Last week I shared an extract from our soon-to-be-launched online course on understanding modern education. Today I thought of sharing some more information on how it works. The course is meant for parents, teachers and other interested adults. It will take some 6-9 hours to go through (depending on whether you follow or don’t follow the links for extra study) and is divided into 9 chapters:
The problem with modern education
Introduction to Asli Shiksha
Drawing the attention or dhyaanakarshan vidhi
Principles of Asli Shiksha
Modernity and tradition
What modernity does to us
Sthiti and Gati
Each chapter has 6 segments:
Introspect (Self-reflective questions to set the context)
Listen (3-5 minute audio-visual presentation)
Contemplate on ‘Listen’ (Writing down takeaways)
Read (Reading material to deepen understanding)
Contemplate on ‘Read’ (Writing down takeaways)
Know (Some points to read and ponder)
Here is a sample, work-in-progress audio-visual to give you a glimpse of what the course looks and feels like…
This week’s blog post is extracted from an online course that we will be launching soon. The course is designed to make a participant contemplate on his/ her educational experience and connect the dots to better understand modern Indian education. The course is made up of short audio-visual presentations, reading material and self-reflective writing exercises. A relevant screen-grab from the audio-visual part of the course is shown below.
And, here is an extract from the online course…
Pawan Gupta, the co-founder of SIDH, has a favourite story about the fundamental problem with our education system. When they moved to Mussoorie, some village women seeing that Pawanji and his wife Anuradhaji seemed to have a lot of free time and seemed to be educated, asked them to start a village school. When some time had passed and the village women got comfortable with him, they told Pawanji that this system of education was destroying their children. “What is your education system doing to our children?” they asked. They felt the education seemed to be alienating the children from their families, villages, culture and their ways of doing things. The children started developing a sense of shame towards whatever was their own. An old woman seeing the effect of education on young boys, who now preferred to move around with their hands in their pockets, told Pawanji that he should teach children to ‘Be’ rather than focus only on the appearance. “Hona sikhao,” she said, “dikhna dikhaana nahin.” Pawanji considers this his mantra in education and he says that this was the turning point where he became aware of his hidden assumptions and his real education started. Pawanji says that another lady had asked him about the objective of the modern education system. “Was it,” she asked, “designed to take the village boys to Delhi and the Delhi boys to America?”
Ananda Coomaraswamy, the great philosopher and scholar, criticizing the British education system in an essay written in 1909, titled ‘Education in India’, gives us indications about this problem when he says:
“The system of education set up by the British creates anti-national tendencies by ignoring or despising almost every ideal of the Indian national culture. Most students lose all capacity for the appreciation of Indian culture and become strangers in their own land. The education is really based on the general assumption- nearly universal in England- that India is a savage country, which it is England’s divine mission to civilize.”
The problem started much earlier. This can be seen in what William Bentinck the governer general of India wrote in a letter to the secretary of state in 1827. This was 3 years after the rebellion by the Indian soldiers at the Barrackpore cantonment rattled the British empire. In the letter he said:
“There is nothing to worry now as the educated Indian has started leaving his ways and stopped giving alms to mendicants and sadhus and, with the money thus saved, is busy entertaining the British and imitating their ways.”
Mahatma Gandhi has spoken eloquently about the alienation that this type of education brings to us. In an article titled ‘The present system of education’, written in 1916, he says:
“An impartial English writer has said that as long as there is no continuity between schools and homes in India, the pupils will not have the benefit of either. Our youths learn one thing from parents at home and from the general environment, and another at school. The pattern at school is often found incompatible with that in the home. The lessons in our textbooks are regarded as of little relevance to conduct. We cannot put the knowledge so acquired to any practical use in our daily life. The parents are indifferent to what is taught at school. The labour spent on studies is considered useless drudgery which has to be gone through that one might take the final examination, and once this is over we manage to forget as quickly as possible what we had studied. The charge levelled against us by some Englishmen that we are mere imitators is not entirely baseless.”
The problems in modern Indian education, which began 200 years ago under the British rule, have not been addressed till date, as fundamentally nothing much has changed from those times. And the problems seem to afflict all types of people whatever be their linguistic, social or economic background. So, the first generation learners begin to look down upon their illiterate parents and their local culture. And the children of affluent educated parents despise the very idea of India without knowing anything very much about it.
We go through an elaborate, time-and-life-consuming, expensive process of national education that finally results in us becoming mindless imitators, self-conscious about who we are, losing our real confidence and becoming asahaj. Do you not think that it is time that we did something about it?
This is the fifth post in a series on alternative learning spaces. The original article appeared in the Teacher Plus magazine and is available here.
I don’t think Gandhiji will be pleased to see what they have done to his ashram at Sevagram. Everything is manicured and tourist-ready and there is a souvenir shop. To top it all, there are small boards put up everywhere saying things like, ‘Gandhiji took his sunbath on this lawn’. The atma has left the place and only the immaculately preserved mummy exists. However, Gandhiji will be very happy to see Anand Niketan in the adjoining compound. This school, originally started in 1940 by Gandhiji to experiment with Nai Taleem and shut down in 1975, was revived in 2005 and is now doing very well.
Sushama Sharma, the head of Anand Niketan, was in the middle of working with some children when I reached the school. She told me that she could stop what she was doing because her time was flexible or that I could wait for half an hour. It was almost lunch time so I went, had lunch, and came back to find her free. Sushama is a soft-spoken, polite, gentle, and wise woman. During our walk around the school, many teachers and children spoke with her. Her tone with everyone, whether adult or child, was courteous and her interactions had the completeness of wisdom. It seemed as if Sushama was a part of everything happening in the school. As we were passing by a class, we heard some children talking loudly and laughing and stopped to ask what was going on. The children explained that some of their friends had not kept their footwear in the designated place outside the classroom and so they were teaching them a lesson – when these friends were away, the children in the classroom hid their chappals under some bushes in the garden. The children told Sushama all this as if she were part of their gang and would see the justness of their actions. I noticed that Sushama enjoyed the exchange but gave no adult value judgment like – ‘OK, after they learn their lesson please return their chappals’; or ‘That is a good thing that you have done.’ Wisdom and compassion probably go together in people.
The school campus is spread out and the buildings are the same ones that Gandhiji walked through. I don’t know exactly what it is – the location next to the ashram, or the spread out buildings, or the large trees everywhere – but there is something utterly charming about this school. It felt like the farm, and the trees, and the buildings with their tiled roofs and the small and big people moving through it all fit into each other perfectly. There was a completeness to the picture; perhaps it was in the simplicity of the buildings and the people, or their connection with the local. (This is not an elite English medium school, the teachers and students speak Marathi all the time.)
Some things that stick out from my visit:
– The Montessori-like preschool with its two large rooms with the work of the children visible everywhere. The children finishing their meals before leaving for home. Their teachers, quiet and efficient and mother-like. – The crafts room where among other things the children weave the floor mats they use in school and also sell to make money for the school. – The farm area where every child helps in the growing of the food for the school. – The large Maulsari tree in full bloom with its small delicately scented flowers. – The museum where the history of the school is chronicled in old black and white photographs.
Let me wind up this impression with an excerpt from a story of how the old school used to be.
“Awaking early in the morning, the entire school community, consisting of its students and teachers, would undertake an hour’s safai (cleanliness) of the entire premises, including classrooms, dormitories, buildings, grounds, latrines. Time for bathing, washing clothes, and attending to personal cleanliness followed. The community then assembled for prayers, after which there was breakfast. Three hours of Sharir Shram (manual labour) formed an integral and perhaps the most important part of the curriculum. Here too, students and teachers worked together whether in the fields, or the spinning shed, or later, when the subject was introduced, in the mechanical engineering shed.
Study periods would be in the afternoons, after lunch and rest. No textbooks were followed, but all that was taught was related to the work done in the morning, not just math or economics, but science, social studies, language, literature also would be based on the work done. A session of games, in which students and teachers participated, helped to build an atmosphere of harmony and co-operation. At about 6.30 p.m., the entire ashram would meet for prayers. When Gandhiji was there he would always attend and on occasions, he would give a talk after prayers.”
Name of school: Anand Niketan, Sevagram, Wardha Been around since: Restarted in 2005 at the original Nai Taleem campus that Mahatma Gandhi set up at his ashram in Sevagram in 1937. (The original school had shut down 40 or so years ago.) Number of teachers/staff: 20 including balwadi teachers Number of children: 110 including balwadi children Classes handled: Pre-primary to class 9 USP: Continuation of Mahatma Gandhi’s Nai Taleem school Location: Sevagram, Wardha Website: https://anandniketansevagram.wordpress.com/
This is the fourth post in a series on alternative learning spaces. The original article appeared in the Teacher Plus magazine and is available here.
I met Ravi Gulati, the founder of Manzil, at a learning conference in Delhi where he was one of the speakers. The gentleness and wisdom that shone through his words made me search him out and talk to him. This is his inspiring story!
Ravi grew up in Khan Market, a posh colony of South Delhi, where some of the richest and most powerful people of Delhi stay. Like any upmarket place, Khan Market also has a few people living in big houses and many, many more, providing essential cleaning, gardening, cooking and driving services, living in small servant’s quarters and one-room tenements that are carefully hidden from the manicured views of the rich. Ravi says that he played with all the children in the neighbourhood as he was growing up but the rich kids very early got a sense of which friends could be taken home. A defining influence in Ravi’s life has been a sister with special needs. As she finished her schooling and Ravi’s mother taught in her school for 20 years, Ravi got his MBA from IIM Ahmedabad. Reluctant to plunge into the rat race that he had a golden ticket for, Ravi was trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his life when the family was sucked into a year-long battle with cancer that his father lost his life to. Ravi decided to slowly sort out all the pending duties and move to a remote village in Uttaranchal and begin organic farming.
He was relatively free and two boys, in 8th and 7th class, from the poorer side of Khan Market, came to him to learn math and he agreed to teach them. It was soon clear that although the boys were very smart, they had fundamental problems and Ravi started working with them. Soon there were 20 children of various ages and abilities coming to Ravi to learn math and this is how Manzil began its serendipitous journey into outside-school, non-formal education. Ravi’s plan to escape into the Himalayas gets renewed periodically, but Manzil, that is today more about learning and less about which side of the economic divide the student is from, has been around for 17 years and conducts classes in spoken English, math, computers, music, painting and theatre. They also have a pre-school that is open to children with developmental needs and adult education classes for their mothers. Manzil has grown organically driven by the needs of the students coming and seeking help and by students becoming teachers even as they learn something else.
Manzil used to run from Ravi’s house but as more children enrolled, they have expanded and operate out of two small tenement houses that one of the student-turned-teacher, Anil, who has been with Manzil for over 10 years, showed me proudly around. There was a very informal atmosphere and a computer class was going on and it was difficult to tell who the facilitator was and who the students. I had asked Ravi how Manzil was funded and he gave me an answer that I will not forget in a hurry. He said that his family has passed him down two precious inheritances, one some money-in-the-bank and the other an innate miserliness that makes the money go a really long way.
Let me finish by using Ravi’s words from their website: “…Manzil’s journey has been one of constantly discovering the deeper continuities and inter-connectedness of all life. It is this thought that infuses our work and vision, and illuminates our understanding of education and empowerment, as that which builds connections between the self and the social, the personal and the political, the intellectual and the emotional, the rational and the felt, the common and the distinctive, the ordinary and the sublime. We are all learners here. And like life itself, any Manzil is only a sojourn.”
Been around since: 1996 Number of teachers/staff: 23 teachers; 11 core members Number of children: 230 students Classes handled: Non-formal supplementary classes in English, math, computers, science; In the arts: theatre, music, kathak, modern dance, photography, film making, art and crafts. USP: A learner driven space for non-formal education, Manzil is a learning community and an after school alternative learning centre. They work with people with high responsibility of learning, people who want to learn regardless of age, gender, region, religion, intelligence, caste or class. Location: Sujan Singh Park, New Delhi Website: http://www.manzil.in
This is the third post in the series on alternative schools. The original article appeared in the Teacher Plus magazine and is available here. (Note: The article was originally written in 2017 and many things have changed at the school and its parent company, but the radical experiment that the article chronicles is worth implementing in other schools)
Shivku, R. Shiva Kumar, Alumnus IIT Chennai and IIM Kolkata, board member of CL Educate limited, a large education services company, is the head of the Indus World School in Indore. I have worked directly under him for an year and our families lived in adjoining flats for some time and we know each other very well. From its head office in Noida, CL runs 12 Indus World Schools spread across the country and Shivku should have been sitting there and thinking of the larger picture. He chose to distance himself from the head office and commit three years in actually running one of the schools. Of the many initiatives he tried in Indore, one is so different from our normal idea of schooling that I am using this space to chronicle it.
Just a paragraph about the organization and the people behind it before we get to that. 17 years old, 225 centers in 175 locations across India, 3000 employees and partners reaching out to 50,000 students with its test preparation classes – CL was started by a group of friends who studied together at IIM Bangalore. There is a story that highlights the college-like feel that the company still retains. Satya, the Chairman, was living in the company guest house as his family was away and a new recruit arrived from out-of-town late one night. He organized dinner for her and they shared an auto coming and going back to the guest house over the next couple of days before she saw in an induction video that the person she knew as Satya was the boss-man. When well-intentioned, smart people like Satya, and there are a bunch of them at CL, decide to start a chain of schools, they do a good job.
Now back to Shivku’s initiative at Indore. He told his 9th standard math students that he would conduct a 10 day introductory seminar during the summer holidays on concepts in 10th standard math and children who are interested could come in. He also said that it was not very important as he would be covering the same ground over the next academic year. As he had guessed, the 8-10 children in his class who were interested in math came for his seminar. He started the day with an hour-long story-like overview of the first chapter and asked the children to read through the chapter and solve all the problems given at the end and come back the next day. He encouraged them to talk to each other and use all the online resources and books they had access to in school and at home. He started the next day discussing any issues the children faced and gave the story-overview of chapter 2. And so on! The 10th standard syllabus was covered by the time the seminar finished! When the school reopened Shivku had 10 teaching assistants who already knew the subject. He got them to sit with groups of their classmates and let the children work through the syllabus slowly. Shivku’s job then really became what we like to think of in progressive circles as that of a ‘facilitator’. Being available only when the children needed him.
Of course, this is not the only way that Indus World School ensures good education for its children. There are structural elements like the age-appropriate pedagogical methods or the focus on the social and emotional growth of the children through ‘circle time’ etc. Shivku’s initiative can be categorized as the idiosyncratic, non-structural element that only an inspired teacher can provide. And that is why we need more Shivkus and Satyas to come and join the conversation on school education.
Name of school: Indus World School (IWS), Indore Been around since: 2007 Number of teachers/ staff: 60 teachers across two campuses Number of children: 1000 Classes handled: Nursery to class 12 USP: Self-paced child-friendly learning environment Location: 2 campuses in Indore. IWS has 12 schools across the country. Website: http://www.indusworldschool.com
This is the second post in the series on alternative schools. The original article appeared in the Teacher Plus magazine and is available here. Hope you like it…
“I would have our young men and young women learn as much of English and other world languages as they like, and then expect them to give the benefits of their learning to India and the outside world… But I would not have a single Indian forget, neglect or be ashamed of his mother tongue, or to feel that he or she cannot think or express the best thoughts in his or her own vernacular.” –Mahatma Gandhi
When I explained that I was going around the country collecting alternative school stories, Vidya Patwardhan wrote back: “Well, Aksharnandan is a mainstream school, exploring innovative spaces within. So cannot really be called ‘Alternative’.”
As she graciously showed me around Aksharnandan, Vidya told me how it all began. Vidya, who has an MA and an MPhil in Anthropology, was working on teacher training at the NG Naralkar foundation and she felt that this was having limited impact on the triangle of teaching/ learning/ evaluation. This insight was the seed for a group of like-minded persons from varied walks of life coming together to form Aksharnandan. In addition to integrating information, knowledge, values and skills, Aksharnandan anchored itself firmly on the following pillars –
a. Using vernacular (Marathi) as the medium of learning (Aksharnandan’s website echoes Gandhiji as it states: “A truly universal mind can grow, only when it strikes strong roots in its indigenous soil.”) b. Focusing on a cooperative, non-competitive environment c. Building sensitivity to ecology and environment d. Following democratic values e. Integrating Head, Hand and Heart (3Hs) f. Making the school inclusive
As we walked through the non-box-like architecture of the school’s new building, what was very noticeable was the children’s art and writing work displayed over all the walls. On one wall I remember a large painted tree with hidden animals in it, and I noticed that a snail shell stuck on the wall looked very real. We peeped into some classrooms and I saw relaxed looking children in small groups sitting around and quietly working on furniture-less floors. In the rooms where the teacher was talking, the children faced her but even here it didn’t look like a ‘class’ was being conducted. I also got a glimpse of a child sleeping with his knees up on a low bench in the corner of one of the classrooms.
Two stories Vidya told me highlight the teaching/ learning methodology they follow at Aksharnandan. 6th standard children working in groups follow bank procedures to get loans of 500 to 700 Rupees that the school facilitates. The children use the money to buy raw materials to create artifacts that they then sell. The other story is that many activities that integrate head, heart and hands, cooking Vidya thinks is an especially good example, is done by all the children in all the classes.
My visit to Aksharnandan renewed my faith in how much difference a small group of determined, compassionate individuals could make. In my thank you mail to Vidya I wrote:
“Thank you for the time you took out of your busy schedule to meet me. It was wonderful getting to spend time in the circle of your wisdom and warmth. I came away really inspired by what you have done at Aksharnandan. You said that you are ‘mainstream’, well I think that many ‘alternative’ schools can learn some basics about real education from Aksharnandan.”
I thought Vidya’s response proved my point:
“Arun, I also enjoyed talking to you. ‘circle of wisdom and warmth’! Well put Arun but a bit exaggerated. Would love to meet your family, perhaps next time I’m in Kerala.”
I think ‘Wisdom and warmth’ it is, and that is probably what reflects off from everything in the unique ‘mainstream’ experiment called Aksharnandan.
Name of school: Aksharnandan Been around since: 1992 Number of teachers/ staff: 20 full time and 25 contributory (part time) Number of children: 484 (40 students in one class and no class divisions) Classes handled: KG to 10 USP: Marathi medium school that follows democratic values and propagates a non-competitive, ecologically sensitive worldview interweaving academic studies with productive activities. Location: Pune Website: http://www.aksharnandanschool.org
I visited many alternative schools and wrote short articles about them as part of a fellowship I had with Wipro Applying Thought In Schools (WATIS). These articles were later published as a regular column in the Teacher Plus magazine. I will post some of these articles here to highlight the variety of experiments going on in the alternative schools of India.
The first post in this series is about Muni International school. The original article is available on the Teacher Plus site here.
Among all the schools featured on my list, Muni International is undoubtedly the most politically incorrect one.
Consider the following: – Their daily prayer asks for a blessing from Maa Saraswati. – The school promotes Jeevan Vidya, Agrahar Nagraj’s system of spiritual thought, to all its students. – Ashok Thakur, the founder/ principal, cheerfully claims ignorance of what most people would consider foundational aspects of education. – The school website has videos of Ashok Thakur talking, sitting next to Swami Ramdev.
No, don’t stop reading just yet, because this is a heartening story of a departure from the norm so extreme that it may potentially switch on some dusty, unused light bulbs in your head.
I met Ashok Thakur when he was conducting a training session for teachers in a school run by a friend in Ahmedabad. Ashokji was talking about education and everything he said, even the radical things like not using any textbooks, seemed completely right, as he spoke with the conviction of a practitioner, using real examples from his school in Delhi. When the session was over and my friend and I asked him more about his interesting experiments in schooling, he invited both of us to come to Delhi and see for ourselves. So, it came about that, a few months later, we drove down potholed roads in a down-market part of West Delhi and reached the four-storied building that houses Muni International School.
This happened many years ago but the visit is bright in my memory. Bright with the vibrant brightness of the children we met, their bubbling enthusiasm and joy in showing off their school and their many talents, their comfort level with us as if we were close relatives visiting after a long time, and treating us as if we were on a short visit and were to be made the most of. The whole school seemed full of children comfortable with being around adults! One thing that Ashokji figured out early was that if you make small children speak more than one foreign language every day, by the time they finish school, their fluency will at least guarantee employment. Meanwhile the academic qualification needed could be worked on peripherally and without too much stress. So all the children we met spoke English but they also wanted us to hear German songs and French poems and wanted us to watch them enact Japanese skits. Even the very small ones from the primary section! It was truly breathtaking!
We started with a bullet-point list of ‘political incorrectness’ so perhaps it is fitting that we counterbalance that with a list of ‘educational correctness’. Here is a partial list: – There are no textbooks used in the school. The syllabus from NCERT is used to anchor the learning and the children question, discover, and explore the subjects with the help of their teachers and using the available online and offline resources. The focus is on anchoring learning in experience. Ashokji mentioned that a tree that has its leaves arranged such that every leaf gets sunlight is a great way to learn geometry. – The school parliament has school level MPs, class level MLAs, Councillors, judges, committee members, etc., who are elected from within the classrooms every month. The same child is not allowed to get elected to the same post more than once. – The school caters to the underprivileged families in the neighborhood.
I remember Ashok Thakur saying that his 8th standard children competed with MA students from a nearby university, the task being to read from a book that nobody had read before and answer questions from it, and the children from Muni International, who had effectively learned how to learn, won hands down. I can well believe it!
Name of school: Muni International school Been around since: 2003 Number of teachers/ staff: 40 Number of children: 700 Classes handled: 1 to 12 USP: Caters to poor children. Emphasizes foreign language learning for livelihood security. Location: Uttam Nagar, New Delhi Website: http://www.muniinternationalschool.org/
Mahatma Gandhi’s collected works — writings, speeches, letters, interviews and telegrams — have been meticulously compiled with appendices of relevant background material by the publications division of the Government of India. The collected works runs into 100 volumes of some 500 pages each. The people who have read through or sampled these writings say that the best introduction to this huge compilation is the small, extremely influential booklet called ‘Hind Swaraj’. Hind Swaraj, written in 1908 and presented as a dialogue between a reader and an editor (Gandhiji) contains in compressed form many of the ideas that run through the collected works. You may find yourself disagreeing with many parts of it, but it contains a systematic deconstruction of modernity.
Here is an extract from the beginning of chapter 18 to intrigue you:
READER: In the whole of our discussion, you have not demonstrated the necessity for education: we always complain of its absence among us. We notice a movement for compulsory education in our country. The Maharaja Gaekwar has introduced it in his territories. Every eye is directed towards them. We bless the Maharaja for it. Is all this effort then of no use ?
EDITOR: If we consider our civilization to be the highest, I have regretfully to say that much of the effort you have described is of no use. The motive of the Maharaja and other great leaders who have been working in this direction is perfectly pure. They, therefore, undoubtedly deserve great praise. But we cannot conceal from ourselves the result that is likely to flow from their effort.
What is the meaning of education? It simply means a knowledge of letters. It is merely an instrument, and an instrument may be well used or abused. The same instrument that may be used to cure a patient may be used to take his life, and so may a knowledge of letters. We daily observe that many men abuse it and very few make good use of it; and if this is a correct statement, we have proved that more harm has been done by it than good.
The ordinary meaning of education is a knowledge of letters. To teach boys reading, writing and arithmetic is called primary education. A peasant earns his bread honestly. He has ordinary knowledge of the world. He knows fairly well how he should behave towards his parents, his wife, his children and his fellow villagers. He understands and observes the rules of morality. But he cannot write his own name. What do you propose to do by giving him a knowledge of letters? Will you add an inch to his happiness ? Do you wish to make him discontented with his cottage or his lot? And even if you want to do that, he will not need such an education. Carried away by the flood of western thought we came to the conclusion, without weighing pros and cons, that we should give this kind of education to the people.
Now let us take higher education. I have learned Geography, Astronomy, Algebra, Geometry, etc. What of that? In what way have I benefited myself or those around me? Why have I learned these things? Professor Huxley has thus defined education: “That man I think has had a liberal education who has been so trained in youth that his body is the ready servant of his will and does with ease and pleasure all the work that as a mechanism it is capable of; whose intellect is a clear, cold, logic engine with all its parts of equal strength and in smooth working order…whose mind is stored with a knowledge of the fundamental truths of nature . . . whose passions are trained to come to heel by a vigorous will, the servant of a tender conscience . . .who has learnt to hate all vileness and to respect others as himself. Such a one and no other, I conceive, has had a liberal education, for he is in harmony with nature. He will make the best of her and she of him.”
If this is true education. I must emphatically say that the sciences I have enumerated above I have a never been able to use for controlling my senses. Therefore, whether you take elementary education or higher education, it is not required for the main thing. It does not make men of us. It does not enable us to do our duty.
The following are three excerpts from chapter 1 of ‘On Education’ by J Krishnamurti. The full book is available for download here.
Education is not only learning from books, memorizing some facts, but also learning how to look, how to listen to what the books are saying, whether they are saying something true or false. All that is part of education. Education is not just to pass examinations, take a degree and a job, get married and settle down, but also to be able to listen to the birds, to see the sky, to see the extraordinary beauty of a tree, and the shape of the hills, and to feel with them, to be really, directly in touch with them. As you grow older, that sense of listening, seeing, unfortunately disappears because you have worries, you want more money, a better car, more children or less children. You become jealous, ambitious, greedy, envious; so you lose the sense of the beauty of the earth. You know what is happening in the world. You must be studying current events. There are wars, revolts, nation divided against nation. In this country too there is division, separation, more and more people being born, poverty, squalor and complete callousness. Man does not care what happens to another so long as he is perfectly safe. And you are being educated to fit into all this.
Do you know what it means to attend, to pay attention? When you pay attention, you see things much more clearly. You hear the bird singing much more distinctly. You differentiate between various sounds. When you look at a tree with a great deal of attention, you see the whole beauty of the tree. You see the leaves, the branch, you see the wind playing with it. When you pay attention, you see extraordinarily clearly. Have you ever done it? Attention is something different from concentration. When you concentrate, you don’t see everything. But when you are paying attention, you see a great deal. Now, pay attention. Look at that tree and see the shadows, the slight breeze among the leaves. See the shape of the tree. See the proportion of the tree in relation to other trees. See the quality of light that penetrates through the leaves, the light on the branches and the trunk. See the totality of the tree. Look at it that way, because I am going to talk about something to which you have to pay attention. Attention is very important, in the class, as well as when you are outside, when you are eating, when you are walking. Attention is an extraordinary thing.
Learn about everything in yourself, because if you learn from yourself about yourself, then you will not be a secondhand human being. So you should, if I may suggest, from now on, find out how to live entirely differently and that is going to be difficult, for I am afraid most of us like to find an easy way of living. We like to repeat what other people say, what other people do, because it is the easiest way to live – to conform to the old pattern or to a new pattern. We have to find out what it means never to conform and what it means to live without fear. This is your life, and nobody is going to teach you, no book, no guru. You have to learn from yourself, not from books. There is a great deal to learn about yourself. It is an endless thing, it is a fascinating thing, and when you learn about yourself from yourself, out of that learning wisdom comes. Then you can live a most extraordinary, happy, beautiful life.
The following are three excerpts from the long essay ‘Renaissance in India’ by Sri Aurobindo. I hope that these excerpts add to your understanding of education and modernity in the Indian context.
An ingrained and dominant spirituality, an inexhaustible vital creativeness and gust of life and, mediating between them, a powerful, penetrating and scrupulous intelligence combined of the rational, ethical and aesthetic mind each at a high intensity of action, created the harmony of the ancient Indian culture.
When we look at the past of India, what strikes us is her stupendous vitality, her inexhaustible power of life and joy of life, her almost unimaginably prolific creativeness. For three thousand years at least, — it is indeed much longer, — she has been creating abundantly and incessantly, lavishly, with an inexhaustible many-sidedness, republics and kingdoms and empires, philosophies and cosmogonies and sciences and creeds and arts and poems and all kinds of monuments, palaces and temples and public works, communities and societies and religious orders, laws and codes and rituals, physical sciences, psychic sciences, systems of Yoga, systems of politics and administration, arts spiritual, arts worldly, trades, industries, fine crafts, — the list is endless and in each item there is almost a plethora of activity. She creates and creates and is not satisfied and is not tired; she will not have an end of it, seems hardly to need a space for rest, a time for inertia and lying fallow. She expands too outside her borders; her ships cross the ocean and the fine superfluity of her wealth brims over to Judaea and Egypt and Rome; her colonies spread her arts and epics and creeds in the Archipelago; her traces are found in the sands of Mesopotamia; her religions conquer China and Japan and spread westward as far as Palestine and Alexandria, and the figures of the Upanishads and the sayings of the Buddhists are reechoed on the lips of Christ. Everywhere, as on her soil, so in her works there is the teeming of a superabundant energy of life.
Excerpt 3: (This is how the long essay ends)
India can best develop herself and serve humanity by being herself and following the law of her own nature. This does not mean, as some narrowly and blindly suppose, the rejection of everything new that comes to us in the stream of Time or happens to have been ﬁrst developed or powerfully expressed by the West. Such an attitude would be intellectually absurd, physically impossible,and above all unspiritual; true spirituality rejects no new light, no added means or materials of our human self-development. It means simply to keep our centre, our essential way of being, our inborn nature and assimilate to it all we receive, and evolve out of it all we do and create. Religion has been a central preoccupation of the Indian mind; some have told us that too much religion ruined India, precisely because we made the whole of life religion or religion the whole of life, we have failed in life and gone under. I will not answer, adopting the language used by the poet in a slightly different connection, that our fall does not matter and that the dust in which India lies is sacred. The fall, the failure does matter, and to lie in the dust is no sound position for man or nation. But the reason assigned is not the true one. If the majority of Indians had indeed made the whole of their lives religion in the true sense of the word, we should not be where we are now; it was because their public life became most irreligious, egoistic, self-seeking, materialistic that they fell. It is possible, that on one side we deviated too much into an excessive religiosity, that is to say, an excessive externalism of ceremony, rule, routine, mechanical worship, on the other into a too world-shunning asceticism which drew away the best minds who were thus lost to society instead of standing like the ancient Rishis as its spiritual support and its illuminating life-givers. But the root of the matter was the dwindling of the spiritual impulse in its generality and broadness, the decline of intellectual activity and freedom, the waning of great ideals, the loss of the gust of life.
Perhaps there was too much of religion in one sense; the word is English, smacks too much of things external such as creeds, rites, an external piety; there is no one Indian equivalent. But if we give rather to religion the sense of the following of the spiritual impulse in its fullness and define spirituality as the attempt to know and live in the highest self, the divine, the all embracing unity and to raise life in all its parts to the divinest possible values, then it is evident that there was not too much of religion, but rather too little of it—and in what there was, a too one-sided and therefore an insufficiently ample tendency. The right remedy is, not to belittle still farther the age long ideal of India, but to return to its old amplitude and give it a still wider scope, to make in very truth all the life of the nation a religion in this high spiritual sense. This is the direction in which the philosophy, poetry, art of the West is, still more or less obscurely, but with an increasing light, beginning to turn, and even some faint glints of the truth are beginning now to fall across political and sociological ideals. India has the key to the knowledge and conscious application of the ideal; what was dark to her before in its application, she can now, with a new light, illumine; what was wrong and wry in her old methods she can now rectify; the fences which she created to protect the outer growth of the spiritual ideal and which afterwards became barriers to its expansion and farther application, she can now break down and give her spirit a freer ﬁeld and an ampler ﬂight: she can, if she will, give a new and decisive turn to the problems over which all mankind is labouring and stumbling, for the clue to their solutions is there in her ancient knowledge. Whether she will rise or not to the height of her opportunity in the renaissance which is coming upon her, is the question of her destiny.
(‘The Renaissance in India and Other essays on Indian Culture’ is available for download as volume 20 of the collected works of Sri Aurobindo here)