Deepmala 27 – Indian Education : Lesson from our Glorious Past

India had a great civilization and a unique system of education called gurukul. The education of the student took place at the home of the teacher. With the advent of Buddhism, education shifted from the home of the teacher to the monastery. In the middle ages some of the monasteries developed into universities. We had the Buddhist monastery of Nalanda in the 3rd century A.D. We still recall with pride the 7th century account of Nalanda. One recalls the intellectual activity involving, not only Buddhist texts but also Hindu philosophy, logic, grammar, medicine and so on. More than 10,000 students of different faiths from within the country and abroad passed through the portals of Nalanda. What happened to our past glory? Where are our 20th century Nalandas? How did the indigenous educational systems get marginalised? How did the community responsibility, which was the hallmark of our early education system, become the responsibility of the state? How did the colonial legacy of an impersonal school system continued to drive our educational entities even after independence? These are the questions we need to ponder over as we start designing the 21st century India.

We also need to remind ourselves that some of our greatest minds have given a great deal of thought to education. Gandhiji emphasised integration of the intellectual, physical and spiritual aspects of the education. To Vinoba Bhave education was the sum of Yoga, Udyoga and Sahayoga. It is being increasingly recognised that cognitive learning, practical work, community life and spiritual vision alone can provide the foundation of education. Our new millennium education system must bring these values back.

I believe that the next century will be the century of the mind. Products of mind will dominate the next century. Therefore, creating the right minds through the right process of education will require the top most priority. Let us all rise to the occasion to create a self-reliant and strong India, an India that will be determined to lead and not follow.

Again we need to recognize that scientific knowledge generated in formal laboratories is not the only knowledge system. There is knowledge generated in the ‘laboratories of life’ by people over centuries. Many societies in the developing world, like India, have nurtured and refined systems of knowledge of their own, relating to such diverse domains as geology, ecology, botany, agriculture, physiology and health

As a student of S&T, I must confess that we have not shown enough respect for the long drawn empirical and thoughtful process by which men and women through generations have gained knowledge about nature around them, with a view to benefiting from it

Today, we have created walls between the traditional knowledge and modern science. During the colonial period of the world history, which was also the period of phenomenal growth in S&T, science was perceived, projected and accepted as an essential feature of the western civilization. An unfortunate and retrograde corollary of this was that modern scientific knowledge was seen as an adversary of traditional wisdom and traditional knowledge. The two were seen as mutually exclusive, as traditional knowledge was something unscientific, as if traditional knowledge was darkness itself waiting to be dispelled by the light of modern science. This has been a regrettable syndrome, because it had the effect of belittling the intellect and wisdom of vast fraction of the world’s population and the heritage of the whole humankind.

Protection of knowledge based on ancient wisdom is only a limited issue. The bigger issue is to add value to our lives by creating a synthesis between ancient wisdom and modern science. Consider Ayurveda, which literally means ‘science of life’. It encompasses the total sweep of life sciences and pursues the quest for understanding life in all its ramifications. 20th Century has revealed some of the greatest insights into our understanding of life at increasingly higher levels of organization – molecular, sub cellular, organelles, cells, tissues, organs, organisms, species and ecosystems –the most remarkable feature of modern medicine is its close integration with the basic sciences – physics, chemistry and biology. Unfortunately these two domains of knowledge, namely traditional medicine and modern medicine have remained isolated from each other.

The only right approach has to be one of Science, that is, of experiment, trial and error. In whatever type of medicine we may deal with, we cannot profit by its study unless we apply the method of science. Everything should be tested and proved and then it becomes a part of scientific medicine – old and new.’ Unfortunately this message was lost. We need to build a new bridge in this spirit.