September 11 is the anniversary of Swami Vivekananda’s famous Chicago Speech, and we hope to stay true to his ideals. In his words, we can find a solution to giving the Indian education system a makeover.
The Indian education sector, as also the global industry, stands at crossroads. In a complex world, individuals, groups and nations are trying to find solutions to material and political problems through education. In a world that has lost direction and when everyone wants to get materially rich and affluent, Governments and parents want education to develop competencies that can help them earn more money and get materially rich. Education has, in fact, led to the destruction of an individual’s creativity and happiness instead of being a ‘man making’ and soul-searching process. Most individuals, who successfully pass through the system of education, become more self-centered and materialistic. This is what our present system is geared to impart. Institutions are being assessed on the salary the graduates get and not on how happy they are in life.
Around 125 years back, in 1893, Swami Vivekananda, during his Chicago address to the World Parliament of Religions, had very clearly delineated the essence Hinduism; and the essence of education cannot be anything but what was described by Swamiji as the essence of Hinduism. The objective of any system of education or a university cannot be different to what Vivekananda spoke of at the World Parliament as the philosophy of life and Hinduism. Today, the world has started viewing education as an end in itself; whereas the need is to see it as a means to an end.
Education has to be a search for truth and this journey cannot have a beginning or an end date. It has to be a life-long process. Our universities do not impart skills to keep searching for truth and values, which can convert individuals into soul-searching individuals. Students come to universities to earn a degree. The better the quality of the degree ie, the better the reputation of the university, higher are the chances of getting a good salaried job.
Universities as diversity in unity centres: Individuals have different ideas and beliefs. They are to be nurtured during the early years and as they come to the tertiary level, they must be exposed to different shades of ideas so that they develop as thinking individuals.
Swami Vivekananda believed that education has a dual purpose — that of creating new knowledge through cutting-edge research and reaching the benefits of research and knowledge for the creation of a common person. Universities cannot afford to be Eiffel Towers. If we look at our ancient system, exactly the same was our system of education. Modern education creates individuals who become part of the system. This brings more benefits to the rich and the affluent and miseries for the poor and the downtrodden.
Education is essentially a process of learning to live in diversity. ‘Tolerance’ is the key word. We need to develop tolerance for different ideas, ideologies, cultures. But in today’s times, we are witnessing more and more intolerance on our campuses. When Pandit Madan Mohan Malviyaji was establishing the Banaras Hindu University, he was asked to reserve seats for the local people. He had defined the university as a ‘viswa’ global institution and said that as such there could be no reservation for the local. Today, we can’t find students in a university coming from more than 50 or a 100 kilometers. Our universities have become local instead of being global. This is the outcome of intolerance on campuses for anything not local. Students from other parts of the country are often under the threat of unequal treatment.
This is neither the Hindu ideal nor the ideal of a university which Swamiji had talked about. We have conveniently forgotten about them. In recent past, we find more and more university campuses under turmoil. Students are up against teachers or students and teachers are up in arms against the vice-chancellor and administrative staff. For one or the other reason, the teaching-learning process is stalled or the university is closed. Incidents at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi; Manipur University, Imphal; and others speak volume about the management of higher education in our country.
Education must expand its horizon: Education must help us see beyond the apparent. Someone, who has been to the university and got good education, should be able to see below the surface. This would mean not being caught up in the narrow bigotry of mundane life. Swamiji, through an anecdote of a frog, had explained how a frog, who lived all through his life in a well, could not comprehend the vastness of the sea. Hinduism, with its long and deep philosophy and literature, teaches us to assimilate different people from different cultures and backgrounds. In spite of people from different faiths coming to India, it could not destroy the basic tenets of Hinduism. Hindus have given shelter to people driven from their own land in India without losing its own identity. Similarly, our institutions must become centres of learning where people from all different parts of the country and world must converge and learn to live in peace. Unfortunately, our educational campuses have become most intolerant to different ideologies.
Ever since the British established universities in India, especially after Independence, universities have not been seen as centres of learning and knowledge creation, but as centres for creating subjects to serve the masters. Ideals of the Indian education have been lost. Universities must have autonomy to decide on what to teach and how to teach.
Unfortunately, agencies outside the university decide on what universities should teach. It is greater misfortune, it must be said in the same vein, that wherever autonomy was exercised, it has often been misused by our planners. One ideology has been promoted over others. The purpose and ideal of the great Indian university has been derailed. We need to reverse the process. We need an education policy which rises above narrow bigotry and aspires for each individual to attain moksha through the process of education — Sa Vidya ya Vimuktaye.
Education is a continuum: Swamiji, in his address in Chicago, had mentioned that it is said that the Vedas neither have a beginning nor an end. This needs to be understood in context. He had also mentioned that there is one truth and the process to reach can be different. Truth cannot be many. The concept of university in India is the search for truth — the ultimate one. Universities should be the agencies to search for that ultimate truth.
Vedas talk of all different areas of human knowledge, including science, but we do not find it anywhere in our curriculum. We have rejected all that in the name of modernity. Education should not be a process of transplanting the recipients of their own cultures but that is what has been the process. We need to bring back our own knowledge system into the mainstream without keeping the modern out of our syllabus.
Conclusion: Successive Governments in India, since Independence, have always promised a new education policy based on Indian values and systems. But they have failed to come up with a policy that can be called a truly Indian policy or system of education. Every Indian, who has been concerned about the content and process of education, especially since Independence, which has been a continuation of Macaulay’s vision of Indian education and pro-elite, is amazed why we have not been able to propound our own system in spite of the fact that we have more than 5,000-year-old tradition of knowledge creation and preservation. The process needs no elaboration. Read Swamiji and hear his speech at Chicago and you will get the formula for revamping Indian education.
(The writer is Professor of Education at Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi. Views are personal)
Writer: CB Sharma
Courtesy: The Pioneer