ABC’S of Indian National Education is a recently published book by Dr. Beloo Mehra. Here is an author interview about this interesting piece of work that compels us to re-think about our educational philosophy.
Tell us something about yourself?
First of all, thanks for the warm welcome. And thank you for giving me this opportunity to share with your readers a bit about my book on Indian National Education.
I am an educator, with many years of teaching and research experience in social sciences, in India as well as in the US. After living, studying and working in the US for about 15 years, I moved to India seven years ago. I enjoy a slow pace of life in Pondicherry and teach part-time as an online faculty at an American university, and devote rest of my time to studying the works of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo, writing, reading, gardening and just being.
We can’t wait to know about your newly published book “ABC’s of Indian National Education”, please share a brief about it!
My book, ABC’s of Indian National Education makes an argument that the key philosophy that should guide Indian education must be rooted in the eternal Indian wisdom. And it starts with the purpose of education. What, according to Indian wisdom traditions, is the real aim of education? But before we can answer this question, we must ask – what, according to the Indian view, is a human being, an individual? And what, according to this view, is the aim of human life? Is our education based on this Indian understanding of an individual, aim of individual life?
This book compels us to rethink our educational philosophy and practice in a more India-centric manner. Let me clarify. By India-centric I do not mean that our education should only be about India, in a narrow and parochial way. That would never do. That is in fact not at all the Indian spirit. Indian spirit has always been accepting noble and high ideas from everywhere, it has also been about recognizing that Truth expresses itself in many different ways and that none of these ways ever speak of the complete, absolute Truth. So in a way, Indian spirit encourages a very wide, and highly inclusive approach to learning and at the same time doesn’t shy away from focusing on the most direct truths that make our immediate reality.
What inspired you to write this book?
My entire professional experience has been in the field of education, in India as well as in the US. But being an Indian, naturally I have been more interested in learning about some of the challenges we face in our education system. More importantly though, as someone who for the last several years has been studying some of the works of Sri Aurobindo on Indian culture, social philosophy and Education I was beginning to see some connections between some of the fundamental flaws in our educational approach and the larger sense of cultural uprooted-ness we see among a very large section of educated Indians, especially the modern well-schooled youth. It is as if there is an apathy or some type of an inability to connect with India on a deeper level. What could be some of the reasons behind this uprooted-ness? And how can they be addressed?
The idea for this book was, in a way, conceived last April, during a month-long writing challenge for which I took up the vast topic of Indian Education, but focusing mostly on two key questions – why is Indian education not really India-centric? And how can we make Indian Education more Indian in spirit? This became the guiding light for all the writing I did during that month.
As I kept writing for the challenge, I was getting more and more convinced that it was time to think beyond my little blog and bring out some of these ideas in the mainstream discourse on Indian Education. That’s how the idea for a book was born.
What do you think is the biggest problem/flaw in the Indian Education System today?
There are many serious concerns and problems in our present education system, and most of them are in some way inter-connected. But if I were to pick one of the most serious flaws or problems it would have to be something really fundamental, perhaps the basis or cause for many other problems we see at present. It is this – our present approach to education is largely based on an industrial-rational-materialistic view of individual, life, and society. Because of this guiding view, education has ended up only as a means for social success, a doorway to socio-economic upward mobility and a key to enter the hallowed chambers of ‘economic elite’ in the society.
While no one can deny that a good education should help prepare learners for a meaningful vocation in life, but to see education as only that and nothing more than that poses a huge problem. My book compels us to move away from this view and ground our educational approach in a more humane, holistic, Indian spiritual view which looks at individual first and foremost as a soul that is en-wrapped in physical, emotional and mental sheaths.
So, What according to you are some of the practical ways to bring change? (for the system and for the parents)
This is a tough one. As I said there are many problems but in one way or another most of them stem from the fundamentally misguided view of what education should be about, and what the purpose of individual life should be about. I am not really in favour of quick-fixes because I don’t believe they really work in the long run unless the fundamental guiding view of education is changed.
But this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do anything. There are many things that can be done to improve things. In my book I offer some specific suggestions on how to make Indian education more India-centric in a deeper sense. For example, I speak of the need for a greater decentralization in educational planning and policy making, greater emphasis on arts education, reducing the class size, increased opportunities for meaningful collaborative learning, moving away from ideological and politics-driven wars on Indian cultural and social history and instead providing the learners with study materials and learning opportunities that are not one-sided or narrow in approach, incorporating introspection, meditation and other contemplative practices as part of the overall learning experience in classroom, encouraging learners to spend time in nature through regular school activities such as gardening, nature walks, etc, promoting inter-disciplinary and project-based learning, and many other things.
What are your thoughts on making spirituality a mandatory subject to be taught in schools?
I am not in favor of introducing Spirituality as a separate subject – mandatory or optional – in school or college level of education. That will never work, and not just because there can be no unanimous understanding of what spirituality really means. There is always a very real danger of reducing spiritual education to book-based religious or moral education, which will be a regressive movement. Spirituality is not something that can be taught as such, it is fundamentally an approach to life, a vision for what it means to be an individual and the aim of individual life, as lived in the society and as lived within.
Let me clarify a bit more. I would rather see our education being wholly guided by a spiritual view of the aim of human life and the role of education in helping the individual prepare himself/herself for that aim of life. In my book, particularly in chapters VII, XI, XXII and XXIII, I have dealt with this issue in rather detail. Let me share just a few key ideas from there.
First of all,our education must be grounded in the true Indian understanding of life-affirming spirituality. Spirituality that motivates growing minds and hearts to experience all the joys of life and living and to expand and deepen their seeking for truth through all that life has to offer; spirituality that takes up all the intellectual, creative, emotional energies and colors them in its own truth.
A truly India-centric education will be based on the spiritual view that proper and gradual development of all parts of an individual is essential not as an end in itself but as a means to grow in one’s soul, because the soul manifests and expresses itself through its outer instruments of mind, heart, and body. Everything else begins to take on a different and deeper meaning when this fundamental view becomes the basis for all our work in the field of education.
Would you like to share some of your epiphanies under the guiding light of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother? (any three)
This is a very difficult question! But I thank you for making it easier by asking me to list any three. So I will do that.
I don’t and will never claim to know much of the infinitely wide, deep and high philosophy and wisdom of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. I have merely tasted a few drops of the vast ocean of their highly profound Vision so far, but that has been enough to convince me that each drop carries an endless ocean within itself.So based on my admittedly limited understanding, I would say that the three most practical life-lessons I am trying to learn and re-learn and practice, to whatever little extent that is possible given my myriad imperfections of mind, heart, will and effort, are:
- The life that we live inside of us is just as real or perhaps more real than the life we live outside.
- Don’t look for the work that you know will make you happy, but try to find happiness, meaning and contentment in all the work that comes to you.
- Don’t look for the reason behind everything that happens to you in life, you can never really know it all with your mind.
The book comes with 26 themes, which one is your favorite?
Aah, another difficult question. And very interesting too. As an author, every chapter of the book is my favorite. In a broader sense each theme is connected with every other theme in the book, though for the purpose of organization, each theme is presented as a separate chapter. But if I were to pick any one as my favourite, I would say that it has to be the last chapter, Z: Zero and Infinity. This chapter, or the theme of “Zero and Infinity” allowed me to bring together many of the points raised in the previous chapters and re-present them in a more integrated was as part of a whole. Let me share the following excerpt from this chapter to give your readers a sense of what I mean:
“When the only message given to the young minds is that all pragmatic and scientific knowledge needed for practical life and living came from and comes from outside India, and that India only gave them some (or many) gods and goddesses, mythologies, rituals, and other such things we are not only not giving a complete picture to the learners. We are doing something even worse. We are creating a division in these young minds — not only about India and the West, but also about what is sacred and what is secular, what is mythological and what is historical, what is otherworldly and irrelevant and what is practical and relevant. And we all know what serious problems can arise out of such mental divisions, such rigid categorizations, such constructed oppositions. An objective look at the present socio-political-cultural-intellectual discourse in India (and perhaps in rest of the world too) will convince us of how disruptive and regressive such a dichotomous and polarizing thought-process can be. Young minds should be given a more accurate picture of how not only all knowledge is One Knowledge but also that each culture, each civilization has in its own way, through its own unique ways of knowing contributed to that One Super-Ocean of Knowledge.”
Intention of this book in one sentence –
ABC’s of Indian National Education compels us to think deeply about some of the guiding principles of our educational thought and practice, as well as about the role of education in inculcating and promoting a deep awareness of our national spirit, a widely-inclusive and well-informed love for the country, and a keen understanding of the work each one of us must do in order to live by the deepest truth of our national spirit.
Who are your readers and what can they expect from this work?
My book is meant for general audiences and is written in a reader-friendly voice. It presents some rigorous and intellectual thought in an easy-to-follow manner. I would like it to be read by all those who are interested in the future of our country and future of our education – parents, teachers, high school and college students, policymakers, administrators, educational thinkers, ordinary citizens.
In terms of what readers can expect from this book, I would say that they should be ready to reflect on two key questions – what, according to the Indian cultural view, should be the true purpose of education, and is our present education helping us work toward realizing its true purpose.
ABC’s of Indian National Education is currently available at Amazon at: http://www.amazon.in/Indian-National-Education-Beloo-Mehra/dp/8187471948
You can connect with Dr Beloo here!
Do share your thoughts in the comments below!!