One of the critical aspects of educational philosophy is that it helps to construct a comprehensive system of education. Since India won independence, many philosophies have been carried out by diversified prominent thinkers, and most of their views have been imparted in the Indian education policy context as well. Despite the evolution of educational institutions, there are still gaps between their philosophical ideals and everyday operations. Let us examine the educational philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore and its relevance in contemporary times.
Educational Philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore.
Rabindranath Tagore, the first Nobel Laureate in Asia, was born into a prominent Calcutta family celebrated for their socio-religious and cultural innovations during the 19th Bengal Renaissance. His family's profound social and cultural involvement played a pivotal role in shaping his educational priorities. Notably, among his thirteen siblings were mathematicians, journalists, novelists, musicians, and artists.
“Our university must not only instruct but live; not only think but produce.”
Rabindranath Tagore's educational model is highly effective in multicultural settings, particularly in the presence of economic and political differences. Growing up surrounded by the rich cultural environment of his extended family, Rabindranath had the opportunity to learn at his own pace. This experience inspired him to later replicate this dynamic model of education at his school in Santiniketan.
Rabindranath's educational ideas were not consolidated in a single treatise but rather expressed through his writings and experiments at Santiniketan. Through his experiences, he gained an appreciation for the value of the arts in fostering empathy and sensitivity, as well as the significance of establishing a connection to one's cultural and natural surroundings. He held the belief that a broad-minded perspective was essential and viewed education as a means of cultivating an understanding and appreciation for different cultures while also embracing one's own.
Tagore advocated for a curriculum that fully embraced the natural world. He believed in holding classes outdoors, beneath the canopy of trees, with a schedule that allowed for spontaneous explorations and observations. The curriculum also included nature walks and festivals that highlighted the interconnectedness of all things in the world.
Tagore believed that developing the senses through aesthetics was just as important as intellectual development in education. The school placed great emphasis on music, literature, art, dance, and drama, particularly after the first decade. This approach created an atmosphere where the arts became instinctive, with music being one of the first areas emphasized. In line with his theory of subconscious learning, Rabindranath engaged students by involving them in his writing and compositions. He allowed students access to the room where he read his new works to teachers and critics, encouraging them to share their writing during special literary evenings. When teaching, he presented challenging literature to stimulate his students, even if they did not fully comprehend it.
Rabindranath had a noble vision of establishing Visva-Bharati as a center for the arts that would represent the entire nation. To bring this vision to life, he encouraged artists such as Nandalal Bose to make Santiniketan their home, which would create a conducive environment for the development of a national style of art. Tagore also played a significant role in promoting and uniting various Indian dance forms, including both folk and modern dance forms, thus contributing to the preservation and promotion of India's rich cultural heritage. Tagore's vision for Visva-Bharati was to create a space where individuals from diverse cultures could gather to learn, reduce conflicts, and strive for truth. He also invited artists and scholars from different parts of India and the world to live together at Santiniketan and share their cultures with Visva-Bharati, promoting mutuality.
In terms of curriculum, he proposed a shift in teaching focus. Instead of studying national cultures for wars won and cultural dominance imposed, he suggested analyzing history and culture for the progress made in breaking down social and religious barriers. His approach emphasized the innovations in integrating individuals of diverse backgrounds into a larger framework and devising economic policies that emphasized social justice while narrowing the gap between rich and poor. Art should be studied for its role in promoting aesthetic imagination and expressing universal themes.
Relevance of his ideas in contemporary times.
Education today is highly focused on providing bookish knowledge with little to no industry experience, which often results in students settling for much lesser academic goals than what they should aim for. If we look at his ideology, we will realize the importance of feedback and experiential learning in education. It is obvious that no academic institution is going to hold classes in a park to establish a sense of interconnected among students, but they should foster an environment where every student is exposed to basic life skills instead of narrow education. University students, in 2020, reported rapid spikes in anxiety and depression, with many students dropping out of college. Mental health issues in students are often multi- faceted and arise due to sudden lifestyle changes such as career uncertainty, financial difficulties, feelings of alienation, and family problems. This is where we need to implement Tagore’s ideas in our education policy and make it a joyous process.
Mental health issues are a very common factor among university students these days, especially those who move out of their hometowns to metropolitan cities to get quality education. The feelings of alienation, cultural differences, and inability to fit in, later take the form of anxiety and stress. Right from school, kids are introduced to theory-heavy books and the history of the world but no one is introduced to the process of tackling their emotions. NGOs such as SECMOL (the Students Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh) have done ground-breaking work in a geographical location such as Ladakh, where students have low self-esteem due to previous failures and language difficulties in not being able to express themselves even when they have completely understood concepts. Mr. Sonam Wangchuk, a bright young Ladakhi, founded SECMOL in the late 1980s. He was shocked to learn how much the formal education system in Ladakh was disempowering young Ladakhis. He is well known as the real-life Phunsukh Wangdu from the Bollywood hit 3 Idiots.
A Brief History of SECMOL
SECMOL was founded in 1988 with the primary objective of changing the educational system of Ladakh. In 1988, 95% of Ladakhi students failed the state 10th-class exams and the years before that. Mr. Sonam Wangchuk figured out the faults in the education system and launched the Operation New Hope movement to provide quality education in Leh District. The ONH movement was in collaboration with the Education Department, the local government, and the village community members. In 2007, SECMOL had to pull out of school reform and stopped working with the local government on it.
All teachers are now trained, primary-level children have locally relevant textbooks, the language confusion has been reduced, teachers and administrators are more accountable, and village committees oversee and improve their schools. The number of students passing the matriculation exam increased so that from 2003 to 2006 about 50% of government school students passed their matriculation exam in Leh District every year, and after a drop in
2008 to 28%, it has risen to over 2/3 of students passing (SECMOL website, 2023).
What makes Traditional Education different from the Modern Education system?
Traditional education or institutions like SECMOL have imbibed many ideas that Tagore accounted for like the establishment of a relationship between man and God, physical development, and love for humanity. It is easy to see how a positive and appropriate physical environment can have a significant impact on a child's development. Children at SECMOL do the basic life skill tasks assigned to them by the administration. The tasks could be as simple as gardening. By doing so, kids acquire the fundamentals of planning, management, administration, and governance.
Children go to the task of their choice after morning talk, introspection, and meditation, while remembering to complete the tasks assigned to them as part of SECMOL and their administration. By doing so, kids acquire the fundamentals of planning, management, administration, and governance; they choose to take the initiative, make mistakes, and learn from them. They do not rely on theories or books to learn all of this. They adjust to their surroundings and incorporate what they do. They are proving that education is more than simply reading and writing; it is also practical experience in scientific and social studies, provided in the mother tongue and with real-life comparisons and hands-on practice, which is central to Tagore's concept. Every activity on their campus teaches them something, and there are no hard and fast rules or laws.
For example, if a student wants to learn how to calculate the area of a triangle, he or she can do so by stepping up or down the stairs rather than attending a mathematics class at a specific time or with a specific teacher; they used to learn this on their own with the assistance of facilitators while playing or wondering during their free time. SECMOL's campus was designed in a unique way to pique learners' curiosity, encourage them to pursue their interests, chill them for their inherent strengths, and keep them from destroying their creativity under any type of learning pressure (Upadhyay et al. 2021).
To conclude, we can see the significance of Tagore’s ideas in the SECMOL case study where Ladakhi students can be seen thriving academically just by shifting the education approach. Tagore was among the first in India to advocate for a humane educational system that was in touch with the environment and aimed at overall personality development, such as SECMOL. Institutions like this play a vital role in shaping students' mental health and give them a healthy environment to engage and grow with one another. Tagore should be recognized as a living manifestation of the mutuality and creative exchange that he promoted. He fought for a world in which varied voices were encouraged to communicate with one another and reconcile differences within the framework of an overarching commitment to peace and mutual connection. His caring nature and efforts to break down all kinds of barriers serve as a paradigm for how multiculturalism may exist within a community.
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