A Philosophy of Education for
the Contemporary Youth
It is universally admitted that the possibility of an acceleration of man’s quest of himself and of the universe constitutes the basic premise of all education. What precisely is man? What is the nature of the universe? And what is the secret formula of the equation of man with the universe? These are the central questions that education fosters, and it carries forward the accumulated answers from age to age.
How can they be fostered and by what means can the answers be carried forward at the highest possible speed? These constitute the very heart of the problem of the educational process. Evidently, these are very difficult questions, and the teacher or the educationist, in attempting to answer them, assumes great responsibility not only for his own age but also for posterity.
The task of the contemporary educationist is rendered particularly difficult by the extraordinary conditions of his times. It has been argued that one of the urgent needs of our education is to appreciate the significance of certain combinations of tendencies and circumstances that are developing in the world today; and to allow them to determine the necessary changes in the objectives and contents of education.
It has been pointed out that there is today a phenomenon of unprecedented explosion of information, which necessitates a continuous or lifelong programme of education. There is also today, it is underlined, an unparalleled width and depth of inquiry, which necessitates a new kind of education that would simultaneously be comprehensive and specialized or varied so as to suit each individual. Finally, it is urged that the modern man is today, as never before, subject to psychological turmoil, necessitating a new dimension in education that still remains undefined and insufficiently explored.
This is not all. We are led to perceive deeper and deeper layers of recent thought and experience, and they all have a profound bearing on education. There is, for instance today, a great quest all over the world for the synthesis of knowledge and culture. Ancient knowledge is being rediscovered in the context of modern knowledge. The humanist and the technologist are finding themselves in greater and greater need of each other; the moralist and the artist are obliged to understand each other; and the scientist and the mystic are getting ready to embrace each other.
The educational implications of these developments are obvious. Our educational syllabi have to reflect the latest trends of synthesis, and our educational objectives must include the idea of preparing a new kind of man who can consciously and progressively harmonize within himself the broad vision of the humanist and the skill of the technologist; the disciplined will-force of the moralist and the refined imagination of the artist; the scrupulous knowledge of the scientist and the sublime vision, wisdom and ever-growing perfection of the mystic. At a still deeper level, we have perhaps the profoundest affirmation of our times, which is likely to have the most decisive effect on the entire domain of education. According to this affirmation, man is undergoing today a crisis which is evolutionary in character, a crisis that occurs in species at a time when some kind of mutation is imminent.
According to this view, education is or can be made a most powerful instrument of evolutionary mutation. It proposes, therefore, a thorough revolution of education in which the aim would be to cultivate, sharpen and transform the faculties and powers of personality leading towards an unprecedented perfection that would enhance man’s capacity to collaborate consciously with the upward march of evolution.
There are also today powerful trends of revolutionary methods of education which seem to correspond to the emerging new ideals and contents of education. These trends severely attack the three main pillars of our ordinary educational meth-
odology, namely, the lecture system, the syllabus system and the examination system. They insist upon a free choice for the student to choose his own subjects of study, his pace of progress and even his teachers. They urge recognition of individual differentiation, necessitating variation in psychological treatment, presentation of materials of study, and criteria of judgment of performance. They also make forceful demand for new syllabi that would correspond to the needs of the psychological growth of the students.
It is against this background that we come to appreciate the contemporary educationist’s discovery of the child. Formerly, education was merely a mechanical forcing of the child’s nature into arbitrary grooves of training and knowledge in which the child’s own inner being was the last thing considered. The discovery, that education must mean bringing the drawing out of the child’s total potentialities to their highest possible value, and that it must be based on the psychology of the child is a great step forward towards a healthy system of education.
In the movements of the Kindergartens, in the system of Montessori, and in other experiments in the East and in the West, this discovery constitutes a basic foundation. In fact, it may be said that a new handling of the child in the light of this discovery is the essential ingredient of the very definition of what may be termed New Education.
Children are, we are told, the most important people. As soon as they are on the scene, everything must revolve around them; everything must cater to their needs; everything must be organized to suit the demands of their growth and development. The unhappiness of the child, his loneliness and his insecurity— these are a sure index of the malady of society.
The most important task, we are told again, is the consideration of the child in the process of learning, in the process of relating himself to the environment, in the process of continuous self-exceeding. This implies a concern for the psychology of the child, for the dreams of the child, for his problems of
everyday battles and friendships, for the sights and scenes in the environment, for the stories that are told, the books that are read, the influences that fashion interests, character and decisions, the methods of encouragement, the structure of education, the aim of education, and verily the entire system of education.
As said earlier, the modern educationist has made a new discovery of the child, and has been wonderstruck by the tremendous feat of learning that the child performs in the first few years of life. What is the secret, he asks, of this tremendous speed of learning?
The child learns so fast, he answers, because it has no other occupation than that of learning; or rather, to the child, all the occupations amount to the occupation of learning. For him, all play is learning, and all learning is play. The child learns so fast because he has before him a living book, the open Book of Nature itself. And he ‘reads’ this Book of Nature with his total being, by the happy exercise of all his faculties, by the concrete urge of experience.
The modern educationist is led to apply these propositions to all aspects of education, and he finds that such application implies a radical change in the content, method and structure of education and, above all, in the very aim of education. A new dimension has been added to education. A number of questions confront the educational world; there is a new quest. There is a need to relate the child and the universe in open unity. There is thus a search for a school that has no walls, and for studies that have no boundaries.
There is a quest for a formula that would contain the endless explosion of knowledge implying knowledge of the essence that would contain the knowledge of endless manifestation. There is a quest to discover a point of convergence where different sciences and humanities can meet in a synthesis of knowledge.
There is a search for an all-embracing project of work-experience that would generate a continuing process of life-long education. And there is a search for a programme that would necessitate a spontaneous harmony of the needs of personal development with the needs of the collective development of humanity.
Is there a tool for the acceleration of the summing up of the past and the unfolding of the future? And is there a method and content of education that would necessitate an automatic synchronization of studies, work-experience and flowering of faculties?
Finally, there is a still deeper search—the search for the secret of perpetual progress and of perpetual youth. This is a fascinating quest, and even to witness it is an educative experience.
An important counsel is that education must proceed, not so much by rigour or by pressure of time and external necessities, but by the pressure of atmosphere and environment, by a happy attraction, by noble example and influence. The child and the book of nature should remain a constant model for the educational scene.
It has been recommended that, in all education, two great tendencies must be united: the tendency of the highest imagination and the tendency of the most rigorous realism. The two are not opposed to each other, but are complementary; they help each other, and in a certain sense, they are really one, or can be fused into oneness.
It has been suggested that among all educational activities, the most significant one is that of the search for definitions, for meaning, for the highest aim of life. This search is not limited to this or that subject; it does not begin at one stage and end at another. This search is, however, most essential; all syllabi of all subjects can help in this search; but it cannot be restricted within the four corners of any given syllabus.
There are some overall important questions which should be set to stimulate original reflection, introspection, and a search for meaning. What, for example, is the nature of thinking? How is science distinguishable from mathematics and philosophy? What is the essence of literature and music and art? Is history meaningful? Is there an aim in history? What is technology? What are the best methods of learning technology? What is truth? How do we know truth? And how best can we serve it? What is one’s specific role in the progress of the world? And how can one train oneself to fulfill this role? What is action? How does one remain calm even in the midst of action?
Many of us will find it difficult to answer these questions. These questions are for students of all ages, meant to be thought over for years and years. They are like questions of the Book of Nature, which give joy and exercise, but do not pressurize one for answers within a fixed time limit. The entire movement of New Education is against fragmentation, division and artificiality. Learning by snippets has to go. We make our lessons most uninteresting, and then complain that the children are not attentive. We not only divide knowledge into artificial compartments, but divide the child also. The new trends oblige us to consider the child as a whole, and to provide for an integral education.
It has been declared that what we need is man-making education. But we cannot make man by lopsided development, by a mechanical emphasis on one aspect or another. What is important is not so much information, but the power of concentration which can command information at will.
Unfailing concentration and irresistible will—this twin power has to be the basis of man-making education, and this has to be applied to the functionings of the mind, life-force and body, and, overarching these powers and functionings, there are the domains of the inner and higher personality.
There has to be a detailed and comprehensive programme of education. The body has to be trained to develop health, strength, plasticity, agility, grace and beauty. Emotions are to
be cultivated for the growth of nobility, courage, leadership and creative action. The mind should be developed to have the power of subtle and complex intelligence, broadness of vision, quietude, intuition and mastery of authentic knowledge. Above all, there has to be an inspiration to fathom deep and rise high in search of truth and its dynamic execution in life and action. Man-making education implies a sound knowledge of man and his potentialities. It is significant that modern trends tend towards a deeper knowledge not only of the outer man but also of the inner man. In education too, it is being realized more and more that man is the best subject of study for man.
In fact, it is being suggested that the theme of man and evolution can provide the focal point of a new programme of studies. This would meet the needs of the synthesis of knowledge; and it would enable a synchronization of studies, work experience and the all-round development of personality. Modern science, in its conception of evolution, finds a converging point of the knowledge of matter, life and mind. At the same time, our Indian theories of evolution have conceived of man as an instrument of further conscious evolution.
The latest philosophical speculations, we are told, affirm the idea of evolution, and, in varying degrees, come quite close to the Indian promise of the future evolution of man into a gnostic being. This theme is global in character and its call is to the whole being of man. Once undertaken, it keeps one on the track of continuous self-development and self-exceeding. It can, indeed, be designated as a universal programme of quest.
To yield to these new trends, education would need a new structure and challenging methods of free and accelerative progress. A basic suggestion is to organize a system in which the ‘formal’ and ‘non-formal’ aspects of education blend together as one single process of learning. The new structure should permit ‘multi-entry system’ and ‘non-sequential progress’. A new ‘power-house model’ has been proposed, in which studies and work-experience are harmoniously blended and correlated.
The new stress is on the process of self-learning, assisted by the wise counsel and guidance of teachers. There is also a great need for group-learning and group-work. A structure that would knit together the demands of all these elements of the learning process would be completely new, and greatly alter the role of teachers. It would also eliminate, to a large extent, the system of lectures. It would necessitate a system of evolutionary syllabi which would evolve and grow with the needs of students. Tests would be woven into the process of learning, and education would no more be a process of merely passing tests and ‘earning’ credits.
All these suggest a new system of education, but a number of difficult things need to be tackled patiently and laboriously in order to realize a practicable working of this system. Great educationists of our times have warned us that no outer structure can be a substitute for inner involvement and persistent effort. If this inner thing fails, the outer things will stagnate, crumble, and perish. Above all, and at all times, the insistence should be on a new attitude, a new heart and a new spirit. Systems and structures are important, but of even greater importance is the spirit that will permeate the systems and structures. This insistence on the right attitude and on the right spirit must be given the first priority while proposing changes in the educational system.