Chapter 21: Situating teacher education in the Indian context: A paradigm shift – Foundations and applications of Indian psychology, 2e, 2nd Edition


Situating teacher education in the Indian context: A paradigm shift

Bharati Baveja

The genesis and development of teacher education in India

Discourse in education, particularly teacher education, has its genesis in pragmatic concerns overridden by social pressures in the late nineteenth century. Much like in the field of intelligence, where the testing of intelligence was seen as a social necessity and tests were constructed without the existence of a sound conceptual base, teacher training also arose to meet the demands of providing education to a larger population of the society. Teacher training programmes also lacked an underlying theoretical framework. However, unlike the field of intelligence, there did exist a sound, well-articulated and time-tested discourse on education in the Indian tradition, but this was ignored. The teacher training programmes launched in British India were not rooted in the cultural context and ethos of the soil. Ad-hocism and reductionism characterized the nature of these programmes, with an over-emphasis on the technical skills involved in teaching. Consequently, learning and teaching came to be treated as synonyms. The limitations of such an approach gradually became too obvious to be ignored. It was realized that teacher preparation, which has serious social implications, cannot be based on a random collection of hypothesized ideas about teaching. It is an enterprise which not only involves the academic learning of children, but also provides direction to the development of individuals and society. The need to consider the education of children a serious academic endeavour was realized, and it was argued that a deeper and systematic understanding of the field was a precondition to teacher preparation.

Teacher education essentially required a more intense and systematic effort to understand and explicate the nuances of the educative process. The Calcutta University Commission in 1917 (popularly known as the Sadler Commission) recommended inter alia a significant organizational structure at the university level. The goal was to promote the development of education as a legitimate field of study. The academic pursuits that followed considered teacher training in the psychological, sociological, political and epistemological contexts. The phenomenon of teacher training was expected to be understood according to the varied findings drawn from the cognate disciplines (psychology, sociology and philosophy). Consequently, there occurred a shift in nomenclature from teacher training to teacher education. Epistemologically, as in all other areas, education too followed the ‘scientific approach’. Within this framework Western psychology, more specifically behaviourism, came to dominate academic thinking until the 1960s. In its recommendations, the Education Commission (1964−1966) emphasized the creation of new and strengthened organizational structures to facilitate academic pursuits with deeper understanding. Unfortunately, pedagogy and education developed as two distinct branches of education as a social science, just as test construction and theorization in the field of intelligence developed as two disjointed fields. Although the multi-disciplinary nature of education was recognized, education as a distinct area of study was reduced to an applied field. Ideas from ‘pure disciplines’ such as philosophy, sociology and psychology were generously and unhesitatingly applied. The continued dissatisfaction and attempts at reform were addressed not by creating a holistic discourse emerging from the cultural context, but by adding newer theories from the cognate disciplines. This led to a false sense of efficacy and relevance. The relevance and universalism of content were taken for granted. The role of culture in the process of ‘meaning making’ remained unattended. For instance, the inclusion of humanistic psychology, which places self-actualization at the centre-stage, was considered sufficient to compensate for the earlier ‘excesses’ of behaviourism.

A call for change

The compatibility of the western notion of self with that of the Indian tradition was not considered. Even though over the years changes have occurred (in theory), from behaviourism to cognitivism and humanism, and now to social constructivism, the vital issue remains missing—the need for a discourse in education and psychology based on Indian traditions. In the existing teacher education curricula, not only are the concepts of childhood and adolescence derived from Western theories, but their development is also understood from the Western perspective. Needless to say, teacher education is still ineffective and leaves a lot to be desired.

The periodic surveys of research in education in India since 1974 highlights of which are given below stand testimony to the fact that the teacher education programmes have remained largely unchanged.

  • The roles and functions of a trained teacher as an agent of change in India have remained unexplored through research. Identification of the goals of teacher education is a relevant theme for further research (First Survey of Educational Research, 1974, p. 444).
  • The curriculum of teacher education does not seem to have changed much. It is not adequate for just any one to suggest what changes should be brought about. Researchers with deep understanding and analysis should offer guidance in this regard. It should be within the ingenuity and genius of our researchers to make a dent and develop indigenous approaches (Second Survey of Educational Research, 1979, pp. 421−422).
  • In-depth studies of teacher education institutions, training situations and teachers at the micro level are essential to discover new variables for improving the effectiveness of teacher trainees and for exploring the results emerging from a macro analysis of these studies (Third Survey of Educational Research, 1986, p. 789).
  • There is a need to know more about the teacher’s role expectations, the relationship between the individual teacher’s role expectations and her/his social responsibilities, the relationship between the teacher’s conception of her/his role and their performance as observed by others in society. To make research meaningful, studies should be comprehensive and reflect rigour (Fourth Survey of Educational Research, 1993, pp. 915−916).
  • Research projects aimed at understanding the multi-faceted process of teacher education in its totality need to be undertaken by agencies and organizations like the NCERT, the NIEPA, the UGC, etc., as well as individual researches supported by the government (Fifth Survey of Educational Research, 1998, p. 457).

Empirical support

The early researches in the field were survey-based and quantitative in nature, and provided data regarding the inadequacies and ineffectiveness of teacher education programmes. Besides, these studies also indicated crucial areas requiring immediate attention in education and the school system. This was followed by a large body of research in the field of education technology, leading to a lopsided emphasis on technology in education. The ‘organic’ dimension of the educative process not only remained untouched, but was also suppressed by the more tangible and attractive idea of technology in education. Consequently, means became confused with ends. For instance, today computer-aided learning has become a goal in itself. Such innovations have only added to the existing behaviourist nature of education.

Some recent qualitative researches (although they are very few in number) have pointed towards the need to focus on individual processes of knowledge construction, the contextual situatedness of meaning-making, ways of strengthening inter-personal communications, the importance of teacher development, and so on. Even when self-development is emphasized in some cases, there is often very little understanding about the concept and the processes of its development.

Research in the field of psychology, particularly cognitive psychology, conducted in the previous century was also in the reductionist- logical-positivistic framework. In its quest to reinstate ‘mind’ in psychology, the cognitive revolution of the 1960s transplanted a mechanistic mind based on a computational model. The model of mind as an Information Processing System explains the processing of information in fixed ways and assumes isomorphism between external and internal or constructed reality. The complexity and vastness of the mind, the existence of the inner self and its journey across different levels could not be conceptualized within this framework. Furthermore, the context of cognitive development, physical or cultural, was viewed as an external variable, distinctly separate from the mind and therefore subject to external control. Independent researches were conducted in the fields of perception, memory, problem-solving and the nature of the task to be learned, to mention a few. Although these were collectively referred to as mental processes, they were not conceived of as inseparable parts of an indivisible whole. Thus the subject matter, the learner, the context of learning, the process and product of learning were treated as independent units of analysis. In this framework, the learner got separated from learning, the subject matter to be learned and the cultural context of learning (the chronic Cartesian impasse). Although today we do talk of constructivism, distributed cognition, and embedded or situated cognition, which asserts the continuity of context, mind and task, the context is defined in finite, material terms. It fails to capture the Indian view that all entities are inter-dependent and inseparable parts of the same cosmic whole—the Supreme Consciousness—as different manifestations of the same reality—Brahman. In the Indian traditions there is an unwavering belief in the unity and mutual relatedness of objects which form a whole that is indivisible, and manifests in all things—the Self.

Concepts such as Brahman, īśvara, puruṣa and ātman are rarely understood by contemporary Western thinkers. Brahman, the Universal or the Supreme Self, supersedes existence and encompasses everything that exists; it envelops space and time and is thus expanded in the cosmos and beyond. This changeless and imperishable Self is the essence of all existence. When Brahman is considered in relation to the Universe, it is regarded as Īśvara. Īśvara is Brahman with attributes—united with its powers. Puruṣa is the higher nature of Īśvara and is the manifestation of the Supreme Self in all living forms. Māyā is Īśvara’s lower nature or prakṛti. When Self as Īśvara interacts with māyā, prakṛti bursts into form and activity and constitutes the phenomenal reality—kṣetra. The Jīva or Individual Self is only a part of the Supreme Self and is a limited manifestation of the infinite reality. The world is dependent upon Brahman, but Brahman is not dependent on the world. It is the cause of all activity in the world, yet it itself does nothing. It pervades every entity, living as well as non-living, and sustains everything, yet has a distinct identity. It is in itself the existence, the knowledge, the joy, that is, the sat, cit and ānanda, respectively. If we were to conceptualize situated and embedded cognition according to this perspective, then its meaning, orientation, expanse and scope would change tremendously.

We have consistently failed to acknowledge the richer and more convincing concepts that have existed in Indian traditions since time immemorial; concepts that are not just an outcome of sensory experience, but the result of prolonged and continuous reflection at the higher levels of consciousness; concepts which are robust enough to withstand the test of time. At the same time, they are flexible enough to provide a framework for understanding varied experiences, irrespective of time. Among the galaxy of preceptors, the impact of Sri Aurobindo’s thought has been distinctive in the field of education. His views on Integral psychology and the corresponding Integral education provide a well-articulated framework for education based on Indian thought. The emphasis in this system of education is on enabling learners to locate the experience of ‘I’ within them. Silence is basic to such an introspective and meditative process when one undertakes the journey to discover the true nature of Self, ‘the inner I’. The essence of spiritual practice is attaining that state of experiencing the inner feeling where existence is independent of the physical body and the outside world. It is then that one is able to see oneself as part of the Infinite; an unbroken continuity of Universal Consciousness. The unique feature of such a spiritual experience is its motiveless urge. Such experiences have become even more relevant in contemporary times, when personal and social conflicts are taking a heavy toll on both individuals and societies. The addition of a course on Education for Peace in the National Curriculum Framework 2005 testifies to this effect. ‘Peace as an integrative perspective for school curriculum is an idea whose time has come’ (NCF Review, 2005, p. 183).

The paradigm shift

The previous two centuries witnessed a dominance of quantitative research situated in the experimental research paradigm. Replicability and public verification were at the heart of such an approach, and generalizability its logical outcome. Phenomena, experiences and internal processes that could not be verified by others were not considered worthy of research as these did not lend themselves to observation and measurement. The physical world may lend itself to an explicit demonstration of causality, but the ‘inner world’, which governs the thoughts, feelings and actions of humans, does not lend itself to the ‘hard science’ research methodology. In such a situation, there existed only one option—rejection of one of the two, that is, the content of research or the method of research. The intangible, unobservable and immeasurable content of human experience was denied substantive existence and therefore rejected in favour of the scientific method, which enjoyed the reputation of a legitimate approach to inquiry. Consequently, personal experiences, despite being genuinely real, were not acknowledged, and therefore not considered valid enough to be researched. Over-mechanization and dehumanization of mankind was met with resistance by the humanists and took the shape of Third Force psychology, which placed the individual human experience at the core of its analysis. It was increasingly acknowledged that the deeper and subtle issues that govern human life cannot be understood according to the parameters prescribed by the scientific approach. However, since these issues are real to the experiencing self, there must be other methods of enquiry that can deal with them. This view was supported by researches conducted in cultural anthropology, which attempted to analyse and describe the lives of people ‘as they lived’. The Fourth Force, namely transpersonal psychology, with its thrust on transpersonal inquiry, further legitimized this emerging argument. It became increasingly clear that the method of science was not only inadequate, but also an inappropriate tool of inquiry for understanding deeper and subtler issues of a metaphysical nature. The need for qualitative rather than quantitative research was strongly felt, and there occurred a remarkable shift from objective to subjective, reductionist to holistic, scientific to phenomenological, experimental to descriptive, and contrived to naturalistic research in the late twentieth century.

Qualitative research derives data from participative observations and verbal interactions with a focus on meanings and interpretations made by the participants. Its major goal is to explore the deeper and intense aspects of the phenomena under study, and essentially involves a search for meaning. Ethnography, biographies and phenomenological approaches are examples of qualitative research. Phenomenology is primarily oriented towards experience and its meaning for the subject—the experiential reality. Emphasis is laid on how the ‘life-world’ is perceived and described by the subjects themselves. Such a research is not governed by a theoretical priori, but through a construction of meanings and categories or themes emerging in the process of interpretation. The essence of reality is to be understood as it exists. The aim is to capture lived experience with all its emotions and feelings.

Thus, with experiential reality acquiring a respectable position in what are considered legitimate ways of knowing, it seems perfectly reasonable to frame questions and seek answers to what is observed and experienced in everyday life. The everyday observations of most individuals, irrespective of age, gender or class, highlight an effort to contemplate something that is convincingly real, and yet denied as reality by the mainstream intellectual tradition. The need to create space for dialogue on such issues has been expressed silently as well as overtly, and therefore can no longer be brushed aside under the garb of scientifically invalid content or secular education. Observation of this expression itself warrants intellectual deliberation on the subject. It is fitting to note that in a seminar on the theme ‘Personal Re-engineering in Management’, organized in Bangalore in 1998, an agonized management professional remarked, ‘Do I understand right that living (being) is the goal of life? If that be so, why should all that not be told to me at an early age? I am, actually learning to live life after one third or two third of it is gone. Do I have to stumble upon the goal?’ The other management personnel also shared their anxieties, feelings of insecurity, loneliness, fears and despair at the same seminar (Swami Dayanand, 1998, p. 35).

While pursuing his teacher preparation course, a physics post-graduate from Delhi University chanced upon a book, Jnanayoga (1993), written by Swami Vivekananda. He shared his experience of reading this book with other members of the tutorial group, including the tutor (the author), in October 2005. He reported that reading this book was an elevating experience and remarked in a thoughtful voice,

I wish I had read this book earlier, I would have been a different person. I have passed through tremendous inner turmoil and state of uncertainty. This book has changed me by putting my mind to rest. It has answers to so many questions which nagged me as a young boy. Today I feel happy—happy without any apparent reason. But I know the reason, I have discovered something, perhaps the truth or the essence of life. There is peace inside and I can look at my experiences objectively. I think this book should be taught as part of our school curriculum. Every child must read this book. There will be more peace and harmony inside and outside.

He then asked the most difficult question: ‘Why is it not part of our school curriculum? It is neither religious nor communal.’

Another member of the tutorial group also opened up and said,

I was feeling terrible yesterday after my practice teaching. Nothing seemed to work, I felt very incapable and dejected since all my plans and theory went down the drain. When I came back home, I cried and was feeling very depressed. Suddenly I turned the pages of the book called Psychic Education.1 I opened it with no intention of reading it seriously but the page I opened described just how I was feeling. I got interested and started reading and very soon I was following the suggestions given in the book. I realized I was meditating. It cheered me up and made me feel light inside. I think every B.Ed. (Teacher Education) student must read this book.

The tutor wondered how a simple act of placing certain books on the table around which the tutees sit, and asking them to glance through them if they so desired, could make such a difference. The students found a space in this tutorial class to share something that the system does not want to acknowledge. Talking about religion, spirituality or inner experiences is not only considered unacademic, but also communal. After all, our education is secular, with secularity defined in curious ways! However, spirituality is part of the human experience, and it is naïve to confuse it with any religion or community. Furthermore, if the aim of education is to address the whole child, it is absolutely imperative that room be provided for understanding inner experiences and integrating them with overall thought and behaviour.

Cultural context

All along, from ancient times to the present, Indian psychology has cogitated on the depths and heights of consciousness, and the inner world has been a major subject of inquiry and analysis. The UNESCO report of the Education Commission, 1996, titled ‘Learning the Treasures within’, proposed that ‘… the process must begin with self understanding through our inner voyage whose milestones are knowledge, meditation and practice of self-criticism’.

What clearly emerges from the analysis is the need for reorientation, deconstruction, and a paradigmatic shift in our approach to education and teacher preparation. The importance of a sound theoretical base, and the lack of the same, has been stressed upon by various commissions, committees, and those involved in education. A persisting concern in teacher education has been the enhancement of its ‘impact potential’. The urgency to reorganize teacher education courses has been highlighted by all concerned with education. The National Policy on Education, 1986 (revised in 1992), reiterated the same, and emphatically suggested that there is something basic to teacher education programmes that needs to be remedied urgently. These programmes fail to convey a coherent and meaningful view of the school education system. The revised National Curriculum Framework (2005, p. vii) opens with a quotation from Rabindranath Tagore’s essay Civilisation and Progress (1924) in which the poet asserts that ‘creative spirit’ and ‘generous joy’ are key in childhood, and that both can be distorted by an unthinking adult world. As regards teacher education, it suggests a complete overhauling; there is a need for a fundamental change in the approach to teacher education in order to make it field-sensitive and participative in nature. It visualizes the teacher as an ‘encouraging, supportive and humane facilitator in teaching-learning situations who enables learners (students) to discover their talents, to realize their physical and intellectual potentialities to the fullest, to develop character and desirable social and human values to function as responsible citizens’ (Yadav, 2005).

The agenda of education stands crystal clear. There is a need to redefine the goals of life, self, knowledge, processes of knowing, and processes of enabling others to know and connect with others’ selves. This obviously involves a deeper consciousness. Well-articulated views already exist in this regard in the Indian tradition. There is need to capitalize on these before they are sold to us (yoga and alternative medicines are good examples). Our society has lost its earlier structure and orientation towards ‘progress inside’, and lacks the culture to deal with the ‘progress outside’. There is a need to build on our culture of ‘growth inside’ to deal with the growth of the world ‘outside’. This requires a cognitive reorientation; a culture of learning to be at peace with oneself; a structure which provides space within oneself, composure within ourselves so that we can view the world objectively and decide about actions in consonance with our basic nature as human beings (see Swami Dayanand, 2002).

The task ahead

As stated in the previous section, the Teacher Education programmes in India were not only reactive, but also mechanistic, and were based on the ‘teacher as a technician’ metaphor. The goal of Teacher Education was to equip teachers with the tools and techniques effective in ‘handling’ and ‘moulding’ children according to fixed, preconceived and, quite often, contrived notions of humans and human life. A system that does not allow space for individual variability systematically stifles creativity, curbs originality of thought and action, and impedes the actualization of potential; it injects intellectual anaesthesia and produces academic robots. Denial of individuality or uniqueness in children is denying the existence of the self; it is tantamount to the denial of the existence of consciousness and thus cannot serve as a valid conceptual base for human development. Therefore, there is a need to reorient teacher education programmes towards a more proactive stance, which will ensure the conceptual, contextual and ethical validity of the teacher education curriculum.

The immediate response that comes to mind while trying to answer the question of ‘how we want our children to grow up’ is that we want them to grow into individuals who are healthy, with life-styles conducive to the sustenance and promotion of life in all its forms; who appreciate the beauty and potential of nature, the inter-dependence of all forms of life and the need for harmony; who are happy and at peace with themselves, and consequently ‘make peace’ with others; who reason dispassionately about natural and social phenomena; who are tolerant to ambiguity and multiplicity and can resolve, or at least understand, the antinomies of today’s world; who have understanding and respect for cultural diversity and are able to communicate and cooperate with persons of different origins; who value good human relations and are committed to mutual trust and coexistence; and work towards the common goals of society and mankind. (Baveja, 2005)

To sum up, these are individuals who are competent and self-propelled to undertake the journey of the evolution of self and society in its widest, deepest and highest sense.

In view of the above, there cannot be a better characterization of education than that education is a process of ‘drawing out the best in body, mind and soul’. The aims of education flow directly from this immensely meaningful statement of Mahatma Gandhi’s. There seems to be no substitute for this eternal definition of education. Although education has to essentially address these major dimensions of the child, they cannot be viewed as independent components that develop and function in isolation from each other. Body, mind and soul form an integral whole not amenable to fragmentation, thus pre-empting a reductionist approach.

Our prevailing education system not only fails to address the ‘whole child’, but also fragments knowledge into discrete areas of study, rendering life experiences incomprehensible. No wonder research indicates that in comparison to ‘unschooled’ children, ‘schooled’ children are better equipped to memorize discrete bits of often meaningless information. Although schooled children are at an advantage given their ability to comprehend symbolic information such as graphs and formulae, they are not better in day-to-day problem solving when compared to ‘unschooled children’. ‘That students failed to connect their formal symbol manipulation procedures with “real-world” objects represented by the symbols constitute a dramatic failure of instruction’ (Schoenfeld, 1988, p. 150). ‘People who perform poorly in the test situations show great skill on similar problems in their everyday lives’ (Rogoff, 1984). The fact that ‘school knowledge’ does not connect the child to real life and remains for the most part ‘inert knowledge’ is too well-known to be emphasized further (Brown, et al., 1989). Teacher education is no exception. The traditional approach in teacher education programmes is to teach the philosophical, sociological, psychological and pedagogical aspects of education as distinctly separate areas of study. Further, there is no explicit attempt to illustrate the inter-connectedness of these areas. As a result, most practising and student teachers not only fail to see the relevance of some of these content areas, but are also unable to comprehend the same. Researches conducted in the last two decades (Behari, 1997; Ramanathan, 2004) indicate that most teachers feel that although the B.Ed. course prepares them for specific subject teaching (which is no doubt the goal of secondary and senior secondary teacher education), it does not address those dimensions of their personality that are important to becoming fully functioning teachers, or, for that matter, fully functioning humans. The existing teacher preparation courses are not focused on preparing ‘teachers’, but are designed to prepare ‘subject teachers’. Subject teachers can only produce academic robots. This is part and outcome of the mechanistic scheme of our teacher education programmes. Most participants in both the researches either directly or indirectly pointed to the irrelevance of foundational courses such as philosophy and sociology of education as they perceived their jobs as subject teachers. The real classroom poses different kinds of challenges for which they are ill-prepared. The need to structure teacher education programmes according to holistic themes emerges clearly, both at the research and experiential levels. It might be more useful to structure teacher education programmes according to broader thematic areas that transcend the boundaries of traditional disciplines and focus on learners, learning, pedagogy, etc. The other major problem sighted by teachers in the above research was how unprepared they were to meet the challenge of variability that exists in actual classrooms. The teachers’ own ability to connect positively with children from diverse backgrounds and, in turn, enable children to relate effectively with each other is not nurtured in the existing teacher education programmes. And neither is concern for good inter-personal relationships among teachers a significant focal area.

Given the pluralistic social order, marked by aggressive global forces, communal conflicts and vested political interest, it is essential that education produces critical thinkers who can take informed decisions and act with courage and conviction. ‘[…] it is vital to prevent social conflict through an education that fosters understanding and respect for cultural diversity as well as communication and cooperation between persons of different origins’ (Dasen, 1992). Urbanization, industrialization and cross-border conflicts have generated unprecedented human mobility. Teachers are invariably faced with multi-cultural classrooms and have to communicate with children and parents from different cultural origins, and thereby have to deal with complex intergroup dynamics. ‘It is therefore important to train teachers to understand the phenomenon linked to migration, cross cultural communication and social psychology .… Explicit attempt should be made to enable teachers to overcome their own ethnocentrisms by reflecting on their enculturation recognizing their prejudices’ (Dasen, 1992). Such goals cannot be achieved through verbal communication alone. They require an experiential and more participative approach to teacher preparation. Internship or school life experiences should essentially include inter-cultural education and provision for self-development and working with the community.

Perennial foundations

The greatest challenge for human beings is to understand the Self, the inner essence of one’s existence. This awareness is totally experiential and not conceptual. (The Hindu, National daily, dated 28 December, 2005, p. 9)

The Western traditions look at the concept of self as the potentiality and possibility of development inherent in humans. These inherent potentialities are actualized through interactions with the phenomenal world. Carl Rogers (1951) defines self as an ‘organized, fluid, but consistent conceptual pattern of perception of characteristics and relationships of the I or the “me” together with values attached to these concepts’. The structure of the self is formed as a result of interaction, particularly evaluative interaction, with the environment, which comprises significant others and events. ‘Self actualization involves becoming whatever one can become through activities determined by one self’ (Maslow, 1970). ‘The organism has one basic tendency and goal—to actualize, maintain and enhance the experiencing organism’ (Rogers, 1951). Although a fully actualized self is allocentric, altruistic and autonomous, its locus of existence lies essentially in the individual. The individual self is the be all and end all; a single point, a uni-dimensional entity.

The concept of self according to Indian traditions, particularly the Bhagavad Gītā, is a multi-layered construct. It simultaneously connotes the metaphysical, spiritual and phenomenal realms of existence. A well-defined hierarchy of the many selves within the composite universal self is conceptualized. Brahman—the Universal Self—is the highest layer in this system. Brahman pervades everything that exists, organic and material (physical). Human beings are miniscule in the larger cosmic order. Brahman can neither be fully known, nor can it be achieved by the ‘human form’. Brahman is inconceivable or acintyarūpa. It is also unmanifested—avyakta. It is therefore beyond cognition, experience and comprehension.

Next in the descending order of pervasiveness is the individual self or puruṣa. Puruṣa is the knower, the cognizing being. It is addressed by different scholars as ātman, jīva, consciousness or life force. Puruṣa pervades only living entities unlike the Brahman, which pervades the entire universe. Dharma or the nature of puruṣa is to illumine all that comes in contact with buddhi (reasoning principle), manas (mind), ahaṁkāra (ego sense), indriya (sensory perception apparatus), and the external world with detachment. However, in human life puruṣa comes in contact with the triguṇarajas (activity), tamas (inertia) and sattva (purity)—leading to enjoyment, incurring pleasure and pain. To attain true knowledge of the Self, the limitations imposed by the gross-subtle body and by the three guṇas must be transcended. The individual has to become triguṇātīta—an individual who is led not by personal choices, but by duties with complete detachment. Surrender or attachment is not to the persons or objects served, but to svadharma and svabhāva. Lower down this order is the personal self. This conception of self addresses the misconception of self entertained by human beings. Although the true Self of man is the puruṣa, yet with the prakṛti-borne body-manas-intellect-ahaṁkāra apparatus, the consciousness principle is conceived as a means to worldly ends rather than as an end in itself. In this process, the ego-sense (mis)identifies with the body, and the cognitive apparatus with the self.

This level (personal self) is akin to the Western notion of self, which includes the physical, social, intellectual and emotional dimensions of an individual’s personality. These, according to the Bhagavad Gītā, are components of prakṛti, and must be transcended for self-realization. The goal of life is to strive for the evolution of the personal self to higher levels, rather than limiting its evolution to the actualization of inherent bodily potentials.

The pursuit of knowledge leads to the discovery of Self, which is the source of liberation. Knowledge is possible only when the mind is free from desire, likes and dislikes, fears and threats. One’s commitment to knowledge leads to self-learning, svādhyāya, which is pursued for its own sake; the commitment comes from within; the knower or the epistemic subject is intrinsically motivated to discover the truth. Discovery of truth or knowledge is an outcome of inquiry; however, when the learner is not mature enough or is unable to conduct a successful inquiry, he may be taught. Pravacana is teaching. Svādhyāya and pravacana form a continuum, wherein the one who knows shares knowledge with others who are keen to know. Learning requires an inquisitive, perceptive mind which engages in reflection and articulation. It is not ingestion of what is told but is a constructive and a generative process which requires a contemplative mind. A contemplative mind has to be discovered and developed by releasing the mind from the bonds of likes and dislikes. Suitable measures and appropriate means have to be adopted to free the mind from the shackles of personal likes and dislikes. One who is continuously learning and sharing knowledge, that is, engaging in svādhyāya and pravacana, leads a contemplative life: s/he is a life-long learner who is sincerely committed to enabling others to learn. However, learning and teaching—svādhyāya and pravacana—are two separate, though intimately related, processes. Learning and teaching both require a contemplative mind. The teacher teaches, but does not indoctrinate or impose. The student must construct his own understanding, decide for himself and assume responsibility for his actions. As described in the Bhagavad Gītā, Arjuna asks for advice from Lord Kṛṣṇa and He teaches Arjuna about the nature of action and renunciation while leaving the understanding of the scheme and the consequent action to him. The teacher is a facilitator; he shows the path, provides exposure, but leaves the analysis and contemplation to the learner. The ‘adhikāra’ or choice of action lies with the learner. A contemplative mind is fundamental to metacognition and is an outcome of the evolution of the inner self. A developed and evolved contemplative mind, fundamental to metacognition, is free from biases and can embark upon objective decision-making.

The Self is akartā, actionless; it neither performs any action nor leads anyone to do so; the knower of the self is indeed the Self. Here, it is not action that is denied; it is the kartṛtva or doership that is denied. ‘Actions are performed by the body and the wise man is not identified with the body; he knows himself to be actionless Self. So the knowledge of actionless Self is freedom from action’ (Swami Dayananda, 1987, p. 4). The discovery of the self involves the renunciation of the sense of doership. Pursuit of ‘karma’ (action) involves the sense of doership. Karma is action and vihitakarma, the enjoined actions known as duties. Nature is in perfect harmony to sustain the Universe. This harmony can be disturbed only by humans as other living beings are not endowed with volition—the faculty of choice. Vihitakarma are conducive to the maintenance of harmony in life, which is the duty of every human being. Duty is borne out of maturity and appreciation of one’s role in the scheme of things. It can be seen as a mandate until it is internalized. A sense of duty culminates in a proper attitude towards life and evolves into niṣṭhā—commitment. Actions that disturb the harmony in the universe and life are ‘niṣiddhakarma’. A true karma yogi is one who avoids ‘niṣiddhakarma’ and engages in ‘vihitakarma’. A yogīs actions are governed by duties performed through detachment from personal likes and dislikes, as well as from the outcome of actions. Yoga here implies equanimity of mind.

Concluding remarks

These ideas, taken from the Bhagavad Gītā, help us reconstruct the conceptual framework for teacher education. First, it clearly indicates that teaching is not a collection of skills but an ongoing process of contemplation, a continuous process in the search for truth. It is an ongoing quest to understand the learner, the processes of learning, ways of providing learning experiences and inspiration to embark on the inner journey. A teacher has to be a true karma yogī who engages in enjoined action in the pursuit of knowledge and is committed to the development of her own self and those of her students; one who makes discretionary use of the faculty of choice.

The development of self is basic to all aspects of development. An evolved self is naturally committed to altruism, justice, diligence and genuine concern for the development of society. Teachers should be facilitated in their journey towards self-development and in helping their students move towards the same goal. Legitimate space should be provided for self-development activities in the Teacher Education Curriculum. A non-evaluative, accepting, threat-free environment is basic to self-development. It inspires sharing, increases receptivity and, most importantly, promotes self-reflection, leading to the development of a positive self-concept. Opportunities for self-expression in different art forms with a view to unfolding aesthetic sensibilities would also lead to a sense of fulfilment. Teachers need to be taught how to create learning environments that are non-competitive and threat-free; permissive environments that inspire and nurture creativity, critical thinking and reflexivity, thereby preparing the child for problem-solving and conflict resolution.

The Teacher Education Programmes should provide space for developing teachers who are conscientious and committed to unity and harmony. A true teacher is one who engages in an ongoing process of self-evolution through contemplation, self-reflection and self-correction; s/he initiates and enables the pupils to engage in these processes with equanimity, taking into account the student’s cognitive, cultural, economic and physical characteristics. Knowledge essentially entails the discovery of the Self, as already stated; thus, all the attributes mentioned above can only be realized through experience and reflection. Therefore, it is essential that the teacher education curriculum be experience-based and interactive, with ample opportunities for self-observation and self-reflection, leading to self-development. Only an evolved self can facilitate the evolution of the selves of others. Vertical development inside is expected to lead to horizontal development outside; the deeper the connection with the inner self, the greater the comfort and ease in connecting with others outside. Biases and prejudices dissolve when realization of the oneness of the omnipresent consciousness dawns.


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