Pondicherry: Someone once said that once upon a time an internally confident, intellectually rich India might have said, “What does he know who knows only his own tradition?” But sadly, today, we live in times when we may say, “What does he know who does not even know his own tradition?” An unfortunate effect of modern education in India has been that Indians have been cut off from their own cultural traditions. They are unaware, for the most part, of the richness and grandeur of their Indian heritage, of the intellectual, scientific and cultural contributions India made to world culture and knowledge, and of the potential that is hidden in India.

Education in its true nature must become a way of helping learners make gradual progress in their journeys to discover their inner law and truth of being, their dharma. This self-discovery is also made in the context of another journey, that of discovering their nation, its heritage, traditions, accomplishments, achievements, and its stories. This knowledge helps learners develop a genuine love and respect for their past. But more importantly, it makes them willing to work for their nation’s future glory (and through that work for the world and humanity at large) as they follow their life’s chosen vocation and work.

Learning about our heritage doesn’t need to be and should not be a chauvinistic and narrow-minded retelling of past glory. Yet we don’t want to shy away from the truth that India was indeed once a glorious land with great many riches of knowledge in all spheres of human life and activity. Learners must be encouraged to discover and do their own research on India’s immense contributions to world knowledge in various fields of human endeavour, including many branches of theoretical and applied sciences, engineering and medicine, architecture and city planning, visual and performing arts, economics and politics, and so forth.

In the name of globalization, world-citizenship, modernization, cross-cultural learning, secularism and other such trends of the time (all of which are necessary in their own way), some great truths about their heritage and culture should not be kept away from Indian learners. Our curriculum and textbooks must be reflective of the truth about India’s past so that a strong and healthy present and future India can be prepared.

Our youth must also learn about the deeper, inner driving forces of history, the significance of various psychological factors that have shaped India’s history. This is important because when we understand History only from the point of view of outer events (dates, heroes, etc), we get incomplete knowledge. For instance, while studying the period of British colonization, a study of the inner, psychological factors may help reveal that which went missing from the collective Indian psyche to bring that kind of oppression. What were the larger world forces that led to the independence of India when it happened? It was more than one person’s non-violent revolution surely. What other deeper psychological and wider outer forces at the time made it possible? Why not before? Such wider and deeper inquiry opens interesting exploratory opportunities for learners.

Learners must also be encouraged critically to evaluate the reasons behind India’s decline, the outer and inner factors that led to it, the impact of this fall on shaping present-day India, and the ways to make possible a different future. Instead of ideologically-driven history wars which have a sinister political agenda, educational thinkers and policy-makers must facilitate unity among learners through a deep, critical study of Indian history that is free from preconceived biases and prejudices.

All this is not possible to do in an isolated History class. Serious thinking is required on how age-appropriate studies of Indian culture, heritage and history may be made an integral part of learners’ overall experience. This may be a running theme all through the school curriculum, integrated within many subject areas, and with a variety of learning activities facilitating a holistic learning experience. For instance, it would be appropriate and commonsensical to speak about the Indian connection to the value of Pi (π) in a Mathematics class; or bringing up the great architectural knowledge of ancient Indians and focussing on India’s engineering marvels in a science period. Such opportunities are many. Good intent and creativity is a pre-requisite.

When we fail to appreciate, love and really know our heritage and cultural richness, we also fail to appreciate other cultures. We fail to understand the uniqueness that each culture has; we in fact fail to appreciate the great diversity of world cultures because we have not understood what makes our culture unique and different. We only imitate and that too not very well. We reduce other cultures to their mere outwardly forms, because that is all we know about our culture. Only when we can appreciate our culture because of its inner truths and dimensions could we begin to understand how other cultures are inwardly different from ours.

Only then the possibility of a healthy dialogue of civilizations and cultures may arise. Because as India teaches us, those who live most powerfully in themselves can also most largely use the world and all its material for a greater self-discovery and can most successfully help the world and enrich it out of their own being.

To be continued...

Beloo Mehra has a Ph.D. in Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Masters in Economics from the Delhi School of Economics. She taught at Antioch University Midwest, Ohio, and is on the faculty of Sri Aurobindo Centre for Advanced Research at Pondicherry.