Tuesday, October 25, 2011

MY Idea of Education

A friend had recently recommended 'My Idea of Education' compiled from the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. Quite an interesting read, and certainly thought provoking. It was very refreshing to see India from an late-19th century perspective that still surprisingly holds true, for the most part, even today.

 Reading through the book helped my formalize my own ideas of what education, especially in India, should be and from an early-21st century perspective, which might considerably differ from the essence of his thoughts. The reason for the difference might quite well be that my mind is not yet capable of comprehending his ideas or their reasons which I do not understand or agree with. But, Swami Vivekananda was no god, and nor am I, and hence both are subject to the human fallacies in interpreting the world as we experience it.

Personally, my idea of education has continuously evolved throughout my own education. From a young childish student in early middle school to an almost-graduated engineer, the mind has constantly sought to understand and explain the purpose of the whole exercise. This constant thinking was largely independent, since I felt I had always figured it out myself and so neither did I seek out answers to the purpose of education, and none were volunteered anyway. People generally brushed past or took education for granted, and discussion about it was never initiated or encouraged. It just didn't figure in people's otherwise 'busy' lives.

For me education was acquiring data, clearing exams which ultimately culminated in getting a good job, money, all for myself. Simple. Education seemed like the ticket to the final show. It was a chore, with promises of the wonderful times ahead.

It was at this time that I concluded that the teacher is redundant. With the objective of education understood as getting good grades, I needed only books, not teachers. Learning the book back to front was more than sufficient to make me succeed in my idea of education. Since the examinations tested facts, I needed only facts and everything else I thought simply was a waste of time.

And so I thought that way for the most part of my own education. Education, ultimately for my own well being. Money, job, house. And that sounded like a desirable and ideal result for all the tiring years of education.

But it was then that I realized how superficial my education was if its purpose itself is so superficial. It takes an amazing amount of short-sightedness to think that a good job and money can actually make you really, truly happy.

It would make me happy, if there were really no poor people, and no suffering in the world. How can anyone be really happy in India, where every glance outside reminds you of the suffering that the other Indian is going through? Money can make you truly happy only when Gandhiji's Talisman ceases to exist. Being happy by frolicking in your own money is nothing but denial.

Money is not a bad thing. However, money cannot be the end, it should only be the means. An education whose destination is money and interest of the self has failed.

And yet that is the education that we see in India today. An education devoid of any useful goal. Education churning out millions of machines devoted to their own betterment, even at the expense of others. Education, which is fatally flawed from the beginning, because its end itself is just destruction. It is an education which values greed and selfishness.

Then I realized that education has to be something more. Our utterly inadequate education today is producing millions who are interested in helping themselves, and not India.

My idea of education :

1. Indian-ness

Today's education does not produce Indian citizens. Students do not identify themselves with India, nor do they understand and appreciate what India is and was.

Today's education (or lack of it) results in Hindus, Christians and Muslims (and others), not Indians. It is because of this that our history texts are whitewashed to avoid portraying any of these in a negative light, even when the truth mostly is bitter. We are not even able to evaluate our own history, as Indians, but are evaluating it as Hindus/Muslims/Christians/Jains/. This must stop. Appreciating and learning about our entire unbiased history and heritage is necessary in forming our identity and national pride.

If India has to move forward; if evil social and religious traditions have to stop, we have to break away from them. Indian should come first, before religion. An Indian today does not take any pride in or respect the heritage of another religion in India. An Indian today who considers his religion above the fundamental ideals on which India was founded on, is no longer an Indian. Today we have people who are Indian only in name, but not in thought and ambition.

If identity is tied to religion, then India will never move forward, because you can always be an American Muslim or a Canadian Hindu; it is easy to jump ship while keeping your identity. Identity should begin and end with India, and this must be imparted in education, because it can come from nowhere else.

2. The Purpose of Education

Today's education does not produce workers for India. It must.

Education today is imparting facts, but no direction of where all of it ultimately should lead. The purpose of education should be impressed upon the youth without any ambiguity. If the aim of education truly is the betterment of the nation, this has to be instilled as duty in every student. Every student should know that his education is an exercise to make him better equipped to serve the nation.

Every student should be aware of the final goal and why it is so. The final goal is NOT himself, but India. The why should also be constantly reminding the student of the Talisman, of the suffering of the rest of India, the truth from which there is no escape or denial. Such a focused and directed education will create people driven by empathy for India, and not selfishness.

3. Humanity

Today's education is supposedly secular. This should change.

This is where I differ from Swami Vivekananda. While he was quite insistent on his view that religion should be the core of education, I find this rather counter-intuitive.

Swami Vivekananda is ambiguous about his definition of religion and claims that 'all religions are one'. This is not so and is merely a feel-good statement or wishful thinking.

An unbiased study of the core scripture of most organized religion makes it overwhelmingly clear that this core is intolerance. To say that all religions are the same is patently false. While religions do share several commonalities, to ignore their profound shortcomings and inherent hostility to change is idiocy. Religion is what it is - God's word. You cannot separate the good aspects from the bad, it is after all, is just faith and anything goes.

All religions might not be inherently intolerant, but there is really no reason to believe that all religions are good. Swami Vivekananda's idealistic claim, at face value, has no basis in logic or truth.

Swami Vivekananda seems to correlate humanity and religion, whereas in my opinion they are completely different. Humanity has nothing to do with God, as opposed to religion which is inherently related to the concept. Human values are not exclusive to any religion, but are universal. It does not need a God to understand and realize humanity.

Similarly, today's education seems to do the same. By wrongly labeling humanity and human values as part of religion, in the pursuit of secular education these are completely ignored. As though these are not the responsibility of the education system, when in fact it is.

Our education should incorporate human values as part of its core throughout. Only then can India progress intellectually and rationally. Only then can morally responsible Indians be borne out of education and evils such as terrorism be eliminated.

4. Learning

Here I agree completely with Swami Vivekananda that education today is cramming facts into students' heads before they even understand it. The process of technical education should be a process of appreciation, and then understanding the knowledge. Students today are not allowed to think, to allow themselves to imagine how knowledge was discovered.

It is vital to respect the knowledge and truly appreciate it, because only then do you truly understand it. Allowing students to appreciate the beauty of the sciences will drive the interest to learn. Learning should come out of interest, and only when the thirst for knowledge is created has technical education really succeeded.


It was after I understood what education meant for me that I realized the actual purpose of the teacher. The role of the teacher is not to dole out facts; those can be obtained from any textbook. The teacher is the one on whom the future of society rests on.

The teacher is one who can truly impart that which can be put in books and that which can't.

Only a teacher can convey and inspire Indianness, the purpose of education and humanity, in students, since these cannot be learned from books, but only from a human mind. Only a teacher can inspire a student to learn, to invite the student to appreciate knowledge and understand its beauty and relate what it truly means. And the teacher's role is the hardest to play; the level of difficulty increasing from last to first.

Only when such an education exists can I hope that India will survive, and truly develop.

An idea of education that hopefully will see the light of the day some day.


RR said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
RR said...

This article is one that would strike a chord with thousands of Indians' hearts.

You have gone right to the fundamental root levels of our education - Indian-ness, learning and finally humanity. I feel that over time, we have lost the true meaning behind our education and articles like these are required to remind us why we are here today, what is the purpose of it and ultimately put forth the question... Can we call ourselves educated?

rame409 said...

Very interesting read. And very true. Religion is not humanity, and maybe right or wrong.
I understand that the Indian education system is flawed for it is a mindless pursuit to gain one's selfish ends. However in that perspective education systems all over the world are flawed.Mindless research, PhDs , and so on...the end gain is always money. Even the most charitable non-profit organization will not run if it doesn't have money.However money is not the be all end all.
It is difficult to pass judgement on one education system when it is essentially, at the fundamental level, the motive is the same everywhere.

RR said...

I think it's the importance given to the end goal(money, in this case) which is flawed.
Why do students take up engineering in India? Because it is the fastest route to money.
Why do they pursue an MBA after that? Because it is a faster route to more money.

Yes, the basis of every education system is to make the majority after receiving education self-sustainable and that cannot be questioned. But the dependency the Indian education system has created on money, degrees, qualifications cannot be compared to the west. How many times have we heard our parents say? "Pursue so-and-so after your engineering. You have something to fall back on in case it doesn't work out."

And you say you're educating yourself?

That is where understanding comes into picture. The understanding that it is better to pursue your interests than money. That there is scope outside the conventional fields.

How can we call ourselves educated when most Indians are getting a skillset neither they are interested in acquiring, nor are acquiring it properly.

How can we call ourselves educated when we neither are helping humanity or giving back to society?

How can we call ourselves educated when we don't even know why we are doing what we are?

Some aspects may be common to all education systems, but as I said before, this madness to win, earn the most and beat the rest without giving a shit about learning, gaining moral values or understanding the purpose is sadly the essence of our system.