HOW DOES SATHYA SAI EDUCATION IN HUMAN VALUES WORK IN ZAMBIA?
(Comments on the article by V.Kanu)
By: Serguei Badaev
The title of V.Kanu's article published in Sanathana Sarathi (v.42, November 1999, No 11, p.316) "Sai System of Education - A Model to Follow" may be misleading. The article starts with Mr Kanu's revelatory statement about the significance of the SSEHV. "So, I am reasonably familiar with various educational thoughts, processes and practices, but never have I found an educational system that could be so intellectually and spiritually satisfying, philosophically sound and universally acclaimed as the Sathya Sai Education in Human Values (SSEHV) System, gifted to the world in the early 80s by Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba".
In fact, the article does not deal with the Sai System of Education as it is but rather it is an evaluation of the SSEHV programme as it is implemented in a boarding Sathya Sai School in Ndola, Zambia, after 7 years of its functioning. This evaluation was done by Dr P.C. Manchishi, Ph.D., of the School of Education, University of Zambia (UNZA). According to Mr Kanu, Dr Manchishi was a Christian and was a scholar who is independent of the Sathya Sai Organisation. One of the aims of the evaluation was formulated as follows: "to investigate the impact of SSEHV Programme at Sathya Sai School in Ndola, Zambia". For the investigation Dr Manchishi used questionnaires, interviews and lesson observations. Though the article mentions that Dr Manchishi analysed data using statistics, no figures are presented in the article. After the introductory notes the remaining 3/4 of the article are the conclusions and recommendations of Dr Manchishi given with quotation marks.
First of all Dr Manchishi states: "Three things came up clearly in the findings especially from the interviews - character excellence, academic excellence and spiritual and moral excellence". (p.317) Taking into account that it is a scientific investigation it is very unclear what content is assumed behind the term 'excellence' and how Dr Manchishi could assess spiritual and moral excellence through interviews.
As Dr Manchishi mentions, the school recruits Grade 7 'failures', i.e. pupils who failed to pass to Grade 8 in governmental schools and Grade 1 pupils from the surrounding township. However the school registered 100% academic success every year from 1993 to 1997 at Grades 9 and 12. What is the explanation of this miraculous success according to Dr. Manchishi? "The school owes its academic success to the discipline that prevails at the school and the regulation, which requires that each pupil pass each grade in order to proceed. A pupil who fails Grade 8, for example, at the end of the year, is not allowed to proceed to Grade 9; he has to repeat the grade". The reason, as we can see, rather simple and has no apparent connection with the SSEHV programme.
When Dr Manchishi discusses pupils' character he always comes to discipline, as if discipline is an equivalent of character. Dr. Manchishi mentions that "vandalism at Sathya Sai School was non-existent unlike in other governmental schools. It is because of the discipline that prevails at the school" (p. 318), that previously pupils were indisciplined and now they are disciplined. Then he again underlines that it is discipline that leads to good academic results. "Experience has shown that it is always schools with good discipline, which excel academically" (p. 318). That is why it sounds rather arbitrary when Dr. Manchishi comes to the following conclusion: "It is because of the type of education offered in Sathya Sai School (the integration of the SSEHV in the school's curriculum) that pupils have developed a liking for academic work" (p. 318). If academic success is based on discipline, what is discipline based on? According to Dr Manchishi "spiritual and moral change will lead to one being disciplined and a disciplined pupil will normally perform well academically" (319)
Spiritual and moral excellence
Discussing moral and spiritual excellence Dr Manchishi mentions that the school is non-denominational and the pupils are encouraged to follow their own religions and respect other religions. However the SSB's teachings and life are the guiding spirit of the school. Then Dr Manchishi concludes: "The integration of the five human values in the curriculum has had a positive impact on the pupils spiritually and morally. It was put to me during the interviews that many pupils had changed spiritually and morally for the better" (p. 319). But Dr Manchishi gives no idea what was the current level of morality and spirituality or what kind of change had occurred. If academic success is the result of discipline and discipline is the result of moral and spiritual change in the pupils, how has this changed happened? What is the role of the SSEHV in it? Unfortunately, there are no answers to those questions in the article.
Let us consider the role of the teachers in Ndola school as it is described in Dr Manchishi's report. He mentions that the teachers came from governmental schools with very poor discipline but they have become more dedicated to work more conscious and enriched their professional competence. This comparative evaluation makes one wonder how could Dr Manchishi come to this conclusion if he had no experience what those teachers were like when they started working in this school. Then Dr Manchishi mentions a factor which could play a distinctive role in the academic success of Ndola school: "It is common at Sathya Sai School, for example, to see teachers teaching on Saturdays or in the evenings for no allowance". Why have these teachers from governmental schools become so dedicated? What is the secret? Partly it is explained by the further remarks of Dr Manchishi: "Teachers are accommodated and those staying in the campus do not pay for water. They are also well paid and their performance is linked to pay. A teacher who registers 100% pass in his/her subject, is remunerated" (p. 319). It seems to be quite clear that the financial aspect is very important in such an enterprise as a private school. It is widely known that appropriate level and quality of education cannot be achieved without necessary funding. That is why it seems quite obvious that the academic success of Ndola school might owe substantially to the effect of contrast in the poor surroundings of Zambia. If this school were in a big city of a developed western country, this effect would be much more convincing.
At the end of the article Dr Manchishi states: "Judging from the impact of a programme that involves looking for evidence as proof, one finds that change has really taken place after going through such a programme. For example, if a pupil was indisciplined before joining Sathya Sai School and after being exposed to SSEHV, he or she has become disciplined. There are many such cases at Sathya Sai School. Most of the children were indisciplined, poor academically and also weak spiritually and morally. Today most of them have changed for the better. This is ample testimony to the fact that SSEHV has had a positive impact on them" (p. 320). For many westerners, I am afraid, such a strong emphasis on discipline gives little credit as pupils in German schools under Hitler were also well disciplined and in Soviet schools moulding Homo sovieticus there were no vandalism. Strong discipline can be attained in an army, for example, but one can hardly think that it is the most favourable environment for moral and spiritual growth. Moreover this statement gives no evidence that it is SSEHV that is responsible for Ndola school's success as it is claimed. Moral and spiritual excellence is just proclaimed and do not result from any empirical data. And what is more suspicious for me as an educator is 100% academic excellence. Unless you have a very low pass threshold, I cannot imagine how all students can be equally successful in all academic subjects. I cannot believe that every student can be equally talented in science, art, craft and sport. Many educators believe that the most favourable environment for moral growth can be found in a school which is organised as a democratic community, where the voice of every person counts and pupils learn to participate in management and decision-making. Nothing of this kind is mentioned in Dr Manchishi's research. We can suspect that Ndola school is organised and functions in an autocratic up-down way. This is how the international Sathya Sai Organisation functions where Mr V.Kanu, the director of Ndola school, is a top official.
All in all the conclusions of Dr Manchishi's investigation sound rather declarative and not convincing. However, this is not to question the good intentions and aspirations of those who start and run such Sai schools, but we cannot thereby recommend any of these schools as long as they misguidedly use the name of Sathya Sai Baba, for reasons which are obvious to all who thoroughly investigate the controversy about him. Further, the teachings of Sathya Sai Baba upon which this type of education is based is lacking in important values such as justice and human rights, and it rests partly on doubtful pedagogical practices and definitively unscientific aspects of his teachings.