INDIAN INNOVATIONS IN EDUCATION:

A CRITICAL AND GENERATIVE ANALYSIS OF

GANDHI, TAGORE, AUROBINDO, AND KRISHNAMURTI

Introduction:

Throughout the world today, people find themselves trapped in overwhelming socio-cultural, moral, and spiritual crises. We see the distress signals: rapid increases in crimes, unemployment, environmental degradation, endangered species, loss of languages, poverty, malnutrition, disease, militarism, and violent death, especially in the last fifty years. Yet also in this time, the amount of money, capital, technology, and trade worldwide has increased manifold, as have the number of health facilities and schools. Clearly, the Utopia that these institutions promised is very far from being realized. In fact, for many they have brought little better than dehumanized hell. It is clear that we cannot continue down this path (some would call it Nehru's path); it is neither sustainable nor morally just. But what is the alternative, particularly to 19th century-style factory-schooling?

Visionaries of India’s past – Gandhi, Tagore, Aurobindo, and Krishnamurti, among others –left us with several alternatives. In their writings and their experiments, each tried to envision a better reality for India, one unmarred by the greed and destruction of Western- style development and by the colonization and debilitation of Western-style schooling. They believed that India could only grow and regenerate itself by seeking out those beliefs, values, languages, cultures, knowledges and wisdoms upon which she had developed and lived. At the same time, they did not romanticize the past. Rather, they engaged in a critical traditionalism, believing that the injustices and problems within traditions and customs required self-correcting mechanisms. Thus, in their own unique ways, these innovators tried to create alternative visions of living and paths for India. Today, as we feel ourselves increasingly being swept away by these glo-cal (global-local) crises, and especially the crises of ‘schooling,’ perhaps it is time to revisit their ideas and experiments in education.

Why are we focusing on these four individuals? After all, a multitude of thinkers and experimenters have emerged throughout India's rich and diverse history. However, what distinguishes Gandhi, Tagore, Aurobindo, and Krishnamurti from the rest is their effort to situate education in a complete spiritual, political, socio-cultural, and economic vision of transformation. For them, education germinated from a context and it was just as important to transform this context, as it was to transform the system of education. To varying degrees, all four were engaged in India's freedom struggle, and their experiences around this struggle inspired them to imagine a different conception of freedom and, with it, a different India. They beautifully and forcefully expressed themselves in writings, poetry, speeches and meditations, and illustrated their ideas in extremely different parts of India: Gujarat/Madhya Pradesh/Maharashtra; Bengal; Pondicherry; and Andhra Pradesh/Karnataka.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, while many people still refer to them, few really know what they envisioned, and even fewer know how to evolve their ideas/experiments or re-contextualize them to today's rapidly changing world. The current crises of the 'schooled' and of schooling require radical new thinking, new dialogue, and new action. While this radical discourse is being driven by thinkers in other parts of the world (mainly from industrialized countries), learning from the radicalism of these four visionaries could do much to resuscitate the intellectually-stagnated discourse on education in India. By deeply probing into their critiques, frameworks and experiments, we hope to invigorate the education discourse and offer fresh insight into the development of learning societies for 21st century India. For all these reasons, and many more, Gandhi, Tagore, Aurobindo, and Krishnamurti are worth remembering, revisiting, and re-learning from today.

 

Our critical and generative research analysis thus incorporates the following questions:

 

 

Proposed Methodology:

We will begin by conducting a thorough literature review of primary and secondary materials on Gandhi, Tagore, Aurobindo, and Krishnamurti’s visions of education and their experiments. Simultaneously, we will request information and materials for review and analysis from the organizations dedicated to continuing the work of these individuals.

From this completed documentation review, we will develop a typology by which to synthesize and contextualize these innovators’ works. The typology will also provide a framework for analyzing and interpreting the experiments and organizations currently operating under their ideas. I believe the typology will incorporate three main areas:

 

1.    Understanding of the Human Being and of Human Potential

2.    Vision of Economic, Political, and Social System

3.    Concept of Learning

The second phase of this project will require field visits to the experiments or organizations that profess to operate in the legacy of Gandhi, Tagore, Aurobindo, and Krishnamurti. Specifically, the research team will travel to Wardha in Maharashtra and Vedcchi in Gujarat (Gandhi), Shantiniketan in West Bengal (Tagore), Auroville in Pondicherry (Aurobindo), and Rishi Valley in Andhra Pradesh (Krishnamurti). By meeting with the organizations’ staff, community, students and graduates, we hope to better understand how the values and activities envisioned by these four innovators have been practically carried out in the current context. How have those associated with the organization (be it ashram, NGO, school, etc.) understood, evolved and/or transformed their respective innovator’s ideas and visions? What is the nature of their interactions with the formal system of education? Do they see their work as a means towards resolving the crises we face today? What is their interest in supporting a radical change in education for the 21st century? The qualitative research obtained through these interviews, focus groups, observations, and other interactions will enhance this critical and generative analysis. Moreover, a vast network of individuals and organizations committed to systemic transformation in education in India can potentially result from these contacts.

The final aspect of the analysis will be an attempt to answer some of the questions raised above in the introduction. It will also point to avenues for further research and discussion to generate more thinking, reflection, dialogue and action on these visionaries’ work and the possibilities for evolution, combination and transformation. The completed document will then be shared with all those involved in the process, as well as with many other local, national, and international partners committed to lifelong societal transformation.

Notably, this analysis is not meant to gather dust on a bookshelf. (We are quite conscious of the fate of research papers past.) Rather, as a generative initiative, it is meant to spark new energy and action into India's discourse on education. While we think it is best for the purposeful uses of the research to germinate organically — from the individuals and organizations themselves — we do have a few ideas for its application. We envision that the research could be used to design interactive learning workshops with policymakers, teachers and curriculum designers, to promote organizational self-analysis and -assessment, to initiate new learning process-projects in different parts of the country, and/or to produce new thought-provoking media/publications on innovative learning. We will lend intellectual support or assistance to the ideas for follow-up that emerge.

 

Timetable:

We believe that this type of critical and generative analysis will take nearly eight months to complete. The following timetable illustrates the expected scope of work and their corresponding dates:

Scope of Work

Prospective Dates

Phase I (A):
  • Reading and synthesis of Gandhi, Tagore, Aurobindo, and Krishnamurti’s writings
  • Identification of and contact with organizations devoted to their work
  • Research visit to Delhi

mid-October 1999 to

December 1999

Phase I (B):
  • Development of typology and subsequent critical analysis of writings
  • Development of interviewing/observation tools and methodologies
  • Confirmation of visits to each organization

January 2000

Phase II:
  • Visit to Gandhian organizations; return to Shikshantar to meet and discuss findings, modify tools, write Gandhi aspect

February 2000

  • Visit Tagore’s organizations; return to Shikshantar to meet and discuss findings, modify tools, write Tagore aspect

March 2000

  • Visit Aurobindo’s organizations; return to Shikshantar to meet and discuss findings, modify tools, write Aurobindo aspect

TBD

  • Visit Krishnamurti’s organizations; return to Shikshantar to meet and discuss findings, modify tools, write Krishnamurti aspect

TBD

Phase III:
  • Complete a final analysis, raise additional questions and suggest avenues for further research
  • Share analyses with local, national, international partners; post to World Wide Web site

TBD

Ongoing:
  • Follow up with those interested in using the research for purposeful action (workshops, publications, self-assessment, etc.)
  • Provide any needed intellectual support

TBD