Allegories for Modern Education

These poems were written by students in the second year undergraduate unit Education Viewed from the Global South. Students read the work of Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore and reflected on his searing critique of colonial education and its relevance to schooling in England today.

The Fish Bowl

By Immy, Asha & Natasha

Once upon a time, there was a fish that was caught.
In the bowl that it lived, there were lessons that were taught.
It was contained in a bowl, equal only in age.
Assessed only by exams, to move up through each stage.
Each bowl wasn’t the same, the poor fish not to blame.
It may be ridiculous, and even sound funny,
But the bowls were different based only on money.
And what did they learn in this murky water,
To me, it sounds nothing less than torture!
Fed with “our heritage” in British books,
But there was no mention of bell hooks.
The fish was sad and devoid of emotion,
Taken out of the diverse and liberated ocean.

Cage Your Mind

By Ethan, Naib, Joe

Fall or Rise
True potential
Not Realised
No Rejoice
When There’s no Choice
“Open your books and listen”
Surely something is missin’
Children are forced to conform
The system needs a Reform
Standardised tests, the norm
“Open your books and listen”
Surely something is missin’
Not all kids fit into the mould
Useful lessons not all told
Lies are what we’re being sold
Cage your mind
Or risk being left behind
Illusion of choice
Is it free?
What cost is this degree?

Pet Shop

By Layla, Attie, Mai

In a pet shop window sat two crows, in two cages, gold and gray. 
The gray crow said to the gold crow,
            “Oh gold pigeon, why do you cry? Your cage is so much better than mine!” 

The gold crow replied, 
            “I know it's tough for you too out there but the sky is the same shade of blue from this view. We share the same issues, neither of us gets our songs heard and both of our wings are tired though we've never flown. Every bird wants to fly now but will never know.”

            “Well at least your cage shines like the sun” 
replies the gray crow,
            “It casts a shadow onto mine. People are drawn to your cage and would pick you over me any day. And maybe you’ll have a better chance at being set free someday.” 

The Cuckoo Competition

By Em Quinton

In the woodland, there were lots of different types of birds. Pigeons, robins, herons, blue tits and cuckoos. They flocked to the woods for different reasons, and they all had a different song. Each was loud and beautiful in their own way. 
The swallows migrated to the woodland in the Summer, and the robins and the blue tits all enjoyed meeting new friends and hearing new songs. The herons flew in from the river and shared their fish.  

But one day, when all of the birds had flocked together and were singing their different songs happily, the cuckoos started to sing a bit louder, and a bit louder, and eventually all anyone could hear for miles around was the cuckoo song. The cuckoos were big and would land in the little birds’ nests, singing as loud as they could, until the song sounded more like a shout. 

The little birds were scared, and started to sing the cuckoo song just to avoid an argument with the cuckoos. And the song travelled from nest to nest. The robins started to sing the cuckoo shout. The herons turned up and joined in. The blue tits tried to sing the same song, but their little voices couldn’t do it. So the cuckoos kicked them out of their nests. All the other birds noticed this, and told anyone who wasn’t singing the cuckoo shout to make sure they were conforming. The woodland music had become one big cacophony of cuckoo noise. It was a very sad and loud sound indeed.  

Then, the cuckoos tried to make the other birds look like them. They plucked the red feathers out of the robins, and preened the pigeons to give them all a uniform feather pattern. The herons were tall, so all tried to stoop down to be the same height as the cuckoos. This gave them sore backs, but it was better than being thrown out of the woodland. The swallows were shunned, because they brought different songs from their travels. When the eggs hatched, and the baby birds started to get bigger, they all told their parents that they wanted to be cuckoos when they grew up. After all, the woodland leaders were all cuckoos. 
Then, the cuckoos decided that they should hold a Cuckoo Competition. All the birds had to do their best impression of a cuckoo. The other birds had been studying cuckoo history for a while, and there was a cuckoo on every tree, so there was ample opportunity to learn their ways. But the herons were very tall, and ate fish; the robins worked better in the cold; the blue tits were tiny and very bright blue; the pigeons were from the city and were used to singing a different song, so struggled to understand the cuckoos. But the cuckoo competitions continued, and the young birds were pitted against each other, against their friends, in a bid to find the Next Best Cuckoo. If they weren’t good enough, they were pushed out of the trees. Eventually, the only birds left all looked very similar, all sang the same songs, and formed a Bird University. They would become the next generation of leaders, exemplary woodland birds who should teach young birds- young cuckoos, but also young robins, herons, blue tits and pigeons- cuckoo history, cuckoo behaviour, cuckoo uniform, and cuckoo song.