If India wants to be strong in future, it must know the strength and weaknesses of the past, says Professor Kireet Joshi, director of the Indian Council of Philosophical Research (ICPR), which is to host the first national seminar on ‘philosophy of value-oriented education’ Talking to Mahendra Ved, he says it's time to remedy the damage done by Macaulay:
Q: How did the concept of philosophy of value-based education come up?
The late Indira Gandhi was the first to moot the idea in the early 1980s. She drew a distinction between religion, which cannot be propagated in a secular state, and spiritual values. "Teachers should be imparted value-based education first", she would say. Training programmes for teachers were started following the recommendations of the D P Chattopadhyaya Commission. A National Council for Teachers' Education was also set up. Things moved further when P V Narasimha Rao headed the education ministry in Rajiv Gandhi's government. The national policy on education was announced and debated. There is a close link between what Indira Gandhi then perceived and what Murli Manohar Joshi is now trying to implement. Value-based education is more relevant today than it ever was, with liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation – LPG ‒ taking place rapidly. If we have to join it meaningfully and still hold our own, then as the first step, our teachers need to be oriented.
Q: What role does the ICPR play in this regard?
We are engaged in studying the philosophies that go into the values, to relate them to axiology, which is the study of values ‒ of truth, duty and goodness. Logic, aesthetics, ethics, all form part of this inter-disciplinary exercise. A series of seminars are being planned and the first one will begin on January 18. Philosophy has no boundaries and at ICPR, we study all of them. The focus now is on Indian philosophy − how to make it relevant to society. Here, India can lead the global debate. Unless you provide a philosophical foundation, education can never flourish. It remains a passport to employment and nothing more. Now, if a society is to follow some values, they have to be identified and transmitted. They have to be debated. If you arrive at some conclusion, we must provide impetus and guidelines for further debate, both for its theory and practice.
At the seminar, we shall discuss the contribution of literature to value oriented education. This has never been discussed before. Professors of language and literature are being invited. We shall take up the five greatest leaders of renaissance India: Gandhi ji, Tagore, Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo and Dayanand Saraswati. A paper on each of them is being readied. We want to probe how Macaulay's education destroyed Indian values. After independence, we multiplied Macaulay manifold. It is time to pause and think of the extent of the damage it has done. It produced the largest English-knowing workforce in the world, but it prevented India from flowering.
Q: How do you teach values in a society so full of corruption, both spiritual and material?
The only way is through education. Educationists must raise questions and look for answers. There is no other way. Macaulay's system of education hounded out poetry, music and art from our society. These three have not returned after independence. A study of poetry ‒ as different from a poem ‒ has no place in our system of education. Is anybody studying Valmiki, Kalidas and Vyasa? We have compartmentalised education, and divested it of its cultural values. The result is we have no education system, only an examination system. We have imbibed only the negative values from the West. Unlike in the West, we have rarely debated what we teach our students.
Q: You are advocating a review of not only education and its philosophy but our history as well.
Every great leader, irrespective of party or philosophy, has felt the need to rework history and education. We need to do it because both were given to us by the British. I have not read what my forefathers wrote. The Upanishads are the peak of Indian literature. Can any writer or thinker prove this point without it being diluted by what was handed down to us by the British and the West? Sri Aurobindo was a rare exception. Tagore was another. His Geetanjali is really modern-day Upanishad. We talk loosely about 'Indianness'. What is its concept? We talk of 'Indian temperament', but have we really probed what it really means?
We have yet to go deep into how we have dealt with sociological complexities. Our children need to know our philosophy, our mythology.
Q: Are we not trying to be exclusivist and isolationist, going for everything that is Hindu, without judging its relevance to the present times?
You are mistaken. Indian philosophy has been constantly debated. Buddhism provided a radical departure from Vedic thought. Jainism a little less so. Ancient India witnessed constant churning, between the orthodox order − wrongly dubbed as 'Brahmanical order' ‒ and the Buddhist order. Indian thought has been highly analytical, highly synthetic, going to extremes and then returning to assimilate the new thoughts and ideas. Indian thought includes both 'theism' and 'spiritual atheism' of which Buddhism and Jainism are the best examples. And then at the other end is the material atheism of Charvaka.
It is not that Islam and Christianity posed any problem of assimilation. When other cultures, their thoughts and philosophies have come in, we have assimilated them. We are richer by that. This basic point needs to be understood and explained to understand the Indian temperament. The synthesis that Akbar and Nanak advocated, the ideas of Ramakrishna and Sri Aurobindo, are part of a constant process that took place in the past. This process has to be continued vigorously and taken to the masses. What is being emphasised is that religion is an individual choice. You should not quarrel with it. In a debate between conviction and knowledge, the first is not to be questioned, the second can be and should be. I believe you should always be heroic and question everything. You should fight ignorance. The problem arises when you confuse one for the other.
Q: How do you make all this relevant to the 21st century?
In a series of seminars, we shall debate the values that we should inculcate in modern times. It both a subjective and objective process.
The question we will take up is how to transmit them to society at large. The medium could be poems, plays, dramas. This will be the main hypothesis. We need new stories in this century. We are harking back to the past to dig out what is relevant today. It is a big challenge for the educators. A search without bringing in gods and goddesses. We need to bring out symbolisms from the past and the present. Some 300 stories have already been gleaned. We hope to make them part of the curriculum. Through them, we want to give children a true account of India.