Interview on education - (12 August 2008)

Interviewer: While I was contemplating on the subject, I was forced to think first about our society and its maladies. For is it not true the quality of a pie depends on the apples used in making it. So my question to you is: What are the maladies that inflict our society today and where do we stand today?

Prof. Kireet Joshi: You know this question can be answered at length and can be answered very briefly. So let me answer the question for the present moment briefly. The malady of our present society is first that it does not have a leadership which is devoted to creating visions of the future and educating members of the society in visualising the future and we can design better and more prosperous future of the country, this is the first and foremost malady. However it is not true that our country has no vision at all. There are visions but these visions are not being debated at the highest levels in our society. If you read newspapers, magazines apart from Dr Kalam, I don’t think any recent leader has raised the question of visions for India. Even then there are people who have visions and if you make inquiry, visions are available. I always think of the vision that Sri Aurobindo has given for the future. But how many people know that Sri Aurobindo has given a great vision for the future, a future which is practicable, realisable and his own rational arguments for developing that vision and realising that vision. Why is it that our people do not even have the idea that such a vision is available in our country? It’s a malady, there is a sickness in our country that this dimension is absent.

Interviewer: So the vision of the people is very myopic, they only think of their little self and little surroundings and their little life, they are not able to look beyond themselves.

Prof. Kireet Joshi: You are right. Take for example one of the important areas for visualising the future is the frontiers of knowledge. We have many scholars in our country; some of them are of the highest order. They are experts who can give you their visions of the frontiers of knowledge. Unfortunately our society doesn’t go to them and they have no means of communicating what they are thinking. Our magazines for example are totally silent on this subject.

Interviewer: So that means there is a big gulf between governance and thinkers.

Prof. Kireet Joshi: Not only governance but also among the large masses of people and the few individuals who are at the top of their visions. How to make those visions made available to different strata of society, neither from lower level the aspiration goes up nor the answers that are available, that could be made available are made available to the people. It’s a big gulf as you rightly said.

Interviewer: and also the gulf is between those who can do something about it, like the help of those who have vision, it’s like a triangle. You have the masses and you have the government on one side which is probably visionless but for President Kalam, and you have the thinkers. Thinkers do not have the executive power, the leaders don’t have the vision and the masses are stuck in their own little myopic world.

Prof. Kireet Joshi: Exactly, this is the malady in our country and you rightly pointed out, when you spoke of governance, I agree with you that in that respect there is a big lacuna in the governance of the country from this point of view. But this is only one malady. There is a second malady of which I would like to speak a little. And that is lethargy. In our country there is a lack of dynamism, there are many reasons for it. You remember when Swami Vivekananda rose to the heights of his meteoric career, he spoke of the message of strength and dynamism. He spoke of Vedanta in football and he wanted to give to our youths muscles of steel and he wanted the brain power of Indian youths to be galvanised. Unfortunately India has not responded to that great call. Sri Aurobindo wrote a small article which is extremely important—Brain of India. We have not been able to create a great intellectual ability in our young people. Our young people are educated in our country in universities which are manufacturing young people, half baked, unemployable.

Interviewer: So essentially when we talk about lethargy, it is to do with the intellect of the Indian mind being lethargic, it does not want to make the effort to think beyond its routine.

Prof. Kireet Joshi: You are right, that is to say intellect can be a very powerful instrument of energising the people.

Interviewer: So there is fatigue in the intellect.

Prof. Kireet Joshi: Not only fatigue, it is idleness.

Interviewer: There is no aspiration to even make an effort to look beyond....

Prof. Kireet Joshi: There are some young people who would say I would like to read a hundred great books of the world. If you go round the country and ask them: how many young people want to read a hundred books of the world. That would give the measurement of our intellectual ability.

Interviewer: What is the cause of this, why is it so peculiar to India specifically. I mean we do see countries in the West which, when one visits, it is throbbing and there is a pulse that says that I want to read. Is it just a fallacy or is it the difference between the intellectual development currently in India and the West?

Prof. Kireet Joshi: Well, if you want the answer at the deeper level, I would say that right from the ancient times, barring the very early Vedic age where the principle of dynamism was very greatly emphasised. Even in the Upanishads like Ishopanishad the philosophy of dynamism was given to our country. Even the Gita is a tremendous dynamo, inspiration to awaken the people to work ‘Karma yoga’ and to be engaged in action, despite this very rich message available to India, soon thereafter a period came where meaninglessness of life began to be advocated. And sometimes they say that our spirituality of India is at fault. I would like to reject this idea. Our spiritual capacity of the country is so great that I would say that even today if we are alive and kicking to some extent, it is because of our spirituality.

Interviewer: So according to you it is the wrong interpretation of our scriptures that resulted in the ruinous theory that it being the cause for this.

Prof. Kireet Joshi: Yes, there is this illusionism, meaninglessness of life and asking the best people to renounce, not that the renunciation is wrong but renounce so that you become completely escapists.

Interviewer: So basically it is this kind of understanding that causes people to renounce life itself, instead of the renunciation of desires and that which makes a man out of man.

Prof. Kireet Joshi: Yes, this is it. You are right. So our great difficulty has arisen since this meaninglessness of life has been advocated and it is that which has to be corrected, you have to find out what is the meaning of life. Life on earth is not meaningless, it’s very meaningful and that is why I go to the message of Sri Aurobindo is where he equates Yoga and Life and he says: ‘All life is yoga’, and he wants dynamism of divine consciousness to work upon the earth.

Interviewer: When we compare it to the West like, there is so much dynamism, would you like throw the light on this dynamism present there is that the ideal dynamism in the sense that you talk about the lack of dynamism in India and we talk about that which is overflowing dynamic life, is that ideal or is there something which...

Prof. Kireet Joshi: You know in the West there is no doubt a good deal of dynamism. But sources of dynamism in the ultimate analysis are spiritual. And the difficulty is that this dynamism of the West, if West does not go back to the spiritual sources will gradually decline. That is why some of the great thinkers speak of the decline of the West. I don’t share myself with that idea because I believe that the West has one very great virtue, – enquiry. So they are inquiring and because they are inquiring I am quite sure they will be able to recover the source of dynamism, the true source of dynamism and they will knock the doors of spirituality. And if you see in the West there are many, many young people today who feel that the direction of their dynamism does not fulfil them. They want to return to something but unfortunately they do not know what is that source? Western people do need to know what India has discovered long ago, although not fully implemented but this can come about only when India applies spirituality to life and that message will be directly relevant to the West.

Interviewer: So there is something that each has to learn from the other.

Prof. Kireet Joshi: You are right. Spirituality has to be applied to life, for that life has to bubble, pulsate and become a powerful dynamo and then spirituality will be needed much more imperatively than today. And when that thing happens in India, India will be able to stand before the world and provide to the world a message which is absolutely indispensable. And the West also, it has to give a gift of dynamism to India and we have to receive that gift but receiving the gift wisely and that is also another problem, another malady today because since you are asking of maladies, this is also a malady. We are not ready to receive it and in the way in which we ought to receive.

Interviewer: That is the whole point, like seeing that there is so much lethargy towards idealism, the child is too young, so let him be. The youth is too young, it is his time to think of his career, so where is the chance for idealism, he has to think of his career. The householder has his family, where there is the chance for idealism. They work so hard the whole of their lives so let them be in peace till they die. So idealism is kicked.

Prof. Kireet Joshi: Well! I think what you are saying is extremely meaningful and you have now brought to me another dimension, you have made a transition from maladies to another issue.

Interviewer: Which I think is a malady too, for every strata of society, whatever age, think they have a reason for not being idealistic.

Prof. Kireet Joshi: I think what I need to suggest is the following. How to reach children, how to reach the youth, how to reach young people who are on the threshold of their employment, those who are in employment, how to reach them? How to galvanise the leaders of the country? It’s a kind of an array of questions and I am prepared to reflect with you on these important questions and I don’t know how much time you have but otherwise all these questions need to be answered in detail. I would suggest that you put one question for about ten, fifteen minutes and then you come to the next question and give me fifteen minutes and we can then not rush through the questions but give sufficient attention to the question. Take for example children, how to reach children? Normally we say children are to be looked after by parents and largely in India it is the mothers who look after the children and admirable are the women of India, they look after the children as before, they are working as now that is the demand of the present moment and they are able to satisfy both the demands and you can see how much every women of India is working in the working world, how cheerful the women are in spite of tremendous, great burden they are shouldering. Merely by saying how admirable they are we are not answering the question. We have to answer the question more fundamentally. I believe that our society has to take a major decision. Who is the most important element in the society and where should be the fundamental concentration of the society? Where should leaders of India spend their thought, energy, capacities, facilities – where should they spend most? My answer is – children. I speak of the sovereignty of the child. As never before our children need to be looked after most centrally, sovereignly. On account of various kinds of pulls and counter pulls which are going on in our country and in the world, we speak of sovereignty of the consumer, we speak of the sovereignty of the parliament but can’t we speak of the sovereignty of the child? If this is so, we must say that all our resources, if they are to be employed, the major portion of the resources will ensure that every child in our country receives the best possible opportunities and facilities for the highest degree of education. Make all your planning on this fundamental premise. To take a small example, in such a beautiful city like Delhi children of very rich people collect together in a street and they play cricket in a street where almost every five minutes one car gives a horn so that their cricket game is disturbed. It’s only a stray example I am giving, the kind of condition in which our children are developing. Why should it be? We have created one Bal Bhawan in Delhi, it has some branches here and there, ideally speaking for every ten thousand children you need to have one Bal Bhawan. Why should our country not undertake a task of creating one Bal Bhawan for every ten thousand children in the whole country. I know people will immediately say: where is the money? But is it really true? Ask yourself really where is the priority? It’s a question of priority.

Why should not the people of India rise and tell the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Finance and the Prime Minister, kindly give us a blueprint for having Bal Bhawan in every corner of our country, so that for every ten thousand children a Bal Bhawan exists of the kind we have in Delhi. Why not, children are all alike, equality. You speak of the fundamental right of education today, do we really mean it? This is education, create a Bal Bhawan for every ten thousand children and come with all the finances you can create in your country. I don’t think it’s only a question of finance. It’s a question of vision first of all, our sense of priority, which is a mental exercise, understanding and the care you should bestow upon the child.

Interviewer: So then the entire perception of the adult population of India has to undergo a massive shift, their perception about the importance of the child. And also when you say to a mother your child is supposed to be of primary importance to you, she is obviously going to say but my child is but the problem lies right there and what she thinks is she is fulfilling her duties, which is actually speaking not enough because she probably sees him as a child, I must feed him, make him wear good clothes, send him to the park that is the end of it but is that enough?

Prof. Kireet Joshi: Even parks, who are sending their children to the parks. You just see how many parks of India or even Delhi are empty. Why? As you rightly said students in our country are under the big burden of books, they can’t lift their heads from the books or television. Where is the time for parks, why? It’s again another problem. It is because our whole system is so galvanised in the wrong directions that we have no good habits formed for the children, no good facilities provided to them, no programs being made for them, in fact children are least important in our country.

Interviewer: So would you say it is a kind of a vicious circle that the adults are ignorant so therefore the children are not understood in the right manner, so therefore they are not guided in the right manner, the children don’t flower in the right manner. So it becomes like a vicious circle. What we need to do is ‘break it’. Some people who feel that they can help some parents, some educators, should do the needful, open their eyes or to widen themselves so that they are able to look at the whole world and children in a new perspective and try to improve their way of looking and act in a better manner.

Prof. Kireet Joshi: I agree, but what you are proposing is extremely difficult. On paper it may look very nice and I agree with you entirely but how to do it? That is the great need in our country of what you may call ‘social movement’. There is no movement in our country, which we may call a social movement. Isn’t it surprising that we had at a time when India was still under British rule, several social movements? Something has happened to our country, today there are no social movements at all. If you probe further you will find at the root of the problem is our political system. Our political system demands one major movement – electioneering, therefore all the activity of society becomes concentrated only on one thing, movements for getting votes. Why is it that people do not think of any other movement at all? It is because the political system demands that you must elect your members of Parliament by electioneering and that takes up so much of our time and energy that you have no time for anything else.

Interviewer: But in the case of an apolitical person, say the man on the street, he is a part of society and if some social change is really needed and if he is on the suffering end, that is where the revolution takes birth. And if he is apolitical then why does he bow down to the political system because he is helpless or he is bought by the system?

Prof. Kireet Joshi: Well! This is a question to be inquired into. There are many, many reasons why this is happening. As I said earlier we don’t have many visionaries in our country, all those who are visionaries, their visions are not being communicated; a mere facet is being created. Government doesn’t encourage social movements except for those movements which are helpful for getting votes at the time of elections. The social leaders have no money, no resources, those who are really able to do something they simply don’t have the money. Money is sucked up by political parties for the purpose of electioneering. Social change is hardly on their agenda. On the contrary it is the status co of the society where caste system, communalism all flourishing today at its own level, status co level, they want to take advantage of it and they are taking advantage, they may say anything on the platform but what are they actually doing? It is flooded with money so that the caste system becomes subservient to the highest voting pattern. The money is being pumped so that the communal divisions are hardened and we are constantly speaking of slogans like appeasement, secularism, pseudo–secularism and nobody is touching the problem even at the depth level, if you ask any intelligent young person in India and say: please define secularism, only one short question and yet it is the fundamental feature of our constitution. You will get surprising answers to this question. Some people will not be able to define at all because they don’t know what the definition is, some people will give some answer derived from this lecture or that lecture, in which all partial and conflicting answers will be obtained. I am only giving one example but many examples can be multiplied. What’s the reason for it? It is as I said our highest energies today are being spent on electioneering, it is our political system which is extremely sick and its maladies are demanding medicines in terms of a lot of consumption of money and energy, for purposes which are not at all conducive to the progress of the society. Today there are no social reform movements as there were earlier.

Interviewer: So there is basically a complete degeneration of the value system of society?

Prof. Kireet Joshi: Now you bring another dimension and it’s also extremely important, – value system and dimension of values. In fact in a sense all these are related questions. But it is good to raise this question with some focus. When you come to the question of values, one of the political leaders whom I had encountered at an earlier stage I said: Tell me what is your idea about values? He said: Very easy, – Democracy, Socialism, Secularism. I said this is a political answer you are giving me. It was surprising to him that there are dimensions which are different from politics, where you have to think of values at different levels. When discussed at length even at the political level, what are the values of Democracy, I asked him, tell me. He couldn’t answer, what are the values of democracy – free election, freedom to vote, freedom of expression. What is the idea of liberty? And he was a good leader; ultimately he became the President of the whole Congress Party. But he was quite innocent, he couldn’t answer the question, – what is freedom? And I asked many questions even to intelligent people, – Tell me, what is freedom? Our country has not provided sufficient material on which people can think pros and cons about freedom. In India itself there are many levels of freedom of which we speak. We have one idea which is in the currency everywhere: Sa vidya ya vimuktaye, vimukti is freedom, knowledge is that knowledge which gives you liberation, freedom. What is the meaning of that freedom, surely not to participate in electioneering; it’s quite a different dimension of freedom.

Interviewer: So the meaning of politics as it existed is very different from the meaning of politics today. Politics at that time was a call to aid your country, to help the country become better but today politics has become the name of a park game. There is a fall and we need to correct it.

Prof. Kireet Joshi: The only question is what is the means by which you can correct it, I think this is your main concern and I agree with you. It’s a very deep concern, how to shake this society in this country, so that higher dimensions of thought come into the picture, higher visions come into the picture. Even if there are disagreements, I don’t mind but let it be some very high levels of disagreement. Even with regard to political freedom for example there are many theories of freedom and degrees of freedom that society to give or not give is also a very important question. There is a dimension of freedom which is not spiritual as in the case of vimukti, it is a spiritual dimension, but even morally – am I free really to do what I ought to do. What is this moral dimension and this is the central question of values. At the minimum level values have a moral dimension. What is for me, for society, for the world which one ought to aspire for? This is the central question of value. What is the debate going on in our country, tell me? Has this question come up in our society in the last sixty years? What are the values that we ought to pursue? The one glimmering which has come up was when there was some thought of giving to our country in our constitution a new Article called 51A, fundamental duties. I must appreciate that particular movement which is left to the insertion of that new article in the constitution – fundamental duties. But even at the level of educationists there has been hardly any debate as to what is the concept of duty, what are the different duties which are prescribed in our constitution now, and how you can instil commitment to these duties in our society. It is the central question of the educationists. But tell me at least, I have been in the field of education for years and years, I have striven to speak of this subject at many places in this country, at many fora and yet I find so much lethargy in our country even among educationists even to think of this question robustly. I am really disappointed. Some of my very valued colleagues have very faint ideas about what values are? And when I talk about values they immediately count how many values, 51 values or 60 values and what is called fundamental thinking on values, which requires a high level of philosophical thought, even philosophers of our country are not concerned about it.

Interviewer: So they refuse to indulge or engage themselves.

Prof. Kireet Joshi: This is a very important question, why should our philosophers of the country not take up the question of applying to our country philosophy of fundamental duties and why should people not demand it? And education should be demanded from philosophers.

Prof. Kireet Joshi: I was myself Chairman of Indian Council of Philosophical Research, and I made a big effort in involving philosophers in this task. Unfortunately however the response was quite disproportionate to the amount of labour that I put into and today again my program of Value–Education has been shelved in the Indian Council of Philosophical Research. Their simple answer is we don’t have the money today in our Indian Council of Philosophical Research to be engaged in the philosophy of Value–Education.

Interviewer: So eventually it boils down to this lack of idealism and aspiration for the better world and all these excuses are not real because you really need something, the money somehow finds its way. But the point is they don’t believe in it, so they don’t even make an effort towards it.

Prof. Kireet Joshi: It is actually you might say invasion of barbarism in our civilised world. It is this which is the central malady of our society, the central problem. And we must ask this question, what is the meaning of this barbarism? Barbarism is not necessarily tied up to primitive times, any human being who is interested only in how to sustain one’s life in the body and to be engaged exclusively on it – is barbarism. It is the equation of barbarism in our civilised world. I say civilised world because of the history of the past, we have high elements of civilisation available, but available to whom now today, to an increasing number of people whose main concern is the sustenance of physical life, embellishment of physical life and prosperity of physical life. It is this which is a state of crisis. You know Sri Aurobindo has spoken of an evolutionary crisis today and this is an idea on which I would like to dwell upon.

We have to deal with the whole problem, or the series of problems that we have discussed on a very large scale. We have to bring awareness among people that we are passing through an evolutionary crisis and to explain what it means. Now since we are talking at a very brief level, I would simply say, I would like to define crises as a state in which a proposition has got to be worked out and it is now found that it's hardly possible to work it out. When you arrive at that stage, it’s called a state of crisis. Something has got to be done, on the other hand you can say it is hardly possible to do, that is the state of crisis. The crisis is that mankind today requires a spiritual dynamism; now the gulf between our concern for the physical life and concern for spiritual dynamism is so great that we have to rise first of all from physical life to life of creativity, of impulsive life being channelized for sublime purposes and then mental life, intellectual life and then the spiritual life. Now the gulf is so great that we require a tremendous effort to move from this where we are now stuck, to rise to that level and this is urgent, it is imperative. Because it is urgent and imperative and because we are still at a very low level, the gulf is very great, you can say it is hardly possible for us to reply to it. Therefore we are in a crisis and we have to think about this problem, we are at a real critical point.

Interviewer: There are people at different levels of existence, so those who have understood this problem have to expand their mind. Those who are totally ignorant of this crisis need to be shown this crisis so that they may contribute and participate. So the only option is to break this circle of resistance that is there at present to make the best effort anybody can to permeate into this whole system and widen the horizons of those wide worlds.

Prof. Kireet Joshi: I agree entirely, actually I would say, you should have one special niche where the present evolutionary crisis is discussed in the country. You should bring people together and this should be the theme to be discussed. Realisation that there is a crisis and this crisis is an evolutionary crisis and the nature of this crisis then people will begin to ask how to break this crisis. And your questions at the beginning which you raised about children and looking after young people and all that, you will then see how much attention we need to give to education.

Interviewer: Absolutely because when you go to shops, you do find books flooded with books on mind and body, somebody talking of body and soul but when you actually see a mother attending to a child, you see that she loves him but she loves him like a mixed bag and she can’t figure out what all exists in him.

Prof. Kireet Joshi: And how to give the message.

Interviewer: Yes, so the point is that society, parents and teachers look at a child as an independent person, who has a body, a life, a mind and a soul and all these different elements not only need to be recognised but each of these elements need to be nourished.

Prof. Kireet Joshi: When you have already defined both the problem and the solution, the problem is that of education, the solution is to provide the right education and we can say education is the most important problem of our country.

Interviewer: But education before we teach the child, we have to educate the teachers, we have to educate the parents so that they can ..... so it has to be a comprehensive program

Prof. Kireet Joshi: You are right absolutely, that’s why it is multi pronged but among all of them, I had the privilege of discussing this question with the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and she asked me what is the key for the change of educational system? So I said: Teachers in our country. Unless our teachers realise the problem of this crisis, unless they study this problem in depth, unless they equip themselves to be vehicles of the solution of the crisis; because it is only through teachers that message is to be transmitted to young people. Teachers have to be good instructors, they have to be good examples, they are the carriers of highest influence. So if your children are to be brought up to higher levels which are needed today, the main burden is with teachers. And the most important problem is training of teachers and that is our weakest point in our country. And this is not realised by many people. What is our training program for teachers, ask somebody. How do you train your teachers in your country? And you receive pathetic answers. Our B.Ed courses are nine month courses of which three months are holidays, out of six months, plenty of holidays in any case, Sunday, Saturday, everything put together and then many festivals. Within a few months a graduate becomes B.Ed, and he is then asked to teach. Not many people even know that if you want to diagnose one of the worst maladies of our country is our neglect of training of teachers. So I would very much like that there has to be a very powerful movement to demand from the government to provide large scale programs of training. We have pre–service, in–service programs and if you see the dimensions of these programs they are so perfunctory, so poor, so lethargic. When one sees the present situation, one would cry out, why! Why! This is so? You have to diagnose properly. And I would very much like that people who are today of your age, you are the potential leaders of this country and you understand that the most important problem of this country is training of teachers.

Interviewer: So basically we need to understand that a teacher is not only somebody who knows the subject, because the subject is not only maths, English, the subject is the child.

Prof. Kireet Joshi: Evolutionary crisis and the reference to the child, how the child can be educated in the condition in which we exist today in the whole world and that there is an evolutionary crisis. It’s a completely different dimension which is not even conceived but that is a fact.

Interviewer: So there is nine month.....

Prof. Kireet Joshi: It is not the question of nine month period at all, it is the question of the long period of training that you should give to the people to become teachers and teachers of teachers and teachers of teachers of teachers. You can see the train of thought that one should apply and it is a very urgent task, it’s to be yesterday.

Interviewer: So we have at least reached one conclusion, somehow that the most fundamental and urgent task today in our country is first of all to shift the focus of the country towards the sovereignty of the child, the importance of the child and therefore to make sure that the teacher’s training program is fundamentally important, which would be at least a step in the direction in the change in the system of education.

Prof. Kireet Joshi: Excellent. Thank You.