Friday, 4 April 2014

D is for Diversity

A truly Indian Educational thought and practice will first and foremost recognize the fundamental Vedic Truth:
Ekam Sat, Vipra Bahudha Vadanti” 
Truth is One, sages call it by many names

This provides the much needed philosophical framework that allows for multiple and relative truths to exist within a Universal, Absolute Truth.

The existence of diverse relative truths, however, poses a huge practical challenge for educationists and curriculum planners, especially in a hugely diverse country like India. But preferring any particular version or any one relative position based on personal ideology is not the solution. It may be an easy way but it won't be the correct way. Depending on the mental development of the learners a wide diversity of truths - often opposite truths - can be presented in a clear, unbiased and as-objective-as-possible manner through thoughtfully prepared reading material and lesson plans. Learners must be encouraged to engage constructively with the diverse perspectives presented to them and also express their understanding and opinions in a respectful manner. They may then be encouraged to seek a higher synthesis by integrating these diverse views to whatever degree possible. Such an intellectual exercise has been described by the Mother as "Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis":
In its natural state the human mind is always limited in its vision, narrow in its understanding, rigid in its conceptions, and a constant effort is therefore needed to widen it, to make it more supple and profound. So it is very necessary to consider everything from as many points of view as possible. Towards this end, there is an exercise which gives great suppleness and elevation to the thought. It is as follows: a clearly formulated thesis is set; against it is opposed its antithesis, formulated with the same precision. Then by careful reflection the problem must be widened or transcended until a synthesis is found which unites the two contraries in a larger, higher and more comprehensive idea. (CWM, Volume 12, p. 5)
In an earlier post I had shared a few more passages emphasizing the deeper significance and value of this exercise in synthesizing and integrating the opposites in order to arrive at a larger, unified truth:
The truth is neither in separation nor in uniformity.
The truth is in unity manifesting through diversity.
Intellectually, the Truth is the point where all the opposites meet and join to make a unity. (CWM, Volume 14, p. 198)
How may it be practiced in real world? Allow me to share a very practical example - this time from the point of view of those in charge of running an educational institution. Sometimes because of their zeal and passion to do all that they think is good for their learners, educators' concerns become limited only to the needs of their students and they fail to see that for a proper functioning of the school (including curricular matters) there are several other groups of people including sweepers, canteen-folk, maids, bus drivers, clerks, other school staff etc, whose cooperation or participation is just as much essential. When initiating any change in the curriculum or implementing any new pedagogical innovation or approach, teachers and school administrators must be mindful of all that must be done in order to ensure that all the other groups of individuals working in the school are made aware of and are agreeable to any changes that may be made to their workloads or the nature or extent of their works. Also, educators must be mindful of the fact that their day-to-day lesson planning should also incorporate thinking through the role or extent of participation of various other groups in the school. This practice requires an expansion of our habitual way of thinking and trying to plan an event/project in as much detail as possible. And certainly it necessitates listening attentively to all the diverse opinions, concerns and perspectives that will be shared by different groups of people whose work lives will be impacted by the proposed changes. In such situations only an exercise such as thesis, antithesis and synthesis can help arrive at a larger unity of diverse perspectives or viewpoints.

But is there any deeper truth behind Nature's essential principle of diversity in unity?
Man’s communities are formed not so much by the instinctive herding together of a number of individuals of the same genus or species as by local association, community of interests and community of ideas; and these limits tend always to be overcome in the widening of human thoughts and sympathies brought about by the closer intermingling of races, nations, interests, ideas, cultures. Still, if overcome in their separatism, they are not abolished in their fact, because they repose on an essential principle of Nature,—diversity in unity. Therefore it would seem that the ideal or ultimate aim of Nature must be to develop the individual and all individuals to their full capacity, to develop the community and all communities to the full expression of that many-sided existence and potentiality which their differences were created to express, and to evolve the united life of mankind to its full common capacity and satisfaction, not by suppression of the fullness of life of the individual or the smaller commonalty, but by full advantage taken of the diversity which they develop. This would seem the soundest way to increase the total riches of mankind and throw them into a fund of common possession and enjoyment. The united progress of mankind would thus be realised by a general principle of interchange and assimilation between individual and individual and again between individual and community, between community and community and again between the smaller commonalty and the totality of mankind, between the common life and consciousness of mankind and its freely developing communal and individual constituents. (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol 25, p. 422, emphasis mine)
When applied thoughtfully to the field of education, we find that these words also provide us the much-needed psychological and philosophical framework for the individual and social aim of education. At the same time, some significant clues are given here regarding the practical application of this truth of diversity in unity.

Working with the diversity that exists within the individual learner, the various parts of his being - physical, emotional, mental (if we bring to mind the earlier discussion on what is a human being according to the Indian view) must also be the occupation of education. And at the same time diversity among the learners needs to be carefully dealt with. This may become possible only when class size is much, much smaller than what we see in our mainstream schools!

I started this post with a Vedic Truth, I wish to close with another. A truly Indian Education will always encourage learners and educators to stay open and receptive to new knowledge, new insights, new interpretations, new truths - from all sources. It will do this because it will be based on the Vedic Truth -
Aano bhadrah kritavo yantu vishwatah
Let noble thoughts come to us from every side. 

This Truth has great implications for curriculum design and selection of study material for learners.

This post is written for the A-Z Challenge, April 2014. The theme I am exploring is - Putting India back in Indian Education

Click here for the previous post in the series.

And speaking of diversity, here are some diverse blogs you may like to visit - 

Tulika, who is writing about diverse authors all this month.
Aditi, who is weaving stories about diverse shades of life.
Rajlakshmi, whose verses in all diverse forms will captivate you.
Zalka Csenge, who is telling colourful stories from across the world, inspired by diverse colours.
Nabanita, who is creating youthful stories capturing diverse emotions, a letter a day.
Eli, who is taking you to as diverse travel destinations as Disneyland to Cappadocia.