As we recall Dr. S.Radhakrishnan, the great philosopher and teacher of modern India, on his birthday, which is appropriately celebrated as teachers’ day, it might be appropriate to ask what is the real aim of education? It is obviously twofold: collective and the individual; and both have to be harmonized.
Society privileges those professions that the elite think are required to meet the needs of the time. For instance, during war defense personnel and strategists, scientists for the development of arms, and traders in weapons and ammunition gain prominence. Industrialization makes engineers and technicians significant while powerful patrons enable artists to flourish. Individuals feel compelled to choose the most potentially successful professions and pursue them through certain values also privileged by society like competition rather than collaboration and individual choice over hereditary professions. The price is insecurity and mental tension and the gain is individual freedom and excellence.
Since the industrial revolution money has become both the benchmark of success and an indispensable condition of material achievement. So means of production, acquisition and distribution of wealth have become the focus of study and attention over human values. This has also made it a corrupting agent because the clever and the crafty usually get the greatest share of it rather than the most honest and capable. Hence, inequities have become glaring, world wars have not been prevented and regional conflicts continue.
If all wars are fought in the minds of men, then all conflicts and inequities are also the creation and consequences of our thought processes. Since the training of the mind is the primary endeavour of educational institutions, they must bear the responsibility of devising programmes and methods to make the mind capable of meeting the challenges of the times by developing its capacities of adjustment, adaptation and accountability.
Bertrand Russell talks of modern knowledge and how it affects the growth of our mental life and influence our way of thinking, willing and feeling. Knowledge has given us the kind of power unimaginable before that has made us capable of both great good and great bad. On the one hand, we have created instruments of mass destruction and on the other medicines that can affect miraculous cures. How we will to use the knowledge depends on what we feel is our ethical responsibility towards creation.
We do not live in a static world but one which is being constantly created and is evolving towards something more integrated and complex. We cannot complacently ignore this as inconsequential. Hence, the systems of teaching have to be created that are open rather than closed because the latter are bound to decay while the former have an inherent possibility of evolving into states of increasing complexity and order. Since this feature applies to all living things, organizations and the universe itself, such an approach would lead to harmony of action rather than to contradictions. This requires a transformation of consciousness, a paradigm shift.
Education has to re-tool our thinking so that we do not see ourselves as separate from the world but as an integral part of the whole. This would widen our consciousness and give us the flexibility of the mind to understand the interdependence of multiple factors to change our world-view from a hierarchical one to a system of interconnected networks. It would make us realize that in any given event, there are so many interlinked factors that outcomes are always indeterminate and unpredictable and free us from anxieties.
Bertrand Russell has pointed out: “We are beset in our daily lives by fret and worry and frustrations. We find ourselves too readily pinned down to thoughts of what seem obstructive in our immediate environment. But it is possible, and authentic wise men have proved that it is possible, to live in so large a world that the vexations of daily life come to feel trivial and that the purposes which stir our deeper emotions take on something of the immensity of our cosmic contemplations.”
Such a state of mind is one of wisdom and the world needs it as never before. Therefore, learning organizations need to devise modes by which the great potential of human nature is encouraged to seek the highest.
Although the capacity to learn lies at the heart of humanity, it cannot just happen. Educational institutions have to find ways of producing both technologically competent individuals and also ethical beings.
As J. Krishnamurthy points out, “The real issue is to find out how to live in a world that is so compulsively authoritarian; so brutal and tyrannical, not only in the immediate relationship but in social relationships, how to live in such a world with the extraordinary capacity to meet its demands and also to be free.”
Learning, therefore, is not mere acquisition and storage of knowledge. Often the more knowledge one has, the less alert the brain is. Too much concentration on technical information and examinations leads to the lopsided development of the mind and personality. The need is to develop a mind that simultaneously acquires the knowledge needed to live and also continues to learn constantly;
“a human being with inward understanding, with a capacity to explore, to examine his inward being, his inward state and the capacity of going beyond it, but also someone who is good in what he does outwardly. The two must go together. That is the real issue in education – to see that when the child leaves the school, he is well established in goodness, both outwardly and inwardly”.
Therefore, the task of education is to develop both, the knowledge needed to be successful in this world and the inner life to rise above it and follow the truth of honest conviction.
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