leaders in Africa. Their education background speaks to this.

    Let us adore and encourage good education for the children!

  14. Wonderful blog and equally well articulated. It is important that the society looks at schools as not only a seat of learning but also as a seat of nation building and imparting value systems. I am sure you would have instillled in them a sense of nationalism as you yourself are a nationalist. The next generation will take India towards a sustainable growth trajectory to become the leading economy.

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