The process of atmanisation is the integral idea of education, believes Makarand R Paranjape, Director, IIAS

In a panel on Swami Vivekananda: The Modernity of Tradition, Makarand R Paranjape spoke about Swamiji’s idea of national education
In conversation | (Pic: Express)
In conversation | (Pic: Express)

Referring to students of a certain elite Indian institution who have written in favour of freedom of expression, Makarand R Paranjape, Director, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, said, "As if all that is important is to preserve some artificial notion of freedom of expression to the extent that you have turned the entire institution, more or less, not that particular one, but even the one where I taught, into a platform to attack a particular ideology, party or leader. Swami Vivekananda is saying that this is not the purpose of education, it is to know yourself deeply." He was expressing his views at the virtual ThinkEdu Conclave session hosted by The New Indian Express that aired online on March 26. Accompanying him in the session titled Swami Vivekananda: The Modernity of Tradition was S Vaidhyasubramaniam, Vice-Chancellor, SASTRA Deemed-to-be University, while Prabhu Chawla, TNIE's Editorial Director and Senior Journalist Kaveree Bamzai chaired the session.

Going on to talk about the kind of education Swamiji envisioned, Paranjape, who has authored books like Swami Vivekananda: Hinduism and India's Road to Modernity, shared that the Indian Hindu monk wanted a form of national education. But not just that. Paranjape went on to highlight that what Swamiji believed in was that "Education is a perfection that is already manifested within us. Not what John Locke said, that it is a tabula rasa or a clean slate on which we need to write on."

Vaidhyasubramaniam proceeded to highlight his views on the purpose of education, which he said was to, "create enlightened individuals who can understand India and present India to the world as India gains the leadership position." Having set that as the backdrop, he asked Paranjape what was his idea of Indian education. "The foundation of Indian pedagogy was a deep inquiry into the self. This ought to result in a transformation, not just in the narrow sense but that of personality and character. Going back to the first ‘so-called’ convocation address from our ancient Upanishads, it was said Satyam Vada, Dharmam Chara (Speak the Truth, Lead Righteous Life). Swamiji himself says that education is not the massification of information with the mind being a passive recipient. This was already happening...," he said and added, "I have taught at JNU for 20 years. We see the kind of youth we are producing today, some people even called them the 'Tukde-Tukde Gang'. A bit of rebelliousness is good because even Swamiji was a rebel. But somehow, the idea is that young people should be rebellious in a certain manner, which is irreverent and produces a certain kind of individual. But Swamiji says that education is a building of character."

Paranjape also spoke about AI replacing human teaching and how good information is available through the World Wide Web. He reminded us that the teacher is here not to pass on information, but to facilitate transformation. While talking about the post-renaissance model of education that we inherited like man vs man, man vs nature, he says, has resulted in, "A fractured world, fractured human society and environmental crisis and ultimately, a schizophrenic modern Indian who doesn't know what his connection with his own past is — whether he wants to belong to a universal Western and modern civilisation or go back to what he doesn't realise or understand. Swamiji is so important because he takes us beyond the idea of education as the garnering of information and skills. He takes us beyond the idea of education being some sort of livelihood training. He goes into the integral idea of education being the process of atmanistaion, which is to say that you understand who you are and see the unity of consciousness and cosmos, and build the character and conduct that are conducive to individual and social transformation."

When Prabhu Chawla asked Paranjape how we can dismantle the Indian education that has been enslaved by the Western way of thinking, the latter pointed out how Swamiji embraced the fact that the West, in terms of science, technology and other parameters, was progressive. "There was no artificial conflict in his mind, he never thought being Indian meant rejecting modernity. But he understood, like a few of us have, that their civilisation is ultimately self-destructive. Without dharma (nature) or moksha (release), just artha (means) and kama (desire) will lead to an asuric (demonic) civilisation and self-destruction. The idea of Indianising Indian education is not about rejecting the West in a kind of knee-jerk reaction nor is it to adopt. Rejection will make us a nation of ignoramuses. Shut down this, break this — this is a Khilji attitude. You need cultural and intellectual depth to understand." In the same context, he said that there are many good things in the new National Education Policy, from flexibility to autonomy. He also said that putting the NEP out is not enough and that we need to reform, root and branch, and have a national consciousness to rebuild.

Vaidhyasubramaniam then asked Paranjape what three changes he would advise policymakers on, to which the latter, who said he has been teaching from the age of 19, answered, "We have to rethink the reservation system, that doesn't mean we don't have affirmative action, but trying to compensate past wrongs with present entitlements does not serve the cause of natural or distributive justice. This is a political compulsion. Secondly, curriculum reform. All sorts of falsehoods are being peddled in the form of authorised histories. We are so obsessed with content, but we should focus on critical thinking. I tell my friends that instead of getting a history book changed, try and get the evaluation changed. Allow a person to have different answers and yet be correct. And frankly, get the government out of this. For primary education, many national-minded organisations are there. Have public-private partnerships and set benchmarks.”

Paranjape also mentioned that there is a need to protect Indian national institutions, in which billions of taxpayers' money has been poured in because they are being destroyed. "When Swamiji travelled from Bengal to other parts of India, how did he communicate with the intellectuals? In Sanskrit. We need to revive Sanskrit, but we can't reject English either," he stated.

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