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THE CULTURAL DIMENSION OF EDUCATION

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The Bose Foundation School...

Baidyanath Saraswati, Shivashankar Dube & Ram Lakhan Maurya

Swaraj in Education...

Baidyanath Saraswati

Self-Learning

High concentration

Learning together

The little monitor

Children are nurtured in a liberal and lively atmosphere

Education through the Arts

Festivals are the occasions of performance - making things of beauty, doing higher things.

Acting old

Dancing at the spring festival

Becoming the goddess of learning

Teachers truly great

Youths of the middle class families from the neighbour hood demonstrate the ancient idea of teachers teaching for the love of it and receiving the barest maintenance.

Give children the affection of a mother or a sister. Children address them by kinship terms, elder sister or brother.

The Joys

With the declared objectives of swaraj, swadeshi and sarvodaya in and through primary education, without reference to government grants, the Foundation School is organized on an experimental basis. An attempt is made, with limited resources in men and money, to evolve an operative model rather than develop a conceptual framework for self-organizing education. The school has founded a sacred tradition of working — the right way of doing right things. It is a new gurukula which, in contradistinction to the old gurukula, is a non-residential institution. But it has all the advantage of the old indigenous system that combines the home and the school in one. The school is located in the heart of a mixed community of Muslim silk weavers and Hindu castes following a number of modern and traditional occupations. Its building matches other residential buildings in the neighbourhood, providing at a casual glance the picture of an extended family. As it makes itself a part of the neighbourhood, the children do not have the problem of adapting to a different environment. The neighbourhood is economically poor but culturally rich. So is the school: it cannot impart free education to all. Moreover, it also holds the view that payment of school fees makes guardians realize that education is as essential as food; it gives them confidence. Free municipal schools hold little attraction. The children of the Foundation School pay their fees on time. The poor have learnt to live with pride and dignity.

True education is inseparable from religion. The Foundation School considers morality the first principle of religion. It follows the approach of Kabir and Gandhi — the gospel of love, the belief in the oneness not merely of all human life but of all that lives. It emphasizes the oneness of God and the brotherhood of man. It shares Gandhi’s dream.

Prayer at the Foundation School is undoubtedly the highest expression and application of religion. It is combined with meditation and silence. The School teaches respect for parents, respect for tradition, and love of the motherland. The children are told that the mother is the first and foremost guru and that their motherland is the daughter of Mother Earth. They are taught to respect all faiths and to come forward to imbibe knowledge of the religions of other peoples. They are made aware that the religion of humanity, i.e. ‘universal religion’, does not stand in opposition to ‘practised religions’.

The religion of humanity is not social ethics but the art of life. Art is the expression of aesthetic experience. Works of art are, therefore, not works made for profit but essentially works of goodness, beauty and harmony. Through the practice of art, a child not only achieves creative power but also enjoys learning. Religion, art, and education are essentially inseparable in their doing and feeling. The Foundation School opens in the morning for three to five hours but the children keep coming in the afternoons to play and in the evenings for singing and dancing. Festivals follow Nature: the cycle of seasons having both physical and spiritual sensitiveness. Festivals are the occasions of performance — making things of beauty, doing higher things, holding exhibitions, and feeling fun. They are also occasions for singing and hearing music, dancing and acting — not really for competition but primarily aimed at the delight of the mind. Seasonal celebrations at the Foundation School are not purely religious; they are concerned with the illumination of beauty and the lightning of intelligence.

There is a difference between the intelligence of man and the intelligence of the machine, or artificial intelligence. The machine does not have a sense of beauty, a sense of goodness, a sense of love. It is a designer of things, not an artist of the imagination. The Foundation does not consider education a tool to design commercial things. Education is an intelligent imagination for which beauty, goodness, and love are the foremost needs. At the primary level of education what is required is to impart knowledge of the nature of things and to develop the faculty of intelligent imagination by which the child can act. The Foundation School endeavours to do this by introducing thirty minutes of prayer-cum-meditation, regular yogic exercise, and the art of poetry recitation and story-telling without the use of classroom texts.

For the children of classes IV and V, it is made obligatory to write a notebook, called Jnanamanjari (the flowering of knowledge), where their favourite stories, songs, poems, puzzles, descriptions of festivals and other cultural events, etc., are recorded and illustrated with pictures. Experience has shown that they mirror the minds of the children and help the seed of their thought grow. A content analysis of 117 Jnanamanjari notebooks written over fifteen years reveals that these children, regardless of their being Hindu or Muslim, share in common the knowledge of Kashi that gives a certain universality — the Third Culture of this city — far beyond the frontiers of their respective religious orthodoxies.

What makes a teacher truly great is imagination combined with knowledge, understanding and affection. The teachers at the Foundation School are of three categories: regular teachers, visiting teachers, and monitors. Under the last category, senior pupils work as assistants to teachers. Past students are also involved as full-time teachers. Experience has shown that formal training of primary school teachers is of little value. The words ‘trained teacher’ mean ‘made by deliberate skill’ rather than the product of instinctive operations or impersonal force of nature as manifest in the mothers of all animals. The best teachers are those who give children the affection of a mother or a sister, who play with them and tell them stories and riddles. The teachers are addressed in kinship terms.

At the primary level, printed books create a degradation of the mind. The Foundation School does not make a fetish of literacy. The children of this sacred city have an awareness of the history and culture of India through shrines, temples, mosques, fairs, festivals, lilas and rituals. They are also aware of the different kinds of people of the world visiting the city as pilgrims and tourists. For the children of the Foundation School the world is not a book of maps, and the cosmos is not a concept but a living reality that presents itself in Kashi, the microcosm. Their minds are prepared to know the real thing and to see the beauty in things around them, so as to reach nearest to the highest human value.

The Echo

Sixteen years ago the Foundation began sowing the ‘seeds’ of ideas in the hope that they would bear fruit. The wise man cultivates the field of knowledge without knowing that he knows. So is the experiment in education. In either case there is a great joy of working. The joy of working at the Foundation School lies in seeing and experiencing that the soil is excellent. It is thrilling that Muslim girls fettered by convention to profit by new educational systems (Figs. 1-3) now stand first in all the seven classes (Table 1) and first in the School (Table 2); their customs forbade them in the strongest manner never to go outside the house without the veil, but they come to the school unveiled and excel in public performances in the arts (Table 3).

There is an echo of change in the environment (Table 4). The children of this school have learnt to restrain communal passion. Their guardians, especially mothers, have realized the value of school education. Those who had rejected the Foundation’s vision of cross-cultural education now see a culture of higher things evolving. Those who once used to throw stones at the Foundation School are now the most frequent spectators of the children’s performances. In their direct experience of working, the sutradhar and teachers find the flowering of their service, the feeling of heart, the hope of resilience, the harmony of the rhythms of life and knowledge, and a noble culture of peace evolving.

But what is achieved in these years is of no consequence — it is only the beginning of a tradition in cross-cultural education. It will take generations to purify and stabilize the new system tried out at the Bose Foundation School.

 

Table 1(a): First in Class 1990-95

  1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989
Class H M H M H M H M H M H M H M H M H M
A - B - B G - G - - B B - B - - B B -
B - G - B - B B - G - B - G - G - - B
I - B - B B - - G B - B - - B - B B -
II B - - B B - B - - G G - - G - B G -
III B - B - B - B - B - - B G - G - B -
IV G - B - B - B - B - G - - G B - - B
V - B G - B - B - - G B - G - - G - G

H = Hindu, M = Muslim, B = Boy, G = Girl

Table 1(b): First in Class 1990-95

Class 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995
  H M H M H M H M H M H M
A G - - G B - B - - B - B
B - G B - - G B - - G - G
I - G B - B - - G - B - G
II B - - B - G - G - G - B
III G - B - - B - G - G - G
IV B - G - B - - B - G - G
V G - G - G - B - - B - G

H = Hindu, M = Muslim, B = Boy, G = Girl

Table 2: First in School

  1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995
H B G G - B G B B - - -
M - - - B - - - - G G G

H = Hindu, M = Muslim, B = Boy, G = Girl

Table 3: First in the Arts

Year   Drawing Dance Acting Singing
1990 H - - B B
  M B G - -
1991 H B - B B
  M - G - -
1992 H B - B B
  M - G - -
1993 H - - B B
  M G G - -
1994 H - - B B
  M G G - -
1995 H - - B -
  M G G - G

H = Hindu, M = Muslim, B = Boy, G = Girl

Table 4: The Echo of Change in the Environment

A. Beneficiary of the Foundation School 1980-95

Religious Group Families Students Total
    Boys Girls  
Hindu 236 596 493 1,089
Muslim 194 362 342 704
Total 430 958 835 1,793

 

B. Response of the Guardians

A sample survey of the guardians’ awareness of school education was conducted in 1995 by Ms Rama Lahire of the Bose Foundation School.

Hindu (40%) and Muslim (60%) respondents in the age-group 28-60 answered a 16-point questionnaire. Of them 70% were women, 42% illiterate, 33% having Madrassah-type schooling, and only 25% with up to Class VIII education. Most (72%) of them belonged to the low middle class families and the rest lived in abject poverty; 84% were involved in craft and 16% had taken up small jobs.

On the question of school dress, English education, engaging a tutor, religious education (both in home and in school), girls’ education, small family, and combining education with work, 100 per cent respondents gave a positive answer. Muslim informants wanted that their children may learn Sanskrit and Urdu, but English they must. Among the silk weavers there was no abhorrence for traditional occupation; they wanted their children to follow the ancestral trade.

On the preferability of the Foundation School, their considerations were: proximity, cleanliness, safe for girls, well-behaved teachers, good atmosphere, generosity for poor guardians, teaching of arts and other good things, moral education, paying attention to pupils as evident in their progress — developed sense of responsibility, intelligence, sharing, enthusiasm, and discipline.


STUDENTS FIRST IN CLASS

Fig. 1

MUSLIM STUDENTS FIRST IN CLASS

Fig. 2

FIRST IN SCHOOL 1990-95

Fig. 3

Contd...

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