Responsibilities in Health and Education

There are parallels in particular between health and education, in both of which the greatest responsibility lies upon the individual to keep himself in good health and to acquire an education commensurate with his capacity

Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

Health and education are two fundamental aspects of a human being’s life upon which depend his very survival, both as an individual and as a member of society. As far as health is concerned this should be so obvious as to be almost a self-evident truth. When we talk of education, what we basically mean is the acquisition of knowledge, which starts from the moment we are born. For we acquire knowledge through our five senses of vision, hearing, touch, smell and taste.

How we acquire knowledge

All of us have had the opportunity to observe a baby – and we not only say but intuitively know that the baby very quickly makes out who is his mother with whom he begins to relate immediately through touch (feel of the breasts and the body of the mother), taste (milk) and her smell. By the by vision and hearing also come into play and the baby is comfortable with familiar faces and starts to cry when picked up by an unfamiliar pair of arms. This is because the information being gathered by the senses, however rudimentary at this stage, is passed on to the brain where it is processed, stored in the memory against which new inputs – such as an unfamiliar face – are cross-checked before there is a response using the limbs or the muscles of the face to either smile or grimace.

Gradually as the baby grows up, this input from the senses multiplies enormously and that is what goes on to constitute memory and the development of experience. From this mother-baby ecosystem evolves the exploration of the proximate environment which becomes more probing by the time baby is able to crawl and then walk, and then, gare aux objets!

Essentially the same process underlies the adult’s exploration of his environment so as to ensure his food needs initially and then to recognize who is who and what is what as regards other objects in the environment, including human beings. As can be seen this basic knowledge was essential for a person to survive at all times, for example to avoid wild predators and other dangers, but as human society and civilisation developed, with increase in population, the fields of knowledge expanded to meet the requirements that rose in parallel. This curiosity – and need – to know in due course extended to other dimensions, about who we are and our place in the universe, about its origin and that of life and of us humans, and how we ought to relate to others.

Two categories of knowledge

In ancient India these interrogations stirred the minds of the sages, known as rishis, early on, and this led them to place knowledge, vidya, in two broad categories. The first was aparavidya or Lower Knowledge – this was knowledge that we needed to transact with the world, transactional knowledge needed for us to make out a living, and that therefore comprised all sectors of developing activity and professions. Much of this knowledge today is of a technical or scientific variety, and keeps expanding exponentially as we are all aware of.

The second category was that which gave us a sense of direction and guided our life – which for convenience I will call spiritual and ethical knowledge; it was called paravidya or Higher Knowledge. It does not have any direct bearing on biological survival but is critical for our conduct – which can make or break individuals, relationships, nations, the world in fact!

The two oldest extant civilizations, the Indian and the Chinese, have thrived and survived to this day by their respective populations putting into practice transactional knowledge and conducting their lives rooted in the world view deriving from the Higher Knowledge. In fact, certainly in India – to this day – the greatest respect is reserved for the one has gained paravidya and lives his life accordingly, with serenity and wisdom, selflessly and having a minimum of needs and no possessions whatsoever, and available to guide others on this sublime path.

Health and education – the parallels

And that is how there are parallels in particular between health and education, in both of which the greatest responsibility lies upon the individual to keep himself in good health and to acquire an education commensurate with his capacity – which he must discover, or be helped to uncover, for himself before or as he embarks on the journey of life. Common to both is a paradox: my health and education are other people’s business not mine! I just want to be a passive receiver, and a practitioner of the minimum effort – and if possible, none at all.

Let me explain. There are several stakeholders in each field. And as far as both are concerned, as soon as a person reaches the ‘age of reason’, which is nowadays more likely in early rather than mid- or late adolescence, he must start to assume his responsibility for himself. As far as health is concerned, the authorities ensure the availability of essential elements of what we call primary health care, namely: health education/promotion, nutrition, maternal/child health and family planning, safe water supply and sanitation, immunization, treatment of common injuries and diseases, provision of essential drugs, and prevention/control of endemic diseases.

It is a fact that all our health centres and hospitals are heavily frequented – but more for treatment of disease that for its prevention and promotion of one’s good health. Children acquire habits by imitating parents and other elders: they must therefore be inculcated these habits from a very young age, and the example set by parents. The latter must themselves demonstrably continue to practise these good habits, and make full use of all the advice that is dispensed by the numerous publications issued by the authorities, especially in matters of prevention and health promotion relating to adequate physical exercise, proper food and beverages to be consumed, avoidance of harmful substances and so on.

Take for example exercise – regular surveys by the Ministry of Health and Quality of Life have repeatedly shown that the percentage of the population doing physical exercise is very low, and there are all sorts of excuses that are given for this by people. Along with other risk factors such as substance abuse and too much of fast food this leads to the well-known diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, cancer, heart problems and others – all preventable if only one pursues a healthy lifestyle, and better still if one starts at a young age, based on information freely available, and dispensed so widely. But no, most people wait until they fall ill and then expect to have a magic pill. There could be no better case for individual responsibility to be assumed fully by the individual who wants to be in good health. More dialysis machines and centres is not a sign of good health!! And one ought not to take pride in that!

As the debate regarding the minimum number of credits required to be promoted to HSC from SC rages on, as well as the many issues concerning the Nine Year Schooling, here the responsibility of the State is the crucial factor which will determine the future of its citizens. In addition to imparting knowledge that will prepare the child for the world of work, there is also the dimension of character building that must be taken into consideration. In other words, there must a balanced education. In this regard, parents have an important role to play, as unfortunately the moral authority that teachers of yore used to command has waned significantly.

Parents must therefore be more engaged with the supervision of their children’s education, and not assume that just sending them to school or to a private tutor is enough. They must also oversee the kind of company their children keep. And students themselves, as they grow and mature through the system, must make the effort to understand what is at stake for their future, and must assume their part of responsibility so as to prepare for themselves the kind of future that will provide them a sustainable living.

If they do that, and seek assistance from their teachers to identify their strong points and their aptitudes, they will surely be guided naturally towards what they are best in. There will probably be no need then to lower entry requirements as they find there’s more to genuine and education and a sound future than mugging up a few subjects just to satisfy the lowest of minimum requirements.

Isn’t it a tragic paradox that at a time when there is an explosion of information and the cliché ‘knowledge is power’ has not lost its reality there are those who think that a nivellement par le bas is going to make us a nation fit for the 21st century? Food for thought, as someone has pithily underlined: ‘Quand on pense qu’il faut rabaisser le niveau pour toucher “le peuple” c’est qu’on le méprise. Quand on respecte les gens on s’évertue à les élever, on ne s’abaisse pas soi-même’.

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* Published in print edition on 1 February 2019

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