What we call modern education in the context of India is not really modern; it has only a few elements of modernity; and these too remain restricted by the influence of the objectives that Macaulay had conceived for our students, viz., to promote the interests of the British rule in our country.
It is true that after Independence, efforts have been made to provide some new orientations, thanks to the recommendations of various Education Commissions and reviews or revisions of the National Policy of Education. But these have resulted in patch-works or half-way houses. This is the main reason why we ask the question with anguish and deep concern: Whither modern education?
Modernity is characterised by universality by individualism, critical rationality, scientific knowledge and ever-progressive synthesis. There is today a great quest all over the world towards synthesis of knowledge; ancient knowledge is being recovered in the context of modern knowledge; humanities, sciences and technologies are being brought closer to each other. There is a powerful drive towards totality and all-comprehensiveness. The wheels of the world are spinning fast, and we are obliged to overpass our limitations continuously and interminably.
In the light of these trends of modernity, if we examine our actual situation in respect of objectives, contents and methods of education, we get a disappointing picture. Our curricula have little flexibility and suppleness; they have remained largely unchanged since decades; no serious attempts have been made to prepare teaching-learning materials keeping in view the unprecedented explosion of knowledge and the consequent need to prune the obsolete. We still continue to make the lessons uninteresting and complain that students do not take interest in studies. We go on adding new subjects and topics on the already heavy curriculum. It is clear that if revolutionary changes do not take place, the fate of the nation will sink into perils greater than those which we are facing today.
Closely connected with the question of contents is the question of methods of education. If our system were truly modern, we would have actualised the ideal of child-centred education. Instead, we have horrible class-room situations, with large number of children, ill-equipped environment; we teach by snippets and doses of lectures and exhortations, devoid of dynamic methods of interaction, dialogue, participation and involvement. Bugbear of examinations grips constantly the minds of our students, and students find it difficult to get the required help or encouragement from the system. In sum, our methods of education are crude and out-dated, and they are unsuitable to the promotion of a progressive, disciplined and refined nation.
But even if we succeed by means of unprecedented efforts to modernise our education on a large scale, we shall not have reached the end of the road. For modernity itself is a mixture of good and evil, and modern education, whether in India or elsewhere, can succeed in meeting the contemporary human crisis only if it continues to revolutionise itself continuously.
Modernism underlines individualism and insists on individual freedom, individual responsibility, individual accountability, individual growth and excellence. All these desirable things, and they need to be actualised in day-to-day working of schools, colleges and universities. But are individualism will need to solve the dilemmas of freedom and discipline, even of extremes of licence and regimentation. It will be necessary to fathom deep into the truths and powers of character, personality, individuality. And we shall find that the conflicts and divisions within the individual cannot be resolved unless recognise in the individual, not merely a body-life-mind complex, but also growing soul, the divine spark, the luminous charioteer of the drives and energies of personality. Modern education will need to be in constant search of the human soul.
Modernism recognises the aim of the harmony of the individual and society. It wants to unite liberty, equality and social justice. These are intensely desirable, and they must be emphasised in our educational policies and planning, and they must be backed by political will and commitment. But even this is not enough. The history of the experiments of democracy and socialism or of democratic socialism have shown that when liberty is attempted, equality suffers; and when equality is sought to be realised, liberty tends to get strangulated. Modern education, which strives to harmonise liberty and equality, needs therefore to be in constant search of a deeper principle of universal fraternity, which promises to set in equilibrium the dilemmas and perplexities of liberty and equality. This need is further reinforced in the context of the contemporary imperatives of global peace and co-operation.
Modernism has derived its glory from the glaring successes of science: and technology. It advocates, therefore, the promotion of scientific temper, habit of observation, experimentation, verification. It tends also to lay a great or even exclusive stress on material development and prosperity. It carries also the danger of promoting mechanisation and dehumanisation. Post-modern thought therefore is critical of excesses of science and technology. Hence, modern education has, on the one hand, to underline the need to study science and technology in depth, height and fullness, it will also need to apply a great scruple to ensure that are machine does not become master of the human being, that technological development does not promote economic barbarism, and that limitations of science are not projected as unquestionable dogmas. Here lies perhaps the greatest challenge of modern education. If this challenge is not met squarely or adequately, we shall find ourselves in states of instability, even tyrannies and wars. It is clear that science has no cure for the numerous evils of human impulses and passions. What is important is therefore to conceive and design education that can influence, convert and transform human nature.
We speak today of human crisis, and this crisis is a result of the fact that while humanity has developed enormously in its outer achievements, it has remained stagnant in regard to its ethical and spiritual potentialities. Vast structures of organisation have been built up, and they have been offered to forces of aggressive egoism and selfishness. Human being, as constituted today, is incompetent to deal with the complexities that have grown by expanding horizons of sciences and technologies. The central question for modern education is: How to create a synthesis of science and spirituality? Or are we to continue the rounds of modern education in its present grooves and produce human machines, great in efficiency but small in spirit?
Are we to remain dwarfs morally and spiritually?
This brings us directly to the issues of value education. Implications of value education, when sufficiently examined, will show us that education has to be revolutionised in all respects — objectives, contents and methods. For values cannot be taught in the same way in which academic subjects are taught. Values are in their very nature cognitive, affective and conative, and they demand total involvement of intellect, will and emotions in the process of teaching-learning. A comprehensive and integral process of education, with an overarching emphasis on moral and spiritual dimensions, is needed if we are to give the right orientation to modern education. It is only when there is a right balance of the development of all our faculties and their corresponding values that we can reach and attain the state of self-possession, self-control and self-mastery. It is only then that we can expect to fashion new types of human beings who will feel spontaneous brotherhood with all and extend co-operation effortlessly in tasks of development. This is the ideal that we need to place in the content of modern education.