The Human Resource Development Centre (HRDC) of University Grants Commissions (UGC) at Pondicherry University invited Dr. Beloo Mehra, Senior Associate, SAFIC, to deliver a special lecture as part at the UGC–HRDC Academic Staff College. This lecture was organized on May 22, 2019, as part of the HRDC Orientation Course offered for the university and college faculty.
Dr. Beloo Mehra delivered a 3-hour session on the topic: Indian Perspectives on Education.
Dr. Mehra introduced the topic by pointing out that one of the consequences of the ongoing churning in Indian collective psyche is the recognition of a sense of disharmony in the Indian mind. And this recognition is in a way also creating a push to recover that harmony between ‘who we are’ as a people and how we want to educate our future generations.
Dr. Mehra said that harmony in the Indian mind can be established only when we rethink our present education in the light of the essential principles of education and life emphasized in Indian culture. The salient aspects of Indian conception of education, she said, are in harmony with the essential spirit of Indian culture. Thus, a continuity of Indian thought on education was highlighted.
Some essential aspects of Indian conception of education highlighted in the lecture included:
- Education springing from life itself
- Education as part of the organization of life and its highest possible fulfilment
- Student and teacher as seekers of truth
- Role of the Teacher – Instruction, example, influence
- Ideal of Shrestha – Emphasis on character development
- Individualized attention (Child-centred education)
- Significance of Arts Education for all
- Svadhyaya as the cornerstone of the learning process
- Emphasis on life-long learning
- Lokasangraha – Education for collective well-being
Dr. Mehra also emphasized on some key aspects of Indian pedagogical thought, again bringing to the participants’ attention that many of these ideas seen as the most progressive ideas in educational thought of our times. She added that it is interesting that in our rush to ‘modernize’ the education we have, in fact, steered far away from some of the most progressive ideas in education that are deeply rooted in our cultural tradition and valued by our ancient seers and thinkers. The essential aspects of Indian Pedagogy, Dr. Mehra said, are as follows:
- Shravana → Manana → Nidhidhyasana
- Questioning and free inquiry
- Increasing emphasis on gathering experience
- Emphasis on awakening to higher truths of life and existence
- True knowing is beyond the written word
- Liberation from any binding influence of a text
- Pursuit of self-knowledge and world knowledge in freedom
- Pursuit of excellence
- Free pursuit of sense of wonder and mystery
The aforementioned ideas were explored in the lecture through selected stories from some of the ancient Indian texts, particularly the Upanishads, as well as insights from the educational thoughts of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Swami Vivekananda, J. Krishnamurti, Rabindranath Tagore and M. K. Gandhi.
Dr. Mehra also brought in a few examples and stories from some recent events, as well as some personal anecdotes in order to elucidate on a few key points. A creatively designed PowerPoint presentation with selected quotes from various Indian thinkers on Education and carefully selected images of Indian artistic expression accompanied the lecture.
There was free interaction between the participants and the speaker, which made the experience more integrative and experiential. Dr. Mehra encouraged the participants to critically examine and question some of the accepted norms and conventions they have been following as part of their pedagogical practice.
She encouraged them to think independently and go beyond the limits of the fixed course syllabus. She suggested that instead of expecting the system to first change, teachers at all levels of education should try and create innovative learning opportunities in light of some of the essential aspects of Indian conception of education – particularly the idea of education being closely connected with the rhythms and truths of life, and emphasis on aesthetic appreciation as part of overall character and personality development.
Taking an example of how the particular classroom was arranged where the lecture was taking place, Dr. Mehra motivated the participants to examine whether it is our own set-patterned or conventional ways of thinking that prevent us from questioning if an alternative arrangement would have been more suitable for this session. In this way, several practical implications for personal growth as a teacher and as an individual were highlighted.