Inspired by what she has found in the Mother's and Sri Aurobindo's writings and talks on education, the author has put together a list of twenty-six themes that should guide, shape, or be a part of an Indian national education programme. These themes, one for each letter of the English alphabet, speak to aspects of the essential Indian spirit and emphasise an education based on self-knowledge and self-discovery, a respect for India's heritage, an understanding of India's contribution to the past, present, and future of humanity, and a deeper connection with the diverse cultures of the world.
This book of just about 150 pages written by Dr. Beloo Mehra is a brief but excellent collection of some of the most important fundamental concepts of Indian education – nay, of all good education.
Beloo, who spent fourteen years in the United States, was naturally influenced by the thought processes prevalent there. Her first years in Pondicherry were a mix of unlearning and relearning. Having interacted closely with her, I must say that her rapid assimilation of the ideas and concepts of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother are quite remarkable. In the light of this new vision, she has presented in her introductory book some very deep and fundamental concepts which should be taken note of by the authorities framing our national education policy.
It should be mentioned that this book does not give a detailed, practical framework for Indian education, and that was not the author's aim as she clearly outlines in the Introduction to the book. The framework for a truly Indian education needs to be done by others, especially by those who are in positions of decision-making and who are heading the policy-making bodies in the field of education. However, what the author has provided in this short book is a very sound conceptual foundation for all educationists. And what is of highest concern is that these concepts are based on deeper Indian ideals.
The author starts with the letter A and rightly stresses the aim of education, and indeed of all life; the importance of fixing an aim in life is crucial. In fact, the Mother in her essay titled "The Science of Living" begins thus: "An aimless life is always a miserable life. Every one of you should have an aim. But do not forget that on the quality of your aim will depend the quality of your life." (CWM, Vol. 12, p. 3)
Starting with this solid foundation, the author emphasises some of the most important but sadly neglected aspects in modern life and education. The letter B stands for Beauty, which is indeed an important part of a human being's make-up. What is remarkable is that the author puts a powerful stress not only on outer beauty, but much more on inner beauty.
When the author moves on to the letter E, she emphasises the aspect of evoking knowledge from within. This is what is truly required rather than packing a child's brain with information.
Coming to the letter G, which refers to graduality, she touches on some very basic ideas that concern the field of education. She speaks of the need for an integral education when she asserts that all claims of life must be given their due importance.
In the chapter for the letter H, Beloo Mehra speaks of the importance of presenting to students a deeper understanding of their history and heritage. She writes that "learning about India's heritage and history doesn't need to be and should not be a chauvinistic and narrow-minded retelling of the past glory that India was. At the same time, we don't want to shy away from the truth that India was indeed once upon a time a glorious land with [a] great many riches of knowledge in all spheres of human life and activity, including material prosperity."
The letter K, in the author's vision, brings us to the idea of knowing oneself, a very important and neglected aspect of modern education. When the author comes to the letter S, she speaks of the deeper educational significance of stories and storytelling as well as their value to engage the interest of learners of all ages.
Throughout the book readers will find helpful references to a variety of source material, including the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, other thinkers and educationists, as well as quite a bit of online and audio-visual material. These can help the reader to enrich the study of the topic under discussion.
Readers will also find several hints for rethinking the fundamentals of curriculum, pedagogy, teacher education, educational planning and administration. These hints need to be carefully considered by those concerned with educational decision-making for further development and possible implementation.
In an effortless way the author brings out almost all the intrinsic values of Indian culture that should be the guiding principles of Indian education—in fact, all education. It is hoped that all those seriously interested in Indian education will take note of this presentation. More so in the modern, globalised world, where such a medley of conflicting ideas are in the public arena, this book comes as a clear reminder to stick to the basic tenets of Indian culture. I recommend this book to all who are concerned with and would like to improve our present-day Indian system of education.
Kittu-da has been teaching at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education since 1958. He currently teaches History and Sri Aurobindo's works.