Millennium Post

Philosophy with timeless relevance

Tagore's philosophy on education marks the difference between 'learning' and 'education'; it needs to be applied to modern education where creativity is eroding fast

Philosophy with timeless relevance

My recent experience while visiting a renowned school in Kolkata prompts me to believe that the pandemic has started rewriting the grammar of education. It was not so easy for someone like me to accept what many students opined about lone emphasis on examination-oriented learning. Covid has changed our outlook towards so many things. Education is no exception. Importantly, we are now considering learning and education as the same. More than anything else, Covid has established a virtual mode of learning whereby reading textbooks is gradually becoming a lost art. Selective studies over electronic devices is the sing-song of the day. Our traditional holistic approach towards education seems to have got a big jolt in the present tide of learning methods. Naturally, a question pertaining to the relevance of great educators like Tagore springs in our mind. It is no surprise that change is the only constant. Similarly, if we adhere to Bob Dylan's words, "the times are changing", then there is a considerable difference between Tagore's time and our present living. Yet, there are some fundamentals of education which are time-tested. It is in the light of those fundamentals that we should evaluate Tagore's ideas on education in the context of modernity. While doing so, let us also explore whether the recent trends of change are essentially beneficial or not; whether they really serve the cause of education or whether they are mere ejaculations of a sudden psycho-social reaction that seeks easier but incomplete modes of learning.

Rabindranath Tagore believed that the educational process should be one of self-discovery and free creation. Now even after 80 years of his death we cannot brush aside the importance of what Tagore opined. Without a sense of creativity, any educational system is bound to produce blinded and blocked individuals who would neither imagine nor analyse anything. Tagore's ideas about school education consider school to be an integral part of society where there would not just be rote-learning. Students should be encouraged to unfold the wings of their thoughts, based on individuality and originality. In his famous poem 'Sonnet to the pupils of the Hindu College', Derozio writes, "Expanding the petals of young flowers / I watch the gentle opening of your minds". These lines in one way highlight the impact of education to open the corridor of human thoughts. This is what Tagore wanted wherein he sought education to loosen the intellectual energies and powers. By such education, research and development are certain to improve. Today when we have developed our means of learning, we should direct the path of learning to attain the end of new discoveries. Education in the modern context has become largely informative. Access to information has become abundantly easy. However, there is another side of the story. Due to almost effortless availability of academic resource materials from digital devices, many learners have developed an uncanny habit of not exploring the details of the subjects. Previously, a lot of effort was required to decipher the meanings of the contents. Individuals had to do it by themselves, mostly with the help of the teachers. This enabled them to have a deep insight into the subject matter. If education has to do anything with improvement of inventiveness of the mind, then it has to uphold the spirit of investigative learning. Strangely, Tagore realised the importance of such learning a hundred years back.

There is a very popular concept which is followed in many schools today. It is the concept known as 'Happy Schools' which fosters a kind of willing pleasure in the child's mind to learn his subject. Classrooms are painted with colorful pictures; books are designed with an artistic touch. All these intend to make the child happy. Tagore was not unaware of it. He understood the child psyche much before the term got a popular connotation. He felt that education should be imparted to a child in a joyful manner where children should be beyond the rigidity of stricture. Psychological basis of education propagates the process of learning to soothe the understanding of the learners. It is not just what you learn but also how you learn. This was also Tagore's concern. He wanted children to learn within the natural environment where students could develop their creativity amidst nature. In our modern kindergarten schools, walls of the classrooms are decorated with the images of natural objects so that the children could co-relate their studies with the outer world. Tagore, much before, took the natural path instead of creating an image of an image. His idea of making mother tongue as medium of instruction is also an acknowledged view worldwide.

Educators all over the world are highly apprehensive about the debilitating effect of the digital medium as a source of learning. Their argument derives strength when we see how a substantial percentage of modern learners, leaning heavily on Facebook and YouTube for academic purpose, are left without accomplishment of learning skills. There is absolutely nothing wrong in utilising these tools. They can be supplements to the learning process. However, over-dependence on these applications can be equally harmful. Not only is one gradually synchronised towards suggestive reading, one also finds his creativity and free imagination, so vital to innovation, stunted. Tagore had an answer to these maladies. He defined education as being one with life to give us real freedom. Freedom of thought and expression are essential components of Western education; our own cultural legacy spoke about it even before the Western world. Modern education boasts of free availability of study materials but, more importantly, we need freedom from biased learning; from the ill-effects of mental bondage. Modern vocational excellence demands command over subject and the ability to apply the concerned knowledge in the concerned professional arena. In Tagore we find an educator whose philosophy of education rested on creative skills which are not merely bookish. The National Education Plan recommends inter-disciplinary studies and various co-curricular activities. Tagore long back attached importance to fine arts in curriculum. Much before we realized the importance of co-curricular activities, Tagore popularised dance, music and drama as part of academic content. Above all, it is time for us to imbibe the spirit of morality that Tagore voiced for. In this post-modern world, we are baffled with the riddles of immoral temptations. Only proper education based on enlightenment of the mind can help us. We have moved from IQ to EQ to SQ — only to pronounce the necessity of human understanding in education and vocation. Rabindranath Tagore, the great humanist, conveyed the message of humanity in his educational philosophy. This is indeed the need of the hour — for more than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. To him, education should make us feel along with making us think; it should provide knowledge to ensure its applications. Then only the society in itself can be healthier. Education system that produces immoral professionals is not welcome at any age. Tagore stands tall in spreading his dictum of education linked with social, economic and spiritual domain of life so that we not just learn, but also educate ourselves.

The writer is an educator from Kolkata. Views expressed are personal

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