Education maketh a man

A teaching module that relies on eternal values of truth, peace, non-violence, dharma and love can prepare generations to create world peace, one that accepts and appreciates diversity

India had to wait for a long time to get a new national policy on education. Thirty-four years are indeed a long gap for a sector that is supposed to be ever-alert and dynamic in nature. In a democratic set-up, with all of its contextual diversities, debate on any new policy is very much expected. And criticism is not necessarily always professional or objective. Ideological considerations and political inclinations do make their presence felt on such occasions. Having observed this phenomenon for over 50 years, this writer has found it to be highly educative. He faced it in full fury, being one of those responsible for preparing a new Curriculum Framework for School Education(NCFSE) that was released on November 14, 2000.

It was not just a comprehensive education policy document but had the potential to bring about tangible and significant changes in school education. By implication and extension, it meant to transform the entire education scenario in India. The NCFSE was prepared after a nationwide process of consultation in which every sector was invited to participate. Strong voices emerged from across the country on the need for a curriculum that is rooted in Indian soil, the country’s history, heritage and culture, one that is strongly committed to receiving and generating new knowledge.

After independence, India continued with the educational structure it had inherited, though with minor modifications. The educational framework then was transplanted by alien rulers, who had strategic objectives: One, destroy the indigenous education system. And two, delink Indians from India. This, they thought, was the most potent strategy to subjugate India. There were clear cut evangelical objectives as well. Further, it was also implicit that once the new education system took roots, the “souls of the savages” would be redeemed and there would be no idol worshippers left in the country.

The British succeeded, probably even beyond their expectations. Their most crucial success was when India decided to continue with the inherited legacy. We continued with the Commonwealth link, totally oblivious to the great tradition of knowledge quest, spirituality, astrophysics and so many other areas of knowledge, philosophy and sciences. India stretched the education system, which was designed to educate a few, for the specific task to universalise it. As a result, it was shattered and lost credibility.

The tradition of education in ancient India grew around the inherent human trait of curiosity, creativity, imagination, ideas, intuition, capacity to think and enjoy exploring the secrets of nature. It was not confined to the external world. It prepared the students to look within; to attempt to comprehend the fuller and larger meaning of life on planet earth; and to think of before life and afterlife. And all these human endeavours led to the evolution of man’s relationship with himself, with other men and nature. If people could correctly comprehend the import of these three aspects, they would naturally be at peace. This would give them greater opportunity and eligibility for more intensive explorations.

Logically, it led to the evolution of what was recognised as the unique spiritual advancement of the ancient Indian civilisation. When India gained independence, we were free to evolve, implement and develop our own system of education, one that would be “rooted to culture and committed to progress.” Apart from being inheritors of a great tradition of knowledge quest, our literature and scriptures — in several languages — were great treasures of wisdom and scholarship. In this sense, the new education policy offers hope.

It must be acknowledged that independent India paid scant attention to investment in education all along. Though it put a constitutional provision to provide free and compulsory education to all children “till they attain 14 years of age”, the epistemological base to create an indigenous system of education was not extricated. India had a unique, fulsome, advanced and well-evolved comprehension of the real purpose of education that made Swami Vivekananda teach us: Education is the manifestation of perfection already in men. UNESCO accepts this in the much-talked-about Delors Commission report titled, Learning: The Treasure Within. How much India traditionally values knowledge is known to us for centuries in a subtle statement: Yavadjeevait Adhiyate Viprah (meaning, the wise continue to gain knowledge throughout life).

This reverberates globally as life-long learning. When Gandhiji said he would like education to bring the best out of “body, mind and spirit”, he intended to put the essence of the Indian approach to skill development, learning, acquisition of knowledge and scholarship, personality development — all of which can help young people prepare to plunge themselves in service of one and all — sarve bhavantu sukhinah: sarve santu niramaya.

One would find that all of this fits perfectly well with global thinking on education, as indicated in the well-known Delors Commission report: “In confronting the many challenges that the future holds in store, humankind sees in education an indispensable asset in its attempt to attain the ideals of peace, freedom and social justice.” Concluding its work, the commission affirms its belief that education has a fundamental role to play in personal and social development. The commission does not see education as a miracle cure or a formula that can open the door to a world where all ideals will be attained but as one of the principal means available to foster a deeper and more harmonious form of human development and, thereby, reduce poverty, exclusion, ignorance, oppression and war. Education generates hope and spreads light in the darkness.

Knowledge creation is a continuous process, so is skill acquisition and its refinement. The capability to acquire and create knowledge and utilise it to enhance the quality of life distinguishes human beings from other living beings. We have learnt from Bhagavad Gita that there is nothing else purer than gyaan.  Over the last 100 years, the world has transitioned from an information society to knowledge society and the advancement to wisdom society has begun. But is education all about acquiring knowledge alone? Or is it about the creation of new knowledge? No. It is much more and this must be searched for critically in every new policy document.

I would like to recall Bertrand Russell here, who said, “Man has no chance of survival if knowledge only remains knowledge. But if we could transform knowledge into wisdom, he/she would not only survive but will be able to ascend to greater and greater heights of achievements.” Yes, we need to prepare young people who can think critically, have vibrant analytical skills and awareness.

They must understand that knowledge is meaningless if it just cannot be utilised for the welfare of the larger human community. Think of Los Alamos when on July 16, 1945, knowledge was at its peak. While scientists were exploring the possible utilisation of atomic and nuclear energy in the best interest of humanity — in areas like medicine, land use, clean energy and many others —  those in power and authority had other ideas and decided to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki on  August 6 and 9, 1945. This remains one of the cruellest and shameful acts in human history.

Much before Hiroshima, Gandhiji had identified seven social sins, including knowledge without character. Education has no meaning if it does not become a vehicle for character-building. Swami Vivekananda had already clarified: “The end of all education should be man-making. The end and aim of all training are to make the man grow.” An education policy must prepare every person to “learn to learn more,” acquire the skill to refine and renew them and imbibe keenness for life-long learning.

Education that relies on the five eternal values of truth, peace, non-violence, dharma  and love can play a great sobering role in preparing generations who are well equipped to become prominent contributors in creating world  peace, a world that accepts and appreciates diversity and at the same time becomes a votary of “universal unity of all human beings.”

The newly-announced policy on education has all the ingredients that can pave the way for a truly transformed India. It could lead India to its ancient glory as an international centre of scholarship and learning that attracted learners from practically every civilised society in the heydays of Taxila, Nalanda, Vikramshila and others. It paves the way to move out of the clutches of a transplanted system that makes over eight lakh children go abroad for studies, each incurring a loss of around 1.5 lakh every year.  Competence, commitment and ingenuity, displayed at the implementation stage, can make India a globally sought-after educational hub once again.

(The writer works in education and social cohesion)

Source: The Pioneer