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Can India’s ancient education model of Guru Shishya parampara find a place in the modern system?

The guru-shishya parampara or master disciple tradition was the foundation of the gurukul. It not only created a close bond between the teacher and the student, but also between the students who grew up together.

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In Indian philosophy, knowledge is considered sacred and there is no crash course for acquiring it. Learning is essentially lifelong and it includes not only knowing certain subjects or arts, but also becoming a better individual. This is, of course, an ideal, and while philosophy stands the test of time, does it meet the practical needs of a modern world? We are investigating that.

Many thousands of years ago, children would be sent to gurukuls (literally a guru’s household) to be cared for into young adults who could then enter family life. These mostly young boys would be taught literature, mathematics, science, philosophy and martial arts in the teacher’s home. When not in class, the students performed tasks that kept the gurukul working – it was a self-sufficient unit.

Students would spend several formative years in an atmosphere of learning and collaboration. The guru had an exalted status because he was the embodiment of knowledge guiding students on the path of self-realization, the ultimate goal of the gurukul’s institution.

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The guru-shishya parampara or master disciple tradition was the foundation of the gurukul. It not only created a close bond between the teacher and the student, but also between the students who grew up together. The teaching method was mainly through practical application in the absence of textbooks and the course was more intuitive in the absence of a syllabus.

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The gurus were not only teachers but also spiritual guides and mentors, and as such the word guru has a different connotation from the word teacher.

At the end of the in-residence teaching at the gurukul, the shishya (or students, rather, the disciples) would offer a gurudakshina in recognition of the contribution of their teachers. One of the most tragic episodes in the Mahabharata is the story of Eklavya who willingly raised his thumb as ‘gurudakshina’ to Dronacharya (the guru of the Pandavas and Kauravas), so that no archer could surpass Arjuna (Drona’s favorite disciple) in skill. Though conceived as an ideal, the grukul parampara also kept out many seekers of humble origin, and politics and favoritism corrupted the system.
The guru-shishya system that existed in practice long before history was recorded in India is a legacy to be proud of, but we must be aware of its drawback. The system runs on the sincerity of the student as much as on the nobility of the teacher. Can elements of tradition find a place in and improve the modern education system?

Instead of the domain of a few classes, education is now a right for everyone. The world has made countless orbits around the sun since the days of the gurukul when the nature of the heavenly bodies was debated, and now mankind is sending probes to those same bodies and beyond. Education is less the domain of philosophy and more about research and innovation. In fact, students must have some preparatory skills to gain a foothold in today’s technology-driven world and the more humanity knows, discovers and engineers, the faster the world is transforming and the more important it becomes for all people to keep up to date. stay ahead or risk falling behind the times. Education can still be a path of self-discovery, but the primary concern is to equip students with the tools to be independent.

Modern education can benefit from the way teaching was practiced in the ancient system. Schools should strive for better student-teacher ratios so that teachers in smaller groups can pay more attention to children. Encouraging discussion and debate rather than emphasizing scores-based tests can sharpen the mind and help students gain confidence and the ability to think independently. Rewarding and recognizing children not only for their academic achievement, but also for their extracurricular skills and the qualities they possess as individuals, could compensate for the skewed emphasis on just being good scorers. The holistic development of a child is often ignored in the modern system, which is why schools must remember that they are not only a service that helps students achieve a certificate/degree, but also an institution that is crucial to shaping the society. Being academically successful or artistically gifted should not be the sole yardstick for a model student. Activities that encourage collaboration, compassion, and helpfulness should also be included in a curriculum.

Teachers have a huge responsibility to mold young minds and sometimes what they say or do can leave a lifelong impression on a person. The modern system would benefit from even teaching the teachers that they are not only knowledge transfer vessels, but are themselves a model that students learn from during most of the day they spend in school.

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