?The ass carrying the load of sandalwood? so says an ancient Sanskrit proverb, ?knows only the weight and not the value of the sandalwood.? Its animalistic instinct nevertheless helps it find out the equation?heavier the weight larger the meal. I am tempted to draw a parallel of the above to our current education system, which teaches students to bear the load of studies with the refrain?better the performances higher the return. Like in the case of the ass, our secular education system simply weighs the learning and does not teach its value. Students are told that degrees are required to get a job, and higher degrees will fetch higher income. The thought of service to the poor, the nation or the humanity is summarily dismissed as Platonic and nonsensical.
I am, therefore, not surprised that our education system has produced errant and arrogant kids like Manu Sharma, Jagat Singh, Vikas Yadav, Amit Jogi, Sanjeev Nanda, Fardeen Khan and many others, all of whom got the best of education?thanks to their parental affluence and influence?but were not taught humility and dedication, which were fundamental to our traditional education system. It is not that only the scions of celebrities and the affluent freak out and the rest are okay. As a matter of fact, the alma mater that discriminates the poor from the rich, the powerful from the commoner, sows the seeds of arrogance, hatred and complexes in impressionable minds, thereby causing distortion in the society.
It is no body'scase that the aim of a sound education system is to create perfect equality among students or to raise their merit to even height. As a matter of fact, the Vedantic philosophy that envisions the ultimate unity in Tat tvam asi (Thou art that) does not also envisage perfect equality in a phenomenal world. According to it, when the three gunas (sattva, raja and tama) get into the position of perfect equilibrium, involution results and creativity comes to an end. The universe evolves as a result of disturbance in this balance when any of the three gunas becomes predominant. The above philosophy applies to human life as well, as the key to liberation is stated to be perfect equanimity.
Both Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi stressed on spiritual education simultaneously with secular education. In the words of Vivekananda, ?Our life blood is spirituality.? If it flows clear, no disease germ can possess it. The spirituality does not mean worship of a particular god, but selfless concern for welfare of all beings. Totally rejecting the colonial education system, Gandhiji echoed Vivekananda when he wrote in True Education: ?We assess the value of education in the same manner as we assess the value of land or of shares in the stock exchange market. We want to provide only such education as would enable the student to earn more? As long as such ideas persist there is no hope of our ever knowing the true value of education.? Gandhiji was totally against state interference in educational sphere.
A materialistic thinker may snigger at the idea of injecting spirituality in secular education, as he is unable to segregate spirituality from religion. Once convinced that spirituality has nothing to do with any particular religion, I am sure, even the staunchest materialist will see merits in the proposition that students must be taught to think more for the suffering multitude, the nation and the humanity, than for self-promotion.
The reason why Indian civilisation survived despite the fall of the empires and kingdoms in the face of foreign invasions was its impregnable education system. Its foundation was laid by gurukuls in numerous hermitages as mentioned in the Mahabharata, where pupils from distant parts gathered for instruction. It is pertinent to mention that the Rig Veda named 23 women sages for their contribution and a hermitage near Kurukshetra produced two noted women hermits, thus establishing that women were considered eligible for studying the Vedas and also running gurukuls.
By the 9th century BC, university education almost on modern lines was founded in Takshasila (Taxila), the capital of Gandhara, followed by Ujjain, Nalanda, Benares, Ballavi, Ajanta, Madura and Vikramsila. Panini, the famous grammarian of the 7th century BC, Jibaka, the noted physician of the 6th century BC and Kautilya, the author of Arthasastra of the 4th century BC were students of Takshasila. We find mention of women'shostel called chhatrisala in some of those universities.
Even though the University of Takshasila was destroyed by the barbaric Huns in the 5th century AD and that of Nalanda by the Khilji invaders in the 12th century AD, the Indian education system survived owing to resilience of the scholars who took it as their mission to impart what they learnt to the posterity. It is no wonder that Sir Monier Williams found Indian education system unparalleled in history. In his words: ?Invader after invader ravaged the country with fire and sword but the simple self-contained township had preserved its constitution intact, its customs, precedents and peculiar institutions unchanged and unchangeable amid all other changes.? (Brahmanism and Hinduism). India survived because Indian educationists never treated material progress as the end in itself but as a means to the end that was spiritual growth.
The overdose of self-centric materialism sans spirituality, borrowed from colonial and alien thoughts, commenced the process of transformation from man-making into money-making education. The blame, in the first place, goes to successive governments which, contrary to Gandhiji'sprescription, relentlessly interferred with the governance of universities and academic institutions. The blame also goes to the political parties, which strived to impose their political thoughts or ideology on students. The socio-religious organisations also share the blame for doing precious little to arrest the rot.
I am, however, incurably optimistic, being a firm believer in what Swami Vivekananda said over a century back: ?A mighty tree produces a beautiful ripe fruit. The fruit falls on the ground, it decays and rots, and out of that decay springs the root and the future tree, perhaps mightier than the first one.? (Refer: The Complete Works, vol. 3, pp. 286).