Innovating India’s Schooling
Last Saturday, we held the first conference on innovating education, here at the Isha Yoga Center. The fundamental idea behind it was to carefully look at the way we are delivering education. Learning something new can be such a joy. Then why is schooling such a pain? When I was supposed to go to school, I did everything possible not to go there. We must create schools in such a way that children want to go there. For that to happen, we first need to educate the adults. Children are naturally joyful, and the segment of the population that is easiest to work with. Then why is it so difficult to create a joyful way of delivering education? There is substantial scientific and medical evidence today that shows that if you are in a pleasant state of experience, your body and brain work at their best. If you remain without a moment of agitation, anxiety, irritation, anger, if you are simply joyful, they say your ability to use your intelligence can increase by one hundred percent in a single day.
A joyful way of existence will enable and empower a human being for a higher level of perception and performance. Unless you are joyful, you cannot inspire anyone else to be joyful. “Yes, I want to be joyful, but…you know what he did?” “Yes, I want to be joyful, but the weather is not good.” There are too many “buts.” If we kick this “but” out of our lives, creating a joyful education will be a natural consequence. If we are joyful, whatever we do, whatever we create, will have this quality. Right now, one of the biggest mistakes is we are too goal-oriented, which is a Western way of doing things. We want the biggest mangoes, but we are not interested in the tree, let alone the soil. In yoga we say, if one eye is on the goal, you have only one eye to find your way. This is very inefficient. If you have both eyes on the way, you will find your way.
Because of too much goal oriented-ness – not only in schooling but in life, in the way we run our businesses, govern nations, and conduct the affairs of the world – everything is about an end product, not about life. What we fail to see is that at the end of our lives, there is only one product, which is the grave. In anything that we are doing, whatever may come out of it, our main focus should be to do it in the most beautiful way. We can draw upon experts for the methods, tools, etc. But to use these methods in a way that works, we need people who are joyful and who know how to make their life beautiful. If you do not know how to make your own life beautiful, how can you make other people’s lives beautiful?
If you look back at traditional education in this country, parents used to give their children to a teacher, an acharya, or a guru, who they saw not only as a knowledgeable but an evolved human being. They knew that if they leave their children in his or her hands, they will naturally blossom. Who delivers education is the most important thing. The evolution of the teachers is crucial. This does not mean they should learn more tricks about education. The teachers should blossom as human beings, to be more joyful, loving, compassionate, and conscious. This is something that each individual has to work upon for himself or herself. About bringing spirituality and yoga into education – being spiritual and seeking go hand in hand. You are a spiritual seeker, not a spiritual believer. Likewise, scientists are seekers. It is important that teachers also become seekers. Spiritual process, in its essence, is a must in the field of education because they have to be active seekers. Whether it is physics, chemistry, biology, or spirituality – essentially, it is about seeking the truth about a particular aspect of life.
Education is about seeking truth – maybe not the ultimate truth, but the truth about what you are looking at right now. Students are natural seekers. A spiritual process should bring the discipline into students not to believe anything, but at the same time, not to become abusive and disrespectful. You don’t have to believe anything that someone says, but you should have the necessary regard, respect, and inclusiveness to listen, or to raise a question and object. This is something that every human being should learn. Respectfully questioning everything that happens around us is important for society, and this is the fundamental of spiritual seeking. In this context, spiritual process is a must for any genuine student, unless you are only studying to earn a living. Similarly, teachers must be put through a certain culturing. Yoga is about going beyond your limitations. Yoga means union. Without a certain amount of union between the teacher and the student, there can be no education.
Even on a physical level, teachers should limber up. Your outer appearance definitely makes a difference in the eyes of a child. One of the advantages of yoga is that it doesn’t need equipment. Once you learn the basics, you can do it by yourself. The fact that a large part of India is still impoverished makes it all the more important to introduce yoga to bring health, wellbeing, and mental agility. I got into yoga for all the wrong reasons, but it worked miraculously well for me. That is the beauty of existence – whatever your intention, if you do the right thing, right things will happen to you. The science of yoga is about understanding body and mind and how you can get the best out of them. The enthusiasm and effervescence of children is such that you need the energy of ten people to handle them. Especially as a teacher, when you have a hundred children on your hand, you need to be super energetic. For this, you need yoga.
One fundamental commitment that everyone should make on a daily basis is this: Whatever we do, we should move from untruth to truth, from what doesn’t work to what really works. Especially in the field of education, because how life upon this planet will be in the future is determined by this process called education. What kind of world we are going to have in another twenty-five years is determined by what we are doing right now in our schools and homes in terms of education. For all other creatures, nature has drawn two lines within which they live and die. For human beings, there is only a bottom line, no top line. Because there is no top line, human life is a continuous process of evolution. No matter what we do and how we do it, still there is room to do it better. In that sense, we are not human beings but human becomings.
If we do not do the right things at the right time, we may not produce human beings but beasts in human form. We have already produced too many of them in the world. That is why education is of supreme importance, particularly in our country of 1.25 billion people, which is a sixth of the world population. Though our poets of the past have romantic expressions for the beauty of the land, which I very much enjoy and cherish, today, we have to admit, for 1.25 billion people, we neither have the land, nor the mountains, nor the rivers, not even a piece of sky. All we have is population. If we transform this population into a stable, focused, inspired, and skilled one in the next twenty-five years, we will be the greatest miracle. The entire world will be looking to us. Conversely, if we leave our population unskilled, unfocused, unstable, uninspired, we will be the greatest disaster.
The onus is on all of us right now to innovate the educational system. All adults in this country must get involved in education in whatever capacity they can. This should be everyone’s concern. As there is a lot of talk about ecology today and people are trying to do their little bit, everyone should contribute to the education process. Tomorrow’s generation depends on that. What kind of people we produce also determines our ecological future. When education plays such a key role, it is not only the work of some underpaid teachers or a ramshackle government department. It is the responsibility of every citizen. And education has to have elements of life along with it. Otherwise, the more educated you become, the less life-competent you become. To date, our concern has been to somehow spread the carpet of education. In trying to spread it, it has been torn in many places – there are too many holes in it. The time has come to not only fix the holes but make it into a beautiful carpet that our children will enjoy and we will be proud of.
evolve – not only in teaching capabilities, but as human beings.
We should focus on scaling up the reach of education and meticulously creating quality at the same time. For too long, out of a simplistic sense of equality and secularism, we thought everyone should go to the same type of school and learn the same things. The exposure, intellect, and background of each student, which do make a difference in education, have unfortunately not been taken into consideration. One major reason is that a large part of the education system is handled by the government. A government should make the necessary policies, not try to execute them. It will not work. When no other entities were willing to venture into this field, basic education had to be provided by the government. Now entrepreneurs and large businesses are willing to go into education, which is important. At least most of the urban population has moved from three to five children per couple to one or two children, which means they have more funds at their disposal.
For those who cannot afford it, another form of education must be available – they should not be left out. But for those who can afford it, rather than investing in branded clothes, foreign travel, or luxury cars, let them invest in the education of their children. Billions of dollars go out of India today because people send their children to study abroad. To date, we have not been able to provide the same level of education and exposure that is available elsewhere. If we want high quality education, we have to invest in it. We cannot expect the government to do that. It has to come from individuals and businesses. Investment will only happen if there is a return. Business is not a bad thing, unless you use it as a means of exploitation. The way to eliminate exploitation is not by laws or control but by competition, and by allowing people to decide. Competition ensures that whoever has the best product, that is where people will go. Let there be a pact between the parents and the school as to what kind of education should be delivered.
Right now, a whole lot of parents think that if they send their children to school, their job is done. This must change. If there is no commitment to your child’s education, then why should the teachers be committed? It should become a law that all parents must visit the school that their children go to at least three times in a year, and spend a minimum of one day there. They must acquaint themselves with what kind of education is happening, how it is delivered, and what their children are doing. We have to establish a culture of parental involvement in the education of their children. Without involvement, nothing beautiful is ever going to happen. Education should not be like some kind of machinery that we put our children through. So far, we have only been thinking of educating the children. The most important thing is that the teachers continuously evolve – not only in teaching capabilities, but as human beings. We need to create tools, opportunities, and processes for that in the country. It is not the subject as such but an involved, enterprising, innovative, inspiring teacher who delivers it in a beautiful way that determines if students enjoy the process of learning or not.
With modern technology, when it comes to information, a teacher becomes irrelevant. Information is easily available. What is needed from a teacher is inspiration. Inspiration will not happen through rhetoric or sermons but by setting an example. You must be an inspiration, just the way you are. This has to be introduced into the education system and the training of teachers, that they are of a certain quality, physically and mentally. Children are looking at you attentively. They may miss what you say, but they don’t miss anything about the way you are. It is very important to address the physical and mental wellbeing and balance of the teachers. And not only that – we have to establish this ethos in society as a whole. If we do not create inspired human beings, then we will leave a generation which is less than us. This is a fundamental responsibility for every generation, that the next generation we produce is at least one notch better than us. Producing a generation that is worse than us is a crime against humanity.
People spend so many years of their lives in educational institutions. Those are the places where everything is getting molded and shaped, so they better be good. The education that we have right now is largely a remainder of colonial times. We have made small changes, but we have not truly rethought education. This system is fundamentally designed to bring unquestioned obedience, because that is what was needed for them, and that is what they did. We need to innovate our education system to suit us, because for thousands of years, we have been a land of seekers. This quality has allowed us to maintain our culture through the ages, even under occupation. Seeking means to have an active intelligence – you never stop learning. Seeking means to be on the path to liberation and freedom. This is what education should facilitate.
Now is the time to rethink and reshape our education systems because we are going to have the economic means, we have access to the rest of the world like never before, and we have a leadership that is determined to make those changes. Apart from that, we have the advantage of samskara, that there is an intellect in India which is phenomenal. This is a land that has grown out of individual genius. Now, the system of education that we have is aspiring to create Western organization. India needs organization, but we will not flourish without attending to individual genius. This is something that all of us should focus on. Without allowing individual genius to flower, there will be no great people. Only where there are great human beings, there will be a great nation.
In Tamil Nadu for example, there is a yearly training for all the teachers. That means there is an effort from the administration to educate the teachers. But who conducts the training is the question. Reforming such a large government apparatus and raising the quality is not going to happen overnight. The department of education may not want to hand over the entire training, but other educational institutions, such as NGOs or universities, which are functioning successfully, could take up at least a part of the training. The training could include how to get teachers physically and mentally fit, some meditativeness, some yoga, and various other aspects that will enhance their lives. The teachers can benefit from that, which will be an incentive for them to participate. We could even consider introducing a system where the teachers can earn credits by participating in trainings, which would add up and ultimately result in increments in their salary. These are policy decisions – we can only make suggestions. But involving other educational institutions in parts of the training could definitely improve the quality significantly, in a reasonable amount of time.
Training all the teachers is very much possible today. Thanks to technology, we have capabilities that no generation before us could ever dream of. It is time to make truth mainstream. What leaves me in the highest state of experience is the truth of my existence. If you and every human being know the truth of your existence, if you are at your best, whatever you do will become a powerful process. To empower educators, teachers, and others who are involved in education, we want to offer simple tools for transformation. Something that you can do with yourself that will leave you in a better place. It is my wish and my blessing that this happens.