Monday, April 30, 2012

Learning and Teaching

How does a student learn his lessons? When is his learning complete?  When can it be said that he has acquired full knowledge? Who is a good teacher?  These questions beg for an answer at times.  Old world wisdom and modern scientific studies throw up a lot of common issues and also conflicting view points.

This sloka from Mahabharata's Udyoga Parva summarizes learning and its components:

आचार्यात् पादमादत्ते पादं शिष्यः स्वमेधया | कालेनपादमादत्ते पादं सब्र्म्हचारिभिः ||

Aachaaryat padamaadatte, paadam shishyah swamedhaya. Kaalena paadamaadatte paadam sabramhachaaribhihi.

"Learning is divided into four parts. A student derives a quarter of the total knowledge from his "Guru" or teacher. He acquires another quarter of knowledge by his own intelligence and self study. When he studies with his other classmates and friends, he learns and gets another quarter of the desired knowledge. The fourth  part of the knowledge is taught to him by time in due course!"

The above saying is very consistent with our own experiences in life. A teacher can at best be a guide to a student and he can never take the total responsibility of imparting the full knowledge to the student. Without the co-operation and whole hearted participation of the student, all his efforts are a waste. Similarly, all efforts at own study without a "Guru" or a teacher could also be incomplete. There may be very exceptional self-taught scholars and some may claim to have learnt everything without the support of any teacher. Even they should be indebted to some source or sources from which they derived the knowledge they posses. Full benefit of the learning process is available only when the efforts of the teacher and student complement each other. There is a need for a combined physical, mental and emotional involvement in the process of teaching and learning. The need is for mutual respect and affection rather than fear and tool of punishment. The tool of punishment, when used injudiciously, may even become counter-productive and develop a sense of revolt in the student. It also does not mean that there is no need for discipline.  All efforts at teaching and learning are futile unless there is a certain degree of discipline in both teaching and learning efforts. True success is achieved when a fine and practical blend of these ingredients of affection, trust, effort and discipline is reached in adequate proportions.

The teacher can at best show the direction in which the student should or could go. The actual path of journey should be traveled by the student himself and it cannot be shifted to someone else. Further efforts to learn, after the initial teaching or introduction to the subject is made by the teacher, are to be by student's own efforts at assimilating the part or whole of the subject by contemplating and concentrating on the issues identified for learning. Importance of self-study can never be over emphasized and forms the corner stone of learning efforts. As the student rehearses the subject or topic in his own mind, more and more vistas open and the deeper and hidden meanings unfold to his advantage.  He would thus now be the owner of one half of the full knowledge.

The value and advantage of combined study with the fellow students and friends has been highlighted in the third part of learning. While self-study is all important in its own place, exchange of perceptions and appreciation of various aspects of learning jointly with other students does have its own contribution to the process of learning. This type of atmosphere gives a sense of belonging to the student and he/she will also reap the benefits of the insight gained by the other students while learning from the teacher as well as during their own self-study.  Some parents quarantine young children in the guise of studies and preventing them from bad influence of other students. This mistaken notion of preventing them from unwanted interference also denies them the pleasure and benefits of exchanging thought and finer points of learning. While it is necessary to keep an eye on the activities of young learners and save them from bad impacts, providing for a healthy and complementary interaction with classmates and friends is equally important. This is a per-requisite of completing the learning process.

The final quadrant of learning is indeed a long drawn process and would never end! Mere bookish knowledge is no real knowledge and may even land the student into trouble unless it is coupled with worldly wisdom. Life teaches many lessons and often the hard way. Anyone who has acquired the other three quadrants of learning to a reasonably acceptable level and willing to learn the lessons from life to complete the learning process will succeed in life. He will also earn the capacity and eligibility to teach others and can display the potential to be a good teacher. There is no end to the lessons of life and the learning in the fourth quadrant will continue till the person's last journey. In that sense the process of learning will never be complete and the best anyone can achieve is near perfection and never perfection.

Maharshi Veda Vyasa has condensed all this wisdom in this small sloka. Not for nothing they say, "Vyasoochistam Jagat Sarvam". There is nothing that is not discussed or mentioned in Mahabharata and anything we see or learn is the leftover of Veda Vyasa!


  1. Dear Keshav, You are always very illustrative and comprehensive in your blog posts. I read a book in my young age on how to study. It described the knowledge gained by self study & self experience(your second and fourth quardents) as very knowldge. But it described the knowledge gained from the experience of others as wisdom. The idea is that the experience teaches us in a very hard way from our own trials and errors. Where others have already gone through that hard way we should be wise enough not to have the necessity to go through those trials and turbulations.

  2. If we go by the word Prarabda, we would probably be satisfied at every peice of learning that comes our way.But true enough is the fact that Gurus , Gurukuls always provided an easier means of learning and rightly the most talented means of learning. Later times saw institutions like Sharda peeth, naalanda and takshishila coming up.But Guru Shishya parampara has been the best in my opinion.After all whole world of classical music is stillpractising moukhik teaching and it goes from the Guru to the Shishya.

  3. This is a very good subject, I liked it because I have taken lot of efforts to improve weak students, but a guru is like a guide, the students efforts and grasping gives good result like it is said "you can take a horse to pond but you can't make it drink"

  4. very nicely explained the role of a Guru and also duty of a student seeking knowledge.Sloka of ch 4 geeta tadviddi pranipatena also explains vividly the way student should approach Guru to clear hsi doubts where there should be knowledge of a Guru's cxapcity and faith he has in guru which are very vital ib guru shishya parampara.serving sa guru need not be pressing gurus feet and also jmay be it is partly true .serving guru is to dwell upon the teaching s of guru anf further making self effort to practice what is taught.

  5. Bhagavadh Geetha also explains how to approach a guru and how a disciple should be. But now a days, very less students are like what a student should be and very few parents are how parents are ought to be and very few teachers are true teachers.
    A student must be dedicated, determined and stone willed when it comes to his education.
    A teacher must be able to give enlightenment, balanced in his emotions and must be able to instill that confidence in the student that can win this World.
    A parent must instill discipline in a child who is going to be a student and along with it humility and respect. A parent should give freedom but must never be unguarded in observing how a child uses it.

    We rarely find such students, teachers and parents.

  6. Dear Keshavamurthy,
    A very good piece of writing on learning and teaching, especially very relevant to today's youngsters. I have already forwarded this to my children. Looking forward to more such articles in your blog.
    Kind Regards
    Rajashekar Narasimhan

  7. Dear Sir,
    Very well illustrated the four phrases of learning and teaching.
    Thank you very much for enlightening us with these words. :)

    1. Thank you Mr Murthy. The shloka that you quoted is very apt. Our scripture is profound with pronouncement of this kind.
      With respects
      N J Shetty

  8. Very classic blog with recitations from our rich Heritage, very well brought-out the concept of learning. Sofar, on 2 occasions I got the privilege of trying to teach; its a very rich experience compared any thing else!

  9. pranaams to you for your great wisdom and torrent of informative articles for spreading knowledge, danyosmi -adiyen vasudevan

  10. Nice four quadrant,,,very apt,