Towards a New System of Education
India has had in modern times five greatest educationists. Significantly, all of them were stirred by the teacher-pupil relationship that flourished in the ancient Indian system of education, and all of them renewed for us the ideal and practice of education that the gurukulas or the ashrams nourished in the days of Vasishtha and Vishwamitra, of Aruni and Yajnavalkya.
Maharshi Dayanand Saraswati visualised clusters of teachers spread over the entire breadth and length of the country nestled in groves of woods and trees where pupils could be trained in the ancient knowledge contained in the Veda as also in rational modes of thought so as to be equipped with invincible knowledge and robust character that is forged by constant practice of truth, self control and fearlessness.
Swami Vivekananda, inspired by the Upanishads and their message of divine perfection inherent in every individual, strove to give to the youth of modern India the lessons of man-making education so as to cast them in the image of heroic builders of new India and new world.
Mahatma Gandhi conceived, even when he was in South Africa, a scheme of ashram education and developed it further in India at Sabarmati Ashram and at Wardha into what came to be called "Nai Talim" that would reflect the ancient spirit of blending head, heart and hand so as to create new types of human beings that would be self-reliant, chaste, truthful, non-violent and devoted servants of the country and the world.
Rabindranath Tagore established in Shanti Niketan a school and a Brahmacharyashram where, like the ancient Upanishadic Guru, he lived and taught as a companion of the children who
came and lived with him. As he himself explained:
I sang to them. I composed some musical pieces, some operas and plays, and they took part in those plays. I recited to them our epics and this was the beginning of this school... They had that perfect freedom to do what they wished, as much liberty as was possible for me to give them. And in all their activities I tried to put before them something which would be interesting to them.
That experiment of Shanti Niketan was a living criticism of our present system of education, a system in which Rabindrananth Tagore as a young boy had felt terribly miserable. As he explained later about the school where he went as a child:
It could not be possible for the mind of a child to be able to receive anything in those cheerless surroundings, in the environment of dead routine. And the teachers were like living gramophones, repeating the same lessons day by day in a most dull manner. My mind refused to accept anything from my teacher... And then there were some teachers who were utterly unsympathetic and did not understand at all the sensitive soul of a young boy and tried to punish him for the mistakes he made. Such teachers in their stupidity did not know how to teach, how to impart education to a living mind... And then I left school when I was thirteen and in spite of all the pressure exerted on me by my elders, I refused to go to my studies in that school.
Rabindranath Tagore, therefore, created in Shanti Niketan a new living image of freedom and harmony with Nature and personal and intimate relationship between the teacher and the pupil that existed in the Upanishadic Ashram.
Sri Aurobindo gave to the world, through radical experiments at his Ashram, a new mode of education as also a new aim that would bring back the Vedic ideals of self-perfection and would even prepare for the bolder and newer goal of supramental manifestation on the earth. In his great book A National System of Education, as also in his Synthesis of Yoga, he demonstrated that
all life is education and all life is Yoga.
The surprising and shocking fact is that in spite of these great messages and experiments which, if followed, would have not only enabled us to create a new system of education but even revolutionised the entire educational atmosphere, India did nothing of the kind since the last fifty years of Independence, but even did worse by multiplying huge structures of the irrelevant alien system imposed upon us by the British. Even now, we are still going round a vicious circle, and when we think of innovations and reforms, we do not find ourselves bold enough to propose any radical and comprehensive change that would show the imprint of that ancient and ever-new spirit of India.
In the meantime, a new wave of external influences is spreading over the country, and the goals of economic barbarism have begun to shape the attitudes of parents and students, and even of teachers; we find ourselves in a psychological state of a tempest, and we do not know what and how we ought to be functioning.
Our need is to reflect clearly and luminously of the steps we should take to conceive and implement a new system of education.
But we may first try to arrive at the quintessence of the principles that determined the greatness of the ancient Gurukula sys tem. Next, we shall examine how the present system can be changed into a new system so that the principles of the Gurukula system could be incorporated in the context of the modern set ting and the special needs of today and tomorrow.
In his Synthesis of Yoga, Sri Aurobindo speaks of four aids by which perfection can be achieved. The first aid is that of the knowledge of the psychological principles by which growth and development of faculties can be properly guided. This means that education is not a haphazard movement but a deliberate action based upon sound psychological knowledge.
The second aid of which Sri Aurobindo speaks is that of patient and persistent action on the lines laid down by the knowledge, and the force of the personal effort of the pupil. For no education can
be effective if it is not rooted in the enthusiasm of student's quest and tapasya. The task of educational endeavour is to ensure that students feel so inspired that a burning quest seizes their being so that they can joyously accept the difficult labour of learning.
Indeed, the aid of the teacher is indispensable; for it is the teacher who creates the right organisation of the life of the pupil; it is the teacher who possesses the sound knowledge that leads to perfection; but all this constitutes the background so that central concentration falls on the utsaha of the child, enthusiasm of the child. The visible or invisible action of the teacher is connected centrally with the spontaneous process of the students's quest. The teacher's aid is the third aid in the process, and it comes in the form of teacher's intervention, which aims at uplifting student's effort. And the teacher's role is least as far as instruction is concerned; far more important than instruction is the example of the life of the teacher, — not so much the example of outer behaviour of the teacher, but the example of the inner life of the teacher. And more important than example is the influence of the teacher; but this influence does not and ought not to emanate from the authority and status of the teacher but it emanates from the fragrance of the inner soul of the teacher. As Sri Aurobindo points out, the teacher is one who can hold .the hand of the pupil in an act of inspiring help, and he adds that the teacher is verily a child leading children, a Light kindling other lights and an awakened Soul awakening souls...
Sri Aurobindo also speaks of the fourth aid that comes from the instrumentality of Time, — Kala. He points out that in all things there is a cycle of their action, and the child is like a flower that needs to be given the right atmosphere of appropriate soil, water and sunshine so that in the right season the flower can blossom. To understand every child's season of growth and ripening and flowering and to provide the right means of an appropriate acceleration to the child's growth is to utilise the factor of Time. To combine endless patience and insistence on utmost rapidity, — to arrive at an equilibrium of these two opposites will give the right measure of the load that we should place upon the child at any given point of its development.
This analysis will bring out very clearly the crucial questions that we have to put to ourselves when, dissatisfied with our present system of education, we are striving to move towards a new system of education. These questions can be formulated as follows:
1. Does our present system of education present obstacles to the implementation of the principles of teaching and learning that we have briefly expounded? If so, what precisely are these obstacles?
2. Are these obstacles insurmountable? If not, how can they be tackled?
3. Can we think of specific measures of positive action that can be recommended to ourselves and to the country?
Goals of Education
The first set of obstacles will become obvious as soon as we inquire as to what exactly are the goals or objectives of our pre sent system of education. It is sometimes argued that the present system had for its model what in the West is called a system of liberal education, and therefore the goals of liberal education are implicitly present in our system. This argument has some historical truth, but whereas liberal education aims fundamentally at a free growth of personality that sharpens taste, interest and rational faculties, our system was, right from the beginning, reduced in its liberality and narrowed down to the aim of producing a large number of clerks who may have learned several subjects covered under the scheme of education, but at a level of mediocrity and through a syllabus that encouraged no free choice but compulsion, that cared for no tastes but mechanical learning and cramming, and which provided little food for critical thought but a good deal of second hand or third hand information punctuated by fashionable phrases, reproduction of which would enable the student to get a little more than pass marks in the examination! The so-called liberal education of India is a mere parody of what the Western system provided and is still providing to its students.
It is sometimes argued that what our present system lacks is job-orientation. But, in a sense, this is a mistaken view. The present
system, as we noted above, is job-oriented, although the main job that is aimed at is largely that of clerks. In 1966, when the present system of education was changed to some extent, there was a better perception of what our system lacks. It was pointed out that our system needed vocationalisation, and much effort was bestowed to tinker with our present system so as to make room for an optional vocational stream at the higher secondary level. Retrospectively, it has been found that the scheme was psychologically so unsound that vocationalisation has hardly flourished. But even now, instead of going into the roots of the question, whenever we think of reforms, we still go on hammering only on two ideas and we clam our for job-oriented education and vocationalisation of education. Not that they are not needed, but they need to be a part of a holistic system of education.
It may be mentioned that the present system did and does provide for those who, in spite of the limiting factors of the sys tem, achieve by their inherent talent some higher standards. For them are the three professions, — professions of law, medicine, and engineering. And, indeed, some of those who cannot get jobs as clerks and some of those who are somewhat bright in one or two subjects can become qualified for one more profession, — that of becoming teachers or professors. It is only in recent times that some marginal place has been given to such subjects as arts, crafts and technologies of a few varieties. But the scheme as a whole has still remained what the colonial rulers had designed for us, and its goals have reduced the entire system to a mechanical routine, which is fully imprisoned in the walls of a few subjects devoid of any holistic vision, in a few textbooks or guidebooks devoid of sound pedagogical insights, and an examination system, which can hardly evaluate critical achievements of intelligence, qualities of character, values like patriotism and universality, or skills of head, heart and hands.
It follows that we need to attend to the problem of goals of education in such a central way that they would shine out glaringly and would oblige the entire process of teaching-learning to be geared into a creative organisation of the lives of students and teachers, and which would vibrantly cater to the needs of man-making education,
Every student should... be given practical opportunity as well as intellectual encouragement to develop all that is best in the
to the integral development of personality, to value-education, to the pursuit of self-knowledge, to the pursuit of self-control, to the task of bringing out the inner divinity and perfection that is latent in every human being.
Let us affirm that basically this is not a very difficult task. But difficulties arise from three directions: there is a fear of the word "divine", — for this word can be so employed so as to emphasise dogmatism, religionism, and some kind of superstition or blind faith. In answer to this fear, it must be asserted that divinity is not a belief or dogma but a state of consciousness that can be achieved only by pursuit of freedom and of self-knowledge. The second difficulty arises when the goal of self-perfection is so transcendentally or negatively formulated that it gives and impression that it has nothing to do with practicality, with skills of productivity and utility and with professional excellence. The truth, however, is that the secret of profession lies in personality and that the concept of integral personality necessarily implies not only aspects of wisdom, power and harmony, but also of skills in works and chiselling of capacities of practical efficiency. And the third difficulty arises when it is feared that the new goals of education will require of teachers and parents such creative ability, such hard work and such commitment and care of the child that it would oblige them to be shaken out of their present facile inertia, which is tolerated or encouraged by the present mechanical and increasingly de-humanising system. But this difficulty can be overcome if teachers and parents resolve to pursue a rigorous work ethos and to develop creative abilities, which true education demands.
Teachers and parents have to realise that the perils of their inertia are not only great but disastrous. If the present crisis is a crisis of character, if it is a crisis of value-system, if it is a human crisis, then the only way by which this crisis can be met, is to replace the colonial goals of education by the new goals of education, and new methods of education, which necessarily reflect our Indian aspirations but which imply very hard work and very creative and careful work. Fortunately, there is a new awakening among parents and teachers, and we can trust that they will eventually rise to the occasion and will not disappoint the great aims
that need to be fulfilled if our posterity is to find its true fulfilment.
Contents of Education
The second set of obstacles is related to contents of education. And here the difficulties are enormous. The contents of the pre sent system of education are focussed on packets of information, which can often lack the qualities of clarity and precision. They are centred on information rather than knowledge and they pro mote teaching by snippets. A subject is taught a little at a time, in conjunction with a host of others, with the result that what might be well-learnt in a single year, is badly learnt in seven and the student goes out ill-equipped, served with imperfect parcels of knowledge, master of none of the great departments of the human knowledge.
The scheme of the contents of education does not aim at the development of faculties. Powers of imagination, powers of criticality, powers of creative expression and powers of complex thought do not receive any direct help either from the contents or from the methods of their exposition. It is not realised that textbooks are systematic manuals of information but they cannot be ideal tools for teaching and learning. One of the best ways of stimulating students is to come directly in contact with the original writings of some of the greatest writers or poets. If, for example, our aim is to develop among our students a living patriotism as also a living aspiration for universal fraternity, the sense of vasudhaiva kutumbakam, this cannot be achieved if our students do not have a direct contact with texts of the Vedas and the Upanishads, of Vyasa, Valmiki and Kalidasa, of the great Indian scientists, philosophers, mathematicians, historians, linguists and artists or of great men and women of action, and if this is not coupled with an original acquaintance of some representative personalities of the East and the West.
The scheme of education, which is prevalent today, prescribes a few subjects like languages, mathematics, sciences, — natural and social, — and a bit of art and craft. The syllabus of each subject is formed in a linear fashion, which rises from the lowest to the highest; the theme of unity of knowledge, interdisciplinanty
and overarching unity of humanities, sciences, fine arts, and technology, — these important integrating aspects of knowledge are hardly kept in view. Proper blending of subjects and specialisation, which are both required in varying measures at different levels of studies, receive very little attention.
As there is today an explosion of information, there is a constant clamour for updating and adding new loads on the existing heavy weight of curricula. New subjects also are being added. Pruning of what is obsolete and rewriting so as to assimilate the new and yet keeping the load as low as possible, — these tasks have hardly been attempted systematically and comprehensively.
As a result, some important areas, which have never received any attention but require to be introduced in the curriculum, cannot find any room. For example, education for character development is an important theme; its necessity in the curriculum is increasingly acknowledged; but no room is found for it in the curriculum; or else, attempts are being made to dovetail a few elements in the existing curriculum in an artificial manner. A more important subject, which is not even recognised as a subject, but which was a central subject in the ancient curriculum of India, and of which Veda and Upanishads were the real texts, is not even contemplated. This relates to the knowledge of the self and the method by which this knowledge can be obtained. In India this knowledge has been given the status of vidya, and although educationists and various reports have underlined the importance of this knowledge and even emphasised it in terms of the famous Sanskrit adage: sa vidya ya vimuk taye, there has been no attempt to consider how this very important subject should find its proper place in our curriculum. It is high time that we wake up to this great need and consider what should be done in regard to this particular and other similar subjects, which need to have their appropriate place in our curriculum.
In fact, there is a strong case to initiate a comprehensive exercise of redesigning the entire curriculum.
Corresponding to the redesigning of the curriculum is the task of preparing new teaching-learning material. And considering that different subjects have varying components of cognitive, conative and affective elements, care has to be taken in regard to the
methodology appropriate to these varied elements, — and this will have consequences in the modes and methods of writing teaching-learning material.
The absence of serious thinking upon these important methods and the absence of any institution that can take up the required task constitute the principal obstacles, which need to be overcome at the earliest. We have to note that institutions like NCERT, CBSE or UGC, which can undertake some of these tasks, have neither the required manpower nor the equipment nor the time. We have, therefore, to think of something new.
The third set of obstacles is connected with the present examination system. It is not necessary to analyse the evils of this sys tem. For it is recognised that so long as the present system of testing and certification continues to be what it is, the motivation of students will remain focused merely on passing examinations, teachers will concentrate on lecture system and on delivering hurried lectures so as to cover the prescribed syllabus, and books and guidebooks will continue to be written in such a way that they cater to the requirements of written tests. Higher modes of education, creative methods of education and development of great qualities, virtues and values will remain neglected. Even if new types of teachers emerge, even if new methods of education are employed, and even if new types of teaching-learning materials are produced, — all these will remain marginal, and everything will come to be sacrificed which will not fall within the purview of the examination system.
We need to develop not only a new system of examinations but also new kinds of examinations. One major reform would be to set up a decentralised National Testing Service. This system would be open to anyone who wants to get himself or herself examined irrespective of whether he/she holds any degree or certificate. The concerned test should be related to specific jobs for employment opportunities or certain specific pursuits of studies and disciplines of knowledge and skills. These tests should be written, oral and practical. The National Testing Service would also evolve special
methods of assessing those qualities, which education for character development aims at. Similarly, this service would also test every candidate's physical fitness. The National Testing Service would also require every candidate to show intimate acquaintance with Indian culture as also great awareness of India's problems of development and how India can attain its leading position in the world.
If this testing service can be properly organised and made effective, it should be possible to retain in the educational institutions only such tests, which are relevant to stimulation for further studies, for providing opportunities to students to think clearly and to formulate ideas adequately, for achieving precision, exactness and mastery of details, for arriving at a global view of the subjects in question, for self-evaluation and for gaining self confidence. In other words, these tests will aim at promoting academic excellence and will not be tied up to those objectives which are relevant to gaining employment. This will relieve the entire system of education from those extraneous considerations, which are not strictly related to the promotion of the development of personality and academic excellence. Teachers will, therefore, be free to adopt varieties of tests suitable to different categories of students or even individualised tests.
The most important question is as to how these reforms can effectively be brought about. This is not the occasion to discuss this question in depth; but it can at once be said that there should be set up in the country a permanent National Commission for Education. This Commission should be specifically assigned the tasks of training teachers, redesigning curricula at various levels of education and of setting up a National Testing Service. It should also have the power and means to organise conferences, seminars and training camps not only for teachers but also for parents and for people in general. Its broadest aim should include schemes of innovations in education and utilisation of television and other media for promoting educational programmes and curbing such ¦programmes, which are injurious to value-oriented development of
children and young people. Finally, this Commission should aim at creating in our country a clearly new system of education, which would reflect the spirit and principles of our great ancient system of education and which would also reflect the results of the progressive experiments which have been conducted in different pans of the world.
In due course, this new system of education would replace the present system.