Sept. 12, 2000
Education is for life and not just for a living
In these days of communal and sectarian strife, the message clearly sent down in the Sathya Sai system is - there is only one religion - the religion of love; only one caste - the caste of humanity; and only one language - the language of the heart. The students live this precept out; for the festivals of all religions are celebrated. A student of this system is equally at home singing Christmas Carols, chanting the Vedas and reciting the Suras of the Holy Koran.
A parable often retold by Sri Sathya Sai Baba is the story of a little boy who tore up his father's world map into bits. While the father was furious, the boy decided to make amends and starts putting the pieces back in place to stick them up. Even as he puts in all his efforts he fails to put the world together again. Then he notices that on the reverse of the world map there are bits of drawings of the human body; a nose here, a ear there, a foot here and an eye there... and then an idea strikes him. He reverses all the torn pieces and puts the parts of the human body together so that they form the complete picture of a man. Then he turns the picture to have the whole world again! Likewise says Baba, in these troubled times when the whole world is going into pieces, the only way to make the world united is by making each human being a wholesome person. There are no other short cuts to it.
It was precisely with this aim that Sri Sathya Sai Baba, revered as a World Teacher, began his educational mission in 1969 with the establishment of a women's college at Anantapur. Over the past three decades, the mission has grown to include a Deemed University (the Sri Sathya Sai University) under which come the Anantapur campus, the Brindavan campus of the Sri Sathya Sai Arts and Commerce College, Whitefield and the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning (SSSIHL) at Puttaparthi itself, besides a dozen schools and colleges elsewhere in India and abroad following the Sathya Sai system of education.
The Ministry of Education, Mauritius, has adopted the Sathya Sai system of education. Likewise educationists in Zambia, U.K., Thailand, Brazil and many other countries around the world have taken up this programme entitled ``Education in Human Values'' (EHV). In fact it has created so many ripples that the UNESCO is organising a conference at Puttaparthi in collaboration with the Asia Pacific Network for International Education and Values Education, the Institute of Sathya Sai Education (Thailand), and the Flinders University Institute of International Education, Australia, this year. The conference will discuss the roles of teachers and parents in value education and debate on value education for the 21st Century and the evolving of a practical curriculum for value education. Importantly, the youth will also have their say at the conference.
Historically the EHV programme has its roots in the Bala Vikas programme started by Sri Sathya Sai Baba in the Sixties. Women, usually housewives, were the Gurus and once a week they would interact with children sent to them by willing parents. These sessions usually included retelling stories from the puranas and bhajan singing; discussions on how to tackle anger, envy and so on; enacting plays on nature, conservation etc.
This EHV programme, with suitable modifications, was made an integral part of the curriculum when the Sri Sathya Sai Seva organisation started educational institutions; and with the establishment of the Sri Sathya Sai University, of which Baba is the Chancellor, the EHV programme has blossomed to fullness.
Two thirds of a student's education takes place outside the classroom; therefore to ensure that there is no dilution of the EHV programme, these institutions are strictly residential.
Admission to the institutions is based only on merit; and beyond the primary school stage, there is segregation of the sexes; no fee is collected; even hostel accommodation is free; the students only pay a nominal sum for food. Except during vacations when they are sent home, everyday is a working day; even festivals and holidays are converted into learning opportunities.
Academically speaking, these institutions compare with the best in the world in terms of qualified faculty and facilities; besides, classes and examinations are held very studiously. Naturally, the results are enviable and many of the alumni are scholarship students with the CSIR, Indian Institute of Science and so on.
Sports and games also get pride of place. But the main thrust of the Sathya Sai system of education is on moulding the personality of the student, for Baba says, ``The end of education is character; education is for life and not just for a living.'' The watchwords in the Sathya Sai institutions are cooperation and harmony. Discipline, orderliness and patience needed for this are assiduously cultivated.
I asked an old student how this was achieved. She smiled and said, ``Standing silently and waiting patiently for one's turn - be it for a bath, breakfast, games or class and back; well, this disciplined routine itself is a great teacher!'', Time management is another concept learnt by practice. There are no holidays to laze around; no whiling away over a pack of cards; no watching the idiot box; no gossipping. A key factor that ensures the success of the programme is that the teachers lead from the front.
Practical training in living together as a community is imparted by Self Reliance programmes. Although there are cooks, electricians, plumbers and so on at the hostels, the running of the mess, cleaning of rooms, maintenance of hygiene, electricity and water supply maintenance, keeping music equipment and sports equipment in good condition - all these activities are done by the students. A history student may thus learn how to change a fuse; a literature student may learn how to take care of overhead tanks; a physics student may learn how to cook and so on. Within one hour, five hundred students eat noiselessly in a mess and leave after all the plates and glasses are washed.
EHV is infused into the teaching of academic subjects as well. Products from trees are used in the manufacture of perfumes, for example is converted into a fantastic EHV opportunity when the social studies teacher says, ``Look at the mango tree - you throw stones at it and yet in return it gives you delicious mangoes. And as for the sandalwood tree - it imparts fragrance even to the very axe that fells it. See their spirit of sacrifice! That is what we too should cultivate.''
The biology teacher while teaching about bacterial diseases explains how the loss of pain sensation leads to the mutilation of hands and feet in leprosy patients; as a spin off, he adds ``So pain and suffering also have beneficial role on life.''
The chemistry teacher while teaching about subatomic particle says, ``Just as electrons exist unseen in all matter, living or nonliving, so does divinity exist unseen in all things.''Another facet of the EHV programme is the awareness module. Adolescence and youth are biologically explosive times when hormones race through the system and cause violent emotions and feelings. The awareness programmes help students understand themselves better. Fear, ambition, success, failure, inferiority complex, birth, marriage, death - students thrash out all these issues with teachers; often the Chancellor too participates and guides. For a practical exposition, the epics of various religions, the lives of saints and the scriptures of various faiths are also studied. In these days of communal and sectarian strife, the message clearly sent down in the Sathya Sai system is - there is only one religion, - the religion of love; only one caste - the caste of humanity; and only one language - the language of the heart. The students live this precept out, for the festivals of all religions are celebrated. A student of this system is equally at home singing Christmas Carols, chanting the Vedas and reciting the Suras of the Holy Koran.
An in-depth exposure to Indian culture and spirituality is another exercise that contributes to the success of the EHV programme. Be it Adi Sankara, the Sufis, Buddha, the Thirthankaras or Gandhiji, the students are exposed to everything; and to make the exercise more meaningful, the lessons are driven home through mime, theatre, plays and concerts. Fine arts are also given great importance; for it is art that uplifts and refines man. At the Puttaparthi campus, on every Tuesday, the boys have a fine arts session, aptly named ``Saama,'' when everything ranging from Carnatic music, Kathakali, Bach'n Beethoven, and tribal music & dance are demonstrated and discussed.
The flagship of the Sathya Sai university is the MBA course. Total Quality Management and Re-engineering, the mantras of modern management schools are suitably modified here. TQM translates as ``Total harmony in the quality of thought, word and deed'' and RE as humility combined with co-ordination of head- heart-and-hand for without the former one would not accept the need for change and bench-marking; and without the latter the change would never take place. The cold, market economics usually taught at business schools acquires the warmth of compassion and human values at this institute.
DR. HIRAMALINI SESHADRI