On the National Agenda for Education
The National Agenda for Education makes an appeal not to forget the essentials. For the burden of reforms that are being put forward by the Agenda could be so great as to make us oblivious of the essentials. We need to stress that to place the child and the youth in the centre of nation's attention is the most important message of the Agenda. It has been stressed with the greatest possible emphasis that the country must declare the sovereignty of the child and the youth. At a deeper level, however, we need to remind ourselves of the most instructive parable of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, where the training of the parrot is so designed that under the weight of the learning materials, the parrot itself gets suffocated and becomes dead. The lesson that has to be learnt is that the child has to be aided but not stuffed; the child has to be given the atmosphere of fresh air but not imprisoned; the child is to be trained to learn how to live and live greatly, but not to weaken it and to smother his breathing power. The greatest educational reformers in the world have striven, like Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, to invent a new mode of education that employs life itself as the teacher of life. Experiments of the past that aimed at this invention have given us precious lessons, not all of which have still been assimilated. The need of today is to collect the results of those experiments and to build up once again with a new spirit and unfailing faith a true and living national system of education.
The Agenda rightly emphasises the goal of universalisation of elementary education and the importance of the girl-child. Here, no argument is required; these goals are entirely obvious, and what is needed is a massive action on the part of the people.
But that is not enough. Therefore, the Agenda makes several specific innovative proposals. These relate to the over-arching
importance that needs to be laid on education for character development, reformulation of educational objectives — perennial and contemporaneous, — child-centred education, new methodologies, new contents of education, national value of art education, importance of physical education and the necessity of the development of the national spirit of discipline. The Agenda does not rightly go into details. For the Agenda for Education should not turn out to be a Manual of Education.
But the goals of the Agenda will be greatly advanced, if we can stimulate fresh thinking and fresh enthusiasm for a new effort to redesign education. It may, indeed, be argued that what we need is not redesigning of education but ensure that the present system of education is made to work by two simple remedies: namely, to make teachers teach and to make students study. Let us not dispute that these two remedies are essential, but let us realize that as long as we cling to the present system of education, they will elude us. For the present system has an in-built mechanism for a downward gravitation: it is mechanical in character and can only invite more and more mechanisation and therefore greater and greater dilution and deterioration.
The strategy that the Agenda proposes underlines, indeed, the need for new motivation, — not only among teachers and students but also among parents, educational administrators and among all who are related to formal, non-formal and informal education, — such as those connected with television, journalism, book-writing and others. The Agenda has provided specific precisions as to in what direction and in what manner the new motivation has to operate; it has also outlined the new roles to be played by all the concerned.
The strategy also envisages the setting up of certain new instruments which can facilitate the redesigning of education. It pleads for the setting up of an instrument that would set in motion the formulation of new curriculum for education that could ensure the right emphasis on vocationalization and development of skills as also development of character. It aims at a curriculum inspired by holism at every terminal point of education, and which would yet take care of adequate specialization
appropriate to each individual's growth and employability. It also aims at enabling students to equip themselves to arrive at frontiers of knowledge and which would yet prune the load in such a way as to reduce the burden of books. Finally, it aims at a curriculum which takes care to transform information into knowledge and knowledge into wisdom.
It also pleads for the setting up of a National Testing Service which would lay down high standards, — not only in terms of academic achievements but also in terms of character development, development of skills, work ethos and development of growth and creative talents. This new instrument could also help in resolving problems related to entrance tests, and even ordinary tests with which our schools, colleges, and universities are fully occupied, — which they need not be. This testing service could be so designed that students can freely take tests when they are ready for them and they could be tested in various innovative ways which our present system does not and cannot design and implement.
The Agenda also pleads for the setting up of a National Commission for Education which could act as a people's commission and which should create and sustain a national system of education instead of a State system of education. This commission should be so conceived that it should be broad enough to oversee with effectiveness and efficiency all aspects and forms of education. It will have the possibility of encouraging all sectors of education, of organising conferences, seminars, exhibitions, by means of which nation's attention gets constantly focused on the welfare of children and youths; it should have such authority as to effectively deal with wrong practices and acts of injustice so that unpolluted atmosphere reigns in educational institutions. It should also have the power to implement schemes of innovations in education and utilization of TV and other media and preparing the right materials of education.
The Agenda speaks of the concept of the national system of education. As you all know, the idea of the national system was born in Bengal in the first decade of the century and the programme of freedom struggle conceived by the nationalists had
placed the creation of national system of education as its integral component. The National Council of Education was set up; the first national college was established, and Sri Aurobindo was its first Principal. Sri Aurobindo also wrote a series of articles on the national system of education. And yet, even when the freedom was attained, the concept of the national system of education did not come to be concretised, and the question of implementing such a system did not even arise. This shows how much work needs to be done by us today and tomorrow. Our present system of education is not even a system of education, if we are to define . education properly; to transform what is called education into a national system is a gigantic task. There are bound to be wide ranging views on this subject, which we should welcome and try to integrate. The national system will also need to be integrated with what can be called international education, which has developed a great deal during the last several decades, particularly with the growth of internationalism, mingling of cultures and needs of globalisation. The great studies which had gone into the making of reports like those of "Learning to Be" and others have also to be assimilated. We need to impart to coming generations a new spirit, vision and capacity which will enable them to be at once patriotic and universal — something that was visualized by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore for the aims of Vishwabharati. Men and women of the future have to be universal, and our national system of education must nurture such new types of human beings. This is the task, which is both immediate and distant.
As we all know, the present curricula of studies have a very narrow base, and they have been centred on a few subjects, mainly geared to the production of clerks, lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers, and so-called educated people. These curricula were again framed on a linear basis, largely unmindful of the development of talents and skills, character and personality, psychological interests and rhythms of development. Practically, no attention has been paid to the deeper rhythms of cyclical processes of learning and processes of expansion, reinforcement and maturation which are needed for real mastery. Again, our programmes of
studies do not take into account the varied requirements of different backgrounds of students, their environment, their aspirations, and their natural and cultivated capacities.
A review of the present curricula in a holistic perspective is a necessity both for immediate purposes and for long-term purposes. Even if the task itself may take a long time, beginning has to be made now, and the beginning itself must be conceived on a secure and well-founded basis.
Closely connected with the review of curriculum is the task of preparing appropriate learning materials. This, again, is a gigantic task, and it cannot be left merely to piece-meal programmes. All concerned in the country need to come under a national umbrella and provide guidelines as to how new learning materials should be prepared and how different media such as TV could be utilized for the transmission of these materials. At present, we have no machinery by which the best leaders of education can be involved or can have interaction with the actual processes of the preparation of the learning materials. We remember with pride how the great Vidyasagar wrote for children and how Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore wrote on astronomy for students. This happened before India became free, and we can legitimately ask why such a thing should not happen at a national level in free India today.
Methods of education and contents of education have organic relationships with each other; both affect and determine each other; and when we are thinking of development of a new system of education, we need to take into account what revolutionary changes have to occur in the present methods of classroom teach- ing and learning. Methodologies of exploration, of discovery and invention, methodology of dialogue and active participation; and methodologies of learning by doing and learning by practising have also to be kept in view.
Evidently, major changes in contents and methods of education will imply major changes in programmes of teachers' training. To expect fulfilment of great goals of education without preparing great teachers is a vain chimera. To expect teachers to do great things without giving them a great status in the society is also a vain chimera. Therefore, our country needs to launch a pro-
gramme which will ensure higher welfare of teachers and also higher levels of training for them. Even the curricula and the methodologies appropriate to teachers' training programmes will also need to be reformulated, updated, and even revolutionized.
These are some of the implications of the Agenda that is now before us. It is easy to dismiss the ideas of revolutionary changes as Utopian, unrealistic and impracticable. But the distance between the practicable and impracticable can be bridged by perceptions of what is necessary and by determined will. We need to have courage to discard that which is dysfunctional and construct the roads and bridges that can transform great dreams into actualities. In any case, all of us are required to awake and consider seriously how best we can serve our children and youths.
The greatest challenge is to conceive and implement education for character development. For it is increasingly recognised that the present crisis is a crisis of character and that this crisis cannot effectively be met except through right processes of education that would enable younger generations to imbibe voluntary orientation towards values. Unfortunately, it is precisely this valueorientation that has been prevented from coming into the fore- front as an overarching principle of all education. Arguments are being advanced which create confusion, doubts, and sense of impracticability, — although these arguments are not without force. But even admitting the force of these arguments, the truths of value-oriented education need to be emphasised, clarified and implemented. The argument that values cannot be taught has a force; but it needs to be clarified that values can still be taught or value-orientation can certainly be implemented if we do not confuse education for character development with education for certain do's and don'ts, and instead, we propose the methods of exploration, free discussion, undogmatic search for three greatest values of truth, beauty and goodness, leaving everyone to define these three words in accordance with the conclusions that one may arrive at after exploratory search in regard to them. What is important is to present the dimension of values; we are not called upon t& prescribe certain specific values or certain prescribed acts. Just as it can be said that swimming cannot be taught by lectures
and yet swimming can be taught by certain specific methods which are appropriate to the art of swimming, even so there is meaning in saying that values cannot be taught, and yet we may design the required atmosphere, attitudes and spirit of inquiry as also opportunities of personal experimentation and practice so that values can really come to be practised. Value-oriented education gets often clouded by controversy over religious education, because we have not taken the trouble to distinguish between moral and spiritual values on the one hand and religious sectarian- ism on the other. Again, value-education is attempted to be con- fined only to moral values, which are declared to be relative, with- out considering that relativism permits pluralism but not vacuum, and that values are not exclusively related to the field of morality, but they extend also to the fields of physical education, vital education, aesthetic education, intellectual education and even to higher realms of human personality.
In fact, value-oriented education, when rightly understood, opens up a wide scope so as to become co-terminus with integral education. Development of integral personality has come today to be recognised as an indispensable aim of education, and it needs to be realised that integral development of personality implies harmony, and that this harmony can be achieved only on the basis of harmony of values of physical well-being, of vital force and heroism, of intellectual clarity and universality as also those of creativity, beauty and inalienable oneness. This is a vast subject, but because it has not been discussed sufficiently, the subject has remained impracticable and even neglected. The Agenda for Education has, therefore, declared that education for character development has to be placed at the centre of our educational endeavour, and we should be ready, as a consequence, for a radical change in the objectives, contents and methods of education.
Closely connected with the issues of education for character development, we have in India a pressing problem arising from a powerful battery of foreign influences which are radiating in our country, and if they are not rightly dealt with, they can injure our cultural identity and make us incapable of accepting and assimilating
those foreign ideas and motives which can help us in recovering ourselves as also in enlarging ourselves. The National Agenda makes a distinction between helpful messages from the West and those foreign trends which can injure us if we do not recognise them. It points out that the messages from the West of liberty, equality and fraternity, if rightly received and assimilated, have the power to rejuvenate our individual and collective life; it also welcomes the Western messages of original, critical and scientific thought; it also stresses the Western insistence on creativity, prosperity and unity. On the other hand, it warns against the Western ideas of economic barbarism, vulgar sensuality, and life- styles which have already begun to invade us from outside and to ruin our sense of sacredness of human relationships. The Agenda reminds us that throughout our history, our culture has honoured the spirit of sacrifice rather than that of consumption; it has asked us to choose the good rather than the pleasant, — shreyas rather than preyas, — and to strive for liberation from egoism rather than to worship selfish self-centredness and narrow competitiveness in self-assertion. The Agenda has, therefore, made special appeal to the youths and teachers to become vigilant so that we are not swept off our feet even while we grow from within and assimilate all that is helpful whether that comes from within or without. It counsels the youth to accept the austerity of vigilance, to study Indian culture properly and while retaining our true Indianness, we should be able to receive the new light that is bursting forth all over the world.
Finally, we must take into account very seriously the question of finances for education. This is an extremely difficult task and a number of considerations have to be taken into account before spelling out the needed requirements and how they can be met. The Agenda and the Resolution indeed lay down one most obvious thing, and that is that highest priority must be accorded to education and the immediate goal for the government should be to allocate at least six per cent of the G.D.P. to education. But this is not enough. Finances are and will always remain scarce and we have to be very careful in making exaggerated demands. At the same time, if education has to be the fundamental agent of
change and change for the better and the higher and the nobler, — the country cannot afford to deal with budget for education in a piece-meal or ad-hoc manner. One of the most important items on the Agenda has to be that of a massive programme of teachers' training and revolutionary change in the curricula meant for teachers' education. Massive investments and expenditure have to be envisaged for generating the national spirit of discipline. Those aspects of education which have remained neglected so far, as a result of which our nation has become lopsided and even weak, cannot any further be postponed to a future date. These relate to infrastructural facilities and to art education, physical education and information technology.
Unfortunately, our country has a very poor planning as far as education is concerned. Our country does not know how many new universities, colleges and schools will require to be developed by the turn of the century; we feel merely satisfied by declaring that we should not expand, even though we know that population is expanding, peoples' aspirations are rising and demands for education will remain irresistible, considering both our real needs as also those which are encouraged by the kind of polity and politics that we see developing in our country. We must have a realistic look at our needs and demands.
We also need to turn to private sources for financing education. But while doing so, we have to be extremely vigilant that while those belonging to stronger sections of society are required to pay, others belonging to weaker sections are so subsidized that no meritorious student is deprived of educational opportunities for want of financial back-up. The Agenda and the Resolution have pointed out that in regard to professional courses of education, rich sections of society should be required to create a special fund through appropriate taxation policy, so that adequate subsidy can be provided from that fund to meritorious students belonging to socially and economically weaker sections of the society. At the same time, it has been made clear that the government should not be allowed to shirk its responsibility in regard to education; it should uphold the cause of social justice as the guiding principle in matters of financing education.
We should also, — and this is the last point that I should like to make, — take care that education is not divided into compartments, and in the rush for fulfilling the most imperative need to provide primary and elementary education, we should not forget that higher education has its own decisive place. The Agenda rightly points out that without higher education and that too of a very high quality, we shall suffer from unemployable graduates, incompetent teachers and second rate or third-rate professionals. All aspects of education and all levels of education have to be given their due place, and all of them must receive adequate financing. There is no escape from a very hard work for all of us when we consider the financial aspect of education. In fact, many programmes suggested in the National Agenda are gigantic, and they all require gigantic efforts, — particularly from all of us who are educationists, teachers, responsible parents and public workers.