Dr. Beloo Mehra, Senior Academic Mentor, AuroBharati and Editor, Renaissance, was invited as an expert speaker to participate in a 2-day National Seminar organised by Sri Aurobindo Integral Life Center at Auro University, Surat. The seminar’s theme was – NEP 2020: The Pathway through Integral Education. About 200 educators from school, college and university level as well as principals and academic administrators attended the seminar which also included several experiential workshops.
Dr. Mehra spoke on the topic – ‘Teacher Education for a New Age: NEP 2020 and an Integral Approach’. She began her talk with an invocation, chanting the Shanti Path from Taittriya Upanishad which speaks of a shared aspiration between a guru and a shishya. She reminded the audience present that if our Indian tradition speaks of atmanam viddhi as the truest and highest goal of education – Know thyself, this applies for both students and teachers. And like the Upanishadic rishis who sang of the shared aspiration between a teacher and student, the Mother also reminds us that the school should be an “opportunity for progress for the teacher as well as for the student. Each one should have the freedom to develop freely” (CWM, 12: 168).
Dr. Mehra pointed out that NEP 2020 rightly recognises that for the new India, we can never ignore one very important dimension of education – the preparation of teachers. NEP 2020 devotes several pages of discussion on restructuring teacher education. But a careful reading of the policy document suggests that its focus is almost entirely limited to outer aspects of teacher training, certification, recruitment, professional growth, career advancement and such things. The focus of teachers’ continuous professional development as per the NEP is primarily on improving outer skills and learning new technological tools. Without denying the need for this, we must recognise that the policy document completely excludes any discussion on the inner dimension of a teacher’s work.
Sri Aurobindo and the Mother emphasise that an educator’s true role is that of a gentle facilitator who tries to create an ideal atmosphere where the learners can discover, with proper impetus, the knowledge that lies hidden within them through gradual unfolding and development of various faculties. For this, it is important that they are fully aware of the complexity of a human being, so that they can be more conscious of their dharma to help the learners grow and develop to their full potential.
In this regard, Dr. Mehra pointed out in her talk that NEP’s proposal to have a multidisciplinary approach to teacher education is a great improvement over the present teacher education programmes. Its emphasis on incorporating study of psychology, philosophy, human development, sociology, languages, arts and culture, sports, sciences and mathematics as part of an integrated teacher education programme gives hope.
But one area that NEP 2020 completely neglects is what is most emphasised in Integral Education – the consciousness of the teacher. Sri Aurobindo says that a teacher or a guru works in three ways – instruction, example and influence. The Mother emphasises that the teacher should be the “living example of what he asks the students to become” (CWM, 12: 405).
A teacher must possess a great flexibility in his or her approach, and must also consciously develop an inner sense of understanding the specific temperament and need of each learner, remembering that each child is a soul in evolution and requires a different approach through which it will fully blossom in its uniqueness. For this, inner dimension of a teacher’s work is very significant.
A teacher’s own inner work is a key factor in facilitating students’ inner un-folding. Everything else – curriculum, course texts, learning materials, assignments etc. – will have its due place, but nothing will be as important as the teacher and his or her own inner progress. A teacher who is a seeker, an aspirant on the path of inner growth and self-discovery is a real-world role model for the students, and can gradually, through her example and influence, awaken in the growing minds and hearts an urge for constant progress and inner discovery.
Dr. Mehra said that this goal of facilitating a gradual unfolding of educators as whole and integrated persons must be kept in forefront when implementing the guidelines of NEP 2020 to restructure teacher education programmes.
Dr. Mehra then brought audience’s attention to the National Mentoring Scheme that has been proposed by NEP. Briefly describing the contents of the Bluebook on Mentoring that has been designed by National Council on Teacher Education, she highlighted the point that all the examples and frameworks that are used in preparing this document are from Western educational contexts. No attempt has been made to look at the long tradition of mentoring in India’s educational heritage. Dr. Mehra pointed out that in India, the entire guru-shishya parampara was based on a very specific mentoring approach. But even outside the traditional guru-shishya Parampara, we had informal mentorship programs, including mentoring in special situations/circumstances. No attempt has been made so far by the National Council of Teacher Education to cull insights from this great heritage of Indian educational approaches. She further elaborated on this point with the help of specific examples.
Dr. Mehra concluded her talk by saying that in order for a teacher to grow into a deeper consciousness it is essential for a teacher to have some sense of (even if it is on an intellectual level) or at least an open-minded curiosity to “experience” something that is called “soul” or psychic entity to use the terminology of Integral Yoga. Without having a faith in this entity called “soul” or psychic being, a teacher or for that matter, any individual is not equipped to walk on the path of true self-discovery and self-knowledge, which is the highest purpose of education.