Infrastructure

How Vedic And Conventional Education Systems Can Be Combined To Achieve A ‘National’ Character

Students at a school.
Snapshot
  • With work on developing Bharatiya Shiksha Board gathering pace, it can be hoped that India lends a ‘national’ character to its education system in terms of content as well as reach and applicability.

The country’s first recognised board for vedic education – the Bharatiya Shiksha Board (BSB) – moved a step closer to becoming a reality this week with a selection committee accepting proposals of private players for its establishment.

One party almost certainly has the winning bid to develop the board. Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali Yogpeeth Trust may well be the organisation helming this – if it is the final choice of the governing council. Developing the board would involve providing money, as also infrastructure facilities for the headquarters.

Reportedly, the BSB will ensure standardisation of Indian traditional knowledge – vedic education, Sanskrit education, shastras, etc – and it will also draft syllabus, conduct exams, issue certificates and recognise gurukulas and schools that offer a blend of vedic and modern education. Just like the Central Board of Secondary Education, the BSB will charge the schools an affiliation fee and examination fee.

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This is a step in the right direction as the traditional school set-ups will now get quality standards that they need to adhere to, both in vedic as well as modern education – which once done, will improve their credibility and worth.

However, there is a need to look at a Bharatiya Shiksha Board in a wider perspective. One that can fulfil Sri Aurobindo’s dream of a “national education”, which the philosopher thought “is next to Self-government, and along with it, the deepest need of the country.”

The need for Indians to understand, respect and practise their culture has been acknowledged not just by our freedom fighters then, but by an increasing number of intellectuals now, apart from citizens, even millennials. Hence, the increasing emphasis on a system that “blends Indic knowledge and traditions with Western education, which would benefit Indians”.

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News website Wire.in, for instance, in an article that was otherwise skeptical regarding the idea of a vedic board, still did acknowledge that “In the last decade or so, genetic, archaeological and anthropological studies have been showing that India is one of very few countries whose modern peoples are almost directly descended from their ancient counterparts. So when Indian schools teach our students about our biological history, the evolution of our cultures and our various sources of knowledge over many millennia, we as a people have a lot to gain.”

So, when we talk of a new board that aims to blend modern and vedic knowledge, it should actually go beyond gurukulas and paathshalas.

Four years ago, Baba Ramdev had proposed a similar education board, with the final aim of setting up 600-700 schools across the country that would make the education system Indian, with students graduating “behaving as rishis” – as reported by India Today.

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Baba Ramdev is already running a school in Haridwar on these lines – Acharyakulam, a residential school – which offers education on subjects like the vedas and Upanishads and lays emphasis on values, yoga etc, apart from regular subjects like English, science, etc.

We also know that many educational institutions, including the IITs, have been imparting bits of training ancient Indian knowledge – as courses or as workshops. So, the need is undisputed.

Now, to devise a working proposal to this end. While Indian traditional knowledge and cultural base is important, so is a worldwide view, with proficiency in subjects that form the current knowledge base and discourse. Given global settings, the need of the hour is to develop our children as world-class citizens.

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Education must serve the purposes of helping citizens find careers and also create a mindset that wants to help society and the nation. It needs to build character and inner strength. In addition, education of any country should be such that it arms children with adequate knowledge about various facets of their own culture.

The Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD) may want to further fine-tune its exact requirements to this end. Whereas the vedic board or BSB is a step towards the standardisation for Indian traditional knowledge, we need to go beyond just learning the vedas.

A ‘board’ or rather an entire education programme is the need of the hour – one that will help not just educational outcomes, but also build character and resilience. Good quality education, with wholesome education for the head, heart and body, should be available to everyone – it should be every child’s birthright.

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In setting up such schools, it may be remembered that the existing traditional-modern-blend systems may not fit the bill, being perceived as inherently exclusive. Acharyakulam, for instance, charges Rs 2 lakh per child per annum – so affordability is already an issue. The RSS schools would be considered exclusive for other obvious reasons.

Further, the quality of education will matter: unless convinced of the infallibility of the high standard of the curriculum – one that will fetch them employment – students and their parents may not end up opting for these.

So, what is the way to create a good national education system, one that convinces people?

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Recent news reports mentioned that the MHRD was looking to revive a proposal to allow international institutes to set up campuses in India, so that Indian students get the best educational facilities within the country. Or, the recent pact between AIIMS and a London-based institution for research collaboration.

While these initiatives are aimed at business and higher education, can’t we also think of similar collaborative ventures for primary and secondary education?

A Hong Kong-based school chain bought over all five branches of a popular international school in Hyderabad called Oakridge. Nord Anglia, the buyer company, already has over 60,000 students in schools across Asia, Europe, US and the Middle East.

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All these developments open up several possibilities. Without doubt, such schools bring with them the best in Western discipline and professionalism, which we could gain from. So, parents would be keen that their children get this kind of exposure.

Yet, admittedly, these would be expensive. What if the government were to partly fund every child’s education?

Could we then have a chain of such `joint-venture’ schools in every city in each state?

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A Carefully-Devised Course Content

Courses in maths, science and social sciences and other latest developments on the one hand, and standardised education in curated Indian knowledge and traditions on the other.

The Indian course content would need to be devised carefully, so that the child learns about the culture and its merits; patriotism would then flow automatically.

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Learning in the mother tongue could be made compulsory and that would include nursery rhymes in the lower grades, to literature in the higher grades.

Sanskrit and English proficiency would begin from the primary school years.

Learning the vedas need not be an end in itself. Rather, knowledge from various Sanskrit texts, along with exposure to the world’s best literature and philosophy would enrich them.

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Sports, creative and fine arts, yoga, etc, and other activities would be essential, to educate the body and the senses. Incorporating all this into the curriculum would mean residential schools that allow for time spent at school.

Of course, all teachers would need to be trained appropriately – and in a standardized manner – from the best in the subject(s).

The important thing to remember here is that it will have to be an amalgamation of foreign educational institutions and exposure to Indian knowledge and texts – in the mother tongue and Sanskrit equally.

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Such a system is sure to find greater acceptability among all categories of Indians, and one that will benefit the maximum number. That may come closer to meet Sri Aurobindo’s expectations of a ‘national education’ – national, both in terms of content as also its reach and applicability.

This, any system of education that the country lends its name to, should aspire for.

Some ideas taken from “Education System in India (A Reappraisal)” by Sivananda Murty, a scholar, thinker, writer, visionary and great patriot

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