Recently, just ahead of National Education Day, we held the first conference on innovating education at the Isha Yoga Centre. The fundamental idea behind it was to carefully look at the way we are delivering education. Learning something new can be such a joy. Then why is schooling such a pain? When I was supposed to go to school, I did everything possible not to go there. Children are naturally joyful; they are the segment of the population that is easiest to work with. Then why is it so difficult to create a joyful way of delivering education? What kind of world we are going to have in another 25 years is determined by what we are doing right now in our schools and homes in terms of education. People spend so many years of their lives in educational institutions. Those are the places where everything is getting moulded and shaped, so they better be good.
Create schools that children love
The education that we have right now is largely a remainder of colonial times. We have made small changes, but we have not truly rethought education. This system is fundamentally designed to bring unquestioned obedience, because that is what was needed for them, and that is what they did. We need to innovate our education system to suit us, because for thousands of years, we have been a land of seekers. This quality has allowed us to maintain our culture through the ages, even under occupation. Seeking means to have an active intelligence—you never stop learning. Seeking means to be on the path to liberation and freedom. This is what education should facilitate. We must create schools in such a way that children want to go there. For that to happen, we first need to educate the adults.
Right now, one of the biggest mistakes is we are too goal-oriented, which is a Western way of doing things. We want the biggest mangoes, but we are not interested in the tree, let alone the soil. In yoga we say, ‘If one eye is on the goal, you have only one eye to find your way’. This is very inefficient. If you have both eyes on the way, you will find your way. Because of a highly goal-oriented approach, not only in schooling but in life, in the way we run our businesses, govern nations, and conduct the affairs of the world—everything is about an end product, not about life. What we fail to see is that at the end of our lives, there is only one product, which is the grave. In anything that we are doing, whatever may come out of it, our main focus should be to do it in the most beautiful way. We can draw upon experts for the methods, tools, etc. But to use these methods in a way that works, we need people who are joyful and who know how to make their life beautiful. If you do not know how to make your own life beautiful, how can you make other people’s lives beautiful?
There is substantial scientific and medical evidence today that shows that if you are in a pleasant state of experience, your body and brain work at their best. If you remain without a moment of agitation, anxiety, irritation, anger—if you are simply joyful—they say your ability to use your intelligence can increase by 100 per cent in a single day. A joyful way of existence will enable and empower a human being for a higher level of perception and performance. Unless you are joyful, you cannot inspire anyone else to be joyful. If we are joyful, whatever we do, whatever we create, will have this quality. And creating a joyful education will be a natural consequence.
What is needed from a teacher is inspiration
If you look back at traditional education in this country, parents gave their children to a teacher, an acharya, or a guru, who they saw not only as knowledgeable, but also as an evolved human being. They knew that if they leave their children in his or her hands, they will naturally blossom.
With modern technology, when it comes to information, a teacher becomes irrelevant. Information is easily available. What is needed from a teacher is inspiration. Inspiration will not happen through rhetoric or sermons but by setting an example. You must be an inspiration, just the way you are. Children are looking at you attentively. They may miss what you say, but they don’t miss anything about the way you are.
Who delivers education is the most important thing. It is not the subject as such but an involved, enterprising, innovative, inspiring teacher who delivers it in a beautiful way that determines if students enjoy the process of learning or not. That means the evolution of teachers is crucial. This does not mean they should learn more tricks about education. The most important thing is that teachers continuously evolve—not only in teaching capabilities, but as human beings. They should blossom, to be more joyful, loving, compassionate, and conscious. This is something that each individual has to work upon for himself or herself. We also need to create tools, opportunities, and processes for that in the country.
So far, we have only been thinking of educating the children. It is very important to address the physical and mental well-being and balance of the teachers. This has to be introduced into the education system and the training of teachers, so that they are of a certain quality, physically and mentally. And not only that, we have to establish this ethos in society as a whole. If we do not create inspired human beings, then we will leave a generation which is less than us. This is a fundamental responsibility for every generation, that the next generation we produce is at least one notch better than us. Producing a generation that is worse than us is a crime against humanity.
Spirituality and yoga in education
Education should not be like some kind of machinery that we put our children through. Education is about seeking truth, maybe not the ultimate truth, but the truth about what you are looking at right now. Whether it is physics, chemistry, biology, or spirituality – essentially, it is about seeking the truth about a particular aspect of life. In that sense, students are natural seekers. Spiritual process, in its essence, is a must in the field of education because being spiritual and seeking go hand in hand. You are a spiritual 'seeker', not a spiritual believer. Likewise, scientists are seekers. A spiritual process will bring the discipline into students not to believe anything, but at the same time, not to become abusive and disrespectful. You don’t have to believe anything that someone says, but you should have the necessary regard, respect, and inclusiveness to listen, or to raise a question and object. This is something that every human being should learn. Respectfully questioning everything that happens around us is important for society, and this is the fundamental of spiritual seeking. In this context, spiritual process is a must for any genuine student, unless you are only studying to earn a living.
Similarly, it is important that teachers also become seekers. Even on a physical level, teachers should limber up. Your outer appearance definitely makes a difference in the eyes of a child. The enthusiasm and effervescence of children is such that you need the energy of ten people to handle them. Especially as a teacher, when you have a hundred children on your hand, you need to be super energetic. For this, you need yoga.
The science of yoga is about understanding the body and mind and how you can get the best out of them. Yoga is about going beyond your limitations. Yoga means union. Without a certain amount of union between the teacher and the student, there can be no education.
One fundamental commitment that everyone should make on a daily basis is this: Whatever we do, we should move from untruth to truth, from what doesn’t work to what really works. Especially in the field of education, because how life upon this planet will be in the future is determined by this process called education.
A culture of parental involvement in education
Right now, a whole lot of parents think that if they send their children to school, their job is done. This must change. If there is no commitment to your child’s education, then why should the teachers be committed? It should become a law that all parents must visit the school that their children go to at least three times a year, and spend a minimum of one day there. They must acquaint themselves with what kind of education is happening, how it is delivered, and what their children are doing. We have to establish a culture of parental involvement in the education of their children. Without involvement, nothing beautiful is ever going to happen.
If we do not do the right things at the right time, we may not produce human beings but beasts in human form. We have already produced too many of them in the world. That is why education is of supreme importance, particularly in our country of 1.25 billion people, which is a sixth of the world population. Though our poets of the past have romantic expressions for the beauty of the land, today, we have to admit, for 1.25 billion people, we neither have the land, nor the mountains, nor the rivers -- not even a piece of sky. All we have is population. If we transform this population into a stable, focused, inspired, and skilled one in the next twenty-five years, we will be the greatest miracle. The entire world will be looking to us. Conversely, if we leave our population unskilled, unfocused, unstable and uninspired, we will be the greatest disaster.
The onus is on all of us
We should focus on scaling up the reach of education and meticulously creating quality at the same time. All adults in this country must get involved in education in whatever capacity they can. This should be everyone’s concern. Tomorrow’s generation depends on that. What kind of people we produce also determines our ecological future. When education plays such a key role, it is not only the work of some underpaid teachers or a ramshackle government department. It is the responsibility of every citizen. And education has to have elements of life along with it. Otherwise, the more educated you become, the less life-competent you become. To date, our concern has been to somehow spread the carpet of education. In trying to spread it, it has been torn in many places—there are too many holes in it. The time has come to not only fix the holes but make it into a beautiful carpet that our children will enjoy and we will be proud of.