As the academic institutions across the country are gearing up to implement the NEP-2020 recommendation at different levels amidst the fear of the impending deathly third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic smeared all over our psyche, I get reminded of Tagore’s three cardinal principles of education i.e., empowering students with freedom, agile communication among the elements of the environment and fostering creativity for self-expression.

These century-old principles though posited during the colonial era still reverberate with more elan and seem much contemporary. The relevance of Tagore’s ideals today seems we have not been able to liberate ourselves completely from the confines of a regimented ecosystem of education. 

Last year during the onset of lockdown protocol the students were exposed to online education from home with a hope that this temporary measure will be over soon and normalcy will be restored. However, it’s been almost one and half years students across the country are sitting at home and learning online. It’s a predicament to see how the young minds had to embrace the virtual world in their formative years, completely disconnected from the physical environment and struggling to beat the drudgery of such young lives.

Moreover, the constant supervision by the at-home parents who are also working from home is an additional challenge for the students. Psychologists would agree that even within a family, the members need space to express themselves among their friends, relatives or any other chosen cohorts and in absence of such a ventilator the burden of unutilized communication leads to frustration and sometimes untoward action.

Tagore envisioned holistic development of the students evolved through the humanistic and naturalistic perspectives. An educational institution should represent the state of a nest in the lives of a student rather than a cage. It is high time that the teachers and parents should adorn the role of a mentor taking a departure from the erstwhile position of an administrator. He believed that the students should enjoy freedom; the freedom to exercise the franchise to select a programme or course and learn at one’s own pace without compromising on the joy of learning.

Freedom is not a license to exercise fiefdom rather turns them into mature and independent. As teachers and parents ourselves we have to admit that not every student in the class or section is running the same race, some may choose to deviate which should be appreciated and the deviated ones must be mentored by someone when they grow up. These days’ curricula at a different level of education across institutions celebrate the inclusion of design thinking and creative intelligence components besides pertinent topics of innovation which is aimed to foster expressions among the young students.

In Japanese philosophy, there is a very important concept which talks about the oneness of self and environment acknowledging the role of the ecosystem in curating learning abilities within the students. 

A country as big as ours will take its own sweet time to realise the potential of the ambitious plans of NEP 2020 interventions. As impediments, numerous challenges ranging from inadequate technology infrastructure to last-mile connectivity, from efficient pedagogic intervention to mental health counselling, and from weaving through the complex social fabric of the country to evangelize the ideas of self-paced learning are going to block our ways towards achieving the desired goal.

Despite the best efforts put forward by the teachers at different levels, one thing is for sure that the lack of happiness in learning especially in the formative years will not help to achieve the desired learning outcomes.

One finer point concerning cognitive development Tagore identified in the youth is that whenever a child reads a text he/she gets to construe some meaning in his/her merit which may be different from an adult interpretation but it is never void of creativity and self-expression. Such finer nuances we generally tend to overlook in our overture of guiding the students to the “right” direction thus the journey from independent to dependent personality takes its first step.

To explain the context I would like to call upon one incident of Santiniketan narrated by the famous literary exponent and a student of Pathabhavana late Shri Pramatha Nath Bisi. In the hostels of Pathabhavana, the senior students used to serve food to their juniors rather than the staff members which were an excellent mechanism for building camaraderie between the senior and junior students and also a way towards becoming responsible.

However, one day a group of students went to Gurudev Rabindranath and complained that while they had to drag the heavy vessels filled with rice and vegetables through the floor the base of the vessels was getting corroded due to constant friction and they need a solution. The reticent poet responded in his poised tone, if they could apply a little common sense and put a thick coil made from used rope and cloth the friction would have reduced and never had they come to Tagore for a solution.

The promotion of soft skills through art, music, drama, sculpture, and dance has received significant attention in his ideals of education which perhaps became the hallmark of his success as an educator who effectively has been able to internalize our Vedic traditions and at the same time internationalize the concept of happy learning experiences all across the globe. No doubt the volume of international students and teachers who have graced Tagore’s citadel of learning over the years and had welcomed the power of self-realization when one becomes one with the environment.

Tagore was the agent of happiness and had propagated the same through his writings despite experiencing personal losses amounting to lose his wife and children. Even death could not deter his indomitable spirit with which he forged a sustainable happy learning environment in Visva Bharati with a social connect.

To keep the flame of motivation glowing we need positive diversions from the daily mundane and perhaps the best way to seek a break from the classroom is to learn from the environment. There is one classic social experiment initiated by Tagore is Dan Sangraha (Collection of Donation) by the students of Patha Bhavana under the supervision of a Teacher wherein, the students wearing the activity dress will accompany their teacher to every household in the vicinity and collect small donations from willing donors. The collected sum was utilized for buying stationery items for distribution in the schools in nearby villages.

There are many such examples, like Anandamela a fair organized by the school students; homemade items sold by the students and profits thus earned are utilized for the development of the schools in the nearby villages. People may argue that such fairs and fete are common in schools and colleges but how many instances do we get to see where the profit goes to serve a bigger cause and if the seed of such a lofty goal is sown at a tender age, the young minds will develop compassion for co-existence.

As a student of Visva Bharati, Santiniketan I have had the privilege of enjoying the ecosystem of happy learning devoid of pressure and unruly competition. Tagore’s journey in the realm of education has been split into three major segments, i.e., observation, experimentation and implementation and thus he could build a world university where East met West.

To conclude the flurry of thoughts, I would like to leave the readers with a few lines from Tagore which essentially captures what exactly we may need to do to restore education for the generations to come.

“In every nation of the world, education is intimately related to the people. For us, modern education has only trained employees, doctors, advocates and magistrates… This education has not touched the farmers, the potters, the artisans. No other educated society faced this kind of disaster. If we have to have a university it should, from the very beginning, create the knowledge base of the country’s economy, agriculture, health and all other subjects related to the country and the immediate village community because the university can be the nerve centre of the country. This knowledge base should utilise the most modern methods in agriculture, fishery, weaving and all related tasks”

Tagore’s speeches, Santiniketan, Visva Bharati, 1963

The author is Associate Professor & Head, Department of Business Management, Tripura University

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