​​   Indian Pedagogical Tradition

Pedagogy on the Indian subcontinent has a long tradition and is truly unique. In ancient times it differed substantially from other cultures.

Highlights: Pedagogy of Vedic schools and Buddhist Viharas, ancient universities, the impact of Islamic education, education of girls and women, British style education, Gandhi's educational philosophy.


Read on for a glimpse of what's in my upcoming book!




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Vedic educational tradition
How do we usually start our studies at various educational institutions? We get stuffed with information of all sorts, yet we still have no answers to the deepest questions of our existence: Who am I?  Why am I suffering?  What is the purpose of my life? Knowledge acquisition in ancient India used to start with answers to these essential questions. "​​​​Dharma quinine pashubhih Samman." - "The ability to ask about the meaning of life - that is what distinguishes humans from animals."  
 
The Vedic school Gurukula (Guru's House), where children studied under the supervision of a guru, had some characteristics that differed from other high cultures. While the schools of other ancient civilizations were in the middle of the settlements, the ancient  Gurukulas were located in a place far from the city, often on a hill or mountain, and they lived there very ascetically. There were no servants, even the royal children who visited such Gurukulas would have to wash their own clothes, cook their food, and follow a strict course of study. They studied, apart from religion (Vedas, Vedanta and the six systems of Indian philosophy), mathematics, science, literature, art and music. The fact that children were all the same and there were no external influences meant you could focus on the essentials. The beauty of the environment also played a role: the beauty of nature was the first conscious aesthetic impression of the students. The trees, colorful flowers, fresh air, clear lakes or waterfalls, beautiful views - all this created a special atmosphere for learning.
 
The Vedic didactic method of obtaining knowledge may appear somewhat strange to a Western person but when we think of the fruits of knowledge it brought to the whole world we may well consider it at least an interesting approach. The first stage is, listening to the words or texts as they are uttered by the Guru or teacher, the second stage is deliberation or reflection on the topic, and the third stage ismeditation through which truth is to be realized.
 
In ancient India, about 1.500 years before the birth of the first universities in Europe, a prominent center of higher education for students starting from the age of 16, was established in Taxila, today’s Pakistan. This proto-university maintained contact with foreign countries like China and those in the Middle East. Interestingly, each teacher formed his own institution, enjoying complete autonomy in work, teaching as many students as he liked. In general, specialization in a subject took around eight years. The process of teaching was critical and thorough; unless one unit was mastered completely, the student was not allowed to proceed to the next. No “degrees” were awarded since it was believed that knowledge was its own reward.
 







image: wikimedia
"In a Vedic school a teacher was to possess the highest moral and spiritual qualification and to be well versed in the sacred lore and dwelling in the Brahman or the Brahmanishtha.
He was to illuminate the inner beings of his pupils within his own spiritual enlightenment - otherwise it would be like the blind leading the blind".

Suresh Ghosh "History of Education in India"

 

Buddhist educational tradition

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In ancient India, labout 1.500 years before the birth of the first universities in Europe, great edcuational centers were established in Taxila, Nalanda and Pushpagiri.
These first universities maintained contact with foreign countries like China and the Middle East.

​image: remains of Nalanda University
From the 5th century BC onwards, Buddhism introduced institutionalized education in the form of Mahaviharas which focused on higher education, accessible for people of all casts, and organized on democratic principles.

One of the most famous institutions for higher education in ancient India was founded in the 5th century AD in Nalanda, in today's State Bihar.
Nālandā Mahāvihāra was an ancient university with a well-planned, huge campus consisting of lecture halls & residential quarters with free lodging, boarding, and amenities.
The studies consisted of five main subjects, both secular and religious: Sabdavidyā (grammar and lexico-graphy), Silpasthanavidyā (arts), Chikitsavidyā (medicine), Hetuvidyā (logic), and Adhyat-mavidyā (philosophy). At the time of its climax in the 7th century AD this largest Buddhist university contained several thousand students and teachers, including international students from all over Asia.

The tutorial system enabled them to take close care of the students, as the ratio between teachers and students was 1:7. Nalanda Mahavihara included 6 temples and 7 monasteries. The library was said to consist of several million books. The monks learned through memorizing and debating. Debating was one of the major trained skills.

 British Style Education 
February 1835 Minutes on Indian education.

"It is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and color, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population. " - Lord Macaulay's Minutes on Indian Education on his famous Minutes on Indian Education, which was indeed dated 2nd February 1835.​​

In the times of British Rule India established a dense educational network (largely for males) with a Western curriculum based on instruction in English.

source: wikimedia: "Reading the Queen's Proclamation [of direct British rule] at Calcutta

"In ancient India teaching was a sacred duty. It was considered a social obligation... an ethical action. 
In British-India, the aim and philosophy of education was changed and it was adopted with 'Education'... which was considered as medium of earning livelihood for which certain training and skills are to be developed."

"Philosophy of Education" Prof. Nikunj Biswas