Emerging Concerns and Procedures
Related to Education of Values
The Vision of Sri Aurobindo
Sri Aurobindo Ashram
India is passing through a significant time. We see experimentation with old and new values, redefinition of belief systems, a massive upsurge of progressive and conservative forces. Each of these movements seems based on an attempt to redefine and align to a truth, a search for an identity. Apart from a slow but steady progress, this often leads to rather unpleasant, if not heartbreaking clashes, with all the suffering inherent in such conflicts.
Yet, after ages of colonial oppression, it seems a necessary process for arriving at an individual and national identity forged in the crucible of present day life. In a country with a composite culture like India, this search in itself is already a very complicated endeavour, but the difficulty of this process is augmented by the forces of globalisation that cannot be ignored in the 21st century, and have to be addressed by each country in its own way. It is in this complex world that students have to grow up and find each their own way of life.
It is well known and accepted that education plays a significant role in the building of the individual and the nation. While the idea is gaining ground that schooling in India has to undergo a change, because education is still too much under influence of the Macaulayan model, efforts in innovation are stifled for various reasons. Among these are heavy and tardy administrative procedures impeding progress; various new forces vying for hegemony while seeking to establish their identity; and established forces not yet wanting to let go of their position and thus resisting change.
Especially during the last few years we have seen extensive debates that have once more revealed India’s composite culture. To abstain from endeavouring to change education because of these ongoing debates is to miss an opportunity in serving the nation. Pluriformity, but also tolerance have been the hallmark of the Indian psyche. We must ask ourselves if it is not possible to look for an educational methodology that goes beyond the domination and hegemony of one section of society over the other.
To improve its credibility and strength, Indian education must try to give expression to the essence of the Indian psyche, and base itself on the foundations of the Indian society that originate from a depth beyond religious dogma and hegemony. The composite culture of India could emerge and flourish because of an all-pervasive tolerance that sprang forth from a magnificent philosophy founded on a profound knowledge of underlying oneness. India’s philosophical foundation is based on the deep inner knowledge that a single underlying Truth manifests itself in various ways and in different forms on multiple levels, each level having its own truth. The belief at the roots of the Indian culture is that each human being can experience this Truth, totally or partly, and that each individual has the ability as well as the freedom to express this in a great variety of forms, according to his disposition, capacities and qualities.
This implies that for each individual there are various points of reference in his or her experience of the universe. The deepest inmost quality of a human being is a part and an expression of the Supreme consciousness; the inner and outer qualities and capacities of the human personality are some of the myriad forms in which this supreme consciousness expresses itself here on earth. The different religions emphasize each an important aspect of that Oneness. In India the richness of this individual and collective tapestry was seen as one more testimony of the greatness of the omnipresent Supreme. This provided for a high tolerance towards a pluralistic society, and it generated a culture known and lauded for its opulence by each and every foreign traveler and dignitary who visited this vast land during its long history. [i]
Sri Aurobindo and the Evolution of Consciousness
Sri Aurobindo has given us a magnificent vision of the future. He said that man is an evolutionary being and that our human life is part of an ongoing evolution of consciousness, which will ultimately lead humankind to a consciousness that is completely aligned with the Supreme. In proportion to the degree of our alignment, the inherent perfection and harmony of this Supreme consciousness will expresses itself, partly or completely, in and through our nature. For this reason he called man ‘a transitional being’. We humans tend to forget that it is possible to grow into another consciousness because we still live mainly in what he calls our ‘surface nature’, but it is given to humankind to make a conscious effort to co-operate with the ongoing process of this evolution of consciousness. In one of his essays that is part of a series devoted to A Defence of Indian Culture , he describes our present predicament as follows:
Our life moves between two worlds, the depth upon depth of our inward being and
the surface field of our outward nature.
Sri Aurobindo, 1997, p.196
According to Sri Aurobindo one of the reasons that we live mostly an outward existence and forget to concentrate on our innermost being, is that for thousands of years it was necessary for the evolution of humankind to concentrate on sharpening, subtilizing and increasing the complexity of our human capacities. Thus have we witnessed a manifold development of our physical and mental capacities and great achievements in many spheres of live. Yet, when we watch the news on television or read the newspaper, we get the impression that real happiness seems to elude humanity. It appears that we do not have the consciousness to handle harmoniously the enormous powers we have unleashed with our mind. We could ask ourselves if we really make enough effort to find the right way to solve the small-scale and large scale clashes humanity is going through. We could say that we are in the midst of an evolutionary crisis. Something has gone out of balance, but not yet out of control. Are we able to restore the balance at a higher level?
In the last chapter of his magnum opus The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo writes:
At present mankind is undergoing an evolutionary crisis in which is concealed a choice of its destiny; for a stage has been reached in which the human mind has achieved in certain directions an enormous development while in others it stands arrested and bewildered and can no longer find its way…. Man has created a system of civilisation which has become too big for his limited mental capacity and understanding and his still more limited spiritual and moral capacity to utilise and manage… Sri Aurobindo, 1988, p.1053
According to Sri Aurobindo,
The evolution of Mind working upon Life has developed an organisation of the activity of Mind and use of Matter which can no longer be supported by human capacity without an inner change.
The truths we have found and lived so far are not enough to handle the tremendous powers we have unleashed. The question arises if education can help in bringing about the needed inner change. If we listen to Sri Aurobindo, one of the ways to utilize the present impasse is to develop our ‘limited spiritual and moral capacity’ considerably and strive for greater fulfillment through growth in consciousness. To say it in Sri Aurobindo’s own words:
The difficulties or disorders engendered by the growth of the individual mind and life cannot be healthily removed by the suppression of the individual; the true cure can only be achieved by his progression to a greater consciousness in which he is fulfilled and perfected.
Sri Aurobindo’s answer for a more harmonious world is not through a stricter control, which would diminish and stifle human progress, but through discovery and development of more or less dormant powers of harmony inherent in each human being. [ii]
He, and his spiritual collaborator The Mother, are convinced that education can play an important role in the development of the individual and the blossoming of the nation. For a better insight into the direction in which education could move, it may be helpful to have some understanding of the marvelous complexity of a human being, as seen by Sri Aurobindo. Here is a ‘map’ based on his perception of the human personality.
A horizontal map of our being
|outer or surface being||inner being||true being||inmost being or central being|
Instrument for interacting with world
Under influence from true being as well as outer being.
Directly open to knowledge from above.
Psychic being goes through birth and death;
within one life;
evolves from spark to full being.
undergoes atavistic influence.
| || |
Atman is eternal, presides without getting involved
(In this map the vital comes closest to the affective domain, the mental correlates with the cognitive domain)
Each human being is endowed with these different levels and forms of consciousness. Many people leave parts of this map unexplored and do not live their full potential. During the day we shift our centre of identification very often, from our surface nature to the inner nature and back, over and over again. For example, when we see a small child running after a butterfly we are in contact with our inner or perhaps our innermost being; the next moment we remember that yesterday our boss rebuked us for a lapse in our work and before we are aware of it, we have shifted to our surface vital with the mind worrying or defending our behaviour. According to Sri Aurobindo it is the task of education to help students to become aware of as broad a range as possible in each of the domains (see map) and to help them to develop their potential based on their ‘swadharma’. In this way they become self-aware and self-reliant young people.
At present our educational system is mainly concerned with the development of a small part of the mind.
Actually, it is hardly concerned with developmentof mental powers, like developing the power of concentration; thought-control, thinking at will; openness to intuition, etc. When one asks teachers what they really see as their task, the common answer is ‘to transfer subject information and examination skills in such a way that a maximum number of students obtains maximum marks’. In our present educational system understanding of the subject is subordinate to the chase for high marks. Development of the human instrument, i.e. mental, vital and physical and spiritual capacities and qualities, is hardly in question and made subordinate to examination content and high percentages. This race for marks harms and narrows the human motivation. Ideally a student should decide his aim in life on the basis of a broad combination of materialistic, moral, ethical, religious and/or spiritual values, and the qualities and capacities he has discovered in himself. It is the task of education to encourage each student to find his or her own progressive balance in the development and expression of his innermost, inner and outer nature, and to become aware of the various forces that act upon him, and help a student to make conscious choices.
One of the factors explaining the lack of motivation in students, of which teachers so often complain, may be that in our present educational system students can construe a self-image only with reference to their success in the material and external world. Education has to a large extent been turned into a race for the highest marks leading to the highest salary in the job market. This system inherently, gives importance and satisfaction only to a few students, and does not allow other precious aspects of human nature to be developed inside the classroom. Yet many children know from within that they have other qualities that matter, and that the quality of life is not just dependent on the amount of money one can spend. Unfortunately, our educational system hardly pays attention to questions that arise from the inner world of the students. In the present system a student can derive a positive identity mainly from the height of the marks obtained, and that too mainly through a process of rote learning. This situation is for many students threatening and not life affirming. It results in an inconceivable ruin of the cognitive, affective, conative and spiritual potential of our youth, which is a serious loss for the nation. Needless to say that for want of a real solution, many students push the feeling of hollowness to the background by seeking outer gratification in increasing consumerism or give vent to their disquiet through belligerent behaviour.
How wonderful it would be if education could help most, if not all, students to find meaning in life based on a deep inner truth. At the same time education should provide students with classroom situations that foster unfolding and optimum development of their capacities and skills in service of their inner and innermost self. An integration of both these requirements will prepare students well for entry into the society. The next step in the educational process for each student would be to find out, as a future contributing member of the society, through what kind of job his or her capacities and qualities, combined with self-discovered values, would be expressed best. Such an educational approach would encourage young adults to strive for an ideal from an inner motivation and strength, looking upon their job as a means for self-expression. What a difference it would make to the fabric of the society, to the richness of human life, if students would give their best to life through a self-found inner motivation and continue to work progressively on their further development throughout life!
Implicit and explicit values
During the last decennia there have been repeated calls for more value-oriented education. Educators, psychologists and sociologists agree that there is a great need for this. Unfortunately, the debates and innovative efforts often have stranded on the fear of indoctrination of one group by another. Surely, values are not the same for everyone. But a major question is if in schools values have to be inculcated and, related to this, if value education always has to result in indoctrination. There is no doubt that education has often been used for indoctrination. Macaulay in his Minute on Education (1835) did not mince words that he wanted to do so. [iii] It may be good to realize that any educational model, even a so-called liberal model, does have an influence on the students because of the implicit values that are inherently present in any system. [iv]
And yet, with this fear for indoctrination, are we not still too much under the influence of the Macaulayan system? Is there another approach possible? An approach to values not based on indoctrination? An approach that would give India renewed strength and make it again into a nation with a vibrant composite culture? Indian education may become truly universal when it will be rooted again in the foundations of her own culture. One of the greatnesses of ancient India was to believe in the inner strength and uniqueness of the individual, combined with the awareness that there are various levels of human development, each with its own values and practices. For the educational process this means that through an inner effort real self-knowledge and essential world-knowledge can be obtained and that a human being can climb to greater levels of self-awareness and self-perfection. Through this dynamic interpretation of the meaning of life, action in the world was given a profound meaning and significance: life was seen as the means for a continuous process of learning and of growth towards greater perfection.
From the beginning the Indian culture realized and respected that there are graded ideals for graded levels of consciousness, each level having its own legitimacy and truthfulness. The level of self-perfection a human being wants to realize can not be enforced, for it is acknowledged that each human being is unique and must make this choice from within. It has been unfortunate for India that later this knowledge fossilized in fixed social structures, which took away part of her strength, but it may be hopeful sign that at present some of these old mould are breaking.
Sri Aurobindo recognized the deep all-containing truth of the Indian civilization and he remarked that her culture had from the beginning an unparalleled purpose:
It gave itself no name, because it set itself no sectarian limits; it claimed no universal adhesion, asserted no sole infallible dogma, set up no single narrow path or gate to salvation; it was…a continuously enlarging tradition of the Godward endeavour of the human spirit.
…a true and living education helps to bring out to full advantage, makes ready for the full purpose and scope of human life all that is in the individual man, and at the same time helps him to enter into his right relation with the life, mind and soul of the people to which he belongs and with the great total life, mind and soul of humanity of which he himself is a unit.
Sri Aurobindo, 1990, p. 13-14
The present model of education is still based on the European model that became popular during the Industrial Revolution. Its mechanical teaching-learning process was imposed on India by Macaulay. According to Sri Aurobindo the present model of teaching, founded on imposition and rote learning, is inconsistent with the aim of human existence. He says that the human being is still evolving to higher and more perfect states of consciousness, and asserts that the impulse towards self-exceeding is an innate law of the human being. [v] He calls man ‘a transitional being’ and proposes a system of learning that affirms this vision. He says that education must be based on respect for the total human being, and that it is meant to help each student individually to develop and strengthen the instruments of knowledge in the physical, affective, mental and spiritual domain. According to him teaching values is not a separate subject but entirely integrated in the educational process. The role of the teacher is to help to evoke in each child the ability to develop and perfect him/herself through self-directed learning. A young student starts with (self)-observation. This helps him to discover his capacities, qualities and weaknesses, and these become gradually transparent to him. This leads to self-awareness and, increasingly, to self-initiated learning, in which, guided by the innate urge for progress, a student augments and perfects his abilities in as many domains as he is capable of. Simultaneously, through a process of inner discipline, weaknesses are corrected or overcome. In this way education is a process of constant learning and self-perfection in which the content of the subject serves as a means through which students develop themselves.
Every one has in him something divine, something his own, a chance of perfection and strength in however small a sphere which God offers him to take or refuse. The task is to find it, develop it and use it. The chief aim of education should be to help the growing soul to draw out that in itself which is best and make it perfect for a noble use. Sri Aurobindo, 1990, p. 21
The goal of the teaching-learning process is to provide a learning environment with a broad range of levels and values, so that students can make optimum progress throughout life, deepening, widening and heightening their existence. [vi] Sri Aurobindo cherished the development of earthly life and was well aware of the enormous progress in the field of science and technology. For him this was one more reason to affirm that students must develop their mental powers to meet the new demands of a society in which technological progress asks continuously for new scientific discoveries. But he realized that that was not enough:
…the major question is not merely what science we learn, but what we shall do with our science and how too, acquiring the scientific mind and recovering the habit of scientific discovery…we shall relate it to other powers of the human mind, and [relate] scientific knowledge to other knowledge more intimate to other not less light-giving and power-giving parts of our intelligence and nature. Sri Aurobindo, 1990, p.10
Developing inner qualities will help to utilize our scientific discoveries in an ethical way. At present our one-sided scientific progress has led us close to the destruction of the ecological balance of the earth. The craving for power and wealth is apparently so strong that repeated calls for constraint by eminent and knowledgeable scientists have hardly been heeded. It may be time to realize that the Western model of education has allowed humankind to make enormous technological progress but that it has ignored the humane and spiritual aspects of education. Should the balance not be restored so that we can prevent worldwide disasters set off by indiscriminate human craving? A light on the horizon is the fact that the UNESCO realized the danger and appointed a commission to bring out a report on the educational model of the 21st century. Significantly, the title of this report is Learning: The Treasure Within . Would it be possible that India takes the lead in value-oriented education and becomes a role model for other nations?
The process of teaching
Sri Aurobindo’s process of teaching is based on trust in the innate will for progress present in each human being. We can observe this stupendous will for self-development in small children; they are exploring their environment, discovering and training their mind, their emotions and their body all the time. Each day is a learning adventure. If we understand this, and base our educational process on the psychology of the complete human being, the continuous self-directed learning of a small child need not stop when he/she goes to school. On this basis Sri Aurobindo formulated the essence of the teaching-learning process as follows:
The first principle of true teaching is that nothing can be taught. The teacher is not an instructor or taskmaster, he is a helper and a guide. His business is to suggest and not to impose. He does not actually train the pupil’s mind, he only shows him how to perfect his instruments of knowledge and helps and encourages him in the process. He does not impart knowledge to him, he shows him how to acquire knowledge for himself. He does not call forth the knowledge that is within; he only shows him where it lies and how it can be habituated to rise to the surface. This distinction that reserves this principle for the teaching of adolescent and adult minds and denies its application to the child, is a conservative and unintelligent doctrine. Sri Aurobindo, 1990, p.20 [vii]
Implementation, can it be done?
The truth is in us, we have only to become aware of it.
Universal education is a high priority for India, but at the same time innovations for raising the quality of Indian education must be undertaken on a small scale. Such pilot projects need not be limited to the happy few, but they do need the intensity of a small-scale start in order to allow in depth quality work. It would be ideal if they could be undertaken in a rural area, in a town and in one of the metros, in order to develop structures fit for nationwide dissemination. A significant feature of the projects pertaining to this innovation would be that the process of change would not be imposed and put on as an outer construction. Such an approach is not in harmony with the underlying philosophy and would defeat its very aim. This kind of innovation must start from and be built up by the people involved, and participation should be on the basis of an inner motivation, an inner urge for implementation of value-oriented education. Though the educational philosophy is based on universal principles that can be applied anywhere, it is important that the new-found procedures in the teaching-learning process are prepared and owned by the participants, and emerge out of a combination of the specific environment in which the school is located and the people involved. In this way the procedures themselves function as a support in the process of change. This requires also a change in attitude of the policy makers who usually direct implementation of a ‘readymade’ system. Imposition would introduce a dissonant right from the start. Fortunately, there seems already to be a change in the air in the right direction. When we read recent policy papers we find phrases like ‘empowering teachers for curriculum development’; ‘need for a coordinated decentralization of the process of curriculum development’; ‘capacity building of teachers’, etc.
The ideal competency of a teacher is to be able to plan for personalized inputs for individual children, related to their academic proficiency as well as the development of their consciousness. At the same time the teacher must be able to provide a joyful, open and dynamic learning environment in the classroom, in which the students feel encouraged to participate fully, sometimes on their own, sometimes in a group. Group dynamics in the classroom provide many opportunities for growing into a more beautiful person. Knowing that imposition does not have lasting effects, she refrains from passing judgments to the students about their behaviour; instead she encourages them to find their answers from within.
We come to the conclusion that at present ecological, economical, social, psychological and religious issues all point to the fact that a major value oriented change is needed in the educational process. A broad description for the direction of the change would be: to help each individual with the discovery of his inmost, inner and outer qualities and capacities; and to guide each student to the maximum unfolding and expression of these in daily life. A student should reach as all sided a perfection as possible, going from one level of perfection to another, in the idea that what is perfect today may not be perfect tomorrow. This learning process would be based on self-observation and self-awareness on the part of the student on as many levels as possible, leading increasingly to self-directed learning. To bring this about, the classroom environment has to change and provide an open, positive atmosphere based on trust. Learning should not only be related to the powers of the mind, but should extend itself to observation of interactions with fellow students and teachers for harmonious social development. This educational structure is life- affirming and non-sectarian, because the process of learning is based on self-awareness. It aims at an education that guides each student to lead a fulfilled life in an uncertain world by building up an identity based on a physical, affective, cognitive and spiritual development arising from the student’s own potential. Each student is to find his or her own progressive balance between the development of his or her innermost, inner and outer nature; a personal balance between the development and expression of one’s Self and one’s nature in one’s journey through life.
Innovation in teacher education
A very positive turn of events regarding implementation of value-oriented education would be to make changes in the teaching-learning process of teacher training and in-service training of teachers. At present B.Ed. and other teacher education courses are striving to make teachers function as instructors and taskmasters, whereas in value-oriented education the role of a teacher is to be a helper and a guide. This requires quite a radical change in the attitude of the teacher, and consequently teacher education institutes would have to make changes in the content of their courses, their teaching-learning process and their evaluation procedures so as to provide a role model for the teachers-to-be. The teacher educators themselves would have to be encouraged to re-orient themselves through a series of seminars and workshops on principles and application of value-oriented education.
One of the new components in the courses of the teacher training institutes would be extensive self-observation and self-reflection for student-teachers, so that they become familiar with their own inner worlds, their qualities, capacities and weaknesses. To the extent that a student-teacher tries to probe her own depth, she will, when later in her classroom, be able to be a role model for the students and help her students to make inner discoveries.
Another issue that would have to be focused on, is the content of the teacher training courses (or should we call them teacher development courses). They need to go through a substantial revision; the emphasis will have to be on development, motivation, the process of learning and its stages, multiple intelligence, etc. New skills will have to be acquired: the challenge of individualized learning in a class with 40 students. Here we do not just mean to learn how to give students individual attention, but to learn to foster truly individualized learning, through a minimum common syllabus, which is so small that during school hours a (student)teacher will make his or her own choice about the content that s/he wants to study and decides how deep or how wide s/he wants to delve into the chosen topic. Teachers need to be empowered for planning, etc. Regarding the process of teaching, the shift will be from teaching to learning. Individual differences in students will have to be accommodated to ensure optimum development. The degree of self-directed learning may differ from one student to the other, but is to be encouraged constantly. Similarly the process of assessment has to undergo changes so that it becomes diagnostic, fosters self-insight, gives positive feedback for self-improvement, is non-judgmental, etc.
Research and Monitoring
To ensure the quality asked for, the pilot projects of this innovation(in schools and teacher training institutes) need the continuous support of a dedicated team of researchers. It is self-evident that the philosophical background has also to be reflected in the research procedures. The guidance of the researchers should be inspiring and supportive. The aim is not to control, but to encourage; to develop together new structures and give space for experiments; to give positive feed back; to research the outcome and give recommendations and guidance for implementation on a larger scale.
Development is through purposeful activity, writes Dr. Abdul Kalam in his book Ignited Minds. In the same book he suggests that projects that go across more than one organization and require ‘multi-institutional’ planning may be taken up in what he calls ‘a mission mode’, so that they do not strand in compartmentalized thinking. It would be wonderful if the authorities concerned would give a group of dedicated people from several departments, institutes and schools an opportunity to research, monitor and implement a pilot project in value-oriented education.
The world urgently needs value-oriented education. The foundations of Indian culture and the Indian psyche are such that India could take the lead in developing this new educational model. Sri Aurobindo has given us a developmental model of education with basic principles that can be universally applied. He proposes a new approach to education, based on self-awareness and self-development of students and teachers.
The core of a new Indian education would be to foster the excellence that is needed to cope with life in all its vicissitudes based on the excellence that is deep within each human being, strengthened by a well developed mental, vital, and physical instrument that can apply itself in any new situation.
Abdul Kalam, A.P.J. (2002). Ignited Minds. New Delhi: Penguin Books India
Edwards, M. (1967). British India 1772-1947. New Delhi: Rupa Press
Holt, J. (1983). How Children learn. Penguin Books
Huppes, N. (2001). Psychic Education, a Workbook. New Delhi: SAES
Joshi, K. (1994). The Veda and Indian Culture. Ujjain: MSRVVP
Krishnamurti, J. (1981). Education and the Significance of Life. San Francisco: Harper and Row
Pavitra (Saint-Hillaire, P.B.). (1976). Education and the Aim of Human Life. Pondicherry: SAICE
Sri Aurobindo (1922/1976). Essays on the Gita. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram
—(1948/1973). The Synthesis of Yoga . Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram
—(1940/1988). The Life Divine . Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram
—(1971/1992). The Upanishads. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram
—(1997). Essays Divine and Human. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust
—(1997). The Renaissance in India. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust
—Sri Aurobindo and the Mother (1956/1990). Sri Aurobindo and The Mother on Education. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust
—(1992). A New Education for a New Consciousness. Pondicherry: SAICE