Tagore’s Idea of Education
Tagore had a philosophy of life, and his theory of education was accordingly shaped. Generally, education is dominated by the ideal of attaining technical efficiency in order to get on in life. Such an education is incomplete according to Tagore.
Tagore regarded education as the basis of the true, the complete life. Perfect knowledge is the basis of all true freedom; it is avidya which forges fetters that bind. That
is why the wise man comes and says, “Set yourselves free from avidya; know your true soul and be saved from the grasp of the self which imprisons you”.
Tagore felt that the education of a child is the most important work in building up the life of the nation. He wanted to train human beings for freedom, for peace, for justice. Accordingly, in his school he brought about an atmosphere of freedom, of sympathy and of service and these are Tagore’s cardinal ideals of education.
His concept of education sprang from his reverence for human personality. He made children happy in an atmosphere of freedom and he found his own freedom “through trust, through my faith in human approach to educational problems”, and through education he wanted to bring about a desirable social order. Mere book knowledge does not interest the child so as to hold his attention fully. The brain gets weary of mere words.” As a result of imperfect, wrong and undesirable education, we may earn academic degrees but not the strength to reconstruct ourselves. According to Tagore, no nation can be alive and strong, unless its children receive proper education, nor mere book knowledge. The stress on book knowledge was given in our country by the foreign rulers on political
considerations. Every imperial government avoids spreading true enlightenment; the strength of foreign government lies in the people’s ignorance.”
Tagore believed that the provision for the training of the children must begin from the earliest stage. He turned to this vital task unaided and he began his experiments at
Santiniketan. True education is the basis of all constructive work, according to him. Further Tagore enunciated that the aim of the school should be the highest degree of individual development in each of its pupils. He could not accept the view that true education would in any way stifle the very essence of freedom. Free minds, nurtured on free criticism, must seek for profound changes in the foundations of society resulting in the triumph of reason over human conduct. Tagore strove for the unfettered exercise of reason, thus helping the broadening of the arena of revolutionary spirit. He saw in the monolithic power of the state the germs of counter-revolutionary forces and an attempt to prevent the access of the masses to social benefits.
Tagore was an advocate of the medium of instruction through the mother tongue. In a speech read before the Rajshahi Association in 1892 which was published under
the title of Siksher Her-Pher (Topsy-turvydom in Education), Tagore pointed out the folly of imparting education through the vehicle of a foreign language. English is a completely alien tongue, its association of themes and ideas are foreign and the education we receive through the medium of English is “inadequate to our “life”. There is no joy, no expansion, no blossoming of our faculties. The best phase of our boyhood is lost under the load of foreign dictionaries and lifeless grammars. “From boyhood we pass to adolescence, from adolescence to young manhood carrying a load of mere words. In the domain of Saraswati we can never be more than unskilled labourers. Our backs grow bent, but there is no all-round development of our manhood.” This
sense of frustration weighed greatly on Tagore, and one of the objects of his educational experiments at Santiniketan was to train children in their mother tongue.
Tagore in his own words raised his voice against the European system: “To our misfortune, we have in our country all the furniture of the European university except the human teacher. We have instead been merely purveyors of book-lore in whom the paper-god of the bookshop seems to have made himself vocal”. Tagore complained that we knew the West which was masterful and powerful but not its artistically creative aspect. However, he cautioned us that we could not afford to turn western. The Eastern mind is there, “it is in your blood, in the marrow of your bones, in the texture of your flesh and in the tissues of your brains.” In his view, the centre of our culture should also be the centre of our economic life. The East has a culture of its own, and the East for its own sake and for the sake
of the world must not remain unrevealed.
Tagore favoured open-air classes. The deadness of the walls made everything dull and gloomy. Discipline was not imposed upon children: they had the freedom of movement as he believed that a moving mind had more power to assimilate facts and to gather knowledge from the outside world. Further he believed that the proper means of education would be to allow children to acquire knowledge casually and suddenly not just through the narrow channel of book education which was like martyrdom imposed from without. Tagore drifted away from the Soviet ideal of education, as he believed that “there must be disagreement where minds are allowed to be free. It would be a sterile world of mechanical regularity if all of our opinions were forcibly made alike. Freedom of mind is needed for the reception of truth; terror hopelessly kills it. The brute
cannot subdue the brute. It is only the man who can do it.”
In Tagore’s opinion, the school must be an “ashram where men have gathered to attain the highest end of life, in the peace of nature, where life is not merely meditative, but fully awake in its activities, where boys’ minds are not being perpetually drilled into believing that the ideal of the self-idolatry of the nation is the trust ideal for them to accept, where they are bidden to realise man’s world as God’s kingdom to whose citizenship they have to aspire.” He lamented that the system of folk education, which was indigenous to India, was dying out.
Tagore’s Viswa Bharati stood for certain ideals with the ultimate objective of strengthening the spiritual force of Asia and to make India alive to her culture, to widen
the sphere of cooperation to curb the spirit of contention and competition, to teach mankind to look beyond the
interests of individual nations and to meet in mutual respect and goodwill.
Tagore saw an educational institution to be more than distribution centres of knowledge; they ought to create
knowledge. In other words, they should foster the spirit of inquiry, of exploration. The intellect, the emotions, the entire personality of a human being must bo moulded by
education and such an education does not emphasize on science or arts at the cost of one another.
An cductitional institution, in Tagore’s vision, should not exist in isolation; it should have a close contact with the socio-economic conditions prevalent in the locality. Knowledge acquired at the institution should be applied to improve the condition of the people around. It was tgis idea that led to the establishment of a rural welfare section at the Viswa Bharati. Called Sriniketan, it was to look after the welfare of surrounding villages. In this project a young
Englishman, Leonard Elmhirst, lent great support.
The basic principles guiding the rural reconstruction project were: to sustain the work without outside help, and to integrate the approach to rural work by involving intellect, manual labour and emotional satisfaction in work undertaken. The programme may have inspired the community development programme of the Planning Commission at a later date. The problems of the people were
observed and specific expert advice and solutions found. As a result, agricultural practices were improved, cooperative banking and medical service provided, adult literacy and cottage industries encouraged.