Ancient India achieved global recognition, acceptance, and credibility primarily due to the intellectual achievements of its scholars, philosophers, and those who sought to unravel the mysteries of the world. It was their unwavering dedication to exploring the universe and uncovering the secrets of nature that attracted knowledge seekers from distant lands to renowned institutions such as Taxila, Nalanda, Vikramshila, and Vallabhi. The more they delved into their studies, the more captivated they became, and their diligent pursuit of knowledge persisted.
Despite facing disruptions due to historical events, this pursuit of knowledge remained resilient and continued to thrive even in the most challenging circumstances. In another perspective, the quest for knowledge (Jnan), wisdom (Pragya), and truth (Satya) has always been regarded in Indian thought and philosophy as the loftiest human aspiration. Consequently, the objective of education in ancient India extended well beyond the mere acquisition of essential knowledge and skills required for leading a virtuous life; it aimed for the complete realisation and liberation of the self.
Regrettably, the pursuit of knowledge has often taken a backseat amidst the allure and extravagance of materialism, which gained momentum with the advent of liberalisation, privatisation, and globalisation. India, too, has felt the impact of this shift, with a growing awareness that many of the challenges humanity faces stem from the reckless exploitation of natural resources.
A change in our approach is imperative. In 2020, India made a significant decision to draw guidance from its rich heritage of ancient and enduring Indian knowledge and philosophy for its future education policies. It acknowledges that education in India must be deeply rooted in a culture that is dedicated to acquiring new knowledge. This shift should serve as an inspiration for everyone to awaken to the alarming extent of damage being inflicted upon nature and the urgent need to halt it.
Those in positions of power often engage in global discussions about issues like pollution, climate change, access to clean water, population concerns, and human rights, presenting ambitious plans to the public. However, action often falls short. Indians are aware of an ancient concept, ‘Aparigraha,’ as propagated by Mahatma Gandhi, which emphasises that the world possesses sufficient resources to meet everyone’s needs but not their greed. While this proposition is challenging, it is a necessity, as there is no alternative. The role of educators is pivotal in achieving this goal. Every discipline must embark on a new chapter, placing a strong emphasis on multidisciplinary considerations in the realm of human knowledge.
In pursuit of this goal, teachers must recognise that they play a pivotal role in shaping the future. It is their duty to mold each student, who approaches them as someone unaware and inexperienced, into a well-rounded individual. This endeavour will not only influence future generations but also produce citizens dedicated to their nation and its people while being fully aware of their responsibilities as global citizens.
Dr. S Radhakrishnan, a renowned educator, stood out as one of the most brilliant intellectual minds of the 20th century. He possessed unparalleled expertise in interpreting both Eastern and Western thought, philosophy, and the nature of humanity. India commemorates his birthday on the fifth of September each year, remembering his exceptional contributions and embracing his philosophy and guiding principles for educators. However, it is essential to ensure that these valuable insights do not merely collect dust on library shelves.
He specifically appeals to higher education institutions, stating, “The university ideal is to foster intellectual freedom and the liberty of thought. Its purpose is not to protect privilege or impose conformity. It challenges privilege that stems from sources other than intellectual excellence or spiritual greatness. It also challenges conformity, recognising that every individual has the right to develop their own beliefs.”
In the current context, schools cannot serve as fertile grounds for the cultivation of new ideas unless educators are well-prepared and strongly committed to encouraging each child and learner to express themselves in their chosen pursuits, whether it be in music, sports, mathematics, painting, imagination, creativity, and more. This is where teacher education institutions (TEIs) play a crucial role. They are responsible for instilling the qualities, ideas, innovations, and imagination that are nurtured in schools and universities. TEIs provide the means to learn, internalise, and test the methods for achieving this goal.
We take pride in ancient India for its universal culture and its recognition of the fundamental unity of humanity, even amid apparent diversity. Academic institutions must ask themselves: are we operating with the self-assurance, conviction, determination, and zeal necessary to establish our credibility? As academics, have we yielded to becoming less original teachers, pursuing less lofty ambitions, and conforming meekly to old norms?
The most fitting and sincere tribute to Dr. Radhakrishnan, as well as the illustrious Indian tradition of education, exploration, and knowledge pursuit, would be to honour and regard teachers as the architects of not just an individual student’s future but also the future of society, the community, and the nation as a whole. To accomplish this, provide them with world-class teacher training institutions and continuous opportunities for lifelong education, adaptation, and growth.
(The writer can be reached at email@example.com)