An interactive learning environment has always been the norm in India. If we go back in history, it is this ‘interaction’ which the sages had with their students that provided the base for the rich heritage which we have inherited today.
Education in India has a rich history: whether orally or in the form of letters written on palm leaves and barks of trees, ‘information’ was passed on to students from their “gurus’’ or scholars. Students and Gurus ‘interacted’ spending fruitful hours in residential schools which were called the Gurukuls. The homes of the Gurus were the Gurukuls and often temples, monasteries and community meeting places became centres of learning.
This Guru or ‘thinker’ realized that knowledge was the need of the hour and to acquire knowledge, the Gurukuls were essential. Although education was free and the Gurus never demanded fees, the students felt it was only respectful to pay Gurudakshina to the teacher. This was an acknowledgment for the knowledge he had received on various aspects spanning religion, the scriptures, philosophy and literature. The understanding needed to create medicines with ‘jari butties’ or learning about the Arthashastra (warfare) or astrology – the horizon was unlimited –was to be acquired in the residential Gurukuls.
This “Gurukul System” believed in the training of the mind which was done by three simple processes: Shravana, Manana and Niddhyaasana.
Shravana: Listening to the words of wisdom which the teacher spoke.
Manana: Interpreting the meaning of the lessons
Niddhyaasana: The complete comprehension of knowledge
The centres of education were spread across the country but some flourished in knowledge than the others. The centres of learning which recognized in the first millennium were at Nalanda, Takshashila University, Ujjain and Vikramshila Universities and they were popular for their teaching of art, architecture, painting, logic, grammar, philosophy, astronomy, literature, Buddhism, Hinduism, Arthashastra, law and medicine. Sometimes a particular university was well known for its specialisation in a particular field of study. For instance, Takshila specialized in the study of medicine, while Ujjain laid emphasis on astronomy.
The earliest school of medicine known to the world is Ayurveda ‘Charaka’ is known as the father of Ayurveda. He developed this 2500 years ago.
The First University of the world which was established in 700 B.C. was Takshila Nalanda University. Probably the biggest centre in the world at that time, Nalanda had all the branches of knowledge, and housed up to 10,000 students at its peak. The popular subjects of learning dealt with arithmetic, theology, metaphysics, law and astronomy. But it was the study of medical science that made Nalanda famous.
The ‘Gurukul’ system of education was well received by the learned and those wanting to learn and Mahatma Gandhi described the traditional system as a ‘beautiful tree’. But the situation changed in the 20th century with the introduction of the British system brought in by the recommendations of Macaulay.
After India’s Independence, the states and Central Government synchronized the technical and higher education by specifying the standards. In 1964, the Education Commission started functioning with 16 members: 11 were Indian experts and five were foreign experts. Later in 1976, the education became a joint responsibility of both the state and the Centre through a constitutional amendment.
India should be proud of its educational heritage. When other civilizations had not even made a mark on the map of education, India was teaching its students subjects like ‘Ayurveda” that has been carried down generations, the benefits of which we continue to reaping till this day.