There is perhaps no other country which has had such a vast history of educational revolutions as India. This should not be surprising considering its diversity and open-mindedness towards knowledge.
If the history of this magnificent country is looked into closely, there is always a revolution looming in the background. People had always held an open-minded view towards knowledge; kings would often convert to a new religion in sight of new knowledge, this comes from a tradition that was not shameful in accepting ignorance which as we can see now is in decline… As Mark Twain once said, “It’s not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
Let us dig deeper into this rich history, because as open-minded as some rulers were, some saw knowledge as a threat. Much like the burning of the library in Alexandria, books were burned, scholars were killed, and knowledge was shunned.
Tamasoma Jyotirgamaya, is an ancient Indian saying which translates to, ‘lead me from darkness unto light’
Knowledge was always seen as light and ignorance as darkness. The goal of knowledge was simply to shed light on the darkness of ignorance. In the early Vedic ages education was open to all and was seen as a way to achieve enlightenment. It also exemplified equality of opportunity and freedom of thought. With the establishment of caste system, education also became structured in that way. The Brahmins learned about scriptures, religion and philosophy. Kshatriyas were taught politics, warfare and economics, Vaishyas studied commerce and lastly the Shudras were trained skills to carry out day to day jobs. This may have led to the eventual downfall of the early Vedic system as knowledge was imparted not on the basis of merit but on the basis of lineage. There are several accounts of great warriors who were shunned down and great philosophers discarded because of a lack of lineage.
This was followed by a liberal Buddhist era in many parts and a small shift in the thought process. The highlight of this era may be the inception of the famous Nalanda University, which produced some of the greatest scholars of the time, people from all around the world flocked to the University. It advanced and made great strides in the field of philosophy, grammar, medicine, logic and several other subjects. Naturally, as a by-product, it brought great growth and prosperity to the entire empire. Most of our knowledge of Nalanda comes from the writings of pilgrim monks from Asia who travelled to the University in the 7th century. Even during the Middle Ages which witnessed numerous invasions and wars, most kingdoms wholeheartedly promoted, enhanced and accepted the system. Various other Universities were established such as Takshashila and VIkramshila up north and Kanthalloorshala down south.
With the start of the Muslim rule, Brahmanic scripts and languages were replaced by Arabic and Persian texts. Although the earlier educational system in India was advanced, the Muslim system brought about the organization of learning into a proper system of schooling, comprising of primary and advanced levels of studies. Maktabs were established to impart Primary education, secondary and advanced language skills were taught in secondary schools known as madrasahs. Apart from basic skills like reading, writing and reciting the Quran, subjects like art, medicine, law and administration were also taught. Education flourished and reached its peak during the time of the Great King Akbar who was known to be an inclusive Emperor.
As Education flourished so did the Empire, this led to Western colonizers being attracted towards what is now India. First the Portuguese and French and then the British. They saw the lack of unity within the territory, although initially education was unaffected, eventually, it was used as a weapon against the people.
The colonizers saw education as largely unorganized and thus saw the massive opportunity to impart western ideals. As the British tightened their grip over India, they realized that to reign over the lands, they must reign over the minds of the people first and education presented itself as a great opportunity for them to do so. Classrooms were designed to create workers to suit the industrial revolution that was happening in the west. The already existing system was quickly uprooted and western ideals and propaganda were imposed from a primary level. Lord Macaulay, who was sent to review the system went so far as to say, “It is no exaggeration to say, that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in Sanskrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgements used at preparatory schools in England.” Slowly people started forgetting the early periods and became largely ignorant to those times.
Our system is still largely inspired from these primitive western ways. After gaining independence, India has made giant strides to make its population literate, these efforts considering those circumstances are commendable. However, with the advent of technological revolutions we can clearly see yet another revolution in the background. Let us be prepared this time around. Understanding our roots and analysing the circumstances that led us here are important in the process.
In the coming weeks, we shall travel back in time and explore those philosophies, concepts and systems that have long been forgotten and left behind. We will dive deep into concepts like Nyaya Shastra and Arundathi Nyaya, explore the philosophies of existence in Vedanta and try to imbibe the concept of reality and consciousness as set forth by great scholars like Ashtavakra and Shankaracharya. Understand the importance of gatekeepers in the great Nalanda University. We shall also look closely into where the system went wrong, got corrupted in itself and led to grand scales of injustice. Furthermore, we will also discuss the future, the implications of Artificial Intelligence on Education and how redundancy will lead to realisation.
By Bharath Nair