EDUCATION FOR CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT (CHENNAI)
VALUE-ORIENTED EDUCATION: SELF-KNOWLEDGE AND SELF-CONTROL
PRESIDENT DHARAM HINDUJA INTERNATIONAL CENTRE OF INDIC RESEARCH
23RD JANUARY, 1999
Let me at the outset thank Prof. Manoharan, the Vice-Chancellor of the Madras University, for his association with this Workshop and for his instructive inaugural address. I should like to congratulate Dr.
Venkatasubramaniam and Dr. Ganesan for having designed this Workshop on the theme of "Value-oriented Education", which is somewhat different from the usual seminars that we have had in the past on this very subject.
During the last Seminar, there was a very valuable suggestion that while there is too much talk about value-oriented education, there is not much action. In reply, our Working Group decided to have an action-oriented Workshop. At the present stage, our concentration is on those activities, which would enable us to give practical shape to a curriculum that has been developed as a result of much collective thought in different parts of the country. And the first step is now to invite a group of teachers and educationists to work on collecting suitable teaching-learning materials corresponding to various aspects of the proposed curriculum. I am extremely happy that in response to the invitations issued by Dr. Venkatasubramaniam and Dr. Ganesan, the response has been warm and we have this morning an optimum number of scholars, teachers, and educationists who, I am sure, will make valuable contributions.
The presence of the Vice-Chancellor of the Madras University as also of the Vice-Chancellors of some other Universities impart to this Workshop high sense of purpose and dignity. Let me thank these distinguished leaders of education as also of the participants who have agreed to spare time for this Workshop, even when there are many pressing demands on their time.
In order that our Workshop may get the right starting point, Prof.
Manoharan has already underlined the importance of the subject and suggested the need to strengthen our commitment to the theme of character development and how education can contribute to the fulfilment of the aims that character development places before us.
Dr. Venkatasubramaniam has been my co-traveller in the realm of values since 1976. I recall that at a meeting organised by the Ministry of Education in 1976, at Vigyan Bhavan, when a journalist raised the question as to whether the theme of education for character development has any relevance when millions of people in our country suffer from destitution and are not able to provide even for the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter. Before I could react to this question, Prof. Venkatasurbamaniam intervened with his ready wit and replied with sharp sarcasm by asking a counter question: "May I know, my dear friend, whether you suffer from privation? What about you? Do you need to be addressed or not? Or is this theme not relevant to you? It is true that, as Swami Vivekananda had pointed out, you cannot preach Vedanta on hungry stomachs; but what about the millions who do not suffer from privation and yet waste their energies, which creates cycle of idleness, lower productivity, increasing poverty and increasing destitution?" The journalist was silenced. I believe that Prof. Venkatasubramaniam had touched the nerve-point of the issue.
We are proposing education for character development, not in ignorance of the need to fulfil first and foremost, the primary wants of living; these should, of course, be attended with utmost urgency; but that does not mean that in the meantime, we have nothing to do with those who are already being educated but educated without attention to the most important dimension, which makes education worthwhile, and which will ultimately lead not only to the elimination of the physical, but also mental, ethical and spiritual poverty. We have to remember that while physical needs are primary needs, the chief needs of the human being are those pertaining deeper and higher dimensions of human personality, which if not attended to, will make physical prosperity, even when it comes about meaningless and ruinous.
While making preliminary remarks on the subject of our Workshop, it may be said that value-oriented education is a very delicate matter, and much will depend upon the development of appropriate methods and contents. A distinction needs to be made between value-education and value-oriented education. In value-education, the effort is directed towards identifying certain specific values under various assumptions, — right, wrong and even dangerous, — and towards preparing learning-teaching materials in regard to certain do's and don'ts. In this programme, there is little room to allow teachers and students to reflect freely and discuss relevant problems in a true philosophical spirit. On the other hand, it seems more appropriate that instead of prescribing specific values in respect of do's and don'ts, we should follow the Socratic method and raise questions, which can be philosophically examined from various points of view so as to enable each one to come to one's own conclusions. This is, what can be called, value-orientation. Here important questions of values are presented philosophically for purposes of exploration and experimentation, with the aid of appropriate and relevant learning-teaching materials, and all this can lift students' attention from ordinary pre-occupations towards the dimension of values. It is important to present to students stimulating questions in regard to certain issues involved in the life of virtue instead of prescribing to them certain virtues. Dogma and dogmatic treatment of the issues should be fully excluded.
We may refer to the Socratic view that virtue is knowledge and that when right knowledge is arrived at, one truly becomes free, and in that state of freedom, one cannot but be virtuous. Whatever be the controversies in regard to these noble teachings of Socrates, I feel that fundamentally Socrates was perfectly right in the formulation of his doctrine and also in developing what has become reputed as the Socratic method.
Because virtue is primarily a matter of will, there is a tendency in many quarters to train the will, without realising how much easier it would be if the training of the will is sought to be promoted by the effort to unite will with knowledge. If this is realised, education will be liberated from those coercive methods, which are often adopted in the training of the will; the educational process will also be freed from those compulsions, which result from un-illumined beliefs and untested claims of what is right and what is wrong. Value-oriented education should have, therefore, two important dimensions: promotion of knowledge and promotion of the method of explorations rather than that of prescription.
Having stated this, the next basic question is as to what is knowledge, since it is very well known that knowledge tends to be identified merely with information and increasing plethora of information to such a degree that both knowledge and wisdom get exiled from the teaching-learning processes.
Knowledge is fundamentally a state of consciousness, a state of perception or illumination or even a state of information well-received and well-understood, which is marked by what can be described as self- possession, self-awareness, self-knowledge and a sense and experience of being. It has, therefore, been rightly stressed that learning should aim at being, learning to be, as it has been famously formulated by UNESCO, and it should aim at becoming by getting rooted in the being.
It is for this reason that value-oriented education should focus on self- knowledge, and it is precisely this theme that we have tried to underline in the subject of our Workshop. And along with self-knowledge, we have also underlined the theme of self-control. The theme of self-control brings out the dimension of the education of the will, but by coupling it with and by making it dependent upon self-knowledge, we would like to indicate that value-oriented education is basically a process of self-exploration and self-finding. And this process also implies the process of self-control, ‒ but self-control, which is guided and inspired by self-knowledge.
The curriculum that is proposed is so designed that it attempts to combine the processes of self-knowledge and self-control with some kind of primacy attributed to knowledge, although the processes of self-control are not neglected but properly interwoven with the harmonious development of integral personality.
This way of the treatment of the process of value-oriented education can adequately answer four important issues, which are generally found to be difficult to deal with.
I. The first question is concerned with the conflict among moral principles and the consequent issue of relativity of morality and determining what is really good and desirable as against what is really bad and undesirable. We all know that in the process of what is called "moral education" some valid questions arise:
II. Often, in order to answer these questions, recourse is made to religions and to the deriving of moral values from religions. According to some, moral education is impossible without religious education. But there is a more bewildering question of the conflict among religions. Even though it is argued that all religions teach the same thing and that they insist upon the same moral values, it is doubtful whether the adherents of any particular religion would easily grant this proposition and whether, even when there is some kind of agreement, each religion does not emphasise certain values much more than others. And how are we to deal with this problem?
Very often, when these questions are attempted to be answered, one finds so much of conflict among these answers or compromises of thought and belief that these answers do not satisfy the demand of search for the truth.
III. Confronted with these difficult issues, some believe that morality and religion are entirely personal matters and that they are best left to home and family, rather than to allow them to enter into the portals of schools and colleges. It is even sometimes suggested that morality and religion have nothing to do with knowledge and that those who want to pursue knowledge need not get entangled into the questions of morality and religion.
IV. In a debate of this kind, the materialistic denial of ethical and spiritual dimensions gains an upper hand, which argues that there is not in reality any such thing as good and evil and that each one, so long as he or she has to live in the physical body, should indifferently pursue pleasure and happiness of whatever kind one may feel inclined to pursue.
It is not uncommon to run away from the debate, and a number of people try to put the relevant questions under the carpet or turn to those formulas of morality or of religion, which have, more or less, entered into some kinds of codes of conduct and content themselves by prescribing these codes, ‒ even when much of such codes touches only the behaviour in the courts of law and fails to resolve those deeper issues of life in regard to which value-oriented education has special concern.
It is not possible to enter into an examination of the merits or demerits of various points of these controversies, but it may be suggested that a philosophical and impartial exploration of these very issues should be regarded as an important component of value-oriented education. This suggestion does not require the educator to suggest to students what particular answer to these issues is the right answer or a wrong answer; on the contrary, it is underlined that the true value-orientation comes about only when students are allowed to reflect on the questions of what is good and what is evil, what is the relationship between morality and religion, whether morality can be autonomous and independent of religion, what exactly are the causes of conflict among religions, and whether resolution of religious conflicts is possible only within the limits of any particular religion or a particular synthesis of religions or by transcending into spirituality.
It may be suggested that running away from these basic issues is anti- value, particularly when search for the truth demands raising of questions, however, uncomfortable they may be to our preferences and prejudices.
In the curriculum that has been proposed, the underlying idea is to expound to the students all these problems for reflection and to utilise the process of reflection and exploration as the very method of value- orientation.
Another point that is emphasised in the proposed curriculum is that there are incontrovertibly three aspects of the dimension of values, and the more one explores this dimension of values, the more one grows into the process of discipline among processes of self-control that make one more and more capable to pursue those three aspects of value-dimension, namely, truth, beauty and goodness. In saying this, let us hasten that we are not prescribing what the content of the truth is or what are the precise actions or attitudes, which are intrinsically good or in what consists beauty. Discovery of answers to these questions must be left to each individual, but in doing so, it is useful for the educator to present to the students the relevant materials, which will facilitate maturer reflection and maturer discipline of pursuit and self-control. It will then be seen that what is emphasised is value-orientation and not prescription of the contents of values.
From this theoretical discussion, we should return to certain practical problems of application.
A team of researchers is working on the practical aspects of the proposed curriculum, where our aim is not to prescribe to the students any particular theory of self-knowledge and self-control. Our aim is not to develop any particular opinion or belief but to develop in the students certain states of consciousness which are conducive to self-possession, self-illumination, and largest possibility of expansion of the self-being. Here, again, we are not aiming at prescribing what is the highest possible expansion of the being; our aim is only to present to the students what has been claimed by several seekers the meaning of the self, the meaning of self-knowledge, and what according to them are the answers or helpful processes of self-control. What is proposed is exploration and not prescription, ‒ with an underlying assumption that if one explores, if one reflects, and if one continues to expand one's horizon of states of self-possession and self-illumination, the educator will have done all the best that can be done, and the students will arrive at their own conclusions and will have made a sound entry into the dimension of values.
In brief, he has focussed on the theme of Knowledge and Values and divided his material under 25 modules, the headings of which are:
We have also two important collections under the titles "The Aim of Life" and “The Good Teacher and the Good Pupil”. Again, these two compilations have been cast into the mould of exploration without any attempt to prescribe.