Dialogue  April-June 2007 , Volume 8 No. 4

Changing values in Educationtc

Shankar Sharan

Living under the educational system of Lord Macaulay for several generations now we have almost forgotten that this country had a great educational system not only in the ancient times when the priceless wealth of wisdom and knowledge in every field of human life was found by yogic methods, then memorized, written and transmitted to generations after generation for centuries without the help of printing or paper technologies; but also in 18-19th centuries the Indian education system was superior to the European system both in quality and reach. This is a fact reflecting from the extensive surveys done by the British rulers themselves1

So, ever since the Macaulay system was enforced on this country we have been living under the spell of the ‘values’ handed over to us by the system. Our educational values, save the short period of the Swadeshi movement exactly a hundred years ago, have been largely shaped by a foreign and colonial system. The independence in 1947 could not, unfortunately, bring any fundamental change as envisaged by our great men who fought for independence as well as for the restoration of Indian values in education and overall social system, the values that has been the hallmark of the Indian civilization.

As we discuss the values in education in such a given historical setting the discussion is bound to be restricted by such setting. That is, we are not going to discuss changing the educational system lock stock and barrel, much as though it may seem desirable. However, even in the given frame some points should still be addressed, sooner or later, for the benefit of students as well as educators:

1. There is a great disconnect between the prevalent educational discourses and programmes on the one hand and the well-considered views, principles and express directives of our contemporary great visionaries and thinkers such as Swami Vivekananda, SriAurobindo, Rabindranath Tagore or Mahatma Gandhi on the other. Especially the values they cherished most the current discourse on education seem to utterly disregard. How to perceive this? Are the values, for example, emphasized by SriAurobindo in his famous A System of National Education and Mahatma Gandhi in his Hind Swarajya now obsolete or misconceived from the beginning? If not, since so far no one has even said so, then why this disconnect? Why our educational discourse, programmes, training documents and textbooks fail to imbibe and impart those values to teachers and students?

2. At the time of the freedom struggle and even during the earlier decades of independent India there used to be a well-recognized subject called ‘moral education’. As Mahatma Gandhi had underlined unequivocally, “Our old schools are quite satisfactory. There the moral education takes the first place. That is the true primary education. Upon which (foundation) whatever we would build will be lasting”2. Then, after sometime without any explanation it was silently replaced by a ‘value education’ taking some of the points associated with the earlier subject but also leaving, silently, many of them. With another passage of time now something called ‘peace education’ has replaced the ‘value education’ too. As an educationist has noted recently, “subsuming what was, more or less, known as Education of Human values”3. Why these silent, yet meaningful in the silence, changes ushered in our education system? That is, not rejecting the earlier thought giving explicit reasons but simply dumping it unceremoniously and adopting a new terminology with patently a new set of values? What good purpose it has served and going to serve the children and the country?

3. Continuing with the point, the entire range of values as enunciated in the A System of National Education and the Hind Swarajya has been almost completely replaced now. As can be seen, for example, in the paper mentioned above, where the values underlined are: ‘bringing about peace’, ‘nurturing social skills and outlook needed to live in harmony’, ‘reinforcing social justice’, ‘duty to propagate a secular culture’, ‘activating a democratic culture’, ‘peace as a lifestyle movement’4

4. To make the point clearer, some of the values thus relegated to insignificance are patriotism, valour, courage, duty to one’s parents, family and nation. Nowadays even when one mentions a hundred values, patriotism is conspicuous by its absence in the long list of values to be taught. Little realizing: who will then join the armed forces to defend the country (and within it such educators too), if patriotism and active defense of the motherland is excluded from the list of values? Is, then, defending the borders of the country and saving the people from terrorists, criminals etc., are merely a mercenary work? A work left for insignificant people aka army jawans? Is it why we fail to properly respect our slain soldiers and, many of us ‘enlightened’ lot, take pride in respecting the human rights of proven terrorists who routinely kill the soldiers and innocents here and there? These are not rhetorical questions but clear and present danger we are facing, even though for mysterious reasons choose not to discuss.

This writer has personal experience on occasions when intellectuals and educationists felt uncomfortable, even embarrassed with the mention of ‘patriotism’ and ‘national pride’ as teachable values to children. Such intellectuals obviously take the safety and security of the country for granted, which, in view of even the recent history of our country, is utterly naïve to say the least! Is it normal to shun patriotism? Is it normal, again, to be shy of talking about our civilizational greatness (perhaps because it was almost wholly Hindu contribution)? This we do, despite the fact that “every child is a lover of interesting narrative, a hero-worshipper and a patriot”7. In other words, what we are doing these days, by enforcing our own contrived (political? politically correct?) values into a child, is to stifle his best instincts! And yet these are less significant examples of the downgraded values. Going through the classic presentations of our great visionaries we come to realize that many most essential values are simply missing in our contemporary educational discourses.

5. For instance, we never talk of the national spirit, concept of nation “not an organized state or an armed and efficient community well prepared for the struggle of life …but a great communal soul of a national Purusha”; of Swadharma; of habituating to right emotions as the only way to cultivate highest values; of our Sanskrit and classic literature as a kind of good company, satsanga, which seldom fail to have effect; etc. Nowadays many of our educationists seem to become almost blind to the natural impulses which rise within any child and which are his most precious resources to blossom him into a great human being. Instead they wish to make him a cheap political animal. For this purpose the qualities or values tend to be ignored are:

                The thirst for knowledge, the self-devotion, the purity, the renunciation…the courage, ardour, honour, nobility, chivalry, patriotism…the beneficence, skill, industry, generous enterprise and large open-handedness…the self-effacement and loving service…these are the qualities of the Aryan. They constitute the moral temper we desire in our young men, in the whole nation.8

Alas! One cannot find such tenor in our contemporary educational promises and programmes. The sad feeling is bound to surface if one goes through the thoughts of Bankim, Vivekananda, Gandhi, Tagore et al. It would be no exaggeration to say that we have for all practical purposes abandoned the most valuable corpus of thought on education. The underlying arguments, apparently reflecting in contemporary discourse, for doing so are strikingly very similar to what the colonial masters of our country used to proffer against our nationalist thinkers and sages. How to understand these puzzling dimensions of education in general, and value education or ‘peace’ education in particular?

6. In fact, the underlying philosophy of the contemporary Indian educational system, spreading out more and more to rural areas too and thus destroying the ‘old schools’ Gandhi took so much pride in, is very disturbing. It is no secret that from the initial stages itself the best urban schools in our metropolises and famous boarding schools are incessantly preparing our children ‘for export’. That is, to make them best engineers, technicians, scientists, managers, doctors not for serving the countrymen but…to go and settle abroad! This is a most disquieting trend recently our President Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, known for his concern for children and education, has also noted with distress. But, our educationists have hardly bothered about it so far. Instead, in some sections there is a perverse pride taken in it! Mahatma Gandhi was right in castigating the English education (which we continued with after becoming free from the British rule) that it made the educated Indians ‘arrogant, selfish, greedy’ and they ‘oppressed the people’ and at least become ‘aloof of the people’9. Rabindranath Tagore had pointed to another harmful trait of such educational philosophy, “It forcibly snatches away children from a world full of the mysteries of God’s own handiwork, full of the suggestiveness of personality…It is a manufactory specially designed for grinding out uniform results10. Is it not, sadly, the same thing what our most prestigious educational institutions, including higher, technical ones, have become today?

7. Apart from the bigger questions some of which hinted above, there are smaller questions also with regard to the value education in its narrow sense. Though, they are as important since they relate to our day to day life as well. For instance, how to deal with those forces, elements and groups opposed to your cherished values, such as your and your family’s honour, defending the weak, the integrity of the nation, etc?

8. A related question is what to do with some rival, ‘exclusivist’ values11 some people may profess? It is all very well till everyone in a school or neighbourhood accepts a value more or less in a similar vein. However, one must face the fact that there are a large number of concepts which have different meaning to different people, sometimes radically different and opposed to each other. In such cases, even if from a theoretical point of view, though it also frequently present itself in practical terms, our students, teachers and educators must have a bottom-line to take a stand and make a choice. It will do no good to pretend that ‘peace’, ‘brotherhood’, ‘tolerance’, ‘purity’, ‘compassion’, ‘citizenship’, ‘secularism’ etc have well-recognised universally accepted meanings12 What to do when faced with a concept of ‘brotherhood’ of some Only True Creed or Only True God? Would it be helpful if our young men and future leaders remain oblivious of such hard realities of life and times, realities sometimes quite unexpectedly thrust upon them without notice? Or would it not be better to lock horns with uncomfortable questions with truthfulness, clarity and determination though without malice towards anyone, as was the way of our great men such as Dayanand, Bankim, Vivekanand, SriAurobindo and Gandhi to name a few?

9. If it is difficult to depict a Jinnah or Bhinderawale in actual, truthful context, since some or other community may not like it, then how to deal with the issue? Should such personae or subjects be removed from educational transactions? Sometimes it willy-nilly comes up in informal discussions in class rooms even though not in the course textbook, because children also watch news on television, read newspapers and hear people talking about it. So, should such issues be necessarily embellished/ falsified so as not to raise heckles? Or is there any other way to set the principle?

10. A related point, especially with regard to the history teaching. Should one distort historical facts, incidents, narrations etc. to smoothen painful episodes of history? For example, one frequently hears in our discourses that ‘the Arabs did not come to India as invaders’. The most famous earliest Arab that approached India in 712 AD was Muhammad bin Qasim. What he was according to the extant historical records and evidence available the world over for centuries? How to take such erroneous presentations? Never mind the value of ‘truthfulness’, can such practice even otherwise benefit the children and the nation?

11. ‘Tolerance’ is always professed as a great value. But tolerating what? Are there exceptions, such as various insults, crimes, terrorism, a foreign aggression determined to conquer or destroy your society and country, etc? In other words, should tolerance be extended to tolerating intolerance, greed, violence and evil acts too? If not, how to teach the value of tolerance so as not to make students and educators somnolent towards difficult situations in life?

12. A linked issue is that of opposing war and non-violence. Many well-meaning people including teachers and educationists justly believe that ‘we are against war as such, all wars’ or ‘violence cannot solve any problem’ etc. Now, why do people employ security guards, watchmen etc? What if a guard or a watchman takes to ‘non-violence’ in the nick of time? Should then such noble principles be properly qualified so as not to invite aggressions from within as well as without? If not, how to respond to an organized gang attack or a foreign army’s attack? Or, even in peacetime, to a national call to join our country’s armed forces?

Therefore, it is better not to shy away from our own time-tested Bhartiya values enshrined in such great reservoirs of thought and wisdom as Mahabharata and Ramayana. The values conforming to Dharma and taking a truthful, valiant stand against adharma have served well our forefathers for millennia and there is no reason to discount it. As rightly pointed out by Sri M K Kaw, the Dean of the Centre, in his valedictory address to the workshop, that following blindly the values emanating and propagated from the West makes people confused, distraught and fragmented. “Not even family, even nuclear family remains untouched. Even the children of such family become increasingly isolated”. He correctly divined that given a continuance of such a trend the whole world would finish itself. Therefore, the notions and values we tend to disseminate must have to be critically examined and analysed honestly.

Secondly, whenever we present some apparently universal value such as ‘humanism’ or ‘brotherhood’ we must stick to our own reasonable meaning of such values. Hesitation on any pretext will be counter-productive and disastrous in the long run as the experiences of the western Punjab, eastern Bengal and the Jammu and Kashmir has shown in different yet recent times. In those parts of our country hundreds of thousands of teachers, pupils, good men and women of every walk of life must have felt, believed, repeated and trusted in such ‘universal’ values for all their life. What happened to those poor souls! They were deceived by their own make-believe ideological constructs (given by false leaders and preachers still abound in our country). Therefore, lessons must be learnt lest the horrible experience be repeated with some other hapless, unsuspecting people of our country. These are not just theoretical but practical questions too.


     1.   For a detailed and authentic exposition see Dharampal, The Beautiful Tree: The Indian Indigenous Education in the Eighteenth Century (New Delhi: Biblia Impex, 1983)

     2.   Mahatma Gandhi, Hind Swarajya (Ahmedabad: Navjeevan Prakashan Mandir, 1989), p. 74

     3.   N K Ambasht, “Integration of Values in Subject Teaching”, a paper distributed in the educational workshop organized by Sri Sathya Sai International Centre for Study and Research in Human Values, New Delhi, during Januray 11-13, 2007.

     5.   For example, ‘to propagate a secular culture’ is against the teachings of SriAurobindo and Gandhi, not to speak of our time-tested shastras. See, Mahatma Gandhi, Hind Swarajya, especially the chapters ‘Sachchi sabhyata kaun si’, ‘Sabhyata ka darshan’ and ‘Shiksha’.

     6.   ‘Dharma’ must not be confused with ‘religion’. Dharmameans literally that which one lays hold of and which holds thing together, the law, the norm, the rule of nature, action and life. Every serious scholar of the world has recognised that the Western lexicon has no word to convey what Dharma means. Hence, religion is not Dharma.

     7.   Sri Aurobindo, “Simultaneous and Successive Teaching” in Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on Education (Pondicherry: SriAurobindo Ashram, 2004), p. 34

     8.   Sri Aurobindo, “The Moral Nature” in Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on Education (Pondicherry: SriAurobindo Ashram, 2004), pp. 29-30

     9.   Mahatma Gandhi, Hind Swarajya (Ahmedabad, 1989), pp. 74-75

   10.   Rabindranath Tagore, “My school” in Personality: Lectures delivered in America (London: Macmillan and Co, 1948), Indian edition, p. 114. Emphasis added.

   11.   Sri M K Kaw, a former Secretary to the Govt of India and currently the Dean of the Sri Sathya Sai International Centre for Study and Research in Human Value, had very perceptively raised this point in his inaugural address in the above-mentioned workshop that “the problem arises when one tries to emphasise an exclusivist kind of dogma”. Giving the express examples of the Church and Islam he drew attention that their massages with time gone astray making it exclusivist, supportive of world-wide conversions of peoples of other faith, jihad, etc. He rightly hinted at these problematic areas in the hope that the educationists may not brush it under while discussing values. Values as well as counter-values have to be taken into consideration. A ( B&C)– 3160, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi 110 070