The little child in the nursery class today is the future citizen of India. Her conduct, competence and attitude will shape the future. The quality of individual and collective life will largely depend on how well she performs her social, economic and human responsibilities. Therefore it is of utmost importance that she receives a good education today so that we may have a better future tomorrow. That is why it is said that education is an investment in the future.
The first task of good education is to impart the knowledge, skill and attitudes needed to engage affectively with life and to be a productive member of the society. A well educated person should be competent enough to handle the problems of his own life and to improve its quality. He should also be able to perform well the socio-economic tasks demanded of him by the modern society. The society in turn rewards the competent by economic and social success. The second task of good education should be to make the educated good citizens of their country. That is, to make them engaged, vigilant and responsible citizens of the democratic and fast developing modern India. They should be aware of India’s history and culture, its past achievement, present problems and its future aspirations. The third and perhaps the most important task of good education should be to make the young grow up as good human beings. That is it should developed their character and value temper so as to make them honest, just, fair, caring and compassionate persons. This holistic vision of good education has four main components: capacity building, skill development, citizenship education and value education. Let us briefly examine them so as to identify the action points on which we should focus our efforts.
Education is popularly viewed as the process of acquainting the present generation with knowledge built up by the human civilization. That makes us knowledgeable. However, the greater importance of this process is in developing human capacities of the learner. Two of these basic capacities are: cognitive capacity, and emotional capacity.
This capacity enables one to ask questions and seek answers. These may be questions about the particular problem at hand or general philosophical questions about nature, society, human conditions, etc. Development of cognitive capacity makes us competent to learn, understand, analyze, assess and to make informed choices and decisions. It gives us the ability to think, to reflect and to create new knowledge. This process of knowledge creation is very necessary for advancement in any field. Cognitive or intellectual competence is the very basis of growth of modern technological society and its socio-economic progress. Unfortunately our present system of education is largely focused on imparting knowledge with little concern for developing cognitive capacity.
Important as it is for techno-economic progress, cognitive capacity itself is not sufficient for leading a good life or for creating a good society. By good life I mean a life that is not only materially comfortable and enjoyable but is also a happy and meaningful life. Similarly a good society is not merely economically prosperous but is also a civilized and humane society. That kind of goodness – in personal life and collective life of the society – requires many other values and virtues, apart from intellectual competence. One of these is the ability to from warm, caring and mutually nurturing relationship with others – other persons, other groups and other nations.
It requires a capacity to relate with others emotionally: to feel, recognize understand and to respond to the emotional needs of others. It also means understanding our own emotions, regulating them and expressing them appropriately. Building such emotional capacity in the young is essential for living and working together harmoniously in our diverse society and diverse world.
Both the cognitive and emotional capacities are attributes of mental development. Such mentally developed persons are well suited to go on to higher studies and to the learned professions. They usually occupy positions of power and authority. However, the modern society needs the services of a large number of persons who are more skillful in working with their hands. Such jobs are less well-paid but they enable those who cannot pursue higher education to earn a decent living. Therefore, we urgently need institutionalized skill training programmes, either as a part of regular schooling or as standalone programmes after the school education. This is especially important for a fast developing country like ours. The objective of the programme will be to make school leavers ready for employment immediately after the school. The programme would have three components: (i) Soft skills needed at workplace to deal with customers, colleagues and employers, (ii) Hard skills or trade related technical skills and (iii) Entrepreneurial skills to set up their own business.
The first virtue of a citizen is to be engaged with the society, i.e. to take an active interest in the collective life of the society. When the citizens withdraw themselves only to their own personal interests and concerns, society decays. This tendency is clearly discernable in the attitudes of a large number of persons in the successful middle class in our country. The surest way to arrest this decline is to introduce an affective component of citizenship education, both at the school level and university level. Its objective should be to turn out good citizen who own their society and are committed to work for its wellbeing. It is these good citizens who will build a better future for us.
The second virtue of good citizen is to know his rights and also his duties to the society. Rights of others can be secured only if we perform our duties well. A good citizen is ready to subordinate his personal interests for the sake of collective good of the society. He is ever ready to protect and advance the common good. In a democracy the citizen is the primary stakeholder in the social systems. The government is formed by his vote and ‘derives its just powers from the consent of the governed’. To give that vote and consent in a responsible manner and to demand accountability from those who exercise state power is the duty of a vigilant and responsible citizen. Affective communication of these citizenship values through discussion and debates constitutes citizenship education.
The quality of personal life of an individual as well as the collective life of the society is largely dependent on the character structure and value temper of the members of the society. Honesty and integrity, justice and fairness, caring and compassionate attitude towards others are the hallmarks of a man of character. Sadly these human virtues are on decline in the self-centered and materialistic temper of the modern times. Virtues and values are considered as hindrance in the race for money and power. Attaining economic and social success may provide comforts, riches and glory. But in the absence of ethical and human values it produces many tensions, conflicts and strife. There is a little inner peace, happiness and self-fulfillment. Similarly the public life marred by lack of values produces ill effects in the form of rampant corruption, callousness, exploitation of the weak by the strong, social tensions and disharmony. It also produces an atmosphere of distrust between the citizens and the social systems. With all the emphasis on technological and economic growth, we may become a five trillion economy and a super power but without values it is doubtful if we can build a good society. That is a society which is not merely prosperous but is also harmonious and humane. Value education is not merely a matter of communicating ethical and human values or emphasising their significance to the learners. Instead it should arouse self-reflection, dialogue and discussion that can transform their character structure and seek their commitment to the virtues, values and ideals. It should be given at all levels, from school to college.
It is a challenging task to design such a programme of value education suited to different levels of learners. It is equally challenging to train teachers for value education and provide them with suitable teaching- learning material. Difficult they may be but these challenges have to be met if we want a better education for our future citizens and a better future.