India as an Educational Destination


Our Past

The history of education in India is more than 3000 yrs old. Education was imparted orally, from the teacher to the disciple and was called as Shruti. Shruti was to hear, thus the disciples learned by hearing to the teachers. The knowledge was than passed on to the next generation on the basis of what had been remembered and this was known as Smriti. But the education system then had an objective and purpose making the students a learned one. That was to serve the society and to enter in to a lifetime pursuit of attaining salvation.

According to “Katha Upanishada” (a Hindu sacred text scripture which primarily discusses meditation and philosophy) an educated man who possess supreme knowledge by concentration of mind, must have his senses under control, like spirited steeds controlled by a charioteer. From the Vedic age onwards, the central conception of education of the Indians had been that of a source of light giving us a correct lead in the various spheres of life.

It was a sense of perspective and proportion in which the material and the moral, the physical and spiritual values of life were clearly defined and strictly differentiated. Education meant self realization which was treated as “Mukti” or Emancipation. Education was imparted to know life and death and not the mere objective knowledge of the materialistic world.

During the epic periods the conception of education was based on spiritualism and self realization. It was not that students were not taught the modern education like medicine, chemistry, military, art or mechanics; they studied these programmes during the course of their study.

The process of learning started with an inaugural ceremony called “Upanayana”. The ritual of Upanayana meant new birth of the pupil. The pupil was then known as Dvija, "born afresh" in a new existence or "twice born" (Satapatha Brahmana). The pupil then was supposed to find a guru who could impart him the education.

It was the “Ashram” or “Gurukul”, home for both the teacher and the student. It seems that in the early Vedic or Upanishadic times that education was esoteric. The Rishis of the Vedic period had acquired personal knowledge by tapas (austerities), hence they used to impart the same to their disciple and it thus became a personal property of their family.

The Ocidental/ Western Pattern

The British East India Company arrived in India in the16th century B.C. At that time the system of primary education in India was managed by local village communities. These schools were called Pathasalas. The agents of the East India Company and the Christian Missionaries destroyed these communal schools and introduced the English and western system of education in the country.

Before 1898, the education standard of the country was so low that four out of five villages were without a school. Three boys out of four grew up without any education and only one girl out of forty attended any kind of schooling. The British tried to impose their education system on the Indian traditional system of education. Eminent social reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy started English Schools in the country. The new system initiating English education in India did not immediately take root. The new system of education was having no or little relevance to the daily lives of the people. They lost interest in learning and gradually Indian society became more illiterate and less educated, as the English language became the measure of worth.

According to Nobel Laureate Sir Rabindranath Tagore: "The Western system of education is impersonal...It dwells in the cold-storage compartments of lessons and the ice-packed minds of the schoolmasters...It represented an artificial method of training specially calculated to produce the carriers of the white man's burden". Sri Aurobindo Ghosh, a great nationalist and philosopher criticised the British system of Education and called it one sided. The system only stressed on the qualification of the candidates and not on the cultural aspects of the country. Hence, the British system of education was not useful for the all round development of the nation.

When India got its independence in 1947, the education reform in the country was accelerated by the then national leaders like Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Pt. Madan Mohan Malaviya and eminent personalities like Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, Dr. J.C. Bose, Prof. Homi Jehangir Bhabha and many others and thereafter started a new era stated in the System of Indian Education.

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