There are some questions that we ask retrospectively in our lives. The question of education is one of them. As students we followed orders, we obeyed the dictates of our elders and we let the hammer blows of the system shape our lives. But once we leave the academic life and enter into the school of life we begin to question the utility of our formative years. Our education taught us about the objective world of historical events, scientific breakthroughs, mathematical intricacies, social problems, environmental issues, literary genius of poets and writers. It informed us about the mechanisms of the world without but failed to turn our eyes to the world within. It equipped us for a living, not a life. Our life is like a piece of embroidery, we understand the intricate workings of the thread and the effort of the artist only when we turn the cloth around.
The fundamental idea of subjective education is that knowledge cannot be given or taught but to be discovered. All that is worth learning already exists in us. The answers to the fundamental problems of life lies deep within us. So our education must create an environment where self reflection and self exploration is a norm, where a student’s value is not judged purely on his academic prowess but by the humanity that he possesses.
The implementation of subjective education is a tricky one for subjectivity in its very character is personal, it varies for each person, it does not contain one common method, one fit-for-all formula. It has no scale on which one can gauge the progress of a student and therefore no reward system that can be just. It cannot encourage competition because that ends up creating a false, hierarchical system. It cannot influence the student towards a particular ideology, cage him to a philosophy or limit him to a particular book because each must construct for themselves a value system most compatible to their nature. The teacher over here is not a dispenser of information or an imposer of discipline but a fellow traveler on the path of learning.
However, small efforts are being made through alternative forms of education. I spoke to Divyanshi Chugh who is an educator at Auroville Campus Initiative (ACI). ACI offers a five week long residential program called Swadharma for the age group of 18-30, a period when an individual stands at the crossroads of his life, facing some of the toughest questions that can shape his/her future. The course, through a systematic process, takes the participant to a place of clarity within themselves where they have a better understanding of who they are and what they value. While the details of the program may vary but the broad framework remains the same: physical exercises in the form of yogasana and warm ups in the morning; the second half of the morning is devoted for knowledge input in the field of self, society and environmental issues; afternoons are reserved for more active form of learning where the participants visit many places in Auroville, meet people, get inspired by real life projects; and in the evening some time is given for reflecting on the day, writing a journal and participating in a sharing circle, a safe space where participants can open up about themselves, listen deeply and learn from other people’s experience. The last stage of the learning involves a micro project where each student based on his authentic, inner call, selects a subject closest to his true nature, his true inclination or “swadharma” and presents it to the larger Auroville community.
Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education (SAICE) in Puducherry is case study when it comes to subjective education. Here subjectivity is expected to be a byproduct of freedom. The student of this institution does not have to go through an examination process or follow a particular curriculum. He decides the subjects he wants to study, the number of hours he wants to dedicate to any subject and with which teacher he wants to learn from. He can drop a subject at any time and pick it up again in the future. Not more than eight students are allowed in a classroom so the learning is very personalized. His education need not be even restricted to a classroom. He can choose to make his hobby his full time subject. An equal importance is given to all forms of learning. A failure in one subject does not discourage him because he can excel in another. His success and failure is not reflected in a grade sheet but in the parameters that are instilled within him. He is not satisfied with the ephemeral smile of a teacher or a pat on the back from his peers. His only reward lies in the intrinsic joy that comes with learning.
The 21st century will expose the shallowness of most education systems in the world. If information is knowledge then there is no need for schools anymore. Google can play the role of a school, a university and a teacher. Education institutions will no longer be valued only on the basis of the number smart kids they produce, or the kind of facilities they provide but on the quality of humans they cultivate. Educators must take heed of the complexity that is a human being. A partial education that focuses only on the external, material development is dangerous, for it will produce individuals who will be capable of generating wealth but will remain poor in their experience of life, who will rejoice briefly in their little pleasures but never experience a lasting fulfillment, who will suffer but will know not why.
The wise always knew the importance of subjective knowledge. More than two thousand years back Aristotle wrote “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom“.