Governments judge progress and development in terms of statistics. In education, increase in numbers of schools, colleges, universities and other institutions is invariably presented as a means of advancement. No doubt, expansion in education was necessary at the time of Independence, and continues to be so even today. The literacy rates in India have increased from around 20 to 68 during a span of around six decades against the population increase of over three-fold.
This in itself is a big achievement. It is a fact that around 96 per cent students get enrolled in schools and drop out rates are steadily declining. It is also a fact that millions of students leave schools without ?learning? of any kind. The transition rate from schools to higher education is just around 10-12 which is far too low as compared to the developed nations. Young Indians have brought great name and fame to the country, they have excelled in every branch of modern scientific, technological advancements and also in new breakthroughs in the fields of management and information and communication technology. Over two lakh Indian students are getting education abroad, siphoning away valuable national resources which otherwise could have strengthened national level institutions and the system.
When a Satyam story is revealed, it is not only the employees and shareholders who are the losers; it brings down the credibility of India, and demoralises every Indian. It is not only an economic issue. It has everything to do with education that is being imparted in our schools and colleges. I had the opportunity of conducting two nationwide debates and interactions when curriculum frameworks were being developed for teacher education by the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) in 1998 and by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT). Everywhere, the groups of teachers, parents, students and enlightened citizens were unanimous on one aspect; ?There is tremendous erosion of values on all fronts. Education must reform itself to reverse the trend.? In February 1999, the report of the departments related to Standing Committee of the Members of Parliament for the Ministry of Human Resources Development was submitted in both the Houses of Parliament. It made several recommendations on how to nurture values amongst the students in schools and in higher education. The following contained in Para 8 and 13 0f the Report that deserves a recall.
8. ?Truth (Sathya), Righteous Conduct (Dharma), Peace (Shanti), Love (Prema) and Non-violence (Ahimsa) are the core universal values which can be identified as the foundations of education on which value based educational programmes can be built-up. These five are indeed universal values and respectively represent the five domains of human personality: Intellectual, physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual. They also are correspondingly co-related with five major objectives of education, namely knowledge, skills, balance, vision. and identity?
13. ?Another aspect that must be given some thought is religion, which is the most misused and misunderstood concept. The process of making the students acquainted with the basics of all religions, the values inherent therein and also a comparative study of philosophy of all religions should begin at the middle stage in schools and continue up to the university level. Students have to be made aware that the basic concept behind every religion is common, only the practices differ. Even if there are differences of opinion in certain areas, people have to learn to coexist and carry no hatred against any religion.?
This is the line of approach that has to be accepted by the policy formulators and implementers without biases and past prejudices. Religions are realty. Indian State is secular but the society is religious. There is no contradiction between the two. One could claim it with certainty that only a truly religious person would be truly secular. In Indian tradition, and there was a tradition before the Christianity, Islam or Zoroastrians arrived on the shores of India, acceptance of otherness was inbuilt from times unknown. There should be no apprehension in permitting ?all children to learn about basics of all religions, know the commonalities and learn to respect differences wherever these exist?. In 21st century when ?learning to live together and social cohesion? are considered as the most outstanding objectives of education, the tradition of secularism actually put in practice in India definitely for more than 2000 years could pave the way for a global interfaith and inter-civilisational dialogue. In a world torn by strife?s, violence, wars, distrust, bigotry and sufferings being inflicted on innocents for no fault of theirs, education has to delineate a new role of itself. Howsoever complex it may be, there is alternative but to learn how centres of education and learning have an added responsibility for moving towards a world in which human beings can live in peace and brotherhood.
Social cohesion and religious amity are global concerns. Very thoughtfully, there are initiatives being undertaken outside schools and higher education in large numbers. It is globally accepted that everyone accepts certain eternal human values and no one actually ever protests against these. There could be different articulations of these but the essence remains the same. The Chavan Committee formulation identifies these as Truth, Peace, Non-Violence, Righteous Conduct and Love. Each of these linked to the remaining four. None is independent in absolute sense. While education has to accept these as integral components of every activity that takes place in the interactions of the learners and the learning centres, it alone may not be sufficient. What families and parents present before the children, what leaders and professionals put before the young persons ready to enter their working life makes a great impact.
In the days of globalisation and liberalisation, the spiritual quest appears to have lost the race to the materialistic pursuits and unbridled consumption. The consequences of the situation are now before the whole world and the dream of great economic resurgence is getting shattered. Once again, the events of the time have established the depth and practicability of the Eastern thought that bliss and happiness do not come merely by acquiring economic affluence but through living a value-based life: ?Dhanad dharmam tatah sukham?. The inner and inherent of Indian culture, tradition and search for the truth has created a unique place for itself. The whole world looks towards India to seek solace and guidance in respect of spiritual pursuits of higher order objectives in life. It is worthwhile to recall what Arnold Toynbee had to say on this:
?It is already becoming clear that a chapter which had a western beginning will have to have an Indian ending if it is not to end in the self-destruction of the human race?At this supremely dangerous moment in human history, the only way of salvation for mankind is the Indian way- Emperor Asoka'sand Mahatma Gandhi'sprinciple of non-violence and Sri Ramakrishna'stestimony to the harmony of religions. Here we have an attitude and spirit that can make it possible for the human race to grow together into a single family ? and in the atomic age, this is the only alternative to destroying ourselves?.
The content and process of education in India needs to be thoroughly recast. Implementation of value-based education would be the first major step in this direction. What India inherited from the British was not the ?British system of education? but specifically designed ?British system for the colonies?. India must derive its system of education from the thoughts the like of Swami Vivekananda, Maharshi Dayananda, Mahatma Gandhi and Sri Aurobindo. It has to develop a system which has deep roots in the dynamic culture of India. Sri Aurobindo had visualised it in the following words?:
?National education?may be described as the education which starting up with the past and making full use of the present, builds up a great nation. Whoever wishes to cut-off the nation from its past, is no friend of our national growth. Whoever fails to take advantage of the present is losing us the battle of life. We must therefore, save for India all that she has stored up of knowledge, character and noble thoughts in her immemorial past. We must acquire for her the best knowledge that Europe can give her and assimilate it to her own peculiar type of national temperament. We must introduce the best methods of teaching humanity has developed whether modern or ancient. And all these we must harmonize into a system which will be impregnated with the spirit of self reliance, so as to build up men and not machines?. (India'sRebirth, p. 30).
There could hardly be a more substantive elaboration of the system that India needs to prepare its young generations. Only such an education would play a combative role against fundamentalism and terrorism. Education system must continuously renew itself to provide an education that would prepare young persons to understand and analyse the ?change? in coming decades and shall be equipped and motivated enough to give it a direction by leading the change.
(Author is former Director of NCERT.)