A Nine-point Master Plan for Value Education to be symbiotically embedded
in the educational system
- Man's essential qualities are the most welcome qualities of sympathy, compassion, kindliness and brotherhood. These are so because from one point of view his essential core is itself divine and from another point of view man is the child of God created in His own image. It is necessary to tap these qualities of Man in each one of his dealings as a member of the family, of the Nation, of the World.
- To do this there is no better way than to delve into the biographies of as many great men of the world as possible - scholars, saints, innovators, leaders, reformers, religious heads, social workers, scientists, devotees of the Lord, writers, poets, thinkers, philosophers, performers of the arts, managers, administrators, entrepreneurs, and professionals. At every level of education of the student, Biography should form part of the compulsory portion of his studies, as one more subject like Mathematics and Social Sciences. It is not enough to be just part of his study of Language or Literature. As he rises up in the levels, study of biographies under Biography could become more and more detailed. Ultimately when he completes his education, maybe as a professional, doctor, engineer , manager or what-have-you, he should be able to say that he has specialized in (or has put in a certain amount of intensive study in) certain biographies, not necessarily directly related to his profession or calling. For instance, it could be Mahatma Gandhi, J.N. Tata, St. Francis of Assissi, Abraham Lincoln, Mother Theresa, U.V. Swaminatha Iyer, Benjamin Franklin, Cecil Rhodes, Madam Curie or Guru Nanak, or scores of others. Lessons from Biography could be the greatest lessons that a child picks up. So the fundamental difference between the present-day curriculum and this proposed curriculum is that in every class from the 4th standard (or grade) to the 12th standad (or grade) there would be one more compulsory subject called 'Great Lives' or 'Biography'. To that extent, the load from the other subjects has to be reduced. It does not matter. We are teaching too much too badly, anyway -- and in India at least, we are surviving, because, we are doing that to too few.
- Education from the primary level should start with the concept of the whole world/planet as a single entity. At each stage of the development of the story of man there should be less emphasis on nationhood and a greater emphasis on world citizenship, environment and human behavior. Most of the social evils of the adult population may be traced to the fact that the mind refuses to rise from the little world of the individual and one’s immediate kith and kin and friendship. The correction for this has to start from childhood and at school.
- The habit of book reading should be encouraged on a warfront from childhood upward. It should not matter what book the child reads. Reading, comprehension, the art of communicating with others what has been assimilated by reading, and, in due time, writing -- should form part of the compulsory curriculum all the way up even after the student has started narrowing down and specializing. Right now book reading is left, if at all, as an optional and voluntary activity. It would be necessary to institute special awards for this activity and bring it into the mainstream of the student's career in school. It may be said that the modern means of passing information and literature through the facilities provided by Information Technology like the Internet, have compensated the need to go to books and that the Internet has taken over the need for readers to go to books. But the compensation is not adequate enough. Kids use the Internet only to cull out information for their favorite projects either given by their curriculum needs or motivated by their own pet fantasies. They do not stay with the Internet long enough to gulp whole books of substance. Unless kids learn to sit with books and think leisurely on what they have read the thinking habit will get muzzled up. The very Internet that has done all this should now be used to make the student go back to books. Books can be reviewed, summarized, focussed, and recommended by the teachers of the particular locale or school or college. Each educational institution can discover its own means to draw attention to the books that they want their students to read, provide competition for such reading on the Internet itself by announcing awards and incentives. Several innovative measures must be found out as suits the context and the neighborhood. Several commercial booksellers and publishers are doing a wonderful job now on the Internet to draw the attention of those who surf on the net. But non-profit organizations like educational institutions, teachers, professors, thinkers, parent-teacher-associations, social workers and professionals should make it a mission to tell the next generation what to read, how to read and why. If we do not do all this, the twenty-first century citizen in his thirties and forties would not know what to do with a book! And in a century after that, whatever that remains of 'man' will have to start reinventing reading and writing(!) which is probably one of the few things left yet, that distinguishes man from animal.
- From the age of 5, the practice of silent prayer should become a daily routine irrespective of the denomination or religion to which the child belongs or does not belong. The value of prayer can never be overstated. No one can reveal God to another. But by revealing the value of prayer and inculcating the habit of prayer we place the child in a position to receive God-experience, in due time. Spiritual experience can come only through the correct understanding of prayer. Prayer is the point of contact with God. Silent prayer is the preparation of consciousness for the experience of Divinity within. The child should be tuned up from childhood well enough so that at adult age it is ready to receive the inevitable message that unhappiness and suffering are necessary for the unfolding of the soul within and to stand that unhappiness and suffering, prayer is the nutrition needed. So much does not have to be told to the child; but the habit of prayer must be made a second nature. This should not be left for the child to learn by itself after it reaches adult age -- as is the experience of many a materialist adult who has learnt things the hard way and then, turned to the ways of the Orient in the past few decades. This is where it is not possible to accept the plea of the rationalist that, to pray or not to pray should be left to the individual for a decision on his own, when he becomes an adult. The plea assumes that each man, without standing on the shoulders of the men of earlier times, begins all over again to learn all that the earlier civilization has already discovered and recorded for us to take the torch from there. That is not the way Man has ascended to the present state of knowledge.
- From the age of 7, children should know and learn the habit of sitting for an introspection and meditation. Any time the child errs in its social habits, obligations, table manners, discipline or routine, it should not receive corporal punishment but only an opportunity to introspect. The habit of introspection has all but disappeared in this modern age when everybody uses more than his leisure time to sit glued to the idiot box, without ever devoting any time to think about anything, not to speak of oneself -- except of course, when they worry about something, which any way is not a productive activity.
- From the age of 11 onwards, regular lessons on meditation should form part of the curriculum. Meditation need not be sectarian. But meditation is an effort to be done at the individual level and since Indian culture has an under-current of unity in spite of its plurality of traditions, it should be possible certainly in India which has the advantage (see No.8 further on) of several religions coexisting over the centuries, to integrate sectarian meditation into a classroom activity.
8. From the age of 15, the child should be educated on the positive aspects -- not the bizarre, not the fantastic, not the strange, habits and customs -- of all world religions by competent teachers, who, while they themselves would be students of comparative religion, would keep their own bias, if any, towards a particular faith or opinion, in abeyance as best as possible in order to present objectively the commonness of spirituality in all religions. Comparative religion is not competitive religion. Every religion is a blend of macro principles and micro setting. The latter is a mixture of local mythology and ritual and this never appeals to a stranger or outsider. Only a powerful poet, a talented sculptor or a mystic sage may be able to impart some understanding of it to one not born and nurtured in the tradition. But the macro-principles are usually understood, at least as an all-embracing framework, though not followed in its totality, because it speaks to man as man. It is a crisis of intellect that wants to adjudicate among the great religions of the world. What is important for the 21st century citizen is to come together and rediscover that this crisis of intellect can be resolved only by going back to the very ancient thoughts that have remained with us for more than twenty centuries now. The period of the first millenium BC is the most important period of history in this connection. That was the time when the axis of the world's thoughts shifted from a study of nature to the study of man's life and his inner aspirations. Then in India we had the Upanishadic Seers, Mahavira the Jina and Gautama the Buddha; in China we had Lao Tse and Confucius; in Iran there was Zoroaster, in Israel there were the great prophets; and in Greece, Pythagoras, Socrates and Plato. That surge of activity and investigation and the profundity of thought of that period have never since been matched. They achieved so much with so little help from any gadgetry -- which, by the way is what is helping us today to unravel further frontiers of knowledge. The philosophers of the first millenium BC achieved what they did by sheer rational thinking coupled with a certain unique intuition of their own. The test of significance of what they left for posterity is in the fact they have survived twenty centuries of war and peace, strife and hatred, and all the ups and downs of great empires and civilizations. It is extremely doubtful whether anything of what we call 20th century science and technology will survive as valid knowledge twenty centuries hence! The best guess is that not much of what we hold as science today will survive that long and even what we today call the scientific attitude may mean something entirely different in the year 4000 AD
It all means that we, as world-citizens should have a great pride in the universal heritage of religion and spirituality. This has to be passed on to our youngsters not just because it is great history and tradition but because there is a danger of humanity destroying itself by gradual erosion of these ancient roots. Our religions are our best heritage and safest savior. To say, however, that only the macro-principles of these religions are important is to ignore in the context of a tree the sun and soil from which it draws its sustenance. At the same time any emphasis on the micro-setting should not lead one to nurture an aggressive pride in one's culture and nationality. Pride in one's culture and nationality should only be like pride in one's own mother. This pride, to quote Huston Smith (Religions of Man, New American Library, 1958, p.17), should be
'an affirmative pride born of a gratitude for the values he has gained and not a defensive pride whose only device for achieving the sense of superiority it pathetically needs is by grinding down others through invidious comparison. His roots in his family, his community, his civilization will be deep, but in that very depth he will strike the water table of man's common humanity and thus nourished will reach out in more active curiosity, more open vision, to discover and understand what others have seen'.
In most human cultures religion and culture are highly interwoven; more so in India where religion has been the dominant feeling for centuries. If we build our educational system on the premise that religion is a personal matter students will be left out without the means of understanding any culture beyond a limited subset of their own. Already we see the effect of this error in the educational set-up of the developed countries. The freedom to present a wide spectrum of human belief within a common scholastic context is a major advantage. The fact that in the Indian milieu this wide spectrum is already in the atmosphere should be considered as a great asset rather than a handicap.
- History should be studied not as history of the different countries but as history of man and as the history of wars against poverty, disease and wickedness. History should bring out the perspective that peace is not absence of war but peace is a mutual understanding of each other's aspirations and rights. Every period of history should be studied as part of a world history from this point of view and not as part of a nation's struggle for domination or ascent to power. The individual histories of each nation in all its details should not have to be studied until the student reaches adult age.
This is the suggestion of a Master Plan for embedding the spiritual and human values in the educational system. If this can be implemented we would be turning out world-citizens who would also be a citizen of the world of Spirituality. It would not then be difficult to mould such a citizen into a rounded personality whose every work in the world would be a yAjnA in the spirit of the Bhagavad-Gita. For such a person, in the words of Sri Aurobindo, (The Synthesis of Yoga by Shri Aurobindo, Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, Third Impression, 1984, pp.132-133),
For such a person the mental and physical sciences which examine into the laws and forms and processes of things, those which concern the life of men and animals, the social, political and linguistic and historical and those which seek to know and control the labors and activities by which man subdues and utilizes his world and environment, and the noble and the beautiful Arts which are at once work and knowledge, -- for every well-made and significant poem, picture, statue or building is an act of creative knowledge, a living discovery of the consciousness, a figure of Truth, a dynamic form of mental and vital self-expression, -- all that seeks, all that finds, all that voices or figures is a realization of something of the play of the Infinite and to that extent can be made a means of God-realization or of divine formation.