The education philosophy of Tagore has received acceptance from the modern-day education policymakers
Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore remains a highly respected intellectual stalwart to most of the Indians who know him as the author of the National Anthem and the recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature in the year 1913 for his renowned collection of poems Geetanjali. The inherent sense of respect stands enhanced when one is informed that he is also the author of the National anthem of Bangladesh. Not only this, the National anthem of Sri Lanka was authored by Ananda Samarakoon while he was a disciple of the Shanti Niketan.
There are clear indications of Tagore’s influence on its words, music and thought. Tagore got his Nobel Prize for literature, but his contributions to music, painting, education, social reforms, and freedom struggle, are also of the highest level. He was the visionary who knew at the very beginning of the 20th century that man’s relationship with nature is going to get seriously imbalanced with the growth of industrialization. Modernization would lead to militarism, and that would push humankind into wars and violence. Violence would be all around, and heartless conflicts would spread across national boundaries. Indications of such a situation developing were already available from the years of WWI. All this attracted the serious attention of humankind only after WWII, but it is evident to everyone that it has been inadequate and disproportionate.
The more one dwells on ideas, vision and philosophy of Tagore, the more one gets convinced of how deeply he had pondered over the elements of outer life and inner life; the spiritual aspects. These get manifested in his writings on education, poems and songs, paintings, and in that great institutional creation, the Shanti Niketan. He was really worried and anxious about the growing materialism in the West, which he found ‘leaning towards the path of destruction’. It’s now very well realized that he was prophetic in this context, as humanity today is struggling with issues of pollution, potable water crises, melting glaciers, deforestation, dying rivers, and much more. Tagore was convinced that only thinking minds; free minds, and creative minds could recreate the symphony between man and nature, the only Mantra for the survival of humanity on the planet Earth. Devi Prasad, a former student of Shanti Niketan, writes: “
The aim of the educational philosophy of Rabindranath was to maintain harmony with a social and natural atmosphere so that everybody would be able to develop all creative capabilities from the very beginning of his or her life. His plan was to make education a means by which the child’s mind and body should be able to keep in harmony with the rhythm of nature.” He illustrated to anyone interested the difference between the growth and development of children sitting in a room confined to their chair and desk for hours together, to those in the open air environment, running around the trees, plants, bushes, birds and friendly animals! Here they experience the joy of childhood, the happiness of existence, when all this they learn on their own. Keeping them away from nature snatches away the vital of learning from nature and developing an empathetic cord of empathy with nature. It eventually contributes to an increase of distrust, greed, avoidable and unnecessary accumulation and non-comprehension of man’s responsibility toward nature.
The solution lies in the growth and development of every child in natural conditions without imposing unnecessary restrictions. Children are happiest when they are permitted to be free from nature. In short, individuality has to be given due consideration and respect. If the traditional relationship with nature had been preserved, man would not be facing problems with the environment and nature that presently appear insurmountable. It is well-known that Tagore considered modern-day schools like a cage; or even a prison-house, and the confinement of children there as organized torture! To Tagore, the obligation of the parental generation was to give them happiness. According to him freedom and joy were the sine qua non of education, and these were also the motto of his school.
Swami Vivekananda taught us that “education is a manifestation of perfection already in man’. And we all know who the ‘Perfect One’ is! There is no bar on human beings making comprehensive efforts to reach that stage! In the Asramer siksa, Tagore mentions: “As God himself finds his own freedom in his own creation and then his nature is fulfilled, human beings, have to create their own world and then they can have their freedom.” Thus, curiosity, imagination, ideas and creativity are indeed blessings of the divine that every human being born on earth receives in abundance without any discrimination of any sort. These must be scrupulously and dexterously encouraged to flourish, without impediments.
The modern education system does just the opposite! The unobstructed expression could be the first essentiality towards the flowering of the creative spirit. It could revolutionise intellectual effort and constructive activities, as well as arts, aesthetics and literature. If one recalls the ancient Gurukula system, it would clearly emerge that the man-nature relationship was given its due. An over-alert and happily living community is invariably acknowledged for its original products of intellect and also its outputs in creative sectors of human activity.
At this point, one could recall what Einstein had said: “A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life is based on the labours of other men, living and dead and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.” And we all are aware that our very existence on this planet hinges on the sensitive cord that eternally binds humankind to nature, and our own tradition and practice of knowledge quest, both in the outer world and inner self. Education systems the world over must remember, both at the policy formulation stage as also during the implementation, that “education divorced from nature has brought untold harm to young children.” It has, consequently, brought/harm to humanity.
Acceptance of the education philosophy of Tagore has received acceptance from modern-day education policymakers. One could particularly point out Tagore’s passionate support for the mother tongue as a medium of instruction in education. He was vehemently opposed to the then-prevalent system of education that made learning English compulsory from day one of schooling and the medium of instruction from high school to university education. It separated a vast majority of people from the privileged elite that could afford to get an education in English and English mediums in India or from abroad. Learning English has been the prime factor of high dropout rate in schools and is uniformly responsible for creating considerable demoralization amongst those considered weak in English, even at the present stage. Learning English or through the English medium made the school environment completely alien to a great majority of children. If quality has become a major concern in the Indian education system today, one must seriously examine the contribution of the increasing fascination amongst parents who could afford admissions of their wards in high-fee charging private schools; euphemistically called public schools. In Tagore’s approach harmony between the home environment and the learning environment gets high priority. He pleads for freedom, but not at the cost of discipline and formation of character and inculcation of values. That unfortunately is becoming more and more elusive in the ever-expanding phenomenon of urbanization.
There is so much that those entrusted with the implementation of the new education policy could learn from the philosophy of Gurudev. One would be cautious in mentioning that the Vishwa Bharati stands as evidence of his ideas, imagination and vision transformed into a living reality. Let us hope it regains its credibility once again, and that would please everyone who respects Gurudev.
(Professor Rajput works in education, social cohesion and religious amity.)