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Are we committing national suicide with
A god-less, dhamma-less Education?

A number of articles and letters to the Editor have appeared in the dailies recently on the current malaise of Education in the country. Since all of them are from very knowledgeable, concerned people who have no political axe to grind, there seems to be something really rotten in the state of Education. And if we allow the rot to continue, we might as well say "bye" to national development.

The development of a country is, in the first and central place, the humanization of its people, their development in body, mind, heart and spirit as persons, individually and as communities from the village to the national. The raison d’etre of all other components of development, understood under the rubric of "infrastructure" - telecommunications, roads, railways, health services, etc. - is none other than enabling all citizens without any discrimination of race, religion, language, etc., to grow fully into what they are capable of, in a stimulating environment of justice, peace and prosperity. This may seem idealistic, but it is only the pursuit of such an ideal, though unattainable perfectly, will generate holistic development for national whole-being.

When that Indian sage, Sri Aurobindo, said, "Education is a process of humanization" he was in a way stating the obvious, but it needed to be said because of the current debasement of education to rote-learning "cribbed, cabined and confined" to the classroom, in a rigid system of compartmentalized subject (of very doubtful relevance for life), taught by poorly motivated/qualified teachers, to be tested at examinations of problematic validity - a far, far cry from the goals of humanization. Knowledge is only one slice of the cake of Education, and that too as a gateway to wisdom. Very tellingly, T. S. Eliot asked: "Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge; where is the knowledge we have lost in information?"

Neil Postman , a major voice in Education, in his very perceptive book, The End of Education, sub-titled, redefining the value of school, says, "For school to make sense, the young, their parents and their teachers must have a god to serve .... if they have none, the school is pointless". Then he goes on to say, "to put it simply, there is no surer way to bring an end to schooling, than for it to have no end", or no goal. We can also re state this reflection of Postman in a more familiar saying: "where there is no vision the people perish". The God that Postman refers to need not be identified with the Christian God, though that would be definitely so for us Christians. In a more general sense, god (simple g ) refers to what we might call a comprehensive narrative or meta-narrative , or to use a Buddhist equivalent, a dhamma) about the whole of life - of self , the world (of Nature and of People) and of the Transcendent. Only such a god can give meaning to our lives, and every aspect of it; and man cannot live without meaning as Viktor Frankl discovered so poignantly in his experience of life in the death camps of Hitler (see, "Man’s Search for Meaning").

Every religion is, almost by definition, a meta-narrative of the human condition, responding at the deepest level to questions about self and world, the One and Many, origins and ends, providing the big picture within which the small pieces find their place. The pieces of a jig - saw puzzle cannot be put together without a look at the whole picture. In this sense education can be meaningful only in the context of a dhamma. It is not a question of teaching a particular religion as a subject (in fact, that could be counter-productive), but the whole of the curriculum, the syllabi, and everything that falls under the rubric of "schooling" be determined, consciously and explicitly, in the light of a definite Weltanschauung (world view) or vision of human life. Only that kind of goal-oriented education can mobilize the dormant aspirations of children and youth to rise to the heights of "being human", to become wholly-developed or fully realized persons. Only such citizens will be an asset to self, community and country.

The fundamental malaise of Education in our country today is that it has no clear end, which is different from pragmatic ad hoc objectives, when those objectives themselves should be based on a defining end. Nietzsche’s famous saying "he who has a why to live, can bear with almost any how," applies as much to learning as to living. School education today has a surfeit, of how, without a why, or means without an end. In a way this itself could be considered an implicit vision of life or a religion, though its advocates claim ideological neutrality. As Michael Lerner observes, "The alleged neutrality of contemporary, education is a sham that covers up the systematic indoctrination of students into the dominant religion of the contemporary world: the slavish subordination of everyone to the market place and its "common sense": that all people should seek to maximize their own advantage without regard to the consequences for others..." (in Spirit Matters). A good part of the evils we lament in our society - social irresponsibility, corruption, blatant political opportunism, dishonesty, individualism, exploitation, naked consumerism, (shop till you drop!), self-aggrandisement, violence, etc, are direct or indirect outcomes of the debasement of education as accumulation of knowledge/information, in that kind of self-centred pragmatism, to be tested at examinations in a context of intense , individualistic and stressful competition. In politics, for example, we have hordes of petty-minded politicians but hardly any statesmen, namely, those who put the good of the country above personal gain and Party interests.

A vision or dhamma is concretized in values which spell out its elements and the connections and priorities among them. The inculcation of values should proceed in graded steps from year one onwards with increasing breadth and depth; the contents of the syllabus itself could serve as a vehicle of value education, in both theory and practice. The subject of biology, for example, will lend itself easily for a presentation on the value of life - of both animals and humans, and of the differences between them. The objective of value education could be achieved, to a significant extent, even within the constraints of the present system, though a re-thinking of the whole educational enterprise could give the component of values its due place.

As in many other areas, there is a woeful poverty of serious thinking on education in the country. What is called for is not just an academic exercise in the technicalities and methodologies of Education, but a deeply thought-out philosophy of Education relevant to our country and our times, identifying the god or dhamma we have to serve, a philosophy which will remain untouched by changes of Govt., vagaries of politics and idiocyncracies of Education Ministers. Nothing could be more damaging than what we are doing now, lurching from one ad hoc reform to another, reacting thoughtlessly to demands and pressures from trade unions, parents, etc. No wonder we have lost our way, wandering aimlessly among the trees in the wood with no vision of the wood, with our children (and the parents, too) paying a heavy price for our follies and seriously endangering the future of the country.

(The writer is the Founder-President of the Institute of Integral Education, SUBODHI, Piliyandala)

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