|Indian Ethos in Education|
“If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered on the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions to some of them which well deserve the attention even of those who have studied Plato and Kant, I should point to India.”
– Friedrich Max Muller
In recent years, India has been receiving global attention. It has made rapid strides in achieving consistently high economic growth. Indian companies are expanding their reach globally while Indian financial markets have been attracting global investments. Latest technological gadgets and modern amenities are being easily made available to the average common man. Indians are aspiring higher materially, and also able to fulfil their aspirations to a greater extent. However, while the material quality of life is improving, the rich spiritual, philosophical and cultural heritage of India seems to be deteriorating with lack of adequate attention. Unfortunately, with material progress and globalization, the rich Indian fabric of life that connected holistically with every aspect of human endeavour has undergone a major transformation with economic growth becoming the primary (and only) driver and measure of progress. The India pointed to by the German scholar Max Muller, which could ponder upon and find solutions to the greatest problems of life, seems to now be predominantly concerned only with material prosperity! In fact, the story of human progress across the world has become lop-sided or unbalanced by not taking into account the relationship of human economic activities with other facets of human development in the overall web of life, thereby resulting in dire consequences ranging from environmental degradation on the macro scale to psychological disorders and stress at an individual level.
As a corollary to the economic growth, Education in India is also undergoing a tremendous change. The education “sector” is booming with a plethora of international schools and educational ventures opening up across the country including even in smaller towns and cities. Murky, hot classrooms with dusty benches and creaky fans are being replaced with swanky, colourful and air-conditioned classrooms with the latest audio-visual teaching aids. Indeed, education is being seen as a highly lucrative business! Admittedly, the quality of teaching materials and other amenities have improved greatly (and so have the fees increased dramatically!), but the entire focus of the educational system and of the various courses offered has changed to improving the employability or career prospects of the individual rather than being concerned with the overall integrated development of the individual. The aim of modern education system in India has become that of enabling the individual with adequate information and skills to compete or even excel in the rat race of economic life. Education has increasingly got little to do with the moral, cultural and spiritual aspects of the individual and of the society at large. The whole purpose of education has reduced to creating automatons that can keep the economic machinery running. Rather than the economy being the means to achieve human ends, man has become the means to achieve economic ends (for the individual, the corporate and the nation); he is a saleable commodity in the economic market!
The key issue with the current state of affairs in India is that we are blindly aping the western way of life without giving due consideration to alternative models of human growth and prosperity that are more holistic. We have continued to ignore the great ideas and works conceptualized by various seers and thinkers that have their origins in India and are largely based on Indian scriptures or philosophy of life. For example, in the words of Sri Aurobindo, “It is essential that society should refuse to give exclusive importance to success, career and money, and that it should insist instead on the paramount need of the full and real development of the student by contact with the spirit and the growth and manifestation of the Truth of the Being in the body, life and mind.” As per him, what is needed today in the field of education is not so much increased facilities or sophisticated equipment, but a new vision of education. The quality of one’s life depends on the quality of one’s aim. Therefore, it is necessary for education to respond to the highest aims of life.
The aims of human life are neatly summarized in Indian conception as the four ‘Purusharthas’, viz. Artha, Kama, Dharma and Moksha. Therefore, the whole idea of education must be aligned with the harmonious accomplishment of these purusharthas. Purusharthas represent human values as they are consciously sought by human beings. While Artha and Kama represent secular values and are accepted universally, the Indian conception of life goes on to suggest Dharma as a moral and social value, and Moksha as the Ultimate value. An integrated pursuit of these four-fold values of life results in the flowering of an integrated personality. Even Einstein maintained that the school should always have its aim that the young man will leave it as a harmonious personality, not as a specialist.
Therefore, while it is imperative to take new knowledge and ideas from the world, it is necessary to apply them on the basis of our own foundation, our own mind, spirit and social genius, and assimilate them into our own knowledge and culture so as to realize a future civilization that is not just rational, scientific or industrial, but also compassionate, harmonious and spiritual.
To begin with, the whole approach of education needs to change from outside-in to inside-out. Education must begin not with facts and information, but with the instruments of knowledge which is primarily the human mind. Swami Vivekananda emphasized on the concentration of mind, as with the power of concentration and detachment, facts could be collected at will. A concentrated mind is also the lamp that shows us every corner of the soul. Sri Aurobindo warned against the notion of hammering the child into shape, and suggested that the mind should be consulted in its own growth. The child must be induced to expand in accordance with his own nature. The system of education should be based on an approach that is natural, easy and effective for a child’s mind. The objective should be to strengthen and sharpen the instrument by drawing out that which is best and make it perfect for a noble use.
Secondly, it is necessary to avoid the tendency of taking short-cuts to learning. The noted writer Stephen Covey is convinced that there can be no short-cuts in the natural process of growth. While one may acquire skills and some personality traits through such short-cuts, it is not possible to achieve the strength of character and values through such means. Mr. Covey explains that human growth follows the law of the harvest – you cannot harvest a crop before you sow and follow the process of growing it. He proposes that the process of human development should follow a Maturity Continuum in accordance with natural laws of growth in which the development of an individual happens inside-out from personal effectiveness to interpersonal effectiveness, from dependence to independence to interdependence. Interdependence according to him is the highest level of maturity where there is awareness of the relationships with others including the society and nature as a whole; where the tendency is to synergize or combine the strengths and not to compete.
After working upon the inside, i.e. on developing the strength of mind and character in the individual, education should work towards establishing the connections with the laws of life and nature. However, this must not be based on mere theoretical or information-oriented learning, but should rather involve an experiential understanding through creative and explorative learning, unveiling the hidden secrets of life and nature, and also the hidden potentialities of human consciousness. Rabindranath Tagore envisioned an education that was deeply rooted in one’s immediate surroundings but connected to the cultures of the wider world, predicated upon pleasurable learning and individualized to the personality of the child. He felt that a curriculum should revolve organically around nature with classes held in the open air under the trees to provide for a spontaneous appreciation of the fluidity of the plant and animal kingdoms, and seasonal changes. For Sri Aurobindo, the major question was not merely what science we learn, but what we shall do with our science and how too, possibly even relating it to other powers of nature including those of the human mind. Or how we are to learn and make use of Sanskrit not merely to communicate but to get to the heart and intimate sense of our culture and establish a vivid continuity between the still living power of our past and the yet uncreated power of our future.
Another aspect of education always emphasized in the Indian context is to create a stimulating environment of learning, free from worldly distractions but filled with ideas. Dr. S. Radhakrishnan emphasizes that universities must be the seats of learning responsible for developing the higher mind of the nation, its conscience and its ideals. The ideal of the university is the promotion of liberty of mind or freedom of thought. The ancient Indian universities of Takshashila and Nalanda were such symbols of education, which helped produce a community of cultural ideas, a profound like-mindedness in basic aims and ideals.
Moreover, the idea of education in India was never limited or confined to classroom or university education. Education was always in the broader context a living process infused into various aspects of life. Learning began at home, with the Indian family providing an ideal milieu for inculcating basic values through joint living, telling of moral-based stories, recital of various shlokas and observance of various cultural and religious values and festivals. Informal education of the masses also happened through various spiritual discourses and through the efforts of various saints and activists. The earliest form of mass education was probably in the form of yajnas, in which the sages and Brahmins would use Vedic rituals to reach out and spread the thoughts of the Vedas and provide a holistic perspective of life.
To summarize, it is imperative for modern education to undergo a complete paradigm shift by rethinking its aims and methods in line with the Indian ethos. Only with such an ethos can modern man turn around from being a self-centred individual guided by ego and desire to an integrated individual guided by the conscience and its relationship to the whole. An apt quote by Arnold Toynbee is very relevant in conclusion – “It is already becoming clear that a chapter which had a western beginning will have to have an Indian ending if it is not to end in the self-destruction of the human race.”