The Indian education system is at a critical juncture. We are in a period that I believe is a turning point in the journey from reform to a forward-looking ecosystem. Educational institutions now realize more than ever the importance of moving with the times and adopting learning approaches that are modern, responsive and relevant. While we have set our sights on the future, we are also more aware of our long-established roots. By looking at the transformation of the education ecosystem, we are rediscovering our old educational approaches that can be adopted as the foundation of this transformation. There is much to be learned from the ‘Gurukul’ system of ancient India, which focused on holistic development beyond academia centuries before the subject became a buzzword in modern education. This included learning that provided mental, cognitive, physical and spiritual development. Our major educational institutions such as Takshashila, Nalanda, Vallaabhi and Vikramshila became the hub of education, with students from all over Europe coming to study in these centers.
To answer the big question: can our education system be an amalgamation of old and new. I say, absolutely yes! Here are five aspects of our ancient Indian education system that can and should be adopted into the current education scenario.
- Educational modules to prepare you for the real world
If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s that we need to be equipped with skills to face and tackle every challenge that an ever-changing world puts before us. And this learning has to start early in schools. We need to hone students who can be resilient in the face of adversity. Ancient Indian Gurukuls focused on imparting knowledge that could be practically implemented to find solutions to real life problems. The students learned through observation and practical methodologies. They went out to get in touch with nature, they had contact with their communities. The subjects taught from an early age included law, ethics, architecture, warfare, which the students needed to excel in life. With knowledge and skills such as critical analysis, innovation, leadership, creativity imparted through practical projects, we will develop engaged, conscious, global citizens with agency and a will to transform their communities and planet for the better.
- A collaborative learning environment
In the ancient Gurukul traditions, learning was not limited to a teacher-textbook approach. Students learned with the teachers, and with each other. They worked together to develop innovative and creative solutions to problems. It was very common for students to discuss, consult and debate with each other or in groups. This forged a knowledge-sharing environment where students became the co-creators and adapted skills for lifelong learning who knew how to work within communities. As we move to modern approaches to leaning, we have realized how a collaborative environment leads to better learning outcomes for children.
- Values at the heart of teaching
Ethics and value teaching remained at the core of learning in the ancient Indian education system. The emphasis was on inculcating values such as self-reliance, empathy, creativity, integrity, loyalty, kindness and very strong moral and ethical behavior. This was done through practical approaches as well as the teachings of the Scriptures. It has been scientifically proven that children who adopt values at an early age are more confident, competent and intelligent. Modern workplace ecosystems that are constantly evolving favor professionals who demonstrate life skills and strong values along with thematic know-how; and they become conscious, forward-looking leaders with strong morals and ethics.
- A student-oriented, personal approach
The ‘Gurukul’ system was a student centered system that emphasized each student’s individual strengths and learning needs. Arjunas flair for archery was individually honed by his gurus. Another student would have excelled with another talent that was further honed. This non-linear, progressive approach meant that the gurus understood their students’ differential skills and developed teaching methods accordingly. This aligns closely with what modern educational approaches tell us to do. Students should be able to participate at their own pace without always having to behave within the framework of a fixed curriculum. In a personalized learning environment, students learn and adapt more, while their inherent talent is honed and nurtured.
- A skills assessment system
The old evaluation of education was not limited to assessing thematic knowledge. Students were judged on the skills they learned and how well they can apply practical knowledge to real-life situations. The modern education system needs to develop similar grading systems so that students can also be graded more on skill gains and practical use than we do now.
India has an unparalleled wealth of knowledge, traditions and systems – most of which are scientifically based – that can be integrated into our modern approaches to education. It will allow us to develop truly smart, resilient global minds, with beliefs and values firmly rooted in the glorious Indian culture and traditions.
The above views are those of the author.
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