Educating the Parrot


As an e-learning designer, I am fully aware of the power of e-learning. But when people equate a wholesome education with smart classrooms, the latest gadgets and glitzy learning apps, I’m reminded of The Parrot’s Tale by Rabindranath Tagore.

In the story, a bird, which was meant to fly, is “educated” by caging it in a beautiful gold cage and stuffing it with books. The pundits, the goldsmith, the blacksmith, the ministers and several others in the kingdom end up “educating” the poor bird. And the funny thing is, they are handsomely paid for it.  With so much investment and noise over the parrot’s “education”, the King and all his subjects (except a few naysayers) are convinced that the parrot is being well educated. The end is tragic.

It’s amazing that Tagore wrote this story nearly 100 years ago and it is still relevant and relatable. His story highlights, among other things, the undeserved profits that many make in educating the poor bird.  Today, many companies are getting huge commissions from schools and parents for their ill- designed, but well-marketed educational solutions. Simple, yet well-conceived, deep learning solutions, like those from Khan Academy and MIT are great. The interesting thing to note is that most of these highly effective e-learning solutions are free. It’s the gimmicky, snazzy, shrill e-learning that doesn’t always work, which can also be rather expensive. So let’s not be fooled by the investment and hype around e-learning solutions. Let’s critically evaluate how effective the e-learning actually is, before endorsing it.

If you want to read The Parrot’s Tale, you can find a translated version here.

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