Education is key asset that could help mankind succeed in its march towards a more harmonious and integrated world order. We live in a violence-torn world and have the responsibility to ensure the generations ahead live a better, peaceful, harmonious and creative world. The preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO declares that “since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed”. That would require an attitudinal transformation of unprecedented magnitude. Education systems have the potential to substantially achieve this much sought-after objective. To move ahead in that direction, education has to consistently look within and reinvent its own content and pedagogy. Swami Vivekananda summed it all: it has to be ‘man-making education’. How it can be achieved has been articulated by Gandhi who understood India in unparalleled depth and detail: “Real education consists in drawing the best out of yourself. What better book can there be than the book of humanity?” There is no dearth of ideas, articulations and statements of conviction on what should be the shape of education and why it must reach all. The clue to the current disturbing scenario, in spite of huge rise in literacy rate, indicates the presence of serious inadequacies in the teaching-learning processes. Multi-religious societies survive on mutual trust for social cohesion and respect for otherness among religions. If these are nurtured among children in their sensitive years in schools, it would be possible to erase distrust and disrespect among communities. A nation, then, wouldn’t suffer violence triggered by small incidents and apprehensions. While Indian traditions in social cohesion and religious amity have an outstanding record, eternal vigilance to sustain and strengthen these is necessary. Education must equip everyone to internalise that “we have to grow from inside out”. And growing up is a lifelong process.
The Indian system of knowledge creation and transfer prominently highlights the relevance of the comprehension of spiritual aspects of life. In the name of secularism, however, elements that could have provided knowledge of basics of all religions to every schoolchild were deliberately dropped. As a result, children get information about other religions from elements outside the family. It invariably is laced with mischief and misinformation. Schools could have taken up the responsibility of nurturing religious amity, without going into rituals and dogmas. These could very well emphasise how all religions preach brotherhood, righteous conduct, peace, non-violence, respect for nature and pursuit of truth. Education could have established the essence of the unity of all religions on the one hand and the need to respect their diversity on the other. Instead of removing concepts like Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, or lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu, from the textbooks, their essence could have been explained to children of varied religious background, preparing them in the essential skill of ‘learning to live together, work together and progress together’. Such inputs would have contributed very effectively in character building, the prime ingredient of personality development. Religions are a reality, as are the sensitivities associated with each. In many nations that are not theocratic states, basic knowledge of one’s own religion and a couple of others is part of school curriculum. Once this is accepted in India, it should be possible to provide for comparative study of the philosophies of religions and thus provide a very sound base for religious understanding. Study of other religions would invariably strengthen faith in one’s own religion.
One of the major concerns before the proposed National Policy on Education will be to prepare future generations to appreciate the beauty of unity in diversity, and the way it characterises India. Religious diversity can no longer be ignored by the education policy. It must come out in specific terms on how education would contribute to provide a unified force of young people who respect each other and are willing to ensure undisturbed attention to ameliorate the sufferings of the masses.
Rajput is a former director of the NCERT