Rabindranath Tagore got a Nobel for Literature in 1913 and became institutionalised as a poet and a mystic. His ideas about education remain largely unknown, outside the scholarly work that appears from time to time. True, his educational practise gets some prominence because of Viswabharati, the university he created, but the fact that this has since become a Central University subsumed in the bureaucracies like any other university obscures most of its foundational principles. Instead of being an expression of the creative and integrative spirit that Tagore wanted his institution to represent, the university today is little different from any other than the curiosities such as its open classrooms and its annual rituals.
The education in India, however, has come to a full circle. The doctrine of Higher Education in independent India did not draw much from Tagore's thinking, but rather depended on the technocratic ideals of the West and aimed at creating an elite who could assume leadership of a modern economy. India built great technical institutions and few elite universities, but failed to translate the success of this educated elite either into common well-being or advancement of the concept of India. Rather, as time progressed, Indian elite became a disconnected class, unresponsive and even dismissive of the plight of their own people, and effectively carried on the Colonial ideal of distinction between the ruling class and the ruled.
The recent adventures in mass Higher Education in India follow the same pattern. The recent developments in Indian Education focused on expanding higher education without any other agenda than to create a class of consumers to power on the modern economy, very much in line with the predominant neo-liberal thinking of the global elite. However, this, just like the colonial education system that went before it, goes without a theory of education: The educational enterprise today is devoid of a purpose, or at least has no greater purpose than the other instruments of consumer society, such as expansion of credit, for example, has. In this backdrop, Tagore may appear very relevant, not just for his educational practise, but rather more for his educational theory.
For me, a definitive starting point in Tagore's educational theory is a compendium published almost thirty years ago (and not reprinted again, to my knowledge) which put together selections of writing related to education from Tagore's massive oeuvre. Tagore scholarship has moved on significantly since the 80s, particularly in terms of collection and publication of his letters, and indeed, much has been published about Tagore's educational practise and the history of the institution he created. But, perhaps tellingly, research on his educational philosophy remains quite limited, promoting a somewhat unbalanced view that promotes the man as a creative and imaginative practitioner of education whose work may impact a special group of people in a particular setting, but not a consistent and insightful education theorist, who may have much to say about the whole system of education which may impact policy. Yet, as the consumer education as promoted in India increasingly pushes us towards a crisis of identity, a void that may increasingly thrust us to a ritualistic and unthinking allegiance to an imaginary past, it may be worthwhile to revisit Tagore as an education thinker.
In many ways, Tagore's position here is distinct both from the proponents of the Colonial education system and from its adversaries. He indeed shared the idealism of the Bengali enlightenment thinkers that a Western Education system might dispel some of the rituals and constraints of the backward looking and stagnant system that India had at the time of colonial takeover, and yet he saw colonial education for what it is - not a system of broadening the mind but an instrumentalist chore limited to production of obedient workers. He pointed out that this colonial system may have an objective - producing clerks - but no purpose: No one needed to ask what education was for if the goal was to create the workforce to keep the empire running.
Tagore's argument was that this could hardly form the basis of a viable national system of education. He conceded that there would always be instrumentalist goals that individual students may pursue in education, but disagreed that this should become the organising principle of an education system. As in colonial education, he saw an education system organised solely around instrumentalist goal would produce incomplete human beings, who might be technically capable but deficient in carrying out their lives, social commitments and civic responsibilities.
Instead, his conception of a viable national education system was built around three organising principles.
First, any education should be constructed hand in hand with a theory of being, of what kind of people one is aiming to be. The starting point of an education is to adequately answer the question of purpose and motivation, and such purpose should go beyond just how much money one should earn at the end. Rather, it was about what kind of a person one should become, and what values such a personhood should represent.
Second, this system of education can not be constructed without taking into account the national ethos, the considerations of society around. Otherwise, all education remains shallow, a bucket to be filled, and will fail to transform the whole person, the fire that was to be lit. Education, for Tagore, isn't a cloak one wears, but something one becomes - and if this is something one does not easily fit into, this would cause alienation and disconnection.
Third, a viable system of education must be forward looking and celebrate the idea of human progress, engaging with the world with an open mind and seeking out new ideas. This is where Tagore's idea departs from the usual nationalistic rejection of anything Western, and finds common space perhaps with the pragmatists.
This discussion, framed in the context, in fact in response, of the colonial education, may still have relevance in the face of the expansion of commercial system of education. The mere instrumentalist focus of our educational policies, aimed at making Engineers and Managers, come out in sharp relief against such frameworks: Its limitations quite starkly exposed when examined against the greater purposes of education pursued with conviction as in Tagore. I find a lot of common ground between Tagore and the pragmatists, who would reject grand theories including that of national pride but will maintain an unwavering commitment in progress. Pragmatists are enjoying a revival in America, as the social realities make their thinking more, and not less, relevant: My argument is that Tagore's educational ideals deserve a similar reassessment in India.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
Meritocracy is a convenient lie, as Socrates foretold, and it is the ballast of the social system we have built. The story goes like this. Once upon a time, we had kings and queens and their families and nobles, who got the best meat and the best mate, and everyone lived happily. But then the things fell apart as luxury corrupted the nobles and feebled the spirits of their offsprings - and the peasants and the artisans came claiming their fair share. So we had the age of revolutions in Europe and North America, when we created a new, fairer social system, under a 'natural aristocracy of men', where destiny was no longer shaped by birth but by intelligence and hard work, and anyone could make it in life. And, everyone again lived happily ever after. Of course, this did not really happen. Slavery persisted, at least for a long time. The 'fair' system mostly excluded the real peasants and workers and once they have done their duty dying for various revolutions, they were s
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.