Development and Education

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Seeing the Whole Elephant

Educational Institutions and policy makers need to play a role in preparing youngsters for the future. And the future will be determined by the decisions we make about our current development path - whether we shift to a low carbon way of life or not.

We asked a few college going students what they think of development. Many were sure it basically meant progress, bigger cities, better facilities, a better life. Some felt it was an inevitable aspect of human evolution. A few were quite puzzled, saying it was difficult to answer the question since there were so many complexities involved. One student said that just when India is trying to get ‘developed’, all the negatives of development are being talked about, including carbon emissions and climate change; she felt it was an unfair world, because her family after years of dreaming and saving were now going to buy a car – why should they give it up?

Every Indian would know the story of the six blind men and the elephant. Each blind man thinks it is a different thing – a wall, a tree trunk, a brush and so on, depending on which part of the elephant he has touched. ‘Seeing the whole elephant’ when it comes to development is much more complex, since there are so many more aspects to it and each person sees it with her own filters. Education and life experiences lets students - and most of us - only see a few facets of development – without the understanding that they are connected to innumerable other aspects of life.

The sociologist Ashish Nandy wrote about the concept of ‘colonialism in the mind’, where the elite of India had absorbed an entire way of thinking of the colonisers even after they had left. They then replaced the British as leaders as we adopted a path of western style development in India, much against the wishes of Gandhiji, one of the few whose mind was not colonized. Today our minds are not colonized by any other country. We are now dealing with our minds colonized by notions of ‘development’, just as in earlier eras our minds were colonized by religion. We are caught up in a paradigm which embraces the entire destiny of modern civilisation.

By and large, as human beings we suffer from a vulnerability - we seem to be able to value only immediate benefits and unable to see the whole picture in the space dimension or see far into the future or the past in the time dimension. In this issue of Eternal Bhoomi, we have attempted to share the writing of many visionaries from E.F.Schumacher and Thich Nhat Hanh to Vandana Shiva and Claude Alvares – writings that help us see the whole elephant of modern day ‘development’