Rabindranath Tagore’s Philosophy on Indian Education

If one thing is said to have not changed since time immemorial, it is the greatest esteem for knowledge and respect for the learned in our society. Had there been no evolutionary development of speech and spread of knowledge through language, it’s difficult to imagine how humanity would have flourished.

This could be one reason why even in the 21st century parents constantly strive towards providing better education to their children. Unfortunately, the Indian education system at present is jay-walking. In-spite of being home for great philosophies on education, the system is failing to pick up messages from the subtle frequencies of great philosophers.

Our divine poet, Rabindranath Tagore was born during a period of strife in pre-independence India. He stood for the development of a free mind, free knowledge and a free nation. Even as a young boy he could sense that school was nothing but a dead routine and lifeless. He regarded schools as mills of rote learning with no freedom for creativity. Schooling almost had no influence in his life. According to him, the primary objective of education was to enable the preservation of the perfect symphony between one’s life and the world outside.

There are four fundamental principles in Tagore’s educational philosophy; naturalism, humanism, internationalism and idealism. Shantiniketan and Visva Bharathi are both based on these very principles.

He insisted that education should be imparted in a natural surroundings. He believed in giving children the freedom of expression. He said, “Children have their active subconscious mind which like a tree has the power to gather its food from the surrounding atmosphere”.  He also said that an educational institution should not be “ a dead cage in which living minds are fed with food that’s artificially prepared. Hand work and arts are the spontaneous over flow of our deeper nature and spiritual significance”.

According to him, “Education means enabling the mind to find out that ultimate truth which emancipates us from the bondage of dust and gives us wealth not of things but of inner light, not of power but of love. It is a process of enlightenment. It is divine wealth. It helps in realization of truth”.

The aim of education is to bring about perfection of man by dispelling ignorance and ushering in the light of knowledge. It should enable us to lead a complete life – economic, intellectual, aesthetic, social and spiritual.

The main objective of his school – Shantiniketan was to cultivate a love for nature, to impart knowledge and wisdom in one’s native language, provide freedom of mind, heart and will, a natural ambience, and to eventually enrich Indian culture.

For Tagore, religion was an ideal. His ‘Visva Bharathi World University’ stood for his nobility of soul. In the pamphlet named ‘The Centre of Indian Culture’, the poet expresses the ideals of Visva Bharathi.

There he writes, ‘In education, the most inspiring atmosphere of creative activity is important. Primary function of the institution must be constructive; scope must be for all kinds of intellectual exploration. Teaching must be one with culture, spiritual, intellectual, aesthetic, economic and social. True education is to realize at every step how our training and knowledge have an organic connection with our surroundings”.

Tagore says, “We should know that the great task of our institution is to provide for the education of the mind and all the senses through various activities”.

Referring to religion, Rabindranath Tagore likens an educational institution to ‘a wide meeting place where all sects may gather together and forget their differences’. In the memorandum of association of the Visva Bharati, Tagore writes the objectives as, “To study the mind of man in its realization of different aspects of truth from diverse points of view, the culture of Visva Bharati is the culture of man and its keynote lies in the truth that human personality is not a mean trifle, it is also the Divine personality”.

He also lays emphasis on the learner’s contact with nature. Apart from physical activity, nature teaches a man more than any institution. Educational institutions should realize the importance of this fact and inculcate co-curricular activities to good effect.

Tagore believes that, one of the main aims of education is to prepare the individual for the service of the nation and education stands for human regeneration, cultural representation, harmony and intellectualism. Educational institutions should build on the power of thinking and imagination in an individual and help turn herself/himself into a self-sustained building block of human society and a creative canvas of nation on the whole.

To quote Tagore: “A day will come when the unvanquished man will retrace his path of conquest, despite all barriers, to win back his lost heritage”.

Let us hope that the same quote applies to our Indian education system. Tagore’s foresight on natural environment as background to child’s education is much needed at present because of the lack of breathing space in the current school curriculum. A child is bogged down to amass grades and marks throughout its schooling, which also builds pressure on the parents. Not to even mention school fees that are shooting through the roof, the present schooling gives lesser importance to the well-being of a child. We have reached the point where most schools are run without even playgrounds. If we keep tripping without trying to learn from failures, we might end up with a dislike for the very process of walking, and thereby miss all the pleasures of the gift of evolution. Shifted preferences, politics, socio-economic degradation of the nation is terribly reflecting on our education system. It is high time we took notice and did something.

Thriveni C


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